It has occurred to me that this blog, intended to be as much a journal of my consumption of media as a critique and discussion of it, has been somewhat moribund of late, and as a consequence of this negligence, not a result of a dearth of excellence but an abundance, there now exists a potential risk of personal amnesia, and these encounters with the sublime relegated to the status of dates in an abandoned diary, of a scribbled appointment that serves, hardly even, as an aide-memoire to the concert or play in question. To be concise: I am beginning to forget; and with modern media, like films and music, there is still always the possibility of retrieval, whereas with plays and concerts, the intersection between performer and audience is there but for the magical two hours spent in each other's company: and then it is gone.
And there are so many wonderful moments to be cherished. At the Royal Festival Hall I have been indulging in my favorite musical form, the violin concerto; tonight I had a chance to see Anne-Sophie Mutter, the woman who ushered in the procession of young women who form a strange nexus between beauty, musical accomplishment, and adoration: mostly male, tinged with the sexual; a moderately good looking girl with fantastic talent or, at least, fantastic potential, who is transformed by her playing. But while Anne-Sophie Mutter is cold and Germanic, precise in her execution but distant, Julia Fischer, also from Germany, is flawless but radiant. After the intermission she took a seat in the stalls behind me, and would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the men who literally stumbled into the aisles to congratulate her. Perhaps less of a virtuoso, but more vibrant as a performer, was Janine Jansen, who is taller and better looking than her album covers, and was a wonderfully expressive on the Beethoven; oddly enough, the Tchaikowsky, which she just released on Decca, is less brilliant, at least through the stereo.
I've developed a strange attachment to the lower right-hand section of the stalls; it's far less expensive than the coveted middle section, and it goes against the grain of the conventional wisdom that being on the left allows you to see the pianist's hands, or the performer in a concerto who stands to the left of the conductor. I've found that I enjoy being near the double bass players, perhaps a remnant of my party days when I would spent night clutching my drink and leaning against the subwoofer in a club: I like being near the low notes. I like being far back enough for the orchestra to be a coherent sound, but not underneath the dreaded overhang of the balcony, where the reflections begin to throw everything into a muddle. More than once I've noticed a man with thick black glasses sitting in the corner seat of the choir, clutching a programme. He rarely clapped, but merely surveyed the orchestra impassively. I'd noticed that the programme often noted, amidst multinational banking companies and the like, the sponsorship of a donor named Mr Wang. If I were Mr Wang I would probably sit there myself: not in the fifth row centre, but breathing down the necks of the bass section.
Speaking of having one's own orchestra, I had a chance to finally see Tom Stoppard's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the National Theatre, with the gollum-like Toby Jones playing the role of Ivanov. Marvellous comic timing, and a moving performance from Joseph Millson as the dissident, but the play creaks along and begins to show its age. There is a brief portion at the beginning which is Stoppard's wordplay dialogue at its best, and reminds us what a comic writer we have lost now that he has become Serious. Following on the heels of August: Osage County, perhaps the London theatre scene is looking up.
Other notables: Sergey Khachatryan making an astounding entrance into the local concert scene; Hélène Grimaud mannish in unflattering all-black like a ninja, but more than making up for it with Beethoven's Piano Concerto 4; and Essa-Pekka Salonen at his best with the Symphonie Fantastique. During the winter months, the music has to cope with a special challenge: my tendency to narcolepsy after a long walk across the footbridge from the Embakment underground station. Music either grips you and leaves you at the edge of the seat, or fails to engage, in which case I curl up and begin to doze in my seat, as many of the people around me do. Unlike theatre or television, music is a language that I am just beginning to understand, but like a play, you are either interested in the story it has to tell or not. Mr Wang, who broke into rare applause after Ashekanzy brought Beethoven's Fifth to a close, would undoubtedly agree.