Simone Dinnerstein (photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco)It was a privilege to have been at the concert given last Saturday (November 30) by Simone Dinnerstein (piano) and Stephan Loges (bass-baritone) in aid of the Marlborough Brandt Group. It took place in the Memorial Hall, Marlborough College by kind permission of the Master.
The recital started with an aria from Bach’s St John Passion (Ich Habe Genug) in which Stephan Loges expressed the pain and the acceptance of the Cross with a beautifully warm and well balanced tonality which was consistent throughout the whole range of his voice from the low bass notes to an almost tenor-like quality at the top.
Simone Dinnerstein’s piano accompaniment conveyed the colour and texture of an entire orchestra with wonderfully clear part-playing that was to be the hallmark of the whole recital - a wonderful dialogue of great sensitivity between voice and piano.
The main part of the programme was devoted to the music of Robert Schumann and here again the inner heart of the music its hope, despair, joy and sorrow was captured by both soloists in such a way as to make the lack of an English text almost unnecessary.
Simone Dinnerstein has explained the link between Bach and Schumann: “There is a beautiful connection between the music of Bach and Schumann, both composers were drawn to the human voice…every individual is important and contributes to a complex tapestry of sound.”
The recital lasted just an hour, but it was an hour of supreme artistry with a complete understanding between the two musicians. A rare treat for an enthusiastic audience.
As a friend said as we left the Memorial Hall: “It was one of the finest recitals I have ever been to. I have seldom heard a pianist as good as that.”
Auntie PriscllaShe was a woman who captivated men. They fluttered round her like moths attracted by a candle – “a figure of unusual glamour and mystery”, according to novelist and biographer Nicholas Shakespeare.
Nicholas Shakespeare2His aunt Priscilla remained so for decades, as Nicholas revealed on Tuesday night when he came to the Royal Oak, Marlborough, to talk about his newly-published biography of her.
And wow the audience at the White Horse Bookshop event with the sensational secrets he has discovered almost by chance about a woman who spent the war years in Nazi-occupied France, a secret agent with the resistance so it was supposed.
But in fact the aunt he originally met in the early sixties at her husband’s mushroom farm on the Sussex coast – they were a delicacy few enjoyed then – and watch the TV set in her bedroom, had a dramatic hidden past.
She had swopped identities after her failed marriage to an impotent French viscount and had been questioned by the Gestapo in an internment camp, not raped in a concentration camp as one source suggested.
Auntie Priscilla in furAnd she had then had love affairs with a string of men in her bid to remain safe, the final one, however, with Otto, the code name for an Abwehr Colonel, real name Colonel Hermann Brandl, who dined her at Maxim’s in Paris and bought her dresses in Schiaparelli and Patou.
“His role in military intelligence was to oversee the systematic plunder of France and the transportation of French art collections to Germany, cherry-picking the best paintings and sculptures for Goering and Hitler’s private collections, seizing paintings from apartments deserved by Jews who had fled,” Nicholas told the stunned audience.
When Nicholas informed his mother about her sister’s activities, she replied: “Nothing would surprise me in the war. Absolutely nothing. It’s a question of survival. I am sure you would have collaborated if you had wanted to live.”
He accepted that his beautiful aunt was no traitor but faced the dilemma of many learning how to stay alive in a country they thought would by German dominated forever.
“Priscilla was one of remarkably few English women who have lived in Paris through the Occupation – perhaps one of fewer than 200,” added Nicholas.
“She learned what it was to be faced with decisions that her family and friends in England never had to confront, and yet which they judged others or having made.
Priscilla's Wedding“Her story is not about an elite coming to terms with Fascism, but about ordinary women especially – adjusting, screwing up, developing survival skills of a deeply primitive and totally understandable, if ruthless, kind.”
By October, 1943 some 85,000 French women had children fathered by Germans at a time when there was a dearth of available men, nearly two million Frenchmen prisoners in Germany.
According to the historian Hanna Diamond: “The prestige of the stranger, the hint of perversity and adventure, the persuasive white dress uniform of a Luftwaffe pilot, the dinner in sumptuous surroundings – a German boyfriend offered immediate and sold advantage.”
And Nicholas quoted the memorable words of Joseph Paul-Boncur, France’s representative in Switzerland, to his mistress, a woman of charismatic liability who had seduced Mussolini.
“When I think of your lovely body, I don’t give a damn about central Europe.”
Oscar-winning actor Robert Donat’s desire for his Darling Priscilladimples
How Priscilla had been pursued by the Oscar-winning actor Robert Donat before she embarked for France – and after -- is also detailed in Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography, published by Harvill Secker at £18.99.
Donat’s remarkable intensity is shown in a folder of letters Nicholas found in a chest that stood in Priscilla’s bedroom when he watched TV there.
Writing in green ink, Donat declared: “Darling Priscilladimples,
“I wish I could undress you very slowly, very, very slowly indeed, and then be wonderfully sweet and kind to the wounds on your tummy, and dress you again in exquisite black-market undies, including sheer silk stockings, and send you back home safely to your mammie and grannie with a copy of Peter Quennell’s latest drivel – just to show you how platonic my love is for you.”
Rosie Walker as Doug the CaretakerWhat a breath of fresh air! For the new Marlborough Young Actors’ first production this was a big ask: three young actors on stage for the entire production of John Godber’s play Teechers as they act a whole register of fellow students and a staff room of teachers.
And a merry and satisfying evening they made of it. Put on in St John’s Academy’s drama studio which seats about forty, and with minimal props and no raised stage, black-clad Carys Muirhead, Rosie Walker and David Higgins brought White Wall Comprehensive to life with some wicked impersonations and lively repartee.
