Sunday, December 8, 2013

Standing ovation for Evgeny Kissin in Rome

Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 5 December 2013

Evgeny Kissin
It's a staggering thought, but Russian-born classical pianist Evgeny Kissin has been thrilling concert-goers for some three decades now - quite some feat if one considers that he is still only 42. The one time pre-teen prodigy is now lauded by critics as one of the most formidable adult players in the world today, and luckily for us in Rome, he returns almost annually to perform in the Santa Cecilia Hall at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. There is always that special buzz of eager anticipation prior to a Kissin performance, so I was surprised to see some empty seats in the concert hall for his solo recital on Thursday evening. The recession is clearly taking its toll on ticket sales in Rome – Kissin events are usually sold-out – but when he walked out on stage, he was greeted with deafening applause, which belied the empty places. A reception of such warmth is reserved for only a handful of classical music performers at the Auditorium, and the audience would get louder, with whoops and cheers added to the applause, as the concert progressed.

Kissin is a virtuoso pianist of impeccable technique, yet what makes him so remarkable is his musical approach and insight – he seeks out the very heart of a composition – and takes an audience on that journey. There were moments on Thursday evening when I found myself smiling and almost gasping out loud at the brilliance of his playing, particularly during the second half of the concert dedicated to Scriabin – the poetic Sonata n. 2 op. 19, followed by a selection of the composer's Chopinesque Études op. 8, in which Kissin effortlessly ran through the gamut of emotions, switching mood from wistfully nostalgic, though achingly sad, to passionate. It was breathtaking playing.

After five curtain calls and thunderous applause at the end of the concert, Kissin finally ended the cat and mouse teasing with his adoring public and sat down again for three sublime encores – the Kempff transcription of Bach's Siciliana, another Scriabin Étude, and to close the evening, an exhilarating Polonaise, Op. 53 by Chopin, which brought the cheering audience to its feet for a well deserved standing ovation.

Full programme:
Schubert
Sonata D 850 op.53
*
Scriabin
Sonata n. 2 op. 19 (Sonata-Fantasy)
Études op. 8 - nn. 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12
Encore:
Bach/Kempff
Siciliana
Scriabin
Étude op.42 n.5
Chopin
Polonaise, Op. 53 (Heroic)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Refined elegance - Rafal Blechacz plays Mozart in Rome

Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by Kent Nagano


Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 2 December 2013

Rafal Blechacz
Young Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz is certainly no stranger to the Santa Cecilia Hall at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. Performing in May this year as part of the Chamber Music Season, he was back to delight the audience again yesterday evening, this time accompanied by the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, under the baton of guest conductor Kent Nagano, music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and the Bavarian State Opera.

I've had the pleasure of hearing Rafał Blechacz perform on several occasions over the last couple of years, and once again last night I was impressed not only by his sheer virtuosity, but also by the refined elegance, maturity of interpretation, and consummate poise in his playing. The unique peculiarities of Mozart's dramatic Piano Concerto No. 24 K 491 in C minor - one of only two concertos he composed in minor keys - turned the spotlight on the pianist in the cadenza in the first movement and the variations in the final. Mozart left us no written cadenzas for this concerto, and for this performance that of Mozart's pupil Johann Nepomuk Hummel was chosen. Greeted with long and sustained applause at the end of the concerto Blechacz was brought back out on stage for several curtain calls before accepting Nagano's invitation to play an encore. It's always a joy to hear him play Chopin and last night's Polonaise in C minor op. 40 was utter poetry.

The second half of the concert was entirely dedicated to Anton Bruckner's monumental masterpiece dedicated to Richard Wagner - Symphony No. 3 in D minor (also known as his “Wagner Symphony”). Only the third time in which this majestic tour-de-force has been performed by the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in its history (with its last outing over thirty years ago), Nagano kept the audience enthralled throughout this long, yet immensely rewarding symphony, with both orchestra and conductor warmly applauded after the finale.

Full programme:
Mozart
Piano Concerto No 24 K491 in C minor
Encore:
Chopin
Polonaise in C minor op. 40
*
Bruckner
Symphony No 3 (Wagner Symphony) (1889 version)

Rafal Blechacz photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/rafalblechacz

Power and finesse - Joseph Moog plays Rachmaninov in Rome

Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma conducted by Gregorio Goffredo at the Auditorium Conciliazione – 1 December, 2013

Joseph Moog
Photo by Paul Marc Mitchell
The prodigiously talented young German concert pianist Joseph Moog turns twenty-six later this month, but he already has an impressive number of critically acclaimed recordings to his name, including last year's highly praised CD of Rubinstein & Rachmaninov Concertos. I was delighted, therefore, when I learned that he would be performing Rachmaninov with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma at the Auditorium Conciliazione.

There's no denying that Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto n.2 is something of a warhorse, forever associated with the film Brief Encounter and even borrowed in the pop ballad All By Myself, yet it remains enduringly popular and irresistibly wonderful. Moog's reading during Sunday's afternoon concert was effortlessly authoritative from the opening bell-like chords, and was played with a warm, yet muscular tone, and brilliantly articulated pianism. The grandeur of Moog's technical ability was matched by an imposing stage presence, whilst Maestro Goffredo - winner of the Rachmaninov International Piano Competition for two consecutive editions in 1982 and 1983 – encouraged a lush, sweeping accompaniment from the orchestra. It was a hugely enjoyable performance. Rapturous applause greeted the close of the concerto and the audience was rewarded with an exquisite Debussy solo encore from the pianist.

The afternoon was rounded out by a zealous performance of another perennial favourite, Tchaikovsky's Symphony n. 4.

Full programme:
Mendelssohn
Hebrides Overture
Rachmaninov
Piano Concerto n. 2
Encore:
Debussy
Trois Images Oubliées
*
Tchaikovsky
Symphony n. 4



Saturday, November 30, 2013

Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang play Brahms in Rome

 Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 29 November 2013


I recently watched a fun interview on YouTube with Chinese concert pianist Yuja Wang in which she answered 10 rapid fire questions. When asked who inspired her most she replied “right now I would say Kavakos. I just had a rehearsal with him and I was very, very inspired”, whilst her favourite composers were named as “Stravinsky, Brahms and Chopin...and Ligeti.” Less than a year since her last sensational performance in the capital, Yuja Wang was back on stage in Rome last night, and true to the answers she gave in the interview, this time she appeared in the company of Greek violinist and conductor Leonidas Kavakos, playing a programme of all three Brahms violin sonatas.

My autographed programme!
Kavakos and Yuja are immensely charismatic virtuosos in their own right, yet from the second they appeared on stage it was patently clear that there would be no tug of egos here - the firebrand Yuja was even dressed slightly more demurely for the occasion in a full length indigo gown (with no dramatic costume changes mid-programme to upstage the maestro with whom she shared the stage). Instead, what emerged was an easy complicity between these two very different, yet highly communicative performers, in a perfectly balanced musical dialogue, with Yuja exhibiting a new tenderness and warmth in her playing, which proved an exquisite foil to Kavakos' lyrical depth of expression and sweet, singing tonality. Of the three, the third and final sonata was the most passionate and fiery, bringing rapturous applause and cries of “Bravi!” from the audience at its close.

