Archive for September 29, 2018

100 Years of ‘The Planets’

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on September 29, 2018 by telescoper

Not a lot of people know that today, 29th September 2018, is exactly one hundred years since the first ever performance of The Planets by Gustav Holst which took place at the Queen’s Hall in London.

As it happens, although I’ve heard countless performances of this work on the radio and on record, I had never heard it live – until last night at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

From its arresting opening with the strings beating out quintuple time col legno battuto on Mars, The Bringer of War to the wordless singing at the end of Neptune, The Mystic the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by José Serebrier (and at the end, and in the wings, the ladies voices of the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir) gave a very good account of this enduringly popular work. The centrepiece of this suite of seven movements is Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity which consists of an intro and and outro either side of the famous ‘big tune’ (“Thaxted”) often sung as the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country. The string playing at that section was exceptional, with a lovely rich texture and a very well chosen stately tempo.

The only disappointment of this performance for me was the ending. The voices off are supposed to fade away gently until they are inaudible, but last night they cut off abruptly, rather ruining the intended effect.

This didn’t stop the audience giving the Orchestra a standing ovation, however, so obviously not everyone was bothered by the ending.

For the record I’ll just mention that the first half of the concert consisted of two shorter works. The opening piece was one of Leopold Stokowski’s rather unnecessary orchestral arrangements of music by Bach, in this case the famous Toccata & Fugue in D Minor. I spent the entire performance looking at the NCH’s fine concert organ and wishing the original was being played on that. Still, at least the Stokowski arrangement didn’t have a harpsichord in it.

The other first-half piece was far more interesting (to me), the world premiere of a piece by the conductor José Serebrier called Symphonic B A C H Variations for Piano and Orchestra. This is like a piano concerto in four movements each based a little riff made the four notes B A C and H (in German musical notation, B is B flat and H is B Natural – don’t ask me why). It’s an intriguing piece, which I hope I get to hear again, and was very well played by young Alexandre Kantorow.

Presidential Election Time

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on September 29, 2018 by telescoper

This week the deadline passed for nominations of candidates for the post of President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann). The rather peculiar nomination process has left voters with a choice of six, including the incumbent Michael D Higgins. As a relative newcomer to Ireland, even I know that the post of President doesn’t have any real power associated with it and is largely ceremonial. Surprisingly, some of the people who put themselves forward didn’t seem to understand that but, fortunately, some of the more obvious fruitcakes who put themselves forward failed to get nominated. On the other hand, three of the candidates are businessmen best known for having appeared on the Irish version of the TV show Dragon’s Den. There’s ample evidence that the products of reality TV shows do not make good presidents.

The election takes place precisely four weeks from now, on Friday 26th October 2018, and the term of the presidency is 7 years – the last such election took place in 2011.

Naturally, given the vital importance of the office of the Presidency and the need to treat the forthcoming election with the appropriate gravitas, my first thought was to look at the betting odds on Paddy Power. Here is the full SP:

  1. Michael D. Higgins (Incumbent) 1/5
  2. Sean Gallagher  5/1
  3. Gavin Duffy 14/1
  4. Joan Freeman 25/1
  5. Liadh Ni Riada  33/1
  6. Peter Casey 66/1

Obviously Michael D Higgins is a strong favourite. I think he’s carried out his duties in a very dignified and diligent way for seven years, so he will probably get my vote. Candidates 2, 3 and 6 are the Dragon’s Den people. Joan Freeman is a  journalist by trade (and an Independent member of the Seanad Éireann) and Liadh Ni Riada is the official candidate of Sinn Féin. Neither of the two biggest parties in the Dáil Éireann, Fine Gael and Fianna Fianna Fáil, nominated a candidate, preferring to back the incumbent.

It seems likely that Michael D. Higgins will win and serve another seven years, but it’s hard to be confident about anything in politics these days so we’ll just have to wait and see..