Realms of imagination

Cincinnati Subway, by Jonathan Warren. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners

Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield, London: Aurum Press, 2021, 208pps. Hb, £24.99

Some years ago, I was on holiday in Iceland. We had hired a very inadequate car (limited budget) for a road trip from Reykjavik to the spectacular Vatnajökull glacier on the southern coast. Whilst driving through the wonderfully bleak, black volcanic landscape we spotted an orange tailfin of what looked like a fighter plane. We stopped to investigate and after a short walk came across a full size replica of a MiG-31; a balsa wood testament to Russian aeronautical ingenuity. No signs, no explanation. It was only later that we learnt that it was a left behind prop for a Clint Eastwood film, Firefox.

This spurred my interest in historical and geographical anomalies, such as the suburban bungalow in Essex that disguised the UK’s Cold War HQ beneath. When The Atlas of Improbable Places arrived on my desk, I devoured it in one sitting. It is a labour of curiosity and love by Travis Elborough and cartographer Alan Horsfield.

Lithuania’s Hill of 100,000 Crosses, by Diego Delso. Image: Wikimedia Commons

It details dream creations, deserted destinations, architectural oddities, floating worlds, otherworldly spaces and subterranean realms. I learnt about the Hill of 100,000 crosses in Lithuania. The crosses were planted to commemorate people who had died combatting their Russian overlords.  Often dissidents would just go missing, so in the absence of a body, a cross was erected on a small hill near the city of Siauliai. The first crosses appeared in 1831. The Russians ordered that the crosses be bulldozed but within a few days more had been erected. So they spread sewage over the hill but still the crosses appeared in defiance of cordons and KGB guards. Pope John Paul II planted his own cross on the Hill in 1993. It is now a site of political and spiritual pilgrimage.

Portmeirion gets a welcome mention as does the extraordinary underground postal railway in London, now a tourist attraction. Beijing’s abandoned Disney-land-style theme offers a rather different view of China, as does Teufelsberg, the abandoned US spy station in Berlin, a far from subtle eavesdropping nerve centre in the Cold War. You can also learn about Cincinnati’s still abandoned subway system and the illicit tunnels constructed by Chinese immigrants in Moose Jaw, Canada. When racism and economic decline hit the city, the Chinese were targeted. They went underground, reappearing to run a laundry in the daytime or such like, and bamboozle their oppressors.

For creepiness, you cannot beat the Ibaloi Mummy Caves at Benguet in the Philippines. The tribe favoured an embalming method of smoking and drying out bodies, leaving a sort of desiccated husk. When mummification was complete, they were laid to rest in wooden coffins and stacked in cave tombs. They await your visit.

A charm of Ffinches

Alexander Ffinch, by Harriet Lloyd-Smith (2011)

Parallels

Alexander Ffinch, the organ of Cheltenham College Chapel, Divine Art Recordings. DDX 21112

RICHARD DOVE is transported by a new album of organ music

My father adored church organ music. At the weekend, I would often wake to the grand noise of Nôtre Dame, Rouen, or the three manual, 44 stop organ at Freiburg Cathedral (a particular favourite). I was constantly reminded of him as I listened to Parallels, a new CD by Alexander Ffinch.

Ffinch is the organist at Cheltenham College and oversaw a complete rebuild of the organ in 2017. There is an intimacy between player and instrument which is both rare and wonderful. There is also a refreshing boldness in the selection of compositions. Where else could one find Gustav Holst alongside Coldplay’s Chris Martin? As Ffinch explains in the sleevenotes:

Today, one of my daily duties is to play to 700 students at the start of their working day. I am facing a generation with the power to instantly access the music they want at any time and trust me, it’s not likely to be original organ music. So to capture their attention, I have enjoyed turning to classical some pop/rock arrangements to present music they hear elsewhere.

The Coldplay song ‘Paradise’ soars around the college chapel, stirring even the most indolent student.

There are other surprises on the recording – a Suite by Florence Price, an African-American composer who combines her classical training with Southern black American culture. Her ‘Symphony No 1 in E Minor’ was premiered at the Chicago World’s Fair by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. The concert was the first performance of a composition by a black woman by a major orchestra in the US. The ‘Suite’ is jaunty, mellifluous and immediately engaging, with jazz phrasing and gospel singing inspiration.

