Tuesday, 31 July 2007


It's a lovely, bright sunny morning and even the building site at work (about which I must write one day) looks good. I went swimming and had a nice breakfast and read Neil Gaiman and wrote some more of my GoodBooks piece.

Last night Mrs von Neustadt and I went to the Bulls Head in Barnes. Superhero jazz educator and all-round Good Egg Jamey Aebersold is over here doing a summer school for Jazzwise. I did this same summer school in 1998 and it was truly, life-changingly excellent. Anyway my friend and fellow ITG board member Pat Harbison - a very very cool playing dude, teaching dude, and generally-being-human dude - is there every year teaching and this time, after many years of not managing it, I finally got down there to hear the traditional Monday-night faculty concert. This was entirely excellent and made me remember how much I would really like to do the course again one day. It also made me wish that I played the trumpet a bit better! The quintet was Jamey on alto; Pat; and Phil de Greg, John Goldsby and Steve Davis on piano, bass and drums: a superb group.

We had a great Thai meal in the pub just before the gig and a pint or two of nice beer before and during.

All pretty good really.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Ikea lighting, you make my heart beat just that touch faster

I spent a really quite surprising number of hours on Sunday putting up a new Ikea pendant light fitting in the room of my delightful youngest daughter. She and her mother had helpfully bought something which, rather than just being dangled on the end of the existing cord in the traditional manner, required its own new ceiling rose to accommodate its fancy suspension system and fonkay cool wiring. Indeed there was a point when I thought it was going to require a whole new ceiling. It's not that our house is from 1533 or something  but there's enough dodgy bits and grotty plaster and broken laths and bizarre ancient wiring practices to make you go hmmmm quite a lot and wonder inter alia where, exactly, the screw you are currently, er, screwing is going and what (if anything) it might encounter, or even grip into, on its way. There's a join in three cables, for example, which have nothing to do with the light in question - they are just there, using the rose as a rendezvous. It's a mess.

Here are some Artistic Interpretations so you can experience it with me.

Rhyming poem:

Ikea light, o Ikea light!
Installing you has been really quite tricky

Interpretive dance routine: 

(gnah! wagghh! ungghh!!)
<teeter teeter>

I was not a happy bunny doing this, far from it, but I am one now that the light is up and looks nice and the smallest daughter is pleased with it.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Do I do any work?

Yes, I do.

I was slightly distressed to hear that one of my many thousands (hem hem) of readers had commented that it looks like I don't do anything except blog all day. (Yes I am probably paraphrasing for dramatic effect).

I was a little put out by this but looking back I can see how you could think so.

For the record, nearly everything I write is done on a little Ipaq PDA while I am commuting. It gets posted at all sorts of odd times, true, but that's just because I have had a couple of minutes spare during a tea or lunch break so I have grabbed it off the docked PDA and blasted it up here. It is very rare for me to write new content from the office - the one the other day about the bloke nearly getting squished by a pallet truck was one such example, and it took me about two minutes to write. You can see that many of the longer pieces - Richmond, Cheltenham and others - are quite old, maybe a week or two or more out of date, and this is why. (And, sadly, that is as nothing compared to the backlog!)

Still for the record, I do actually work quite hard. I mean, yawn, yes we all do, I know ... modern life, an ting. The competitive market in which I operate. The thrill of a job well done. Yes indeedy.

Sorry to sound so defensive but I am quite sensitive about the question of my time at work: I am undoubtedly a rubbish employee in many ways but that's not one of them. I've always written a lot on the Tube and on the train home - accounts of holidays, stories, poems, other gibberish - and the only difference is that now some of it is reaching the web. No dig, by the way, is intended at the person who made the comment - on the contrary, she's performed a useful service by pointing out how it could look like that and making me think about it.

Vogel out.

Sussed-a-blog, or Captain BlogTegrity

Well you could have knocked me down with a feather. I skipped merrily into St Anne & St Agnes for Friday's lunchtime Bach-o-Buxtehude-arama, pausing in my dash for coffee only to say "great jam!" to Jana the boss, a reference to a purchase made on Monday. Imagine, my dears, the surprise when she came up behind me and retorted "great blog"!

This threw me a bit. (But thanks!) Apart from certain operatives in my extensive team of daughters, no-one has sussed me in real life yet. Jana (who I now realize is a comely and wise person of probably around twenty-five years) explained that Molly the Fundraiser (a witty and charming young woman, very good with money) had discovered it due to Google Analytics, which sounds like it has something to do with computers (so she is obviously clever too).

Pausing only to thank the coffee person (a bouncy, youthful type, who serves coffee of considerable character, surpassed only by their delightful biscuits) I returned to my very comfortable seat in this finest of churches. The first thing I did was to think about whether I had said anything horrid. It's interesting that I should have this reaction even though I've always written it on the assumption that someone might read it, sooner or later, and that some of those someones might be mentioned in it.

The second thing was to consider whether having been sussed would affect my writing style or content. Truth to tell, I was actually slightly narked because I was planning sometime to do a more general write-up about the church and its concert series and why I like it, and now if I do I would worry that I would write it as if they were looking over my shoulder. However, my very great integrity as a writer (my italics - Ed.) will clearly require me to ignore this inconvenient truth, and continue to treat this magnificent church - and the splendid, warm-hearted group of entirely admirable people who run it - in a completely neutral manner.