The pair were back on stage for an utterly delightful encore – Brahms again with the Scherzo in C minor for violin and piano - a perfect finale to showcase the strengths of both performers allowing for brief displays of individual bravura. I was thrilled to meet both musicians after the show at a CD signing session in the Auditorium bookshop, where the easy rapport between the two appeared to continue off stage, as they chatted and joked with fans. A wonderful evening!

Full Programme:
Brahms
Sonata n. 1 op. 78
Sonata n. 2 op. 100
Sonata n. 3 op. 108
Encore:
Brahms
Scherzo in C minor for violin and piano

Monday, November 18, 2013

Benny Chan's 'The White Storm' closes Rome Film Festival 2013

Sean Lau, Louis Koo and Nick Cheung on the red carpet

The international première of Benny Chan's adrenalin-fuelled action-thriller The White Storm (Sou Duk) closed the eighth edition of the Rome Film Festival on Sunday evening with a star-studded screening. All three of the movie's main protagonists, prolific Hong Kong actors Sean Lau (accompanied by his wife actress Amy Kwok), Louis Koo and Nick Cheung, joined the director on the red carpet, and were greeted with screams of delight by the many fans who had arrived early at the Auditorium Parco della Musica to catch a glimpse of the stars.

With its gun-play, spectacular action choreography, and underlying themes of loyalty and friendship, The White Storm follows firmly in the tradition of Hong Kong action movie “heroic bloodshed” classics such as John Woo's A Better Tomorrow and A Bullet in the Head. An immensely enjoyable roller-coaster ride, full of plot twists and turns, and with stunningly photographed locations, the film is underpinned by engaging performances by the three charismatic leads – Nick Cheung is particularly good – and was warmly received by the Rome audience, with rapturous and long applause as the credits rolled.

To get a taste of the atmosphere at the Rome screening of The White Storm watch the video below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Tsui Hark honoured with Maverick Director Award at Rome Film Festival 2013

Giona Nazzaro, Olivier Assayas and Tsui Hark on stage in Rome
I'm a huge fan of Hong King cinema so I was absolutely thrilled when I first learned that the visionary film director and producer Tsui Hark would be attending the Rome Film Festival this year to receive the Maverick Director Award, a special prize given to innovative auteurs. Tsui Hark was at the festival on Saturday evening to collect the award from French director Olivier Assayas, and to attend the international première screening of his new film Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon 3D, presented Out of Competition. Tsui Hark revolutionised Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and 1990s, and he continues to thrill audiences today, with breathtaking special effects, and in the case of his latest movie, stunning use of stereoscopic 3D, which makes his gravity-defying high-wire martial arts action scenes even more spectacular.

After the film Tsui Hark and Olivier Assayas returned to the stage in Sala Sinopoli for a late night Masterclass moderated by Giona Nazzaro, in which the director began by explaining that he had started out wanting to make documentaries and had fallen, almost by accident, into making a wuxia martial arts television series. The discussion moved quickly through his career, from his early horror movie Butterfly Murders, to his controversial social commentary about delinquent youth Don't Play with Fire, which to his dismay was heavily censored at the time of its release, through to his hugely influential landmark special effects fantasy film Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain. Asked what drives his constant innovation, he remarked that as life is short he wants to leave something lasting behind. At the close of the evening I was one of the lucky few who managed to get an autograph and am now the proud owner of a Once Upon a Time in China DVD signed by the legendary Tsui Hark.

To see a few moments from the Tsui Hark Masterclass and award ceremony watch the video below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Spike Jonze in sold-out CineChat at Rome Film Festival 2013

Damian Lewis, Douglas Booth and Christian Cooke on the red carpet for Romeo and Juliet

Mario Sesti , Sandra Hebron and Spike Jonze
Rome Film Festival 2013
This year's edition of the Rome Film Festival may be taking place under a cloud of controversy with reports in the Italian press of alleged behind the scenes political bickering and criticism aimed at artistic director Marco Müller, yet many of the special events and screenings - in particular the CineChat on-stage conversations with actors and directors - are proving to be extremely popular with the public. There were certainly long queues to get into the sold-out Sala Petrassi at the Auditorium Parco della Musica on Monday afternoon to see film director Spike Jonze in conversation.

Appearing uneasy in the spotlight at first – he asked that a giant projected photo of himself be removed from the big screen, and even moved his chair closer to those of moderators Mario Sesti and Sandra Hebron to create more intimacy - Jonze soon relaxed into easy conversation, often throwing questions out to the audience for a show of hands, and revealing an irreverent sense of humour. The afternoon saw a fascinating discussion of his cinematographic career, from his childhood memories of making home movies on a video camera, through his television advertisements and pop music videos, and his ground-breaking films such as Being John Malkovich, right up to his latest In Competition festival offering Her. He also generously name-checked collaborators such as the band Arcade Fire, and screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann, and was keen to stress the importance of mutually influential directors of his generation such as Michel Gondry and Roman Coppola.

Leaving the Spike Jonze encounter I was lucky enough to catch the Romeo and Juliet red carpet and watched as delighted, mostly teenage, girls screamed and posed for photographs with the young and extremely pretty British actor Douglas Booth and co-star Christian Cooke. The Carlo Carlei film, with a screenplay by Julian Fellowes (both present, together with special guest Guillermo del Toro), is being presented Out of Competition at the festival. It also stars Homeland actor Damian Lewis, who was a huge hit with waiting fans along the red carpet.

To get a taste of the atmosphere at the Romeo and Juliet red carpet watch the video below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Monday, November 11, 2013

Star-studded opening weekend at Rome Film Festival 2013

John Hurt, Jared Leto, Jonathan Demme, Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, and Spike Jonze on the red carpet

Jared Leto (with Lapo & Ginevra Elkann)
Arriving in the early afternoon at the Rome Film Festival on Saturday I was surprised to see that the entire length of the Auditorium Parco della Musica's red carpet was already packed. These mostly teenage fans were there to see Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto, in Rome to present the In Competition movie Dallas Buyers Club. His red carpet walk later in the evening was accompanied by screams and scenes of pandemonium, which I watched from the safety of the Auditorium’s Cavea!

British film and theatre actor John Hurt was also back on Saturday afternoon for a wonderfully intimate on-stage conversation as part of the festival's new series of movie talks with actors and directors - CineChat - moderated by Mario Sesti and London Film Festival's Sandra Hebron. A droll and generous raconteur, it was an absolute delight to spend an hour in the company of such a distinguished actor.

