Friday, December 28, 2012

The Joys of the Vinyl Record

According to John Harris of the Guardian the good old vinyl record is making a comeback. I cannot think why!

Vinyl records? They may be acceptable if re mastered but I find listening to my old, original vinyl records excruciating. Apart from the thrill of hearing the needle hit the black disc, if that is what turns you on, what follows is out of this world, scratch, hiss and if recorded live especially with classical music with live performances unbearable by modern standards.

I discovered this by accident recently when I re-listened to my late husband's favorite operatic soprano singing the 'Liebestod' from the famous Solti recording of 'Tristan & Isolde'. I couldn't believe my ears. Poor woman was tired and the last note today would be considered unacceptable. The balance was awful and the orchestra tired too. Yet at the time this recording was acclaimed as the epitome of performance. 

All live recordings have this balance problem in classical music. 

Even studio recorded music has a hiss and crackles on vinyl as this is part of the charm!

The modern ears have changed. I should not believe it but mine have too. I can hear wrong notes, moved chairs and pianos with pedal squeaks. I do sound 'grumpy' but I am not. It is just the way it is.

No give me digital mastered studio recordings any time.

I just use my vast vinyl collection for research and it does look attractive on my shelves.

This is not the Solti recording but does include a dropped hammar at around 1.17! I rest my case.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

BBC World End of Year Report

Dear Auntie BBC

Kia ora from the Land of the Long White Cloud (NZ if unfamiliar!)

I have been listening to BBC World for many years and this morning I was invited to write to and give my opinion on the present state of play sort of an end of term report.

We all realised that owing to current financial conditions BBC World was going to change however I did not realise that this meant that other than news programming which is still good, down from excellent, this would mean for me here in NZ a basinful of religion, african programmes and wall to wall  football. The weekend is devoted to football. The other bone of contention is Asia Business Report. Hours of it and it is useless. Anyone engaged in business would find this useless.

I am not interested in Africa! China? Perhaps, India? Maybe, Africa? NO! 

I am not interested in religion of any kind since I discovered Adam & Eve do not exist, could not have sinned so no need for any redeemers of any flavour. For heaven's sake these relics are belief systems. Anyone listening to BBC would think they were a scientific fact and worthy of respect. 

Lastly I am not remotely interested in football, cricket or sport with perhaps the exception of the Olympics and Rodger Federer.

I am now deluged with religious programming with no right of reply and now weekends are a no go area. Sport! I am not interested in live football commentaries. Ronald Regan gave a very good explanation of just how these were done and I couldn't give a stuff for the Premier League what ever it is and yet that is what the BBC gives us. Who cares?

Thank goodness for RussianTV. Never thought I should say this but is it so watchable. It is unbiased and the presenters are beautiful. Very high production standards.

So marks out of ten? 2011 - 8, 2012 sadly 3. 

Cut the religion, cut Africa especially any live phone calls which are painful and cut the sport down to acceptable levels. Bit more music and that does not mean hours of jazz or heavy metal and a few more documentaries. Science is quite acceptable.

Happy 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The power of the USA Gun Lobby

One has to take one's hat off to the National Rifle Association of the USA. First its reaction to the massacre of Newtown is to immediately say that now is not the moment to discuss gun control and then two days later to bombard the media with its answer to the problem, not less guns, but more guns. Arm school teachers, have armed guards in school that's the answer.

It is people that are the problem not the fact that anyone can go out and buy a semi automatic gun that can kill 30 people in three minutes!

70% of the population of the USA owns a gun! That is scary. The USA citizen seems to have no idea of just how outrageous this is. There are 300 million guns in the USA. That is more than the population.

The gun lobby has now centered in on the mental health system. That is what needs to be fixed. That is going to get public support not the public gun toting citizen who just likes the power of carrying a gadget that can kill. One Gun lobby representative was very vocal on the BBC World Have Your Say and propounded on more than one occasion that it was perfectly acceptable to lose up to two pupils by giving teachers guns if 18 could be saved! I hope he is proud of himself.