As I settled to the soaring beauty of the concert (probably the best concert in the world, in fact), directed by the fabulously handsome and talented Martin, I reflected that my uncompromising warts-and-all approach may make some people uncomfortable with its glaring and painful truths but I know that my public would expect no less of me. Nothing will change. There is only one way forward. Onwards and upwards!

Gig-a-Blog™ (Sweelinck Ensemble, St Anne & St Agnes)

Friday, 27 July 2007

A lovely sunny day for my second and last attendance at the Bach Festival. (There is a very nice-sounding concert here tomorrow but it clashes with a Prom for which I've booked.)

  • Buxtehude: Cantata, Gott, hilf mir - fabulous!!
  • Buxtehude: Sonata ex G for two violins & viola da gamba - some pretty corners and some very fine playing but it neither blew my horn nor rang my bell. Why? I'm not sure. My fault, not the band or Buxtehude. Maybe I was distracted by its frame of cantatas. Anyway I couldn't really get a handle on the structure and felt as if I didn't know what was going on. I'd be very happy to hear this again but today I fear Buxtehude was somewhat let down by my concentration or lack thereof. More coffee Vogel? Yes please, and a side order of coffee perhaps...
  • Bach - Cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste (‘Actus Tragicus’) BWV 106 - I really loved this too but have no decent notes on it. Having been written for a funeral it is no song and dance routine but is nevertheless affirmative and uplifting and was performed accordingly. Prize for "Bluntest Lyric "goes to Bestellle dein Haus, denn du wirst sterben und nicht lebendig bleiben which sounds great in German but translates (somewhat broadly speaking) as "pack your bags pal, you're stuffed" (Isaiah 38:1). Fantastic singing, great orchestral playing, trumpets a bit quiet (well more sort of absent really), but hey.

I wish I had more to say about this rather good concert but I couldn't write too much at it due to audience proximity; and my journey home, for reasons to be droned on about elsewhere, was non-standard, so that's me pretty much blogged out.

Oh - except - remember I thought my coffee beans estimate (do try to keep up) was so far over the top as to be almost insane? Yes, well the result was actually ~2400 more than my guess, and I didn't even make the top four. Go figure (aha).There's a lesson here but I have no idea what it could possibly be. "Next time burgle the church and count them" perhaps? Or maybe "Allow for greater interlocking and settlement, increasing your layer count by 1.4"? Nah, a bit too specific. Lessons you learn from things like this are supposed to be more general stuff like "follow your star, little sparrow" or "remember your coffee bean is someone else's hot drink" (what?). Maybe I'll just stick with "mind the gap".

Friday, 27 July 2007

OffTopic-a-blog: Tesco Finest Strawberries & Cream Mousse

Strawberries & Cream Mousse

A fruity compôte of strawberries topped with a luxurious creamy mousse blended with a juicy strawberry compôte.

Yeah babay. Delicious dessert, clumsy language. Better than the other way round I guess.

Moan-a-gram-o-blog (fictitious TfL ticket sales outlet)

A Git of Sadness writes:

I can't possibly let you see the moan-a-gram I sent in to London Buses a week or more ago as it is so sad and anal-retentive that even friends and relatives who know, or thought they knew, me and my foibles would cross the road to avoid being seen associating with me and being unilluminated by the gloomy non-glow of my Sad Gitness.

Suffice it to say that the local map at our nearest bus stop shows an entirely fictitious "Ticket Stop" (their cutesy, nay pukey, name for "place with bus tickets to sell") in the same block as our house. There ain't one, not nohow, nor not never not not. No, Colin, this isn't a "slight slip" or "old data" - it is pure b*ll*cks. Go and look for yourself, o local readership.

So ... I wrote them a courteous, helpful (and yes, probably OCD-ish) letter about this a year or two back. They didn't reply. Some time after this they brought out a new map. With the same error. Gakkkk!!!!

(I do, by the way, recognize that there are one or two more important issues in the world than this. But not at 6.18am when their bl**dy silly map is staring me in the face and getting up my nose - quite a feat if you think about it.)

So ... I have wroted to them again. And because people like me sometimes do not know when to stop, I also asked them why, further north on the same map, they have two symbols lovingly mapped onto one spot, when the legend makes it clear that the one symbol is inclusive of the other. (Note to Those In The Know - Oyster vs non-Oyster outlets - OK? <winks laddishly but unsuccessfully>)

And because people like me sometimes do not know when to stop, I also asked them whether the whole map needs checking, and whether they have procedures to ensure accuracy, or do they just hand it over to the Year 10 Work Experience kid to do? That's the trouble with people like me, we sometimes do not know when to stop. Sometimes we do not know when to stop. Indeed not. We do not, sometimes, know when to stop.

Oh alright, I didn't really put the Year 10 bit in, that would have been a mite too rude. But I am afraid that the rest of it is pretty much as it went.

I have already had the anodyne reply saying it's been passed to the appropriate department and they guarantee a reply within three years, unless they have to pass it on for specialist attention in which case they guarantee a reply before the end of the next Ice Age. Do you think:

  • I am going to get a proper reply while I am still alive?
  • They are going to admit I'm right?
  • They are going to fix the map before the next printing?

Hmm. No, me neither. I guess I am just going to have to chain myself to their railings next. Ah well. Sometimes being a Sad Git is a bit of a sad and indeed gittish occupation. It's a tough job Tamsin but someone's got to do it ...

* * U P D A T E * *

2nd August: This just in:

"Thank you for your email regarding map accuracy at your local bus stop. I am sorry for the delay in answering your query.

