Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Musical Week

This week kicked off with a visit to the Birmingham Rep theatre to hear the Music Theatre Wales production of a new opera by Scottish composer, Stuart MacRae, with a libretto by popular crime-writer, Louise Welsh, The Devil Inside.

The Devil Inside - 1

Here, in a pre-performance talk, Stuart MacRae (left) discusses the background to creating the work from the Robert Louis Stevenson short story, "The Bottle Imp". It is always a worry to hear that an old favourite has been 'updated to modern times' and I love the stories of RLS but there was no need to worry: the updating is sensitive and appropriate, losing some of the 'local colour' of the original story - RLS said that he had written it for a Polynesian audience - and MacRae explained, most of RLS's writing was startlingly contemporary at the time.

The Devil Inside - 4

With a cast of just four and an orchestra of 18 musicians, this is a 'chamber opera' and the intimacy of the forces are matched by Louise Welsh's remarkable psychological insights into the characters. The music is accessible but in no way populist and there are moments of genuine dread in the work, which I am pleased to say was very well-attended and well-received.

All too often contemporary operas disappear after their initial run. I have to hope that this one does not.

There is a short video of the composer and the piece here:

At the beginning of the week it felt like SPRING and some of my colleagues from the School of Jewellery popped out for a picnic lunch in St Paul's Square, right in the centre of the Jewellery Quarter. Anyone thinking that The Quarter or, indeed, Birmingham is grim and industrial...

Spring In St. Peter's Square
Left to right: Beaulagh Brooks, Sian Hindle, Claire Price, Jo Pond, Sally Collins, Me.
Unfortunately, the temperature plummeted the next day and hasn't recovered since.

Another big event for the School of Jewellery this week as the B.Sc. Gemmology course moved out of the School proper and into custom-built facilities based within the Assay Office. This is a big deal, with sponsorship of the labs by Garrard and Fellows Auction House and the whole place looks amazing.

Gemmology Suite Launch - 4

The move came about for several reasons: the housing of the gemmologists in the Assay Office makes sense as the Assay Office move more and more of their business into other areas of testing; the old labs in the School were cramped; the School could use the old labs for other purposes.

Gemmology Suite Launch - 7

Miranda Wells (seated, second from left in the photograph below)

Gemmology Suite Launch - 8

and Richard Taylor (right, below)

Gemmology Suite Launch - 6

are to be credited with the creation of not only the unique provision but of the ONLY Gemmology B.Sc. anywhere in the world. Impressive stuff! As usual, it was down to our Head of School, Gaynor Andrews, to make the official opening speech:

Gemmology Suite Launch - 9

It was a great evening with my colleagues and you will spot one of my ex-colleagues, David Webster, in the photograph below:

Gemmology Suite Launch - 1

Some of the students are demonstrating the video-microscope and talking to the guests. The students were absolutely amazing hosts!

On Saturday night it was off with an old friend from Glasgow, James, to the Birmingam and Midland Institute to hear Brian Duffy (of the Modified Toy Orchestra) and Pierre Bastien perform as part of the Flatpack Film Festival. The Birmingham and Midland Institute is a strange and wonderful place; it feels like a cross between a Victorian Gentleman's' Club and a 1970s School and they host an enormous range of eclectic events. At the moment, it is part of Flatpack but there is also a series of exhibitions of work by my colleagues at the School of Jewellery - at the moment, Toni Mayner:

Toni Mayner - 3

(I will be featured in November.)

Brian Duffy was performing a live mix of his analogue-synthesiser triumph, "Instead Of Faint Spirit" with circut-bent visuals by the amazing Chris Plant, alas! all too short.

Brian Duffy - Setup

I have wanted to see Pierre Bastien and his machines since I heard his "Mechanoid" album in the early 2000s but have never had the chance. In case you don't know his work, he is a jazz musician who performs solo, using hand-made instruments to accompany him on Kithara, Trumpet and other more traditional instruments. The intensity of his performance is phenomenal.

Pierre Bastien - 1

For his Birmingham performance, he used short loops of anonymous jazz musicians on film - glass harp, cembalom, drums, piano - and played along with those and the sounds of the machines. It is hard to explain but utterly mesmerising.

Pierre Bastien - 2

This video explains everything!

Other than that, I've been gardening this weekend and now have an asparagus bed. Nothing to crop yet, so I did one of my occasional jaunts to the excellent Digbeth market in the city centre.


It's not quite the same, but I did have a great harvest!

Digbeth Harvest

Nothing of note this coming week, but looking at my calendar I see that I have a visit to the dental hygienist to look forward to...