It is stunning just how strong this nasty, powerful gun lobby is. Even Obama dare not criticize it even under these circumstances. Nothing is going to change. The USA citizen likes having a gun and that is his right and in a few months this sort of killing will happen again and again and again.

Here in New Zealand it is illegal to have a gun. Our police force do not carry guns. The only place you see a gun in Auckland is outside the USA consulate. We have the occasional armed robbery, usually a sawn off shotgun but no massacres where 20 children and six adults are killed within three minutes.

Where there are guns, any guns, there is violence. Thank goodness I never have to go to the USA again. Too dangerous. Thank goodness I live in a sane country. No nuclear weapons or power and no guns for the general population.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Galina Vishnevskaya memories of a super star

Sadly the superb Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya died today aged 86. She was married to the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

I was lucky enough to be at the first recital she ever gave in England. It was an afternoon indelibly imprinted on my memory because I and every member of the small audience of about two hundred knew we had witnessed something special.

I had met Rostropovitch during the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival when I was playing Mrs Sem in the first Noyes Fludde. Now in 1961 he was back with his wife Galina Vishnevskaya and was staying at the Wentworth Hotel.

The Festival programme had announced a mystery concert on a Tuesday afternoon. The tickets were cheap and I bought one. I had no idea of what I was going to see. The morning of the surprise concert one of Pears' and Britten's young men from Harrow, I think it was Roger Duncan, told me that a Russian soprano was the artist. She had an unpronounceable name.  Peter Pears was trying with no success to research the lyrics of one of her songs based on The Ugly Duckling. Eventually he just made it up saying 'No one will know!'

Stephen Reice, the Aldeburgh Festival Manager was there too and I was offered a ticket from Ben. Britten was always giving me tickets for which I shall ever be extremely grateful. Stephen was very surprised that I had for once actually bought one. The three of us decided to sit together.

I don't know what I imagined I was going to see but I had just seen the Bolshoi Ballet at Covent Garden and they were shabby and grey and I expected that being the Soviet Union I was going to see shabby, grey and being opera fat . The three naughty teenagers had the giggles.

To my surprise I suddenly saw Rostropovitch walk onto the stage at the Jubilee Hall and sit down at the piano. I knew he was a cellist but I had no idea that he was a pianist too. I was again filled with foreboding.

The house hushed in anticipation of the unknown Russian soprano. After what seemed an age an arm waving an enormous white lace handkerchief appeared from the wings. What followed a few well timed seconds later was a revelation.

A tall, slim beautiful woman with hair piled up on her head like a Grecian Goddess tripped onto the stage with all the confidence in the world. She was dressed from head to toe in gold lame and the dress clung to her beautiful figure. Her high heeled laced shoes were gold, her long gloves were gold and round her neck hung a huge gold medallion of the Order of Lenin. Galina Vishnevskaya was breath taking. She reeked of class and French couture. I was stunned at her stage presence.

The audience gasped in wonder, then there was a pause and then an ovation. Miss Vishnevskaya stood calmly and accepted the applause as if she deserved it even though she had not sung a note.

She settled down, the audience who were agog and noisy settled down and she started to sing. It was pure magic. Rostropvitch's accompaniment was pure magic too. It was a long concert. Her voice nearly took the roof off the tiny village hall and could have been heard in Lowestoft. She was the star of the Bolshoi which means big and she sure had a Bolshoi voice to suit.

Years later I read her auto biography where she goes into great detail about this concert for she knew that for her it was important. What she did not know was that Benjamin Britten fell instantly in love with her and wrote her into the War Requiem that he was writing at that moment. He absolutely adored her and would drive her around Aldeburgh in his left wheel drive  Mercedes. (Alvis had been traded in!)

I know that for many the fact the Ben could love a woman may come as a bit of a shock but he did. Colin Graham is on record as saying 'If you ever doubt that Ben did not like women just see how he behaves with Galina Vishnevskaya.' Stephen Riece and  Ronald Duncan say the same thing and I know from my own experience that they were right. They knew Ben was bisexual and at that time wanted to be considered normal. During his life Ben was extremely touchy if anyone hinted he was not normal! He never came out during his life time.