Mario Sesti, Jonathan Demme and Giona A. Nazzaro
Autumn arrived very suddenly in Rome over the weekend, however, bringing heavy rain on Sunday. Film director Jonathan Demme was sadly forced to cut short his red carpet walk thanks to a sudden downpour. Luckily, I had tickets for his hugely enjoyable CineChat conversation yesterday afternoon in Sala Petrassi. Moderated by Mario Sesti and Giona A. Nazzaro, the encounter was a fascinating exploration of Demme's career, from his early days as a protégé of Roger Corman, through to his recent return to lower budget filmmaking in his latest film Fear of Falling, which sees its world première screening at this year's festival. His passion for his craft was palpable, and I particularly liked his questioning of the morality of spending inordinate amounts of money on multi-million dollar movies. It was also fun to see Demme's genuine surprise when, after praising the Neapolitan composer Enzo Avitabile with whom he had worked on the documentary Enzo Avitabile Music Life, the musician stood up and revealed that he was sitting in the audience!

The bad weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the fans who thronged the length of the red carpet for a glimpse of the biggest Hollywood names at this years festival, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, who, along with their co-star Rooney Mara and director Spike Jonze, were in attendance for the In Competition screening of Her. Already an early favourite for a festival prize, the film was warmly received in the packed Santa Cecilia hall yesterday evening with the biggest cheers reserved for the enormously charismatic Phoenix.

To get a taste of the atmosphere at the Her première watch the video below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

John Hurt presents 'Snowpiercer' at Rome Film Festival 2013

John Hurt at Rome Film Festival 2013
The eighth edition of the Rome Film Festival, once again under the artistic direction of Marco Müller, got underway yesterday evening with the gala world première of Italian director Giovanni Veronesi's new comedy The Fifth Wheel (L'ultima ruota del carro). The biggest thrill of the day for me personally, however, was to see veteran British actor John Hurt grace the red carpet before a late night Out of Competition screening of Korean director Bong Joon-Ho's stunning Snowpiercer. Greeted by dozens of admirers on his arrival at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, Mr Hurt took the time to sign autographs and pose for photographs before entering Santa Cecilia Hall, where he was met with cheers by the audience. The movie was warmly received in Rome and received lengthy applause as the credits rolled.

To get a taste of the atmosphere at the Snowpiercer premiere watch the video below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bob Dylan thrills at the Atlantico, Rome – 6 November, 2013

Guessing the setlist ahead of shows at a Bob Dylan concert is a popular and somewhat obsessive sport amongst fans, and I confess that in the run up to Dylan's show at the Atlantico in Rome's EUR district last night, I too had spent hours online cross-checking the song lists and watching concert “spoilers” on YouTube. I arrived at the concert convinced, therefore, that we would be hearing a selection of songs taken predominately from his latest studio album Tempest. When his band took to the stage (with Charlie Sexton back on lead guitar), followed by Bob Dylan who positioned himself immediately behind the grand piano, and they launched into 1960s classics Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, followed by a gorgeous Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, I quickly realised that my predictions couldn't have been more wrong! As it turned out, the evening would focus almost entirely on his 1960s output, with Tempest completely absent. Trying to second-guess such an unpredictable figure as Bob Dylan is impossible – as he huddled together with the band between songs, the song choices yesterday evening really did feel utterly spontaneous.

The shows during this autumn 2013 European tour are all in surprisingly small venues, rather than stadiums. Arriving early at the standing-only Atlantico I was able to quickly find a spot only a few rows back from the stage, but even those at the very back were easily able to see the singer. This closeness to the audience made for an intimate evening. It's rare for there to be much interaction between Dylan and his public, but after a blisteringly bluesy Highway 61 Revisited brought the first set to a close, he walked centre stage, smiled, laughed, and then thanked us in Italian - “Grazie amici!” The mixed crowd of all ages cheered enthusiastically throughout, applauding stand-out moments mid-song, with cries of “Thank you Bob!”

The performance was close to perfection - Dylan was in fine voice, enunciating every word so that the lyrics were crystal clear, and his revisitations of old songs were beautifully phrased and instantly recognisable. There were so many moments when I found myself gasping with delight - Blind Willie McTell with Bob's exquisite harp playing, Queen Jane Approximately was a dream come true, Ain't Talkin' (one of the few songs recorded this side of the millennium on offer last night) was a mesmerising show stopper, whilst Make You Feel My Love, Boots of Spanish Leather and Every Grain of Sand were sung with vocal precision and real tenderness. Like a Rolling Stone, which closed the second set, inspired a mass stadium volume sing-along during the chorus, with Bob even skipping a line now and again and leaving it to the crowd to sing. Back on stage for one final encore – an exhilarating All Along the Watchtower – and it was time for final bows...and then the roadies were out unplugging the stage gear, the lights were up and we were left blinking and stunned by the brilliance of the performance we'd just seen.

Bob Dylan is back at the Atlantico again this evening. And there's only one man who knows what songs he'll be singing!

Full setlist:
  1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
  2. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
  3. Watching The River Flow
  4. Blind Willie McTell
  5. Honest With Me
  6. Make You Feel My Love
  7. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
  8. Queen Jane Approximately
  9. Highway 61 Revisited
  10. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
  11. Ain't Talkin'
  12. Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine
  13. Boots Of Spanish Leather
  14. The Levee's Gonna Break
  15. Every Grain Of Sand
  16. Like A Rolling Stone
  17. Encore
  18. All Along The Watchtower

Full band

Bob Dylan - piano, harp
Tony Garnier - bass
George Recile - drums
Stu Kimball - rhythm guitar
Charlie Sexton - lead guitar
Donnie Herron - banjo, electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Uto Ughi per Roma 2013

Uto Ughi, soloist and conductor of Orchestra da Camera I Filarmonici di Roma

Uto Ughi Per Roma 2013
Virtuoso violinist Uto Ughi may hail from the north of Italy, but his love affair with Rome is passionately revived every autumn through a series of free concerts in theatres and churches across the city during the Uto Ughi per Roma music festival. Now in its fifteenth year, the concerts are intended to break down barriers of elitism and open the world of classical music to a wider audience, and feature performances not only by the maestro himself, but also by young and talented musicians, with local government and private sponsors picking up the tab.

Judging by the enthusiasm of the audience which packed the Auditorium Conciliazione at the opening concert on Monday evening, Rome also loves Uto Ughi and he was duly thanked with a huge cheer when he took to the stage and launched straight into the exhilarating Praeludium and Allegro by Pugnani-Kreisler. Maintaining an effortless rapport with the audience between pieces as the evening progressed, he explained a little about the music, with often amusing anecdotes about the composers, and even quizzed the audience in the stalls at times - he was the maestro, and for this one evening, we were all his students!

My personal favourite moments during an enjoyably eclectic programme of “greatest hits” for the violin were the elegantly charming Dvorak Humoresque, the exquisite Méditation from Thaïs by Massenet, Kreisler's transcription of the Spanish dance from Vida Breve by De Falla, played with verve and obvious delight, and the exuberant Polonaise op 4.n 1 in D major by Polish composer Wieniawski, whom Ughi introduced as “the Chopin of the violin”.