"I have contacted the personnel responsible for this map, and they have in turn responded to me. They have mentioned this specific issue to their supplier (T-Kartor), and they're currently checking the data. If, as sounds very likely, the data is wrong they'll get an amended vicinity map produced and printed as soon as possible."

So: I hereby take back, withdraw, rescind and disown Certain Doubts expressed earlier in this piece. Couldn't really hope for a better reply. Nice one, London Buses.

Thursday, 26 July 2007


Another colleague, whom I really like, has resigned. Not really a suitable topic for this blog so that's all I have to say on the subject. <sigh>

Moan-a-gram-o-blog (Haringey and Harringay)

Here is a webby web webform lettery communications thingy sent in this very day:

Dear Buses,

Your page:


is headed "Harringey Bus route maps" but this is wrong. It should be "Haringey Bus route maps" because Haringey is the borough and Harringay (as you have it correctly on the PDF for that one map) is the much smaller place within that borough.


Haringey: big borough
Harringay: little place up Green Lanes

Hope this helps

Best wishes


And my chances of success - or of even getting a reply - will be, oo, about what percent, do you think?

Yes, I am a very sad person. But come on, you knew that.

* * U P D A T E * *

Had a nice reply saying they will fix it. Excellent. Sadly I then realized that the level above has the same problem too, so I mentioned that also. They must be well sick of me by now. But it's nice that they troubled to reply - big improvement on the last time I tried to raise an issue with them. Good show for London Buses and I promise to be less cynical another time.

* * U P D A T E 2 * *

On New Year's Eve (sad isn't it?) five months after the initial post I've just checked (it's not like I've been doing so every day I hasten to add) and they've fixed nearly everything. There's one more thing to fix - still on the same page there is one remaining bad spelling. In the map list, just three off the bottom, there appears "West Green (Harringey)" whereas the map's actual title is "West Green (Harringay)". It's odd how people find this so hard to get right: but ho hum.

* * U P D A T E 3 * *

Oh dear! They've now fixed the thing I was moaning about in Update 2. Woohoo! Er, well, sort of. They have, bless 'em, now spelt the linked text correctly as "West Green (Harringay)". So far so good. But in a fit of enthusiasm they have changed the underlying link too. It used to be:


- and now, to match the linked text, they have changed the link to this:


- which is sort of good, but it would really be a LOT better if they'd also changed the filename to match: the new link currently goes nowhere of course.

Aargh, gak and doh. I will of course now feel that I have to write to them and point this out, which is quite sad of me, but I can't quite leave it there. Why do I bother? I honestly do not know. Will my writing again probably cause something else to go wrong? Yup.

* * U P D A T E 4 * *

30th January 2008. Oh doctor, the relief! It is all fixed. Mr Thompson, kindly apply coldness to some dozens of bottles of one of the better champagnes. Pray fill the jacuzzi with the finest of strawberry yoghurts. My blog and I will be partying (like there is no tomorrow) to celebrate this fine public information victory. And it only took 188 days to sort it all out! I'm like woah baby yuh yuh yuh.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Gig-a-Blog™ (Sweelinck Ensemble, St Anne & St Agnes)

This concert - yesterday, Monday 23d July - was the first lunchtime event in St Anne and St Agnes' Bach Festival, which began on Sunday night. The main lunchtime concert series is now finished for the summer but this festival runs this week with lunchtime and evening events: it's an excellent programme.

Because they're doing the Coffee Cantata the festival is mildly coffee-themed, so for example there's a "guess how many coffee beans in the jar" competition. I thought I'd had a good shot at an estimate (based on my vast experience of estimating bird flock numbers, as recommended by the Young Ornithologists' Club) but now, thinking about it again, I feel it's probably over the top to a laughable degree. Oh well.

Here, in accordance with long-established tradition, are what of my gibberings I can tidy up a touch while First Capital Connect (love that snappy name) drives me homewards. The Sweelinck Ensemble by the way is in effect the house band - they are based there (I think) and their director Martin Knizia is the church's cantor. They're good.

  • Suite no. 2 in Bm, BWV 1067
    This performance included the wonderful flautist Rachel Latham, whom I last saw in Richmond with Leeds Baroque Orchestra doing Vivaldi very nicely. The whole thing was gorgeous. I have a soft spot for the Badinerie for reasons which are not very right-on in Baroque performance terms (can you say "Maurice Andre piccolo trumpet"? Well don't.)
  • Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 - Affetuoso
    Very pretty. Some lovely low flute-playing. Just the one movement - Rachel, Hazel Brooks and Martin. Wonderful.
  • Coffee Cantata BWV 211
    Acting! Ah yes, a cantata with acting and laughter. You probably know all about this secular cantata but I didn't, not really, so it was a new joy for me. Like so many plots from then-a-when-ago this one doesn't nowadays seem to make absolute sense, but it was great fun anyway. Dad doesn't like his daughter drinking coffee (why?): she has plans, whether or not she's getting married, to continue regardless. OK, it's not the Ring cycle but it did give the singers a chance to ham it up a bit in a rather excellent way. There are some genuinely funny moments. It's great. I don't really think I've heard Bach letting his hair down (er, wig/off/etc, please patch your own metaphor) like this before. It was performed with considerable verve by this nice band. A few minutes of great enjoyment, enhanced yet further with a real coffee and a biccie.