Minimal props? But head teacher Mrs Parry’s yellow feather boa did have a starring role. And Mrs Parry – who sees fit to mix yellow and pink clothes – was central to the fun.
The three actors each had a turn at guying Mrs Parry – even David Higgins had his few seconds with the feather boa.
Salty (David Higgins), Gail (Rosie Walker) and Hobby (Carys Muirhead) are school leavers and they are putting on a play about the staff and about the staff putting on a play – so it gets quite tricky to knows who’s and what’s real.
Especially as Mrs Parry, who is best known for her all-male production of the Trojan Women and an eight-and-a-half hour production of the Pirates of Penzance, is putting on the Mikado.
The other main staff members are Mr Basford, who rules the timetable with an iron hand, and Geoff Nixon, the new drama teacher who falls for and loses PE teacher Jackie Prime. The plot, or plots, centre on Nixon – the inspirational drama teacher.
Nixon succumbs to the attentions of an infatuated Gail, who is in turn lusted after by Oggy, the school thug who is “as hard as nails…as hard as calculus”.
How, asks Oggy, will Mr Nixon punish him: “What are you going to do – make me pretend to be a tree?” Probably the best joke of the evening.
Rosie Walker was a delight as Gail who finds herself getting into Nixon’s “A-reg Escort” with Oggy taking the back seat. She also relishes playing Doug the Caretaker who cannot believe that drama classes should be allowed to sully his very clean Main School Hall.
Quite early on Gail, having ‘done’ Romeo and Juliet and the play about the two tramps and the man who never comes, declares “We’ve done all there is in drama”. So it’s quite a relief when they set about doing their play about the staff.
L to R: Hobby, Salty and GailAnd along the way there’s a great team dance of the Ninjas who have somehow got mixed up with a French lesson – I think I lost the plot at that point.
After the interval we are in the run up to Christmas and a hilarious cabaret at the Christmas dance – once again featuring Mrs Parry and that yellow feather boa.
After the first night of Mrs Parry’s Mikado (which unaccountably rain for just 55 minutes), Carys Muirhead gives us a wonderful rendering of excerpts from her 'thank you' speech (which apparently went on for an hour.)
In between the fun and the jokes we get glimpses of serious issues about education. White Wall Comp is apparently known as Colditz at County Hall. One of the students asks: “Is this a school for thickies?”
Mr Nixon has a political spat with Basford who sends his kids to the nearest posh School, St George’s. He then escapes through Colditz’s fence to St George’s. And there he’ll bump into Mr Shaw who has had the nerve to marry Jackie Prime.
The school leavers feel they are trapped and do not want to leave school at sixteen: “Who traps us all? Politicians?” “They don’t care and they’re not bothered they don’t care.”
At the end we have a reprise of one of the play’s refrains – a shouted “Stop running Simon Paterson” – and finally “One last thing…” a reprise of Salty’s opening line which was probably spelled “…Bollox”. A great curtain line, not diminished at all by the lack of a curtain.
What, to remind you where we began, a breath of fresh air! Anna Friend produced and directed Teechers and her new enterprise deserves Marlborough’s support. It was a big ask and she certainly got these three young actors to answer it and answer it well.
I look forward to Marlborough Young Actors’ next production.
Auditions for the next production are on November 10 – followed by a series of workshops with rehearsals starting in January for a 2014 production. You can get in contact via the website.
Robin Nelson (left) and Mike Polack (Photo courtesy Andrew Williamson)Atlantic Odyssey – a Journey through Music had its triumphant world premiere on Sunday evening (October 20) in St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Swindon. The performance received a standing ovation from a packed audience of around 450 people.
The new work for mixed chorus, soloists and orchestra was performed by the Swindon Choral Society and Warneford School Choir. It was conducted by Robin Nelson and accompanied by a slide show.
The Odyssey is the result of an extraordinary creative collaboration between composer Robin Nelson and writer Mike Polack. The two are next door neighbours in Avebury and share a passionate interest in birds.
The piece takes its inspiration from the astonishing migration of the Arctic tern, a bird that weighs little more than an apple, but travels 40,000 miles a year. The ‘bird of light’ follows the path of the sun from pole to pole and back during the course of the year.
Atlantic Odyssey depicts the journey superbly from tottering fledgling, through shrieking frenzy, to gliding and resting. It begins with a rippling song Perpetual Light and ends with a joyous hymn of praise Oh the world sings to the movement of birds.
But Atlantic Odyssey does much more than that. Many of the places the tern passes over and the activities of humans beneath its path are presented in Mike Polack’s striking words, sometimes gritty, sometimes soaring and feathery.
The narrative covers a huge span – from the early arrival of seafarers and fishermen, through the darkest activities of the slave trade and up to today’s oil drilling and pollution of the oceans. Mike draws on a range of myths and legends including Anglo Saxon, African and Inuit.
This is a big political story with depth and weight, as well as a celebration of nature. It is timeless and right up to date.
The joy of this piece is the way music and words combine. Robin Nelson’s music contrasts light and dark and uses folk song, nursery rhyme and shanty. It is approachable, harmonious and above all brilliantly orchestrated.
You can hear the rattle of chains on the slave boat, the crack of the whip, the sweep of starlings roosting. Harp, piano, keyboard and percussion formed part of the excellent chamber orchestra and suited the piece perfectly. Voice is also used as percussion: the choir hums, speaks and blows.
The choice of the girls’ choir was inspired. They clearly loved taking part as did the Swindon Choral Society. The soloists were Charlotte Mobbs soprano, Eamonn Dougan baritone, and Steve Cass tenor.
Atlantic Odyssey is thought provoking and moving with wonderful words and music. It deserves to be heard many more times.
[For more information see our preview report.]