Uto Ughi per Roma continues at various venues across the city until 16 October, 2013. Tickets are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. For further details visit: UtoUghiPerRoma.com

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Wonder of Woodkid at Luglio Suona Bene

Woodkid on stage in Rome
When I read back in April this year that French multi-disciplinary artist (or entertainer as he prefers to be called) Yoann Lemoine alias Woodkid had played at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, and that I had somehow managed to miss the event, I was exasperated with myself, especially when I tracked down the inevitable YouTube footage and realised that I'd missed a very special evening. Luckily, for Rome concert-goers we didn't have to wait too long before the wonderful Woodkid returned to the Eternal City, this time performing his extraordinary show in the open air Cavea as part of the Luglio Suona Bene festival yesterday evening, to a small, yet enthusiastic audience.

Before releasing his first album The Golden Age earlier this year, Lemoine was already well-known as a music video director for stars such as Lana del Rey, Katy Perry, and Rihanna. His alter ego Woodkid's project is not surprisingly, therefore, far more than just a showcase for his music, and is instead an expertly choreographed theatrical production combining strobe lights and dramatic cinematic projections, as befitting the operatic scale of many of the songs. Slated for a 9.00 pm start, it was half an hour later before the concert got underway – as dusk finally turned to dark, the lights dimmed and the foghorn-like blasts of the brass section of Woodkid's excellent band brought an awed hush to the Cavea, signalling the beginning of the concert. After the instrumental prologue, the first song, Baltimore's Fireflies, an exquisitely lovely track from his 2011 EP Iron, sung with a voice that held me enthralled for the rest of the evening - a rich velvety baritone, with a touch of gritty vibrato, like Nick Cave with a dash of Antony Hegarty - gently eased us into Woodkid's world, as the background screens took us into huge cathedral-like spaces. After the intensity of this opening track it was a delight to see Woodkid break into a huge smile at the deafening cheers of approval at the end, and the easy rapport this charismatic performer instantly created with the audience.

 On one of the hottest evenings of the year, most of the Rome audience stayed sitting for the first half of the show – even during Conquest Of Spaces which had me dancing in my seat - until the euphoric climax of the performance, when, at Woodkid's command “Rome wake up! Are you ready to jump?!” suddenly every single person in the Cavea was on their feet, clapping and cheering, as the epic Iron and The Great Escape brought the evening to a close. Saving the single Run Boy Run for a deliriously ecstatic encore, this mesmerising production ended all too soon with The Other Side, the final track on The Golden Age, but with a tantalising promise from Woodkid that we'd see again him soon...hopefully with a full orchestra!

Utterly amazing – miss him at your peril!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Louise Nevelson at the Fondazione Roma Museo, Palazzo Sciarra

The Golden Pearl, 1962
Courtesy of Fondazione Marconi, Milano
© Louise Nevelson by SIAE 2013
Continuing the trend it began in 2009 with the stunning Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition, and again in 2011 with its Georgia O’Keeffe show, the Fondazione Roma Museo recently put the spotlight on another major twentieth century woman artist with a major monographic exhibition of the work of American sculptor Louise Nevelson. Born in 1899 in Perislav, Ukraine in what was then part of the Russian Empire, Nevelson emigrated with her family to the United States when she was just three years old, and died in her adopted homeland in New York, her favourite city, in 1988. Curated by Bruno Corà, the retrospective took a comprehensive look at the artist’s entire oeuvre over what was a long, and productive working life, showcasing 70 key works, which included early drawings and terracotta works from the 1930s, with a stunning collection of assemblages and collages from the 1950s and 1960s, right through to mature works from the 1980s. Whilst her late monumental site-specific pieces in COR-TEN steel could not be exhibited, of course, there was a highly enjoyable documentary film about her studio process in creating these massive sculptures, and true to the highest standards we've come to expect from this excellent gallery space, there were also enormous photographic panels illustrating these works.

Over the past few years the Fondazione Roma Museo has become one of my favourite galleries in the city, with each show thoughtfully curated and somewhat theatrically designed with props and exhibition spaces designed to aid the viewer in understanding an artist's work. By contrast, the Nevelson show was presented more simply, but this worked beautifully given the complexity of her art; each assemblage was hung at just the right height and with absolutely perfect lighting,  accentuating every shadow, and transforming her painted monochromatic wooden assemblages into multi-panelled polyptych altarpieces. Whilst the influence of Cubism and Dadaism, and even Abstract Expressionism in the scale of her later works, and comparisons with artists such as Duchamp, Picasso and Schwitters, who recycled everyday objects into their art, easily came to mind, when confronted with Nevelson's work face to face, one quickly appreciated the uniqueness of Nevelson's own visual language, and the sheer scale and drama she brought to cast-off wood scraps, when sprayed with black, white, and occasionally, gold paint.

Homage to the Universe, 1968
Courtesy of Fondazione Marconi, Milano © Louise Nevelson by SIAE 2013
Homage to the Universe (1968), a hugely ambitious, room-filling assemblage, painted monochrome black and displayed in its own gold painted space, exemplified the endlessly engrossing complexities and changing rhythms in her work. Benches were installed along the opposite wall and sitting down to gaze a while at this monumental piece provided a contemplative pause mid-exhibition.

Robert Mapplethorpe captured her larger than life personality in a wonderful late portrait photograph - an elderly woman, eyelids smudged with mascara from her trademark false eyelashes, yet utterly formidable, she gazed out at us in one of the smallest rooms at the end of the exhibition. A darkened room, with the air of a sacristy containing ancient art treasures, three gold assemblages sat side by side - The Golden Gate (1961-70), Royal Winds (1960), and the exquisite The Golden Pearl (24 elements) (1962). It was a fitting end to a marvellous exhibition.

Louise Nevelson was organized by the Fondazione Roma-Arte-Musei with Arthemisia Group and supported by the American Embassy in association with the Nevelson Foundation of Philadelphia and the Fondazione Marconi of Milan, and ran from 16 April – 21 July 2013 at the Fondazione Roma Museo, Palazzo Sciarra, Rome.

Copyright on all images in this post as indicated (web-resolution, fair use rationale).

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Magical performance by Antony and the Johnsons at Luglio Suona Bene

She's So Blue

It was back in 2005 when I first saw Antony Hegarty in concert in Rome. I remember the brief, intense evening very well, during which Antony performed in semi-darkness, his face mostly hidden under a shapeless hat, a seemingly pathologically shy performer, who nevertheless held the audience spellbound by the power of his angelic voice. I've since seen him sing some half a dozen times over the last few years – with various incarnations of The Johnsons, with orchestras, and in the performance art piece Turning with Charles Atlas – and at every show he has revealed another facet of his on-stage persona. The Antony I saw performing on Monday evening in the Cavea at the Auditorium Parco della Musica as part of the Luglio Suona Bene open air concert programme, however, brought something entirely new to the mix: an apparent delight at being on stage.

It was a staggeringly good performance. His voice sounded deeper and richer than ever before, as he pushed it to previously unexplored ranges, during a fascinating, sophisticated, and always surprising setlist of songs by other composers, which opened with a sublime For All We Know (a Billie Holiday cover) and closed with Lou Reed's Candy Says in the encore, and revisited Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive on the way. It would be difficult to choose a favourite moment – how does one pick highlights in the presence of perfection? - but certainly his version of Jimmy Scott's Motherless Child, which he dedicated to gay children growing up under oppressive regimes all over the world, was enthralling, as was the chillingly hypnotic murder ballad The Cruel Mother (recorded by English folk singer Shirley Collins). Antony's own songs – Cripple and the Starfish, and You are my Sister brought spontaneous whoops and cheers, but it was Cut the World that would have blown the roof off the venue if there had been one, and provoked an amused chuckle and “Ah! So you liked that one,” from Antony.

