Summer weeks and we have been treated to Mediterranean weather. It does happen, and time to enjoy it. So, the season to get out in the sun and enjoy the many musical and cultural activities on offer this time of year.
But, first to France, and Saintes near La Rochelle. Good to reconnect with the French language and to sink into their way of life. Whilst I was there, I visited a couple of chateaux: firstly, for a historical tour and some music and, on another night, a play by Molière – a lot of fun.
Also, a very unusual thing: rock carving in the cliff faces in the country there: Les Lapidiales at Port d’Envaux. The rock is very soft so easily sculpted and, certainly, the pieces are each highly original and spectacular. I mean, some of them must be twenty feet in height and all pertain to quite mystical and legendary narratives. People come from around the world to work there. At the time, there was a well-known artist from India who had won various prizes – quite spectacular.
Some theatre – the two ends of the spectrum. First, a performance at the National Theatre in London of The Lehman Trilogy, which told the story of the rise of this German Jewish family who went to the USA in 1848. They started with nothing and eventually built themselves a banking empire. As such, it was, of course, also the story of the rise – and fall! – of capitalism. All acted out by just three actors who played everyone: men, women, children, young and old.
The other pieces was a production by the local amateur dramatics company of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter – a typical piece of English light comedy/ farce. Perfect for a summer evening.
Lots of music happening. I kicked off my first of five visits to this year’s Proms in London with Mahler’s 8th Symphony – the so-called ‘symphony of a thousand’. Certainly, with two orchestras and three choirs on stage, it was full. A big sound made for such a big hall. One of Mahler’s most positive pieces which celebrates earth creation and redemption – interestingly, it was also the most positively received when it was first performed in Vienna in 1910.
Then to the WOMAD festival of world music, art and dance. I think this was my 30th WOMAD event since 1981.
Over the years I have seen it evolve and develop – sometimes working from a very poor resource base – I remember the stage being on fruit boxes at one festival – to the top-notch media event.
I also used to cover it for music magazines in my journalism days. Indeed, my whole love of global music really was ignited by my first WOMAD gig – at the ICA in London. There were two performances: first, by Aboriginals; secondly, a seven-piece West African Drum group. Ekome! It certainly opened my ears. I had never seen anything like it.
Art too – the Summer exhibition at the Royal Academy, London. This year under the heavy influence of Grayson Perry. He certainly gave it a light-hearted and even frivolous air – perhaps just what you want for a summer show. Fun!!
Lots of reading and music listening, but to pick out two of my favourites, for reading, I would choose Annie Ernaux’s The Years – a beautifully written account of her life from 1941 until 2006 in France – eventful years: the war, 60s, 1968, socialism, neoliberalism. She really uses all sorts of literary tricks to convey the sense of time passing and the way her view of the world changes. Sometimes, an event, sometimes an image, sometimes a story or commentary. Yet, the overall sense is one of loss…
Lots of music came my way at WOMAD, but I am going to pick out Dobet Gnahoré’s latest Mziki.
High octane West African sounds of a second – er’ third? – generation musician. The only thing I would say is I wish they would not restrict most of the pieces to under three minutes. Ideal for radio plays but not really in keeping with the style of music which can extend the grooves indefinitely.