There is a wonderfully atmospheric, gently-paced interpretation of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod,’ benefiting from the resonance of the chapel’s ancient stones.

Dan Locklair’s ‘Rubrics’ is another surprise, and requires Ffinch’s masterful dexterity. After a tumultuous first movement, we move to a gentle second movement using silence as a sort of leitmotif. As the composer explains in the excellent accompanying booklet: “To be sure, it is impossible to have true silence when music is sounded. But the illusion of silence can be suggested.”

The recording closes with Leon Boellman’s ‘Suite Gothique.’ It was early morning when I listened to the Suite and its third movement ‘Prière a Nôtre-Dame.’ My father was almost with me in the room as the melody floated and swirled. Nôtre Dame was his first port of call on any visit to Paris. From this embracing reverie we launch into the thunderous final movement, the Toccata. It awakened the household as Dad was prone to do. Time to put the kettle on.

Transporting music

Image: On the South Downs Way. Malcolm Oakley. Wikimedia Commons
RICHARD DOVE savours the sounds of Ed Hughes and Airat Ichmouratov

On a couple of occasions, I have cycled across the South Downs, and even managed (once) the slow climb up Ditchling Beacon. I should have had Ed Hughes’ music to accompany me. It would have made a wonderful bike ride even more special. 

His Music for the South Downs is a recent release on the Metier label and part funded, in a most enlightened way, by the South Downs National Park Authority. The music embraces the rolling landscape and its endless natural variety.  We can be in open fields and wooded valleys, beside fresh bright streams and rolling waves. The music is both evocative and grounded in this verdant environment. Listening to Flint Movement 2 on a dull and rainy afternoon, I was transported to a forest watching the sunbeams dance through the leaves – and then in the next movement I am on the bank of a fast-flowing stream. Such is the magical power of Ed Hughes’ music. 

It was composed for Sam Moore’s film, South Downs: A Celebration, to mark the National Park’s tenth anniversary, and is played by the New Music Players, founded by Hughes and the Primrose Piano Quartet. Ed is professor of composition at the University of Sussex and is very obviously steeped in the South Downs landscape. He has walked the paths that he now portrays in this music. I will ensure that Hughes’ music is with me when I next tackle the South Downs trails.  He might even encourage me to ascend effortlessly up Ditchling Beacon. And that takes some doing.

On a first listen to Airat Ichmouratov’s Piano Concerto (a recent release on Chandos) I could not get Tchaikovsky out of my mind. He is clearly an influence on Ichmouratov. The notes to the CD underline my first impression in a description of piano, woodwinds and glockenspiel engaging in a Tchaikovskian exchange of scurrying semiquavers. Indeed, the use of percussion throughout the work to punctuate, embellish and encourage is consistently surprising.

In the Viola Concerto, also on the CD, Ichmouratov brings in tubular bells to build the rousing climax before closing with the melancholic tones of a clarinet. Both works are masterfully played by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer. Ichmouratov is guided by tonality and romantic traditions in his exuberant music coupled with a very original sense of drama. The soloist in the Viola concerto No 1 is Elvira Misbakhova who wanted something new and challenging for her doctoral performance at the University of Montreal.  She certainly got it. 

For the Piano concerto, Jean-Philippe Sylvestre is the soloist and it needs all the energy of this “poet of the piano” (as described by conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin) to take on this demanding Concerto where the piano is rarely silent for more than a few bars. In the words of Airat Ichmouratov: “When I compose I hear a certain tonality and simply follow what I hear.  Sometimes I end up with surprising key relations.” Quite true and well worth an absorbing listen.   

Prom perfection

Image: Wikimedia Commons
RICHARD DOVE relives a wonderful Last Night

For some it is all about vexillology.  For some the study of the flags being waved defined the evening. For the Daily Mail, the plentiful EU flags were a clear and obvious betrayal of Brexit. But they chose not to notice the quite resplendent union jack blazer on display in a plush box or the St George flag shirt (mine) on display in the stalls.

I had to look up another dominant flag being waved in the hot, sweltering arena. It was the flag of Norway to honour the statuesque mezzo soprano Lise Davidsen. Her voice soared around the Royal Albert Hall as she embraced arias by Wagner, Mascagni and Verdi. She stands tall – indeed, the same height as conductor Marin Alsop even as she is perched on the conductor’s podium. Lise’s dresses (three changes) were wonderfully theatrical and created for her for the evening by Norwegian designer Carejanni.