Under the musical direction of Steven Bernstein, Antony's voice was never merely accompanied by the seven astoundingly good jazz musicians on stage – it became the eighth element in the musical arrangements. Indeed, after he had introduced the band members, he knelt before them during the long audience applause. Leaving the Cavea to a standing ovation, and rapturous cheers, he waved goodnight with the words “Till we meet again”. I plan to be there. Antony just gets better and better.

  • Antony - voice, piano
  • Steven Bernstein - musical director, trombone, soprano trombone, flugelhorn
  • Julian Joseph - piano, electric organ
  • Douglas Wieselman - clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor and baritone sax
  • Renaud Gabriel Pion - bass clarinet, bass flute, baritone sax, English horn
  • Leo Abrahams - guitar
  • Bradley Jones – bass
  • Kenny Wollesen - drums, percussion, vibraphone

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rome, Open City: Roma Pride Parade 2013

Rainbow Families - Roma Pride 2013
Tens of thousands of people paraded through the streets of Rome yesterday to celebrate Gay Pride under the banner “Roma Città Aperta” (Rome, Open City). Italy lags woefully behind the rest of Europe in recognising gay and lesbian marriage or same-sex civil unions. Conspicuous by his absence during yesterday’s march was the newly elected Mayor of Rome Ignazio Marino whose decision not to attend was greeted with dismay in the capital. It remains to be seen if the Democratic Party Mayor will make good on his campaign pledge to introduce a register of same-sex civil unions in the city. Watch this space!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Last chance to see stunning Titian exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale – Final weekend!


Martyrdom of St Lawrence
(Venice, Chiesa dei Gesuiti)
If you're heading to Rome this weekend be sure to set aside a couple of hours to visit the Scuderie del Quirinale and be dazzled by the paintings of Venetian Renaissance master Titian (in Italian Tiziano Vecellio) on display until Sunday. Presented as the final chapter in a series of excellent monographic shows held over the last few years at the Scuderie del Quirinale looking at the work of Italian Renaissance painters - Antonello da Messina, Giovanni Bellini, Lorenzo Lotto and Tintoretto - this analysis of Titian brings the cycle to a stunning conclusion. There are no also-rans in this show - this is a world class exhibition of 39 important paintings by Titian, with loans from major museums both in Italy and overseas.

The lower floor of the Scuderie del Quirinale gallery is spacious enough to hang even the largest of monumental paintings, and it is on this floor that we find most of the religious paintings in the show. Indeed, the very first painting the visitor sees in the first gallery is a late altarpiece, the recently restored Martyrdom of St Lawrence (1547-1559), an extraordinary study in light and color, and truly gruesome execution scene. In the same room as this altarpiece we find the sombre Prado Titian Self-Portrait (1565-1566), a portrait of the artist as an old man. Two paintings into the show, and already the enormous influence and legacy of Titian is apparent, as one is fleetingly reminded of Rubens, Caravaggio, even Manet, and of course Rembrandt.

Christ Crucified
(Madrid, El Escorial)
Colour and light may have been Titian's driving concerns, but what emerges from this show is the way he employed them in the service of the story being told. A chilling white light bathes the dying Christ in the El Escorial Christ Crucified (1555-1557), as lightning rends the thunderous sky, and the slither of a crescent moon breaks through the clouds, yet in the background a warmer sunrise lights up the distant mountains. The deathly pallour of the dead Christ in the Prado Deposition of Christ in the Sepulchre (1559) in the following room is heightened all the more by the luscious vermillion of San Giovanni's clothes and the Vigin's lapis lazuli cloak, whilst the sheer bulk of Christ's dead body is rendered in loose, broad brush strokes.

Portrait of Ranuccio Farnese
(Washington, National Gallery of Art)
Almost the entire upper floor of the Scuderie is dedicated to my favourite aspect of Titian's output – his work as a portraitist – and it's here that I found myself spending the most time. In fact, I spent quite some time in front of one painting alone, the Portrait of Ranuccio Farnese (1542). Utterly beautiful and strangely poignant, this portrait pictures the 12 year old boy in the ill-fitting costume of the adult office recently thrust upon him (he had just been made prior of the Knights of Malta and would become Archbishop of Naples at 14 ). The portrait marked the beginning of Titian's long association with the Farnese family and, in particular Pope Paul III, whose engaging portrait is in the first room of the upper floor. The Louvre's enigmatic, Man with Glove (1524-1525) is yet another showstopper.

The final room features another late Self-Portrait (c.1562) and a final bravura work of quite astonishing brushwork by the elderly Titian, The Flaying of Marsyas (c.1570-1576), which comes as a genuine shock after the gently sublime portraits of the previous rooms.

Unmissable.

Tiziano is curated by Giovanni C. F. Villa , and continues at the Scuderie del Quirinale until 16 June 2013.

Image usage note: web-resolution, fair use rationale on all images.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rafał Blechacz gives sparkling performance in Rome

Polish concert pianist Rafał Blechacz made a welcome return to Rome on Friday evening with a splendid performance in the Santa Cecilia Hall at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. The recession is clearly beginning to bite in Italy and the hall was less full than in previous years, but nevertheless he was given a loud and warm welcome, and the audience was rewarded with a wonderful evening, full of sparkling displays of virtuosity and flair, elegantly employed in the service of the music.

Rafał Blechacz is still very young – he turns 28 this June - and when he appears on stage one is initially struck by how his boyish looks make him appear even younger than his years, only to be surprised by the maturity of his playing once his hands touch the keyboard. This maturity was perfectly illustrated by his opening piece - Bach’s Partita No. 3 in A Minor – which he performed with playful grace and clarity, firmly underpinned with intellectual rigour.

Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3 completed the first half of the concert. It was a mesmerising interpretation - the opening Presto and closing Rondò were played with enthralling verve and audacity, whilst the Largo and mesto was more lyrical than gloomy – and was met with an enormous roar of approval from the audience at the end, with cheers of bravo! and several curtain calls before the public would let him leave the stage.

The second half of the evening was entirely dedicated to the composer with whom Rafał Blechacz is most frequently associated – Chopin. Back in 2005 he impressed the judges at the Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw so much that he was awarded first prize in every category. Hearing Rafał Blechacz play Chopin is always a joy...and what a stunning second half it turned out to be, as he held the audience rapt with a rich and varied set of seven pieces, with two more played as encores. I'm a sucker for the perennial “Military” Polonaise in A Major and I enjoyed the majesty he brought to this piece enormously, but the show stopping high point of the entire evening for me was the Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39 – the extraordinary runs and delicate waterfall sounds of those cascading octaves were utterly magical. With the closing notes still hanging in the air, the first cheers of bravo! broke the spell, followed by thunderous applause.