I returned to the office clutching a massive jar of home-made strawberry jam which was being sold off the coffee table, having been made by the fair and priestly hand of Jana herself. It looks great and I'm very excited as it is almost bound to be better than strawberry jam made by irreligious persons. Plus, I know exactly where to complain if not. It's a win-win situation innit.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Gig-a-Blog™ (Dvořákathon, Cheltenham Town Hall)

The Salomon Orchestra did a "Dvořákathon" on Sunday 8th July in Cheltenham as part of the Music Festival there. We played all nine symphonies in one long concert, lasting from noon to about 8.30, with the brilliant Martyn Brabbins (Salomon's President) conducting.

In previous years there've been a Beethovenathon (2003) and a Tchaikovskyathon (2005). I missed both of these and I think that this year may have been the last opportunity, so I overcame my reluctance and said I'd do this one. I will I suppose be able to tell my grandchildren about it, though just how interesting they might find it is another question.

We had three trumpets, Rob H (former Salomon regular recently returned from Paris, likely to be a regular again I would think/hope), Richard K (Forest Phil colleague of Rob, incredibly busy player, seems to do about 93 orchestras), and me. Both the Rs are very strong players.

The maths: two trumpet parts in each symphony, times nine symphonies, is eighteen parts - so we each did six symphonies, which is quite enough thanks. I wondered if we needed more players but it was difficult enough fixing how we had it, so we just had to manage. I was hugely helped by Rob agreeing to do it and bringing Richard: I was in big trouble previously. Mercifully, I only played first in one symphony (no. 2): RH and RK are both better players than I and I'm very grateful that they were prepared to do more than their fair share.

The rehearsals, three nights in the week before the concert, were interesting. I'm not sure why (some orchestra member's connection, I guess) but we were at the BBC studios at Maida Vale. All very historic and fascinating. We were in Studio 2, which is no longer used for recording although I got the impression that it may still be the rehearsal base for the BBC Singers. Next door, Studio 1 is very much still in use and is, I think, the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Doors were labelled with all sorts of exciting and mysterious things, and there was a certain feeling of solidity and history and importance to it all.

The building itself is not all that impressive. It's got a nice single-story facade and was built, I understand, as a roller-skating rink in the early 1900s. It also got bombed during WWII. Inside it's practical rather than exciting, and round the outside of the studios has the disconcerting feeling that you can walk further in the corridors than on the corresponding length of road outside. It's interesting that a building of such historical significance is so self-effacing when you see it.

Some of the music we had also belonged to the BBC and was, I thought, historically interesting. A couple of the trumpet parts were stamped thus:

The property of

- which, I'm told by Someone In The Know, dates it back to the 1920s. I love that "London Station" bit! Also, one of my parts had ornate additions, both beautifully hand-written hinged flaps and pencilled-in extra lines, with annotations like "this ending for Dorati", which I rather liked.

The rehearsals went quite well considering how much music we had to get through. It was all quite fun, though some of the earlier symphonies were a bit difficult to love, certainly from the trumpet player's viewpoint - too much and too high, all to relatively little effect. In contrast, the writing in the later symphonies is more sparse and more directed - you feel as if you're contributing in a much more meaningful way rather than playing just to make a noise.

Martyn had a delayed train journey to one rehearsal so it was started by Charles Peebles, who was great.

The other thing I remember most clearly from Maida Vale was that one evening I had a cup of coffee which I am quite sure was the very worst I've ever paid for: quite disgusting and pretty much undrinkable. I know people traditionally joke about BBC coffee but this was out of some perfectly normal-looking machine, for goodness' sake - how wrong can it actually go, one wonders? Plenty wrong, apparently. Bleagh.

Fast forward a couple of days to the Sunday. We'd had the option of a coach, leaving Victoria early, but Robert decided to drive and lives in Walthamstow so he very kindly came and picked me up. It was a great drive, the tedious London bit giving way quickly to proper countryside. The second half of the journey was really pretty.

We were saved from a silly parking farce by the Festival people squeezing us into the Town Hall car park and there we were. It was all rather nice and civilized - there were rooms for the orchestra but also a huge and rather posh one used as a green room, where they served food all day. I'm told by old hands that this year was less good than the previous ones, having been done by a catering firm rather than volunteers, but actually it was fine anyway, as far as I was concerned. Just round the corner from there they had a table set up supplying tea and coffee all day along with the all-important biscuits. So I felt we were pretty well looked-after.

We started pretty promptly at 12.00. At first I felt quite keen, and of course there was the excitement of playing 1st in the Second Symphony, which I suppose kept me a bit more focussed. There was a break after every even-numbered symphony, and I wasn't in 3 or 4 so I had a long time off - especially as, I think, the lunch break was sometime round then as well.

I didn't want to leave the building so I missed seeing Cheltenham properly - another time maybe. So I just wandered around a bit - the building is rather grand and beautiful - and chatted or read or drank tea, or all of these. Oh, and the Town Hall, bless it, has open-access wireless to which my PDA connected in a refreshingly trouble-free manner. (The Town Hall photo at the top is by the excellent Adrian Pingstone by the way.)

After a while I found myself back on stage for the Fifth Symphony. I'm sure it was around here that I started to feel I was losing the will to live a bit. However, I muddled through it somehow and then enjoyed my last symphonic-length break with Richard and Robert blazing their way through no. 6.

