Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lang Lang | The Auditorium, Rome | 25 January, 2008

There was something rather appropriate about Chinese pianist Lang Lang opening his concert on Friday night in the Santa Cecilia concert hall at the Auditorium in Rome with Mozart's Sonata K. 333; at twenty-five Lang Lang could almost be considered a veteran having given his first performance, like Mozart himself, as a child prodigy of five! The adult Lang Lang now tours the world promoting the piano and classical music - indeed, he is so passionate about the need to introduce children as early as possible to the benefits of musical tuition that he has been made a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Lang Lang excites praise for his thrilling virtuoso performances wherever he plays, along with some criticism for his flamboyant showmanship which is frowned upon in some stuffier classical music quarters! However, for me his stage presence makes Lang Lang all the more an exciting and charismatic player to one part during Schumann's Fantasia op. 17 it almost looked like he might stand up and smash the Steinway to pieces ala Hendrix or Townshend with their guitars!

Prior to opening the second half with a wonderful set of six traditional Chinese pieces transcribed for the piano (featured on his Dragon Songs CD), Lang Lang introduced and explained each song in a brief presentation in English, indulging the Italian audience with a buonasera and grazie! He then went on to play a piece from Goyescas by Granados, Liszt's transcription of The Death of Isolde from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, ending with Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6, treating us to a surprise encore of Chopin after numerous curtain calls and rapturous applause. And yet there was more to come – after almost two hours of extraordinary intensity on stage, Lang Lang then met fans and signed CDs in the bookshop. A superstar – catch him if you can!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

500,000 coloured balls tumbling down the Spanish Steps!

Love him or hate him, it's certainly hard to ignore Graziano Cecchini, a self-proclaimed modern day Futurist artist.

Last October he made headlines around the world when, instead of making a wish and tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain, he tipped a bucket of dye into the water and turned it a spectacular blood red.

This week he struck again with another of his peaceful protests - to the amazement of Romans and tourists alike he launched 500,000 red, green, yellow and blue balls from the top of the Spanish Steps at Trinità dei Monti, which then rolled their way down until they reached Piazza di Spagna below, filling the Barcaccia Fountain. The balls were up for sale on eBay within hours!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pop Art 1956 – 1968 | Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome

The Scuderie del Quirinale art gallery and exhibition centre, as its name suggests, is found on the Quirinal Hill opposite the Quirinal Palace (the official residence of the Italian head of state), and is housed in the Quirinal Stables. Originally built between 1722 and 1732, the Quirinal Stables were restored and converted into a gallery between 1997 – 1999. Situated on the highest of Rome's famous seven hills, the views from the Scuderie del Quirinale are breathtaking and whatever the exhibition one has seen, there is the guaranteed treat of gazing out over the Roman skyline from the purpose-built great window, designed by Gae Aulenti. I took this shot at dusk on a visit to the current Pop Art show. San Pietro can be see in the distance...

View from the great window at Le Scuderie del Quirinale

The exhibitions at the Scuderie are usually reliable with a good selection of pieces from international collections. I found the Pop Art show a little patchy as regards consistent quality with a little too many also-rans in the mix, although there were plenty of surprises to make it an enjoyable show overall. My particular favourites were the two David Hockney paintings on display in the upper gallery – the 1963 Renaissance Head and the gorgeous 1962 Picture Emphasising Stillness, with its tiny Letraset caption THEY ARE PERFECTLY SAFE THIS IS A STILL. Peter Blake, another early British Pop Art exponent was also well represented in the show, as was Richard Hamilton. Predictably, there was a large group of visitors gathered in front of Andy Warhol's iconic Marilyn series, although it was another, smaller icon which drew my devotion in the first room – Ray Johnson's Untitled Elvis No.2 - with it's collaged, mosiac-like single image of Elvis...but then, as a sworn devotee of the church of Elvis that's hardly surprising! Other favourites were Christo's 1965 Brigitte Bardot, which naturally consisted of a wrapped picture of BB and made me laugh, and Italian-born Eduardo Paolozzi's painted aluminium sculpture Diana as an Engine (1963-1966), which was vaguely reminiscent of his later decorative works for the London Underground.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Russian Army Ensemble | The Auditorium, Rome | 1 January, 2008

The all singing, all dancing Armata Russa (Russian Army) known as the first peace army launched the 2008 calendar of events at the Auditorium in Rome on New Year's Day when the hundred strong Choir, Ballet and Orchestra of the Russian Army of St. Petersburg’s Military District performed at the Santa Cecilia concert hall. The show alternated between genuinely exciting acrobatic dancing and rousing Russian popular songs.

The Russian Army Choir closed the evening with the world famous Kalinka...and as a special surprise for the Italian audience, Va Pensiero by Giuseppe Verdi!

The clip below is from an earlier appearance this year in Bolzano, Italy.

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