Rafal was coaxed back to the Steinway for an achingly lovely encore of Chopin's Waltz No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2, which brought yet more applause, and many of us to our feet. Looking visibly exhausted during the final curtain calls, yet generous to a fault, he graciously gave us one final fleeting, and tantalisingly brief second encore in the form of Chopin's Prelude in A major, Op. 28 no. 7, which elicited an audible sigh of appreciation from the audience. Wonderful!

Full programme:
Bach
Partita No. 3 in A Minor
Beethoven
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3
Chopin
Nocturne in A-flat Major, Op. 32, No. 2
“Military” Polonaise in A Major, Op.40 no.1
Polonaise in C Minor, Op. 40, No. 2
Three Mazurkas, Op. 63
Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39
Encore:
Chopin
Waltz No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Prelude in A major, Op. 28 no. 7

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cecilia Bartoli's Sacrificium in Rome

Music by Händel, Porpora, Caldara, Araia, Leo, Vinci, Broschi, Scarlatti

Cecilia Bartoli on stage in Rome
Like an irresistible force of nature, superstar mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli took Rome by storm last night in a magnificent performance in front of a packed house in the appropriately named Sala Santa Cecilia at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. From the very second the divine Ms Bartoli swaggered on stage in knee high boots, draped in a scarlet-lined cape, with matching gloves, and sporting a tricorne hat, which she doffed to the audience in a sweeping bow, before casting it aside and beginning the first exhilarating aria Come nave, she already had the audience in the palm of her hand. This was going to be a wonderful, theatrical evening! She may have received some rough treatment from a handful of disgruntled opera goers at Milan's La Scala recently, but in Rome, where she was born, and also studied at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, she is clearly adored. I've never seen such a welcome for any classical artist at the Auditorium, or such boisterous enthusiasm towards a performer, with the Santa Cecilia regular audience swelled by huge numbers of Bartoli fans. She looked genuinely moved by the warmth of her reception.

The evening, entitled Sacrificium: La scuola dei castrati, was a showcase of arias from her Grammy award-winning recording of the same name, which commemorates the “sacrifice” of thousands of prepubescent Italian, mostly Neapolitan, boys during the early 18th century, who were castrated to stop their voices breaking, giving them male-strength soprano voices capable of performing highly virtuosic music. These hugely demanding arias were never intended to be performed by a woman, yet Cecilia Bartoli, an artist with an incomparable technique and phenomenal breath control, made this extraordinary feat look effortless. Exploring the “agony and the ecstasy” of the Neapolitan Castrati School, centuries after the agony of those mutilations Bartoli brings us the ecstasy of the music through her sublime voice. It was an utterly mesmerising performance.

She was accompanied by La Scintilla, under the direction of violinist Ada Pesch, an ensemble of Zurich Opera House players with a particular focus on historical music instruments, who were a perfect match for the ebullient Bartoli. In fact, the same musicians feature on her forthcoming Norma album, and there was an evidently happy complicity between orchestra and singer throughout the evening, particularly in the pieces where there was a playful dialogue between the instruments and voice such as Porpora's Usignolo sventurato where she was accompanied by two flutes, as well as taped bird song, and in her incredible coloraturas in the duet with oboe in Handel's M'adora l'idol mio, which she performed as the first of her three - or was it four? - encores.

During the evening she had slowly peeled off layers of clothing, but for the last songs she returned to the stage in the most elaborate and explicitly androgynous outfit of the evening – a stunning gold bodice, with its reams of dazzling red skirt fabric hitched up to reveal her black leggings and boots. She even added enormous red feathers for a Farinelli-style finale, which she would eventually toss into the air with joyous abandon at the end of the performance. The utterly deserved standing ovation was unanimous - the entire house was on its feet and cheering. As she left the stage, clutching bouquets of flowers, she waved a final goodbye: Grazie Roma!

Grazie Cecilia, for a wonderful concert.

Watch a very brief clip of Cecilia Bartoli's standing ovation in Rome below or click here to watch on YouTube.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Richard Ford at Rome Book Festival

Richard Ford and Sandro Veronesi at Libri Come
The fourth edition of Rome's annual book festival Libri come: Festa del Libro e della Lettura, which closed on Sunday, once again this year presented an impressive programme of encounters with important international authors. Whilst the focus of this edition was Europe, Sunday afternoon saw the arrival of one of America's greatest contemporary novelists and short story writers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford, in a literary discussion entitled “How I write my books”. I've been a huge Richard Ford fan for many years and couldn't wait to hear what he would have to say when he joined Italian author Sandro Veronesi on stage in Sala Petrassi at the Auditorium Parco della Musica to warm applause from the small, yet enthusiastic audience of admirers. And so the discussion began... Or rather, Veronesi began expounding his own theories on Ford's work. Frustratingly, after several, very long minutes, our ebullient host Veronesi was still only half way through his verbose introduction. Eventually, however, he conceded the floor to Ford, and the talk could finally get under way.

Richard Ford cuts a physically impressive figure – he's surprisingly tall, with silver hair, sparkling, very pale blue eyes, and a warm, mischievous smile. His softly spoken, thoughtful answers, and modest replies during the conversation that followed, made him an irresistibly likeable person. He was utterly charming as he gently demolished Veronesi's opening comments on the presumed stoicism of Frank Bascombe, the protagonist of his famous trilogy The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land, reaffirming instead, the sense of optimism in his writing.
You know, I would hate to think that I was stoico! I would hate to think that I was a kind of tough, clenched jaw, sit tight kind of person... For me to practise that attitude of trying make something whole that has been damaged is to me supremely optimistic. Maybe that's the difference between the European point of view and the American point of view...I don't know...maybe I'm just a victim of stupid American optimism!...I might be, I might be...But if I am, I'm doomed to have it! I think that to try to regenerate your life, and to try to carry on, and that you have so much life left, is potentially even, if you'll excuse my saying so, joyous. […] I'm more of a Bacchanalian personality, so stoicism is almost alien to me! Surely in Rome people can understand the possibility for Bacchanalian personality...Rome invented Bacchanalia!
Richard Ford in Rome
In fact, Ford emphasised that optimism is essential to writing books in the first place.
[…] the whole business of writing novels is fundamentally optimistic because it imagines that there will be someone to read this book, it imagines that there will a future in which this book can have a life that will outlive me […]
The insistent Veronesi, however, refined his definition of Bascombe's stoicism as “patient endurance” and integrity, to which Ford, with a chuckle, agreed. This, in fact, seemed to really resonate with him, and after quoting a line from William Faulkner's 1951 Nobel speech about man's endurance, he talked about the important of patience in his own life and writing.
The whole notion of patience is very dear to my heart. I'm a very slow thinking, slow acting person, so patience has been a big part of my life from the beginning, so much so that I think there's an old maxim which says that impatience is a form of laziness...so to be patient means to get the most done. It's certainly a feature in one's life which is necessary to write novels, if only because to write novels the real requirement is to stay in the book, not to finish the book...anybody can finish a book! But it takes real patience and real endurance and real interest to stay inside the book for as long as you can because it's only then that you can understand it better and make it better.
There was much anxious fidgeting from those around me, particularly Italian readers who have not yet had the chance to read Ford's latest novel Canada, released only this week in Italian translation, when Veronesi veered dangerously close to the spoiler-zone on several occasions, when talking about the new book. Thankfully, most of the discussion focussed on the recurrent theme in Ford's novels of crossing borders – both symbolically and geographically - and successfully avoided revealing too many plot details.

