three nights out on the trot

Another busy week on the cultural front, beginning on Monday evening at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room for Morton Feldman‘s For John Cage. The piece, for piano and violin, lasts about an hour and twenty minutes, requiring the intense concentration of both musicians and audience. Slow, often deathly quiet, the music creeps up on you, into your consciousness. A nearly amorphous music, delicate and vulnerable, the violin muted throughout, the bow scraped softly, barely vibrating the strings; the perfect plucking of notes, splashes of colour, exquisite fragments more vivid for the space around them. John Tilbury, as ever, magnificently restrained, the piano a tamed beast under his faultless hands. On violin, Darragh Morgan, more than holding his own, a look of understated delight each time he turned a page of the score with the tip of his bow. Two musicians totally in tune with Feldman’s musical landscape, and thankfully most of the audience stayed the distance with them.

Tuesday evening found us downstairs at The Phoenix for London’s monthly live fiction event, Liars’ League. This was my first visit to Liars’ League, though it’s been on my radar for a while, and I admit to being ever-so-slighty anxious about one aspect: the stories are read by actors, not the authors. I’m borderline allergic to the theatre, but my prejudice was well and truly revealed to be just that. I’m won over, as this was a great listening experience, and each actor had me hooked from the start. This month’s theme, in a nod to Hallowe’en, was Tooth & Claw, and we were treated to five thrilling stories. A Vindication of the Rights of Frankenstein’s Creatures by Niall Boyce was a nightmarish vision of London overrun by monstrous creatures. You wouldn’t want to be one of the last surviving humans in this scenario. Vanessa Thompsett’s Sawdust began as a breezy tale of childhood fascination with automata, only to end with a claustrophobic twist. Zwo by Alan Graham was my favourite on the night, a hilarious Berlin caper featuring B-movie monster-celebrities. The comic vein continued with Sunday Teeth by Tom Ryan, though there was also an underlying poignancy to this potted life story of a decaying great-grandmother. Lastly, Owen Booth’s God Grant me the Serenity had the audience in stitches, as a group of scientists went wildly off the rails in the Antarctic.

And then on Wednesday, off to Loose Muse at the Poetry Café for another stimulating evening in the company of women writers, hosted by Agnes Meadows. It’s fascinating to hear the work of other writers in the open mic spots, and a supportive atmosphere in which to read, if you pluck up the courage to do so, as I did on Wednesday. Every month, too, Agnes invites featured writers, most of whom I probably wouldn’t come across otherwise. On this occasion, poet Ivy Alvarez, currently resident in Wales, read several of her ‘Hollywood starlet’ poems, from a sequence of fourteen 100 word sonnets; as well as one of the poems from her forthcoming collection to be published by Seren next year, a narrative sequence about a man who kills all his family, apart from a daughter, and then kills himself. Dark material, coolly and subtly handled. In the second half of the evening, Argentenian poet and translator Jona Burghardt read a selection of her poems in Spanish, with English translations by Rudiger Fischer read beautifully by Leila Segal. It was wonderful to hear the music of the Spanish originals, and then the fine English versions of these intriguing poems. There was a philosophical/discursive slant to some, vivid imagery and sense of place in others, and a particularly arresting poem about the rain and a seamstress, her pins becoming the rain – Jona, forgive me for the clumsy paraphrase!

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