In the next official break there was some shifting around to do as we were joined by some local musicians for the last three symphonies. In the brass we only got one player, a very nice bloke from the Stroud Symphony. He was a comeback player, who wanted to make it very clear from the outset that he was not intending to come blasting in and play all the solos: far from it. Indeed when he came and sat down he charmingly announced himself as ''Auxiliary Second Trumpet" and this is pretty much how it worked. He wasn't loud and mostly stayed out of the way, and was entirely sensible and helpful in his approach. I'm hoping he also enjoyed himself!

In fact, there was supposed to have been a more first-player type of person but he didn't turn up; it could have maybe been difficult, given that we already had two rather good first players, if this guy had showed up and wanted to play everything. I'm sure we'd have worked something out but it was perhaps easier that this didn't arise.

Once the new, augmented orchestra was in and settled, it was on with the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. I must say that for this whole rather long concert Martyn was really excellent, keeping it going amazingly well musically, with a great rapport with the audience. Naturally he didn't get any symphonies off, but seemed to be incapable of feeling fatigue - he just kept going and going. An incredible performance.

Moving on to these later symphonies I began to feel that it was clear why they are so much better-known. Even just from my blinkered view as a trumpet player - as I said before, the writing's just so much better!

I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know the Eighth all that well. In particular, I had sort-of forgotten, oops, that its last movement starts with just trumpets so I was rather shocked when Martyn cued us and we came in and no-one else did. Ack! Fortunately the appropriate reflex kicked in (aha) and I just kept going. This despite a small deputation led by Sprengel, the Imp of the Left Shoulder, lobbying urgently for the "Drop The Trumpet And Run Away" solution. In fact, a few people came up afterwards and said nice things about it, which as well as being gratifying and perhaps a little embarrassing, was confusing. Either I played, in my sudden terror, so quietly that they really only heard Rob, or being taken by surprise like that suits me, and I should try henceforth to forget about every trumpet entry? Hmm.

With the Eighth out of the way we just had the Ninth between us and the road home. I perhaps needed reminding, a little, that there's a good reason for the popularity of the Ninth: it's such a fantastic symphony! It was good fun to play it again: I am pretty sure that the last time I played in this symphony was in CASO in the late 1970s. I think there was a general desire to have as many as possible on stage for this last one so we had all four trumpets, which was nice.

The audience seemed to really like it and we, and especially the indefatigable Brabbins, were given a very nice response at the end. As, no doubt, was Dvořák too. Though I'd very much enjoyed doing the Ninth, I was quite relieved that there's no Tenth or Eleventh. I was pretty tired, but delighted that I had participated in this rather unusual and memorable event. Thonk you and good night.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Great Moments in Musical History: FootInMouth-a-Blog

It is the 1970s. In the interval of a concert in Bristol, somewhere around St Michael's Hill, I meet a friend, then a flautist and conductor, nowadays a New-York-based arts management/consultancy person of truly terrifying eminence. An orchestra has just struggled through some Copland.

"Hello," he says, "did you hear that? Weren't the trumpets bl**dy awful? I wish you were playing!"

An age passes.

"Richard," I reply, "I am."

DisAppointment Book (an occasional series) - Fruit Tea

If fruit and herbal teas tasted as good as they smell, world peace would break out tomorrow and happy workers would abandon their looms (er) and sit out on sunny lawns, discussing poetry and art, while their bosses brought them out sticky toffee puddings and tried to talk them into accepting more pay.

Unfortunately fruit teas may smell like heaven but they taste rather more like dishwater.

Gig-a-Blog™ (Anete Graudina & Simon Davies, St Anne & St Agnes)

Remember me moaning in a previous Gig-a-Blog™ about bad balance? Well, today Anete Graudina (violin) and Simon Davies (guitar) showed how it's done. In a lovely recital of Vivaldi, Granados, Kreisler and Pujol (who he?) they treated the slightly damp St Anne's audience to a balance so natural and sympathetic that I couldn't imagine it any better. Just there, perfectly present, both performers nicely in your head without either being in your face.

I should confess to a slight bias in that I love this pairing of instruments. It's such a warm, live sound that it always makes me very aware that not much by way of mechanism is involved, that what you hear is pretty much just pairs of hands in rather direct contact with the noise itself.

Random gibberings:

  • Vivaldi - Sonata in Am op 2 no. 12 - just wonderful.
  • Granados - Zambra (Spanish Dance) - impressive, passionate, one or two hairy corners hey woo eek etc.
  • Kreisler - Liebeslied - warm, lilting, poised.
  • Kreisler - Schön Rosmarin - light, clever, witty.
  • Pujol was born in 1957 so must be a good bloke hem hem. His Suite Buenos Aires is tonal, populist and light: oh dear, how awful! Actually I loved it - there are some fabulous tunes and it has huge character and vigour. The slow movement is simply beautiful (both ways round), and the finale just as flashy and exuberant as you might hope.
  • Something jolly by Paganini was the encore. This was the only non-arrangement in the programme, Anete told me afterwards.