For Ford the sense of crossing borders begins on the page itself:
For me who was always writing sentences and paragraphs, one of the things I observed as a reader and as a writer was that when I came to the end of a paragraph and I started a new paragraph, something happened; there was some sense of torque, some sense of power that was achieved in getting across the white space from one utterance to another utterance.
He spoke about the creative process of discovering the theme of a book, and how the theme of crossing borders, with the sense of freedom it brings, had come naturally to Mississippi-born Ford, who left the south as soon as he could.
We've all had this experience. You can read something and it just resonates with you. It may be something seemingly insignificant, when you read it... it just has a little tingle about it, and those are the kind of things that cause writers to write novels, or the poetry writers to write poems, or essays, it's a kind of a commotion you feel on some level of sublimated emotion, a sense of emotion, a sense of commotion, and that's what we try to put in play in books. And sometimes these things become themes, like crossing borders […] I grew up in Mississippi, which is a very bad place to grow up in lots of ways, and I couldn't wait to leave, I couldn't wait till I was eighteen years old and could get on the train and cross the border from Mississippi, to go from the south, to go to the north, and so for me I come by this preoccupation quite rightly because for me crossing borders always meant some kind of freedom.
Ford's spoken language is as engaging and utterly absorbing as his exquisitely written prose - I could have listened to Richard Ford speak all day long! Sadly the discussion was over far too soon. One of the fun aspects of the Rome book fest, however, are the many free events, readings and interviews happening all over the Parco della Musica. On leaving the event I was lucky enough to stumble upon the recording of a Rai 3 radio interview with Richard Ford for the show Fahrenheit, which was taking place in the foyer, and where he was joined by another stellar literary name – none other than Salman Rushdie! Rushdie was in Rome to promote the Italian publication of his memoir about living undercover during the fatwa years - Joseph Anton.

Watch a very brief clip of the conversation between Richard Ford and Salman Rushdie below or click here to watch on YouTube.



To complete a perfect afternoon, I was thrilled to then get the chance to meet Richard Ford later in person and chat for a few moments at a book signing session in the Auditorium book shop.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Waiting for 'I Due Foscari' – An Encounter with Werner Herzog at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma

2013 sees the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi's birth and to mark the occasion Rome's Teatro dell'Opera will shortly be staging a completely new production of I Due Foscari, directed by visionary German filmmaker Werner Herzog, and with conductor Riccardo Muti on the podium. On Saturday afternoon Herzog was joined by journalist Valerio Cappelli, the theatre's artistic directors Catello De Martino and Alessio Vlad, and film critic Mario Sesti, in a hugely entertaining encounter in the splendid foyer of the opera house to discuss not only this new version of Verdi's opera, but also his wider relationship with music during his entire film career through a series of clips from his movies and personal anecdotes.

This is third time that Muti and Herzog have worked together and the director was keen to stress that it is always Muti who talks him into taking on an operatic staging. In fact, he rarely goes to operatic performances himself and instead prefers to listen to CD recordings, finding it disturbing when another person's visual ideas interfere with the images he has created in his own mind's eye when listening to the music.
“Maestro Muti really dragged me into it...he really wanted me to do this and when he calls I listen...not 100% but in a case like this, yes! And of course, the main reason is that musically it is very, very interesting. It's like a new phase for Verdi, a new discovery, he's changing course... it's a transition time for Verdi.”
Werner Herzog presents I Due Foscari
The preview of I Due Foscari was presented through a very rapid slideshow of tantalising shots of production designer Maurizio Balò's dramatic wintery sets. I Due Foscari, Herzog explained, was a difficult libretto to work with because there is little character development, and even turning to Lord Byron's historical play The Two Foscari, on which the opera is based, is of little help because Byron, whilst being a wonderful poet, was sadly “not a great dramatist”. Pausing on one particular slide he noted that the members of the chorus have turned their backs to the politicians and are instead more interested in watching the two clowns on stage. He emphasised, to chuckles from the audience, that this concept had been devised well over a year ago, and was in no way meant to reflect the present political situation in Italy!

As admirers of Herzog's cinema will know, music is of fundamental importance in his work, with operatic pieces used in his soundtracks to extraordinary effect. His masterpiece Fitzcarraldo famously uses recordings by the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.
“[…] in Fitzcarraldo, in the screenplay I described that Fitzcarraldo plays Wagner...Wagner operas in the jungle, and as soon as I tried out Wagner music in the jungle it just did not fit together, it just did not find resonance, but it is Bellini all of a sudden that is wonderful, Bellini and Verdi...miracles in the jungle, it's their natural habitat. It's a place for fever dreams and that's where they fit! Wagner is too Teutonic!”
The opening scene from Wodaabe - Herdsmen of the Sun, in which the young males of the tribe roll their eyes and bear their teeth to attract females in a male beauty contest, as an early 1900s cylinder recording of Ave Maria sung by the last Vatican castrato Alessandro Moreschi plays in the background, is another mesmerising example.
“There are very operatic moments in my films, staged moments, accentuated moments.”
Avoiding the obvious Hollywood-style scoring where emotions displayed on the screen are hammered home by the accompanying music, he explained that he likes music to emphasis the separate, parallel story playing alongside the film, the one the audience creates for itself.
“Music in cinema has a great power; it does not change the projection of light, the music does not change the image, but it changes our perspectives.”
On some occasions, most notably in The White Diamond and The Wild Blue Yonder, the haunting music – a collaboration between cellist and composer Ernst Reijseger, Senegalese singer Mola Sylla, and Sardinian vocal choir, the Voches de Sardinna - was created even before filming had begun. When asked by the director of photography as to how The White Diamond should look stylistically, Herzog said that he simply put some earphones over his head and said: “Listen! This is how we do it!”

With such an obvious affinity for music, therefore, perhaps Herzog's most shocking anecdote of the day, was that of a childhood trauma of being made to sing against his will in front of his class at school, resulting in a complete refusal towards not only singing, but music in general during his childhood. Thankfully, for both Herzog and the world of cinema, he would later fill that musical void as a self-taught music lover in his adult years.
“I shut myself out like an autistic child from music classes and because of that when I left school there was a deep void and hunger for music, so it was all for something good I think.”
They do say that one should never meet one's heroes, but I threw caution to the wind and approached the great man to exchange a few words at the end of the discussion! Am thrilled to confirm that he was utterly charming, and I am now the proud owner of an autographed Fitzcarraldo DVD.

