Wondering if, without a new life-changing trauma, I actually have a blog in me, but working on the philosophy that I’ve come an awful long way this year, and it wasn’t all trauma, I’ve decided to try!
I am sat on a train going south down the east coast of Scotland. You know the route? Edinburgh, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle, Durham etc. The sky is blue, there’s a good frost on, the sun is quite low giving a perfectly gentle yellow hue to the landscape. It’s pretty much perfect.
I’ve just returned to work. My first orchestral playing since surgery, only three other gigs this side of June. While there are obvious downsides of not working, I can recommend time out of work! I’m lucky to have such amazing, and incredibly talented, colleagues, and being back has been pure joy.
I have been playing Handel’s Messiah.
This piece, especially among musicians, can get a really bad press.
Too many on-the-day gigs, hacks through with conductors without time or ideas, the three-hour duration can seem interminable without the musical direction to keep momentum.
Fortunately, this was not the case here.
The piece has exquisite moments, long runs of numbers with such passion and vigour, moments of rest and recuperation – though admittedly scarily few for the violins for whom the Messiah is a marathon play. But the thing that really keeps me on my toes is the intricate and intriguing part-writing between the instruments and the voices.
There stands the basic idea that the first violins (the top line, highest instruments) play with the sopranos (top and highest voices). Similarly, the second violins play with the altos, violas with tenors and cellos/double bass with the basses.
But Handel is SO much cleverer than this.
We are literally ducking and diving around between all four parts, creating the most elaborate textures which so often go unnoticed, because its the Messiah, and everybody knows how it goes.
I cannot let this moment pass without mentioning the look on my mother-in-law’s face, when I met her front of house, after the performance in Kendal on Saturday night.
Having, as most of you will know, tragically lost my dear brother-in-law only weeks ago, this was the first time I had seen light in her eyes since, and the moment still brings tears to my eyes.
The power of music is sometimes way beyond words.
And so Christmas, especially as a musician specialising in Baroque and Classical music, has not arrived until you’ve played the Messiah a few times (there probably is a maximum capacity in the run-up to Christmas, but I have not reached it for a while. A blessing!)
It was while attempting to make my hosts’ (and dear friends) son a birthday card on Sunday, that I found myself inadvertently making Christmas Cards instead.
Having the right equipment to cover all possible (visual) artistic urges on tour – a full range of pens, pencils, sizes and colours of paper, plus knowing the need for a Louise Bourgeois textbook could hit hard at any time (a big failure this week) leads to either a stupidly heavy suitcase or never having what I need.
But this week, with the time of the year and all that, I succeeded with black card and metallic pens, and the cards which I thought had gone by the wayside this year (if only because stamps are becoming prohibitively expensive) have taken shape – admittedly just a handful, if you receive one you should feel VERY special – and in this creative moment my mind ran back to Louise Bourgeois.
After a tough second half of the year, I would do well to remember the good things I achieved in the first half.
Things that, though I have written in rough form, despite my funding requirement being to keep my blog updated of my activities, have not made it to print. Yet.
The first notable event was in February.
I was invited to give a gallery talk in the Kettles Yard Louise Bourgeois’ Artist Room exhibition.
It was low key (theoretically).
Somewhere between 2 and 15 people likely.
Introducing a couple of pieces I particularly liked (that was a hard choice).
Answering any questions.
It was the day after I finished a long tour, and I had to get a taxi from London City Airport to Cambridge in order to be there.
As it turned out, it was, apparently, the highest figures ever for a gallery talk, with 70 plus people stood listening and virtually no walkers.
Now *that* was a nice marker for having officially succeeded in ‘Getting a Life’!
It was while studying this exhibition, in the run-up to this talk, that I got more familiar with this picture:
Painted in oil on canvas, this picture is not dissimilar to her above Christmas Card design of 1946.
There are a number of themes that run through Bourgeois’ work. The tall tower in this untitled painting likely represents her husband, the three figures on top, her sons.
Both pictures use the theme of hair, indicating it’s a self-portrait. Bourgeois was known for her very long hair and it features again and again in her work, from this relatively early work through to her last. It appears as a sign of sexuality, portrays strength and beauty. It is also used as arms, as in this card design.
The slightly traumatised face alongside the flying hair is also a common feature. She struggled with motherhood, certainly an obvious representation of the untitled picture. For Bourgeois, on the greetings card, however, this is not only a self-portrait but also an Angel, saying “its body is sexless… it floats high above… it is free… it is not tied to anybody… this is a good spirit who celebrates a happy event.” (quote from The Prints of Louise Bourgeois New York: MoMA, 1994)
And with that good spirit, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and suitably peaceful/noisy festive season.