As Jana said, this was the perfect recital for the weather: it's been monsoon-like rain this morning but is currently sunny, so it's a concert's worth of warming through, drying out and cheering up. Excellent. Walked back to the office in bright sunshine, admiring blue sky with white fluffy clouds – can this possibly last? My Senior Daughter is queuing outside Waterstones this evening in connection with a certain H. Potter book, so I hope that it can, yes…

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Narrow(ish) escape

A huge crash just now outside my office window - a delivery driver, and one of those bl**dy great heavy pallet trucks, and the truck's load of pallets, have all just come off the taillift of his delivery van/truck/lorry/whatever. The lift was at its maximum height. The driver has ended up sprawled on his back on top of part of the load, with the pallet truck and the rest of the load safely a foot or two away from him - I don't know if this was just luck or if he jumped clear as it went. Either way, this could have been quite nasty. And yes I know that you can equally argue that he'd have to have been very unlucky to be in the wrong place, but even so ... I would be having an extra glass of something delicious tonight were I him. Our security guys were there to help immediately. The driver didn't look much hurt, but a bit shocked, and moved a little bit stiffly - maybe pulled a muscle or something, but far preferable to being squished by a huge heavy truck thing. A potentially horrid  episode - how nice that it didn't happen, and stayed at the level of a scary experience, not something involving ambulances.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Blimey (in a high voice)

Laudemus have just texted me to ask me to go and sing next week, as a counter-tenor has dropped out. I cannot tell you how much I would love to, nor how utterly utterly impossible it is for me to do it. But I am incredibly flattered to have been asked. I can't quite believe that they think I'm a serviceable enough singer to do this. It's so sweet of them - one year, I would seriously love to go back and do it again: a very very superior musical experience. Good lunches and socialness too. Ah me. Another time.

Gig-a-Blog™ (Trio LaVolta, St Anne and St Agnes)

What a nice gig. The Trio LaVolta is Joyce Fraser (violin), Felix Buser (cello) and Sally Mays (piano) and they did a fine job on this interesting, and blessedly short, programme. I don't mean that in the least nastily: it's merely that lunchtime concerts by their nature do need to finish on time, and it's a great help and a great anxiety-reliever when they do. People who overrun on a lunchtime concert need custard pouring down their trousers, with extreme prejudice.

We started with Bridge's Three Miniatures. Very nice, clever, light but not lightweight: beautifully performed by this rather good trio.

The second and last work was the Trio for violin, cello and piano written in 1921 by Rebecca Clarke possibly (it says here) as a Great War response.

This is a fantastic piece! Here are my ramblings:

  1. Moderato ma appassionato. Dramatically emotional long lines. Staccato aggressive rhythms (war?) Bugle calls. Hymn tunes or chant?
  2. Andante, molto semplice. Unsettling floaty melody. I keep thinking it's settling somewhere then it floats off again, possibly due to er, er, augmentedness. Or something. It's never quite OK but we do get to a broader, grander and more open passage, with just enough oddness retained to prevent it from reaching peaceful repose till the very last chord.
  3. Allegro vigoroso. This starts with quite a furious tune which settles into an almost RVW-like statement of something very English-sounding. Gets broader and gentler before it all kicks off again with the very busy section. More bugles. Through to coda-like bit, very quiet and contemplative. Sudden loud vigorous symphonic ending.

I really liked this work. The programme says it's her magnum opus in a body of work consisting mostly of chamber music and song. I'd certainly like to hear more. Just for the record, Clarke lived from 1886 to 1979 and was a star viola player. So there.

Statement Of Conformance: I hereby certify that this Lunchtime Gig-a-Blog™ conforms with the New Model Operating Procedure having been written only during the concert itself and/or the train ride home. (signed: Vogel von Neustadt, Lunchtime Gig-a-Bloggist™). Yeah Babay!

I have experienced The Best Sticky Toffee Pudding in the Entire Universe. There is no going back.

The middlest of my Monstrous Regiment of Daughters and I were at the ICA on Wednesday doing a gig, which I need to write up some time when I have some "free time". Ahahah. (Update: it is now to be found here.)

Just for now, though, I wish to record the fact that the ICA cafe served us with The Best Sticky Toffee Pudding in the Entire Universe. I don't usually like to eat much before playing (chiz) but we had a bit of a gap and had been issued with meal vouchers, and when offered pud it seemed churlish to refuse so we had one between the two of us. Just to be polite, you understand. Ahem.

As I wrote to a friend, this was "a transcendental moment, choirs of angels, celestial percussion ensemble™ etc, 'move into the light Vogel, approach the Pudding of Excellence', an ting ..." Why was it so good? Erm dunno - toffee was fab, all caramelly, hint of a slightly burnt flavour even; the pud itself was so deliciously light that I am suspicious that it was perhaps floating a millimetre or two off the plate. This was created not by a chef but by a sorcerer, I reckon.

Oh and the clotted cream with which it was served didn't exactly make things worse, either.

I know I'm going on a bit but honestly this was really something else. Not just good but a world apart. Yum.

Monday, 9 July 2007


A new IT person started at work today. The replacement for the greatly-lamented Kia, he's a very nice bloke who I hope will be a success, and be happy here. This is all very important to me because since Kia left a lot (though not all) of her work has bounced back to me and it's made things uncomfortably difficult. So, there's a nasty bit of self-interest in it but I really want this to be a success so that I can try to sort out my own work a bit. Watch this space.

I should also add that there's a slight pride thing, in that the bloke we appointed was my favourite of all we saw, so I'd like my judgement to be correct and for him to be a big success like Kia, who was also very much the star candidate for me! I so hope it works out well for him and he likes it here.


I am exhausted after a weekend of doing mostly nice and mostly self-inflicted things about which I cannot therefore complain. I am hoping to write about some of it here.