The programme was diverse, adventurous and traditional. The perfect mix. Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei was played with great sensitivity by star cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who for one piece took up a solo location in the centre of the arena, giving the ardent Promenaders, many of whom had queued since early that morning, a privileged view.

Marin Alsop in action in 2017. Image: Mastrangelo Reino /A2img. Wikimedia Commons

We had three world premieres with the composers present and spotlighted after the performances – James Wilson’s 1922, Roxanna Panufnik’s Coronation Sanctus and Laura Karpman’s Higher Further Faster Together. You felt the strong guiding hand of Alsop in these choices. She is a pioneer of new music and, as she said in her closing speech, gender equality in classical music. She was even brave enough to mention Aberystwyth as a location of a Proms concert next year. She admitted she had been practicing the pronunciation all day. I imagined the maestro stalking the back rooms of the RAH not with a Verdi score but a guide to Welsh place names. Let’s hope Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiligogogoch puts a bid to host one year. Marin will certainly earn her fee.

It was a party atmosphere but tempered by reverence for the performers. The BBC Symphony Orchestra played their hearts out, and the loudest sustained cheers were for the BBC Singers, once threatened with extinction but now sort of reprieved (we must remain vigilant to keep them a going concern). The BBC Chorus was full of gusto for Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory and the concluding Auld Lang Syne when our collective voices drowned out the orchestra. Marin turned to conduct us all as balloons were sent soaring and crackers were set off almost in time to the music. This was a profound, passionate celebration of classical music with the barriers of elitism and traditions dissolved into pure joy.  In one evening we had the soaring wonders of William Walton’s Coronation Te Deum for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the festive and glittering Coronation Sanctus of Roxanna Panufnik composed for King Charles III’s coronation service and the theme from the upcoming film The Marvels by flamboyant US composer Laura Karpman with Marvel Comics celebrating super heroines; very appropriate given Marin Alsop’s absolute control over the proceedings. Super Marin, perhaps.   

Good times in Kent

Photo: Drew de F Fawkes. Wikimedia Commons
RICHARD DOVE cavorts to Chic at Rochester Castle

In this year’s Grammy Awards, Nile Rodgers received the rare and prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. He told us last night (6 July) that whilst very honoured, it implies a career end and he announced: “He ain’t done yet.” On cue, his band launched into ‘Everybody Dance’ – and we did.

The grounds of Rochester Castle saw the latest chapter in Nile’s legendary career. His band, Chic, were drilled, tight and in the groove. The thousands of us sprawled on rugs and mats got to our feet (some with difficulty) and threw shapes in the night air. Chic was always Rodgers and partner Bernard Edwards, but he died in 1996 and the band has become Nile Rodgers and Chic. They play hit after hit of their own and Nile’s other work with Madonna, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Peter Gabriel and Daft Punk, with whom he co-wrote the megahit, ‘Get Lucky’.

Rodgers is now a sprightly 70 and has survived, he engagingly told us, two bouts of cancer. He says music has its own way of healing and we all swing into the infectious groove of ‘Lost in Music’. It is a balmy evening and the ruins of Rochester Castle are illuminated behind the crowd of thousands. The cathedral tower shines a vivid blue into the dark night sky. The audience contains young and old, some wearing that old glitter dress or top found at the back of the wardrobe – a gathering, largely, of the well high heeled.

There is little room for extended solos as the band glide one dance floor hit with another, with the subtle moves of musicians complemented by the sinuous choreography and almost gospel-like singing of Audrey Martells and Kimberly Davis. Chic’s music relies on restrained but virtuosic drumming and bass playing. Ralph Rolle looks as if he was born behind a drum kit, and filling the huge gap left by Bernard Edwards is the heavyweight (in all senses) Jerry Barnes who plays some breathtaking bass lines throughout the evening. He keeps the less mobile in the audience literally on their toes.

Rodgers’ career is that on both a survivor and innovator. He was at the forefront of Studio 54-inspired disco music and then moved on swiftly when the tide turned and disco was regarded as mindless or toxic or both.  His work with Madonna (‘Like a Virgin’, ‘Material Girl’) and David Bowie (‘Let’s Dance’) put him back on track. Along with his Lifetime Grammy award he has also won this year a Grammy for the best R&B song with Beyoncé. He certainly ain’t done yet.