If Galina Vishnevskaya had been free she could easily have ended up as Mrs Britten. Ben even spent his Christmasses in Moscow with her and wrote her a special song cycle.

I did try to speak to her after the concert. She had seen me as Flora in The Turn of the Screw but sadly she spoke no English at that time. I was astonished to find that in the War she had dug latrines in Stalingrad and like me had learned stage craft through musicals. We had a lot in common including Benjamin Britten.

Galina Vishnevskaya is a truly great woman, not only as an artist but as a strong political woman. She did what she thought was right and was airbrushed out of Russian history for a bit. She had the last laugh. The world needs women like her.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Welcome to Birkenhead Xmas Wonderland no photos allowed

Westfield Shopping Malls are so right. No Christmas is complete without a photo of the kids in front of either Santa, a Nativity scene or a Christmas tree. Photos of kids at Christmas give everyone so much pleasure.

The wait to see Santa in the Mall. The first experience of having to sit on a strange man in a red suit and a beard's knee and tell him what you want for Christmas with a loving Mum and Dad in tow and a photo to prove it.

Then there is the photo in front of a nativity scene. More young children are introduced to the joys of Christianity by seeing the baby Jesus in his manger than at any other time of the year. Being crucified in agony on a cross does not have the same appeal.

Then there is the tree. The fully decorated Xmas tree is a joy to behold for children of all ages. It is a dream. Oh if only life were like a Christmas tree. For grandparents who cannot be with their grand children photos at this time are so precious so it was with some dismay that an outing to Christmas Wonderland which is advertised as New Zealand's most spectacular Christmas tree trail, entrance fee $12 adult and $6 per child, $30 family of four which in this age of austerity is not cheap does not allow photography.

Every where you look is a sign saying "NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED". If you are in any doubt another well placed sign will reinforce the unfriendly message. It is like being in DisneyLand and being told that you cannot have your photo taken with Mickey Mouse. One is not even allowed to have a photo taken in front of the Nativity Scene. There for all to see is a big sign saying "NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED"! If I were Jesus I should be shocked after all he wanted everyone to come to him and had choirs of angels around to let everyone know. If the press had been around in his day it would have been summoned. Pity it wasn't as the Nativity was not well documented.

I can understand Don't Touch but not No Photos. As if the signs were not enough there were plenty of staff who even when asked nicely if it were possible to take a photo were empathic that it was not possible. When asked to explain why said the donors did not want it! Why donate if you do not want publicity. That is what you donate for. The Olympic Games is financed by donors who pay for the privilege of having exclusive rights for publicity.

This is Birkenhead, a small suburb of Auckland which is not actually on the world map for exclusive occasions.   So what harm can it do to let parents take a few snaps of their children to share with friends and family?

Whoever did the PR for this event needs to think again. The idea is to get as much publicity as you can if you want people through the doors. Word of mouth is essential. An enormous amount of effort and time has gone into this event and it is a pity to ruin it by being mean. Half the fun is having your photo taken in front of your favorite tree. In fact without this sort of activity children find it rather boring because if you are a child when you have seen one tree you have seen the lot. Children don't go in for detail and as some of the trees are rather tall they don't get to see the crowning glories as these are out of sight so choose your tree to have your photo taken is a great idea. That way they can run around and compare. No such luck.

The trail was impressive and you will have to take my word for it. I could have shown you just what you are missing  to encourage you to go but I am not allowed to do so. No Photography Allowed. The amount of work that has had to  be put in to make this event possible must have been staggering for a small suburb. It is part of the social history and unless properly documented will soon be forgotten. Not a mention on YouTube and they don't want it mentioned on Facebook! So donors you have all missed out. This lot do not want publicity. Perhaps next year before you donate you could ask the organizers to be a bit more generous and allow kids to be photographed in front of your tree.

It is amazing they got anyone there at all.

Update 12 December 2011

I had a word with one of the organizers this morning. She was extremely helpful and said that many had raised this no photographs issue. It seems that on the last Wonderland two years back too many photos meant that the trail was slowed down to less than snail's pace and the place got so hot people were fainting!

However they hope in two years time to have a place where photos can be taken safely.

If only one of their helpers had told me this I should not have complained!