I Due Foscari will run from 6 - 16 March 2013 at the Teatro dell'Opera

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Yuja Wang gives sensational performance in Rome

Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 1 February 2013

Whenever I read Yuja Wang concert reviews in the press I admit that I'm often irked by the amount of attention the invariably male reviewers dedicate to her wardrobe – who cares what she was wearing, tell me about the music! I mutter to myself irritably. Now that I've had the chance to see Yuja (as she likes to be known) in concert myself, however, I understand that to review an evening with the Chinese piano virtuoso without mentioning her costume changes would be a crime! The very second she appeared on stage in a shimmering white full length gown, with its mid-thigh split, teetering on stiletto heels and huge wedged soles that would give even Lady Gaga pause for thought, I swear one could almost hear a gasp and the sound of two thousand pairs of eyebrows raising in unison. She most definitely had our attention!

Already a concert circuit veteran at the tender age of twenty-five, if anything Yuja looks considerably younger than her age, yet seconds into Debussy's Pour le piano it became clear that her youthful spontaneity and energy is underpinned with an extraordinarily accomplished technique – the second movement was sublime. Smiling and taking the fastest and deepest bows I've ever seen, the hugely charismatic pianist seemed perfectly at home in front of an audience, and also able to nimbly adapt to the dramatic changes of mood in a varied programme. The Scriabin Sonata No.6, with its infamous nightmarish atmosphere and dissonant chords that deterred even the composer himself from performing it in public, was genuinely disquieting at times. The fearless Yuja, however, also brought a sense of mischief, as well as darkness, to the piece. The highlight of the first half, however, was Ravel's La Valse, a dizzy, swirling fairground ride of a waltz which brought thunderous applause and cheers of the delight from the audience, and three curtain calls before the intermission.

The second half of the recital opened with an even louder gasp when Yuja appeared in a new outfit – this time a shoulderless full length gown in a colour that I shall now forever think of as “Rachmaninoff Red”, coupled with perilously high black patent leather stilettos. Next up were a series of three short Rachmaninoff compositions. The Rachmaninoff-Mendelssohn Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream was particularly lovely and elicited a spontaneous chuckle – and a smile from Yuja - from many people in the audience at its close. US contemporary composer Lowell Liebermann is little known in Europe, and his name hadn't appeared at all in the programme details available prior to the concert, so the inclusion of the mysterious and rather eerie Gargoyles Op.2 was a total, and as it turned out, wonderful surprise. Evocative of early twentieth century Jazz-age compositions, it was an incredible showcase for Yuja Wang's sheer virtuosity – I fully expected sparks to magically start flying from her fingers during the fourth and final presto feroce movement! The main programme closed with another astounding tour de force - Rachmaninoff’s often turbulent Sonata No. 2, and the audience response was ecstatic.

Yuja returned for not one, but two encores – the hugely enjoyable Horowitz arrangement of Bizet's “The Gypsy Song” from Carmen, and finally a Schubert Lieder. The stunning performance was rewarded with a standing ovation and numerous curtain calls. I was thrilled to get the chance to meet her and get a signed CD after the show and discover that off stage this divine being is friendly, funny and utterly charming.

Yuja Wang is a sensational performer – miss her at your peril!

Full Programme:
Debussy
Pour le piano
Scriabin
Sonata No. 6 in G major, Op. 62
Ravel
La valse
*
Rachmaninoff
Elegie in E minor, Op. 3 No. 1
Rachmaninoff-Mendelssohn
Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (transcr. Lemare)
Rachmaninoff
Moment musicaux, Op. 16, No. 4 in E minor
Liebermann
Gargoyles Op.2
Rachmaninoff
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36
Encore:
Bizet - Horowitz
Variations on a theme from G. Bizet's "Carmen" (The Gypsy Song Act II)
Schubert - Liszt
Lieder

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Carmen Maura delights audience at MAXXI – 26 January 2013

Carmen Maura at MAXXI, Rome
Iconic Spanish actress Carmen Maura has been in Rome recently filming Italian director Angelo Maresca's movie debut La Madre. Before flying home to Spain she took the time to meet the public and press on Saturday in a special event at the MAXXI museum organised by the Fondazione Cinema per Roma and hosted by Mario Sesti. Arriving at the museum I was relieved that I'd decided to get there early - many eager fans had already started forming a queue to get a chance to see her a good hour before she was due to appear. Little did I imagine, as I waited in line, that after the conversation on stage, not only would I get my copy of ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!! autographed, but I would also manage to exchange a few words with her. Several days have elapsed and I'm still feeling a little starstruck!

Mario Sesti is well known to cinephiles in Rome as one of the regular presenters of the Rome Film Festival encounters with actors and directors. He typically encourages an informal approach in his interviews - relaxed conversation and anecdotes follow the presentation of film clips – a technique which works particularly well when faced with a warm and generous conversationalist like Carmen Maura. Utterly vivacious, and speaking in Italian, with only the occasional smattering of Spanish – there was an interpreter on stand-by who had very little to do for most of the afternoon – Carmen Maura was an absolutely delightful guest.

Most famous internationally for her collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar there were clips from a selection of their movies together including Law of Desire, which the actress said epitomised the very best of their working relationship and brought a lump to her throat as she watched the famous water hydrant scene, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which was, instead, an unhappy experience and marked the beginning of a professional estrangement which only ended with Volver (significantly meaning “return” in Spanish) almost twenty years later.

Meeting Carmen Maura
Ms Maura has worked with many other directors in the course of her long career and Sesti also showcased her Goya-winning performances in Álex de la Iglesia's La Comunidad, and Carlos Saura's Ay, Carmela!, as well as international parts in Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro and Damiano Damiani's Assassini dei Giorni di Festa. Asked about the state of cinema in these times of economic depression, she drew a parallel between her native Spain and Italy - unlike other nations, we are accustomed to hardship - but was refreshingly frank in her criticism of US directors such as Woody Allen, whom she sees as exploiting the difficult economic situation in Europe when filming in Spain and Italy. She had nothing but praise for everybody involved in her own experience of working in Italy, however, thanking everyone from her driver with whom she practised her Italian every day, to the crew and director.

Watch some highlights from the Carmen Maura event at MAXXI below (or click here to watch on You Tube).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Quentin Tarantino receives Career Achievement Award of the 7th Rome Film Festival

During a press conference in the lead up to last year's Rome Film Festival Marco Müller had strongly hinted that Quentin Tarantino would be the big surprise of the 2012 edition, with rumours instantly circulating on the Internet that the cult director's latest movie Django Unchained would be the opening film. Whilst Tarantino's eventual non-appearance turned into one of the disappoints of last year's festival, Müller made good on his promise on Friday evening when Quentin Tarantino received the Career Achievement Award of the 7th Rome Film Festival at a gala première screening of Django Unchained.

Greeted by crowds of enthusiastic fans lining the red carpet at Cinema Adriano, the ebullient Tarantino was presented with the award by the composer of legendary film themes Ennio Morricone, and joined on stage by cast members Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington and the original Django from the 1966 Sergio Corbucci Spaghetti Western, Italian actor Franco Nero.

To get a taste of the atmosphere at the Django Unchained première watch the video below (or click here to watch on YouTube.)

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