I am going grrr because I couldn't make it to the lunchtime concert today (for perfectly valid work reasons, I should add). I was already a bit engrumped about this as Friday's performers chose to put a ~70 minute programme in a 50-minute slot and I had to walk out after two of the three Beethoven violin sonatas they were doing. The church is perfectly nice about people doing this, indeed Jana (the vicar) made an announcement to this very effect, but it still feels a bit bad to do so and I would very much prefer to avoid it. But I cannot go to these concerts and just vanish for half the afternoon: there has to be some balance between my desire to be at the concert and the fact that I am meant to be at work for some quite large chunk of the day too! :)

  • While I am griping about the Friday concert - this was going to be a separate entry but, what the H*ll - the balance was, or seemed to me, very much too far in the piano's favour. OK it might be my old and increasingly defective hearing, or I may have unluckily sat in a very bad place. But what it seemed was that the piano, with its lid fully open, was aimed right at my head and delivering nothing quieter than mf, whereas the violin was going off up into the church roof and never really getting back down. I've experienced this before with this player and not with other performers so, while I am trying to be nice, I do feel that something was a bit wrong somewhere - I was basically hearing loud piano solos with a rather distant violin accompaniment. The violinist's biog note talks about her silvery tone and her rejection of flashiness - which a cynic might read as not such a strong player - but whichever is the case, someone should tell the pianist. Or her. Or I should get me ears fixed. Whatever.
  • Note that I am not naming the performers. Musicians have a hard enough time without amateur critics chucking their oar in too: I'd hate for a quick google on this lady's name to lead to people finding my b*tching about her - others can sort that out. And she is, I know, a fine player, and the pianist too - I just wish I could have heard them both properly. Gah!!

So that's a load of grumpinosity. On the other hand, back on Monday, the sun was shining and me, my MP3 player, my teeny weeny computer and my lunch went and sat near a fountain in the Barbican for a bit. I listened to excitingly random things and finished reading - on the PDA - the rather good Terry Pratchett Discworld novel Wintersmith. So not all bad, which is why I have gone back and altered the title so it is only half a grrr.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Fighting for Purity of Purpose

I am a specialist Strawberry Yogologist, and proud of it.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

I will not be seduced by all this other delicious stuff.

Oh alright go on then.

Random Pleyel

It's quite annoying, I know, when people start droning on - as if it was some great revelation - about something you've known for ten years. So I will try not to (well not too much); instead let me just say that until I had my own MP3 player I didn't really understand quite how wonderful Random Play All was, and now I'm beginning to.

I'm a creature of habit and, left to my own devices, I might well tend to stick to a pretty limited repertoire of tunes, despite the zillions available. This behaviour was only reinforced by my previous portable music device, the late lamented minidisc player. Since its discs are more of less the same capacity as a CD, it's fiddly to change and so tended to push me towards a conservative approach, even among the relatively few discs I'd made.

Random Play All removes all this. It's no more or less easy to listen to Bleibt Alles Anders for the 8000000th time than it is to listen to something I put on yesterday or that I ripped six years ago at work and have long since forgotten.

So what does Random Play All do for me:?

  • It's brilliant having someone else make the decisions. I'm often astonished by the cleverness of the programming. Who'd have thought of going from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet to incidental music from Wings of Desire, via Maynard Ferguson's, er, "incomparable" Bridge Over Troubled Water, and finishing the sequence with Somebody's Watching Me by Rockwell? Well, not me for starters. It's like having in your pocket a miniature Late Junction (all rise, face Broadcasting House, and bow please) which has stayed up much too late then maxed out on coffee, dry roast peanuts and bacon sandwiches. The randomness makes for much whackier programming than I'd dare do by hand. I love it!
  • It amuses me by (sort of) holding the mirror up to my musical tastes.
  • The latter cuts both ways. It's great when something comes on and I think, "wow, this is great". It's a fair bit less so when I hear something and go, "good grief, what is this appalling hogwash? What kind of fool would have put it on here? ... Oh."
  • The surprises and unfamiliarity are great, but then it's fun when something I know and love shows up. It's like the DJ chose my favourite song.
  • It's good to be forced (encouraged?) to listen to non-favourite tracks from a favourite album. These are the ones I'd often skip for no good reason.
  • If an unfamiliar track comes on and you'd like to identify it, it's surprisingly easy.
  • Oh, so sorry, there's text omitted there - it should read: if an unfamiliar track comes on and you'd like to identify it, it's surprisingly easy to mess it up and be left without a clue as to what it was. It's probably fine if you were born since 1980 but for me it's only one quick butterfingered or confused moment before the fact I wanted is consigned to the binary shredder. I'd quite like it projected inside my specs when I press a button, please. Or read out over the audio track perhaps, preferably by Gwyneth Paltrow? Anyway.
  • The only other annoyance is when it's messed up by silly short tracks and/or bad, abrupt endings. These are problems confined largely to classical music, much of which was not, I fear, written for MP3 players, though I do sometimes feel the record companies could have done a little better even so. My recording of the Alpine Symphony is particularly bad in this respect - one moment you're nearing the end of some exquisite chunk of upland scenery then suddenly, before the end of a phrase and with no apparent logic to the placement, the Alps are gone and Kate Bush is tweetling in your ear. This can be a touch disconcerting. I think the track end positions were given to the Year 10 work experience kid to do on a hot Friday afternoon when they'd finished the photocopying - you know how it is...
  • It also makes you think about the weird way these collections get built up, which is what I meant about it “sort of” holding up the mirror. For example I am hearing a lot of the Comedian Harmonists in the random selection. This isn’t because I am really that fanatical about them, great though they are, but merely that the Salverdas loaned me a four-disc set and I ripped it all – so the Harmonists are particularly well-represented. It would, I think, be a touch too obsessive to start trying to fine-tune this and make it truly representative – and anyway it is more fun, and certainly more bizarre, this way.