Rodgers dedicates a song to his old band mate, and the backdrop screens black and white photos of Edwards. Astonishingly, Chic has in some form been on the road for over 50 years. It has to be ‘We Are Family’, and we all shout out the words more or less in tune.

Whilst reminding us of his sackful of Grammys, Rodgers remains a modest stage persona with his precise, jaggling rhythmic guitar playing. He confesses he is not much of a dancer himself but encourages us once again to shake our ‘tushes’. I reflect that there will a variety of aches and pains and sprains in the morning. We wave our arms to his and Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ as the moonlight slips across the River Medway. This is a wonderful setting for an open-air concert. Indeed, this is the first of four concert evenings with the Sugarbabes and Soft Cell entertaining the ancient stones of the castle.

How to close the concert? It has to be the beguiling beat and melody of ‘Good Times’, a song that has been sampled by hip hop artists countless times. It dates from 1979 and is still as fresh and energising as ever.

The song is extended allowing some bass gymnastics that his old partner Bernard Edwards would approve. With a ‘Thank you Rochester’ they are gone, and we bounce and shuffle into the night hoping we can recall where we put that parking ticket. As the song says: “Let’s cut the rug, a little jive and jitterbug. We want the best, we won’t settle for less.” Long may Nile and Chic continue. Get out the Voltarol.

Basso profundo

Image: Wikimedia Commons
RICHARD DOVE is bedazzled by a phenomenal bassist

Being a virtuoso musician presents a fresh set of responsibilities. You can play anything at any tempo, and you do. The results are not always, shall we say, rewarding and affecting.

That could not be said for bassist Shri Sriram and his quartet at Ronnie Scott’s. Shri’s fretless bass was accompanied by the keyboards and analogue synthesizers of Bugge Wesseltof, the energetic drums of Gary Husband and the adventurous trombone of Dennis Rollins. Shri’s bass playing is a wonder, combining delicate tones and robust, percussive slapping. The music is taken and transformed from Shri’s recent album The Letter, produced and released by Bugge on his own Jazzland label.

You can hear that Shri is very influenced by German bass legend Eberhard Weber. His compositions are tone poems with unexpected twists and turns. The bass lines are restrained as we journey across empty Arctic landscapes, and then Mumbai at rush hour when the bass almost becomes a tabla.

Shri Sriram performing in 2015. Image: Birgit Fostervold, Wikimedia Commons

Shri announces a “British classic”. Is that Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ with jazz inflections? It surely is, and we cross from Mumbai to Bromsgove. Rollins seems to be playing an accompanying riff and soloing at the same time. Bugge gets his analogue squeaks and swirls going, and the band lock together. It is as if they are at the end of a lengthy tour, but this is a one-off performance to a packed house. Many more audiences need to see what this unique quartet of gifted and empathetic musicians can do. They close with a lilting, jerky reggae version of a tune already played – clearly, an improvised mash up with some magnificently dexterous bass from Shri.

You leave with a smile. We all did. As my friend observed, there is nothing better than live music in the right place at the right time. Come back soon, Shri.

Splendid Sun King

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children. Image: Wikimedia Commons
RICHARD DOVE revels in Akhnaten at the ENO

“The thing about Philip Glass is that there’s so much repetition.” A friend pronounces his verdict. Well, yes, but what repetition. The ENO revival in association with LA Opera with the third of Glass’s so-called ‘portrait’ operas, Akhnaten, is entrancing. The set is a multi-level tableau of slow-moving interpretation and quite a bit of juggling. The jugglers are there to symbolise, I think, an imposition of order on the chaotic religious miasma that was ancient Egypt. King Amenhotep IV succeeds his father and declares a monotheistic religion with him, unsurprisingly, at its pinnacle.

The music swoops, swirls and glides across the narrative with the singers seeming to provide accompaniment for the orchestra and vice versa.

Glass had to do shifts as a New York taxi driver alongside regular plumbing jobs to help fund (and subsequently pay for production losses) his first portrait opera, Einstein on the Beach, which he developed with the grandiloquent imagination of Robert Wilson. He began by performing in sparsely attended recitals in New York lofts. Slowly, opera houses around the world caught up with Philip Glass. His second portrait opera on Mahatma Gandhi, Satyagraha, was a resounding and enduring success.

