Blog posts by year and month April 2012

Posts (67)

  1. The full line-up for the 2012 Hay Literature Festival, which runs from 31 May to 10 June, has been announced. Big name highlights at the 10-day festival festival include veteran American actor, singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte and Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel, who will pre...

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  2. As expected the weather wasn't brilliant over the Easter weekend. Some places enjoyed a little sunshine on Saturday but most of the time it was cloudy and yesterday was a bit of a washout. I spent the weekend in Gwynedd and did a lovely walk from Porthmadog to Borth y Gest and Morfa Bychan. T...

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  3. I am tucking into a hearty breakfast in the hope of giving me the energy necessary to traverse the myriad challenges of Bartók's Music for Strings, Celeste and Percussion. This afternoon's concert with associate guest conductor François-Xavier Roth is part of our ongoing Sacher Series and will see us perform this incredible work by Béla Bartók live on BBC Radio 3. Our colleagues in the wind and brass will perform Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments and we will be joined by pianist Benjamin Grosvenor for Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. It is only Wednesday, but I'm feeling decidedly tired. Perhaps mentally taxed is a better turn of phrase, because despite a great deal of conscientious prior preparation, Bartók's Music for Strings, Celeste and Percussion is still very difficult. There are many issues with this work. Firstly, it is exceptionally complex in texture. There can be the temptation to overplay just to hear what you are playing, which of course has the result of thickening the texture further. During rehearsals, François has spent a considerable amount of time working passages (in particular in the energetic second and fourth movements) under tempo, encouraging us to listen and connect with other lines, rather than playing as individual musical islands, in order to bring clarity to the score. It sounds obvious doesn't it? In practice, it can sometimes be quite challenging. Secondly, as two string orchestras, we are very spread out. If you wait for the sound to come from another section, you will invariably be late. Therefore, you have to play exactly with the conductor's beat, even if your ear is telling you that means you're going to be early. The third issue with this work is that it is simply difficult. There are so many possibilities to make a catastrophic error if you switch off for just one second. The first movement looks so simple on the page, but misread the crotchet/quaver pattern and the uniformity of each section is disrupted. The second movement is very fiddly and calls for a great deal of what my college professor called the percussive left hand. In other words, you may be making a beautiful legato phrase with the bow, but the fingers of your left hand must work like hammers to give the music clarity. The fourth movement? Well, blink and you miss it. François has been encouraging us to search for the dance like, jazzy quality of the music, rather than playing in an angularly correct manner. I've found this helpful and am doing my best to get into the groove. The last three bars themselves are a minefield all of their very own, with several different performance directions squeezed into what is less than four seconds of music. All these issues aside, I'm looking forward to performing this work. It is a brilliant composition and not one I've had the opportunity to perform before. That said, I plan to have a little lie down after it!

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  4. Winter returned with a vengeance today with Arctic winds bringing a mixture of rain, sleet and snow and strong to gale force north to north-easterly winds. Most of the snow today fell on the higher ground in Mid, North and East Wales. Geraint Edwards in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog in Denbigh...

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  5. The first osprey egg of 2012 in Wales was laid at the Glaslyn Osprey Project near Porthmadog last night and was spotted by wardens this morning. The female laid her first egg two days later than last year on 4 April, and has been sat on the nest throughout the night, getting up to feed briefl...

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  6. A new photography exhibition born out of a chance discovery of intriguing archive documentary photos from the 1980s opens this week at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Cardiff-based photographer Jon Pountney is the man behind the Cardiff Before Cardiff exhibition, and the much longer-ru...

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  7. The tiny Carmarthenshire village of Pendine is usually remembered for attempts on the world land speed record by people like Sir Malcolm Campbell and John Parry-Thomas back in the early 20th century. But in the autumn of 1953 the seaside village was in the news again, this time as the scene of a...

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  8. As many of you will have read, Scotland has recently been hit by snow and the cold snap is heading our way. Arctic winds will be bringing a big drop in temperature. March was the warmest month in Wales since 1957 with beach and picnic weather last week and highs of 22 Celsius but tomorr...

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  9. This week's show is now available via the BBC iPlayer. Please visit the link below any time between now and the start of the next programme. This last week has been more than a little mind-blowing for me. I've been fortunate enough to visit the East coast of the States with one of my favourit...

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  10. The seven national museums in Wales received 1.69 million visits in 2011-12, the most since free entry was introduced in April 2001. The Welsh Government and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales introduced the policy of free entry eight months earlier than in England. The move nearly doubl...

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