Basically, it’s a wonderful feature and I love it. There you go!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Strawberry Yoghurt - Loseley Rich and Creamy Yoghourt - Strawberries & Jersey Cream

Bliss! A delicious, cheekily expensive yoghurt in a proper glass jar that you can recycle, keep teaspoons in, or whatever. Very fruity, not an over-strong flavour but all feels and looks very natural. They even use a spelling of Yoghurt more extreme than mine! Marvellous. I may have to reconsider and start referring to Yaoghurrte or Jaeiijjjt or whatever. I was amused to have been charged 72p for this at the (gakk!) Tesco Metro round the corner, despite Loseley having 69p as the RRP on their website. Clearly Tesco know that yogophiles will pay through the nose for their addiction.


A veritable queen among yoghurts

Packlarity: 10

Mmmm factor: 8

Grelltt: 4

Rurality: 8

Sploorn: 9.4

Overall: 9.1

Gig-a-Blog™ (Annett Busse, St Anne and St Agnes)

To start yesterday's lunchtime, the excellent pianist Annett Busse played a rather wonderful Haydn sonata, XVI:46 in Ab. I know it's very trendy nowadays to remind oneself not to dismiss Haydn for not being Mozart, but, dammit, they're right. There's no sense in which you need to sit and listen to this as the precursor of this or the cornerstone of that - it just is.

If I'd been in any doubt about whether or not to come to this concert the next group of pieces would've clinched it for me. These were from Ligeti's Musica Ricercata, (nos. 3-6, it you must) and were simply fabulous. I have a major soft spot for Ligeti anyway (simply put, I owe him my degree!) but I'd forgotten the wonderful breadth of styles he commanded. There's no way that, from familiarity with say Aventures or Volumina that you'd guess this was the same composer. I suppose the brevity of some of the pieces and their sometimes abrupt and/or witty endings might have given a clue, if you'd known some of his other work (erm - 6 Bagatelles maybe??) I'd need, though, to do some serious revision of things I almost-knew about thirty years ago, before I could pursue this idea much further. Annett Busse played these wonderfully, with great style and humour. I spoke to her afterwards and she was saying how much she'd enjoyed playing them, which was nice to hear.

The final two works were by Chopin. The first, a Berceuse, was rather restrained and beautiful whereas the second, a Scherzo in Bm (op. 29) was the more usual fireworks. Busse played this with great fluency and I was pleased that she demonstrated how to play loud, fast Chopin without giving us the whole vaudeville performance (mad pianist, demonic possession, piano exploding, audience in hard hats etc) that you sometimes get. Loud and fast with a sense of proportion rather than just loud and fast, is what I suppose I'm saying she did. I keep wondering if I maybe ought to make a real effort to understand or even like Chopin a bit more but I fear life's too short.

I'm trying to do a deal with myself so that writing about the lunchtime concerts doesn't become too long and wordy. Without this I know I won't be able to do it as it will rapidly collapse under the weight of its own pomposity. I reckon that, unless it's a deliberately bigger piece, then I should say that it doesn't get any more time than the concert itself plus the journey home that night. This piece didn't quite fit into that, but is close - watch this space.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Gig-a-Blog™ (Lunar Saxophone Quartet, St Anne and St Agnes)

I go to lots of lunchtime concerts at St Anne and St Agnes and I should probably sooner or later write a general piece about that and why I like it so much. It's pretty unlikely that I'll ever have the time to mention every concert I attend, but please don't read that as a judgment of some sort. It's just what caught my ear or seemed exceptional in some way, or maybe even just what I had time to write about.

Friday's treat was the Lunar Saxophone Quartet. They've emerged from the RWCMD (update: seems like I should have credited GSMD too, please see Joel's comment below) and were excellent. Saxes never fail to surprise me with their loudness and the sheer thickness of the sound: I still remember the first time I sat in front of a whole sax section in a rehearsal - I really couldn't believe that it wasn't amplified. At St Anne and St Agnes we are perhaps generally used to quieter music, with more gaps, more air almost, in and around and between the sounds, so this made an excellent and very striking change.

Their programme was all new or recent music and was all pretty much mainstream classical contemporary in style: I was relieved that they didn't seem tempted to stick in some big band stuff or a couple of tangos. Not that I object all that violently when that does happen, as it can also be very pleasant to listen to, but in the context of this programme I think it would have been a bit of a cop-out and perhaps seemed a little like talking down. Apart from Michael Nyman (b. 1944) all their composers were born in the 60s (Gabriel Jackson, Eric Schwartz) or the 80s (Ashley John Long, Lucy Pankhurst) which I think is very healthy.

There was great variety in this programme and one thing that added wonderfully to this was the addition of a piano for a couple of pieces. This has an amazing effect, diluting the sound and sharpening up its edges, somehow letting some air in. Sadly I didn't catch the pianist's name (update: Helen Mills, see comment below from Joel) but she was great: indeed all the playing was of a very high standard, incredibly fluent and technical at times as well as very expressive. Oh and there were some pleasantly weird contemporary effects, microtones and breathy, subtone-y will-it-won't-it notes, an ting - all rather wonderful.

I enjoy pretty much everything I go to at St Anne and St Agnes but this lot were so good, so interesting and so different that this concert was a real bonus.