Akhnaten is now almost 40 years old and Glass has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. He is now chauffeur-driven.

American counter tenor Anthony Roth Constanzo has made the role of Akhenaten his own, appearing in productions in 2016, 2019 and now in this revival. He shows no signs of weariness with the role, commanding the huge stage with his soaring voice and subtle, precise gestures. His wife, Nefertiti, is an equally commanding presence, with mezzo soprano Chrystal E Williams delivering power and gravitas.

Phelim McDermott’s production is bold and sometimes a little baffling when images override meaning – a sort of Zoolander moment or two amidst the creative visual excellence.

The Coliseum was packed for the performance – ENO at its very best. The attempt by the Arts Council to shift it out of London is gesture politics at its most egregious. Let’s have more ENOs in Lincoln, Newcastle, Plymouth as well as London. We all need doses of cultural excellence, as bills mount and services decline.

The audience is wonderfully diverse and soundly engaged despite the singing in Egyptian, Hebrew, Akkadian and English. You do not need surtitles to get the gist. We are now well attuned to small dictators marooned in gilded palaces. It was only in the late nineteenth century that the remains were discovered of the city Amarna built by Akhenaten. In 1907 a mummy was unearthed that is most probably Akhenaten. The body was effeminate with womanly hips, elongated skull and fleshy lips, giving rise to speculation that he suffered from rare diseases. His androgynous appearance is cleverly portrayed in the opera. Akhenaten, the Sun King, is variously described as enigmatic, mysterious and revolutionary as well as mad and possibly insane. This production captures all those contradictory passions in a magisterial sweep. It is certainly repetitive but gloriously so. I will let my friend know. 

An older New Romantic

PHOTO BY GIORGIO ERRIQUEZ
Commons.Wikimedia
RICHARD DOVE drops back into the Eighties with one of the era’s great singers

Anthony Patrick Hadley has an MBE and a voice from the Gods. He has forged a forty-year career in the skittish world of pop music and, by last night’s (5 May) showing, is still going strong.

At Folkestone’s Leas Cliff Hall, there is a large audience of a certain era. Some ladies have gone to a lot of trouble with fresh hair dos and posh outfits. They want to see their Tony. He has always sung ‘True’ and ‘Gold” just for them. He greets seemingly everyone from the stalls to the upper tier as he arrives on stage with a band who are clearly long term mates. He has an easy charm and a sharp suit. And then the voice. He opens with some 1976 Chuck Berry rock n roll and we are off on a journey through his career. It is now a stretch to see this burly 61-years old as a pioneer of the New Romantics. 

After plentiful name changes, Hadley co-founded Spandau Ballet in 1976. They had the image of rather effete posh boys from the start and their first single ‘To Cut a Long Story Short’ reached number five in the pop charts. 

Tony took us back to the days when just 18 years old he would regularly attend gigs at the legendary Hope & Anchor pub in Islington. He told us of his enduring love for The Damned and, blimey, launched into ‘New Rose’.  The New Romantic plays Punk. For tribal, obsessive NME readers this would have been unthinkable in those heady days but at this place and at this time it just seemed right. This man has been around and experienced extraordinary triumphs and setbacks. 

He follows this with ‘Confused’, a punk song sung like Spandau, he explains. His seven piece band have hit their stride with flamboyant percussion matched by understated guitar and keyboard flourishes.  Tony keeps us entertained between songs with vignettes from his career. He tells us his first solo album, with LA musicians, was a “massive mistake”.  He wanted to emulate Jon Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp by growing his hair long and pouring himself into Spandex. It did not work and the sharp suit triumphed. However, he did deliver a song from the album ‘State of Play’, which clearly resonated with many in the audience. A new song, ‘Because of You’, recorded during lockdown has the potential to become a new Hadley classic. But when would we get to ‘True’ and ‘Gold’? 

We had a gentle interlude perched on stools with a Jim Croce song and even some jazz as he recalled a gig at Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham. He told us of his love for Frank Sinatra, Jack Jones and Ella Fitzgerald.  

Many in the audience were shouting ‘Gold’ but he kept us waiting with a bit of Sinatra and then the piano struck up a familiar riff and we were singing.  “Huh huh huh hu-uh huh.  I know this much is true.” We all sailed back close on forty years – Top of the Pops with T. Blackburn presiding.

