Ballet on the Sofa: Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’

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The premiere of The Rite of Spring made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Most famous as the ballet that started a riot at its premiere, ‘The Rite of Spring’ features music composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and an original choreography by the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950). It represented a radical departure from both Stravinsky’s previous work and the ‘traditional’ ballet of pirouettes and tutus. In other words, it’s a Modernist work produced slightly too early – it premiered in 1913, at the very end of La Belle Époque – hence the riots. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’”

A Special Drop: Mulled Wine

Jamie Oliver Mulled Wine
Mulled wine by Jamie Oliver.

Mulled wine isn’t something that’s ever really been on my radar, but recently while celebrating my sister’s birthday I enjoyed a warming glass of it over the course of a sociable winter’s afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So what is mulled wine? Well, there’s no single recipe but the basic concept is pretty consistent. It’s wine, usually red, which has been warmed, sweetened with sugar or honey, and infused with spices. Continue reading “A Special Drop: Mulled Wine”

On My Reading List: July 2017

By the time I worked my way through last month’s list I felt like I was drowning in testosterone, so I’ve kept this month’s list short and gentler.

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‘Cider with Rosie’, by Laurie Lee (1959): is a memoir of the author’s childhood growing up in a village in the English Cotswolds in the years following World War One. These are no misery memoirs but neither does the golden glow of nostalgia entirely obscure the reality of a life in which it was perfectly acceptable for a house to flood every time there was a storm, education to consist of a rudimentary Three R’s delivered as well as they would ever be by the age of 14, and for a child to have eleven siblings, of which four were deceased. And that’s before we’ve even reached the superstition, murder, and suicides. Lee shares his memories with a warmth and humour which is irresistible even when his recollections are decidedly unsettling. Continue reading “On My Reading List: July 2017”

Poems You Should Know: Jabberwocky

The most widely known of Lewis Carroll’s (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898) poems, ‘Jabberwocky’ is a piece of nonsense verse which first appeared in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’, the sequel to ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Like all nonsense poems it is less than serious in nature, and makes free use of made-up, nonsense words, which nonetheless appear to make perfect sense in context. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: Jabberwocky”

Treasure Trove: ‘Aslan’s Theme’ by Geoffrey Burgon

This short piece was the theme music for the BBC’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ back in the 1980s. I loved the series, and consider it to be superior to the more recent movies because it was far truer to the books and therefore did a far better job of conveying the deeper meaning of Lewis’ works, rather than focussing on the visual appeal of special effects.

Characters from the BBC's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 1988
Characters from the BBC’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, 1988

Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010) was a composer of television and film scores whose best-known works include the scores for Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and ITVs ‘Brideshead Revisited’. He won BAFTAs for his themes for ‘Longitude’ and the remake of ‘The Forsyte Saga’. He was also a jazz trumpeter, and this was his original intended career. He eschewed the various musical trends of the 20th century in favour of more traditional styles and medieval influences. As a result he was dismissed by critics as ‘commercial’ – and popular with mainstream audiences like eight-year-old me who understood nothing of classical music but liked the pretty, hummable tune which heralded the latest instalment of a favourite show.

Local Culture: The Palmerston North Choral Society performance of Requiems by Mozart and Fauré

20170708_184032Recently the Significant Other treated me to an evening out in Palmerston North where we attended performances of Mozart’s and Fauré’s requiems. In classical music requiem, or more properly Requiem Mass, is a musical setting of the Catholic religious service offered for the souls of the deceased. Originally performed most often in the context of a funeral, the beauty of the music written for these services is such that requiems are often performed, as they were on this occasion, for their artistic value alone. Continue reading “Local Culture: The Palmerston North Choral Society performance of Requiems by Mozart and Fauré”

Wine Tasting: Ohau Wines

Ohau 2An hour and a half south of Whanganui lies the closest thing to a local winery: Ohau Wines, between Otaki and Levin. On a recent trip south to visit my sister in Wellington I decided to stop in. It was a cold, grey day, but the welcome at the small cellar door was warm and the marketing manager (whose name I regrettably forgot to ask) was passionate and knowledgeable.

I came to know of Ohau Wines when I discovered their Woven Stone range in a local supermarket, but I was amazed by the range of wines they had available – enough that I had to decline to taste many of them to ensure I could continue south safely and legally. Woven Stone (which is good wine) is their low-end, mass-produced supermarket range, and the winery has been doing some interesting things with their direct-sale-only wines. Continue reading “Wine Tasting: Ohau Wines”

Local Culture: Whenua Hou: New Maori Ceramics

20170617_124004The space above the local information centre acts as an extension of the public art gallery, currently located across the road while earthquake-strengthening work is carried out on the original building, constructed in 1919 (earthquake strengthening is a national obsession at the moment due to the devastating effects of two severe earthquakes in the last six years. The local museum is also closed, and the local opera house reopened last year after it was strengthened. But I digress).

Currently on display is a selection of ceramic work by Maori artists. Pottery and ceramics were introduced to New Zealand by European settlers in the 1800s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that they really caught on among Maori artists, but as this exhibition shows the results have been marvellous. Continue reading “Local Culture: Whenua Hou: New Maori Ceramics”

Poems You Should Know: Still I Rise

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

The 20th century was a time of tremendous social change as people began to question, and then challenge, the hierarchical concepts which had previously shaped the social order. From the suffragettes of the early 20th century to the mid-century Civil and Women’s Rights movements to the LGBT activism of the late 20th century ideas about who should have power, and why, have changed in ways that our great-grandparents would probably have struggled to imagine. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: Still I Rise”