Posts Tagged ‘Chopin’

Tomasz Lis

April 29, 2019

Chopin. Good at the piano.

It’s a long time since I wrote about music. Not because I haven’t been to anything interesting but more because I got out of the habit. To review big concerts or productions seems pointless when the major critics/media outlets cover that kind of thing quite well.* And while I’ve been to dozens of small concerts over the past few years I haven’t come across many that were outstanding, even if most of them were enjoyable.

Well, yesterday I did attend a small concert of disproportionate excellence to the venue and crowd, Tomasz Lis performing for the Chopin Society at Westminster Cathedral Hall. The first half of Mozart and Bach was good but would have benefitted from sticking to a rondo and Partita – the Bach cantatas, while crowd pleasers, gave us a little too much of a good thing before the bog break. It didn’t help that Bach had seemingly written his Partita less as a solo piece than a chamber work for piano, hearing aid and death rattle.

Fortunately, the excellence of Lis’s Chopin playing in the second half was such that I didn’t even notice the grunts, coughs, mumblings and general crapness of the Westminster crew. His playing was a of a technical standard and emotional intensity that few of the pianists I’ve seen perform this material (and that’s a lot) have been able to match. An encore of Bach’s DMinor Concerto (cribbed from an oboe piece of Montecello) capped off a perfect sequence of music.

It’s subjective I know but on this performance I do hope Mr Lis gets a gig in the splendid venue he deserves very soon.

*One exception to this being the absence of coverage of Good Cop/Bad Cop’s gig at King Tut’s the other week. Alas, Matt Helders’ début as a frontman was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. And that includes Radioheads’ bizarre outing as support to The Sultans of Ping at the Riverside in around 1991. Never has a support act been so misaligned with the headliner. I can still picture the beer bottles of disgruntled Ping-ites raining onto the stage.


Matt Helders’ moonface shines through the luminescent fog of his own incompetence.

The Crouch End Festival and Alfred de Musset

June 10, 2018

As anyone who read the post on Marivaux and last year’s Crouch End Festival piece, Corbyn Island, will know in adapting pieces I like to do some half-arsed research in the milieu of how the originals came about. And in contrast to Corbyn Island the update of A Door (Should be Open or Shut) is nevertheless a period piece rather than being located in contemporary Britain. Mid-century London wasn’t too much of a stretch for the update and fortunately the background and context for Musset’s play, Il Faut Qu’une Porte Soit Ouverte ou Fermée, was less unfamiliar to me if only because I’ve been something of a Delacroix obsessive for some time.*

Where’s the connection with Delacroix? Well, of course they’re both French Romantics though working in different disciplines, but the connection is much more personal than being inspired by the same mid-nineteenth century ideas. Delacroix was a great friend of the musician Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the writer Georges Sand. And Musset was previously a lover of Sand.

It was good to hear that Paul Kildea’s new book on Chopin’s Piano is in part concerned with recovering Sand’s reputation (in popular writing that is, it’s been a task undertaken with relish by feminist academics for decades) from its traducement by followers of Chopin (and Musset, especially his brother Paul) who have trashed her literary reputation largely out of unthinking misogyny.**

So as well as reading de Musset’s work I’ve been reading Delacroix’s diaries (an ongoing project over the past few years***, Sand’s memoirs and Paul de Musset’s (very) partial biography of his brother.

Props for 'A Door (Should be Open or Shut)

Props for A Door (Should be Open or Shut)

What did I take from this reading into the new production? Our production is set in 1940s Soho and when I realised that the production of Absolute Hell  would be using pretty much the same setting, and running at the same time as us, I was rather fearful that people would think that I’d been inspired by that. But in fact I was inspired by de Musset’s own life.

De Musset himself was a drinker. A serious drinker. As in he died of it. But this aspect of his life doesn’t bleed into the literary works that he created so I decided that to make the connection with his life I’d update the play from an aristocratic salon to somewhere more modern. Since we had a pub bar as a set it seemed natural that the setting I’d update it to would be one of London’s drinking clubs of the 1930s/40s.

Although there are references to Soho stalwarts such as Francis Bacon the model I was actually thinking of wasn’t the Colony Club. Rather I had in mind Foppa’s, which appears in A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. So we’re more in 40s Fitzrovia than 50s Soho. To someone who never knew either in their prime Fitzrovia offers a rather more literary locus which looks back to the 19th Century (and de Musset) rather than forward to the late twentieth and Jeffrey Bernard. Although the female lead is an artist.

A fun part of the production has been assembling props – a 40s Woodbine astray, an old-fashioned bottle of scotch, a cigarette case and a whiff of 40s in the costume of the characters. And the cast – Anna Rogers, Matt Griffin and Ruari Johnson – have been extraordinarily successful at bringing Musset’s characters to life in a faux-Fitzrovian setting.

If you’ve read this far why not book a ticket now to see the show? You can visit the Crouch End Players website or email 

Thanks to Paul Travis for the photo of the props, and for other shots of the preview night.

#Theatre #London #crouchendfestival

* I’ve written about him before and I’m looking forward to visiting the blockbuster show of his work at the Louvre later this month.

**You can listen to an excellent podcast with Kildea here.

***i.e. the French unedited edition lies next to my bed. And has done for some time! The Phaidon edition in English is what I’d recommend if you want to read pretty much the best writer on art of the nineteenth century as well as one of its key practitioners.

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