Tony told us he last played the Leas Cliff Hall around twenty years ago. Let’s hope he is back soon as the dancing in the aisles got a little more frenzied. We had all been transported back and forwards across a momentous career. Cheers, Tony. 

‘Satyagraha’ – joy and rapture at the ENO

RICHARD DOVE reflects on Philip Glass’s timeless opera

In 1960s Lower Manhattan there was a very definite merging of culture and logistics.  If you had ordered a new wardrobe or dining table it was distinctly possible that the delivery men could be the two masters of emerging minimalism, Philip Glass and Steve Reich.  They both freelanced for a company called Low Rate Movers.  The art critic Robert Hughes needed a plumber to fix his dishwasher and was more than surprised when a smock-clad man with a shock of black hair and a bag of plumber’s tools showed up.  ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here? You’re an artist.’  Glass explained that whilst he was an artist, he was also a plumber.

The music of Philip Glass now graces concert halls and opera houses around the world.  He is a prolific composer having forged a style of layered repetition and exquisite harmonies that beguiles many and upsets not a few.  As I walked to the Coliseum in central London, I passed a few plumbers’ vans.  I hoped that, in a wonderful act of circularity, at least one or two were heading to the latest production of Glass’s totemic opera, Satyagraha.  This was the last night, so it would be their last London opportunity for some time.

‘This is just wonderful.’  For my audience neighbour, it was her first Philip Glass experience.  ‘Well, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do’, I replied.  Glass’s astonishing avalanche of creativity has seen the creation of over thirty operas, thirteen symphonies, small ensemble pieces, concertos and countless film scores. 

Satyagraha was the return to business of the English National Opera after what it described as ‘an extended interval.’ The opera is, to use the ENO’s highly appropriate description, a ‘meditation’ on Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, a co-production with New York’s Metropolitan Opera with conductor Carolyn Kuan and director Phelim McDermott. It is sung in Sanskrit with words from the Bhagavad Gita and some of the headline translations were mostly obscured for us on the balcony and above. It did not matter.  It was an immersing mediation, and the plot was insignificant.  It is an emotional journey through Gandhi’s embrace of non-violent protest to change minds and politics.  The looping harmonies and spectacular staging created an embracing ambiance where you can pick and choose what you look at and how you interpret the narrative.  The result is, to use another ENO programme description, ‘mesmeric’.

Satyagraha is Sanskit for ‘truth force’ and the opera takes you and back and forth in Gandhi’s life as his philosophy of protest takes shape and consequence.   Sean Panikkar brought nuance and quiet strength to the role of Gandhi as he slowly walked the stage, his voice both tender and firm.  The huge, imposing corrugated iron wall set resonated a South Africa shantytown.  Meditation became a dream populated by Phelim McDermott’s vast puppets, the wicker emu being a particular highlight, and Julian Crouch’s soaring adaptable sets. The immense power of the voices of Verity Wingate and Felicity Buckland cut through the coughing and rustling (in my vicinity) and commanded attention. 

Satyagraha is the third of Glass’s so-called Portrait trilogy – Einstein on the Beach (which he staged largely with his own savings and had to drive a New York cab and deliver furniture to recover financially) and Akhnaten, the Egyptian Sun God which was also staged by Phelim McDermott in 2016.  None of the three operas have a lateral narrative, but wander through their subjects’ lives and experiences. The music is described as minimalist, but it is nothing of the sort. The motif of repetition masks constant change and highs and lows of emotion. It requires from the players and the conductor both technical and emotional engagement. As Glass himself says:

What you hear depends on how you focus your ear. We’re not talking about inventing a new language, but rather inventing new perceptions of existing languages. I don’t like using language to convey meaning. I’d rather use images and music.

For my neighbour, new to all this, it was a state of rapture despite often not knowing what was going on. She told me she worked at St Thomas’ Hospital and it was just joyful to be part of an audience again after an horrific eighteen months. Joy and rapture, not a bad way to spend a Thursday evening.

As I left the Opera House, I noticed the plumbers’ vans had disappeared.  Some domestic emergency interrupting Act 3?  The composer is close on 85 years old and yet his creativity is undiminished.  His Symphonies No 14 and 15 receive their world premieres next year as does a new ballet called ‘Alice’.   Clearly, the days of furniture moving and dishwasher repair are long gone.