Puccini and the plants

Something else I’d found around my birthday then forgotten to male a note of here was news of this wonderful concert. If playing music to plants helps them grow, there are thousands of ficus trees, palms and plants in Spain that must be feeling pretty healthy at the moment.

The artist Eugenio Ampudia inaugurates activity at the Liceu with a concert for 2,292 plantsLiceu Opera Barcelona
On the first day after the state of alarm instituted due to the pandemic ends, the Gran Teatre del Liceu reopens its doors, but it does so for an unusual audience. Conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia is preparing an original, unique and different concert, in which the 2,292 seats of the auditorium will be occupied on this occasion by plants. It will be on 22 June at 5:00 p.m., broadcast live online, when the UceLi Quartet string quartet performs Puccini’s “Crisantemi” for this verdant public, brought in from local nurseries.

2,292 plants fill the audience in opening performance at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del LiceuColossal
A collaboration with Madrid-based artist Eugenio Ampudia and the Max Estrella gallery, the concert was meant to reflect on humans’ relationship with nature. “I thought why don’t we go into the Liceu like weeds, take it over and let nature start growing everywhere and turn it into something alive even when there are no people,” Ampudia said in an interview.

Plants fill seats at Barcelona opera house concertAssociated Press
“I heard many more birds singing. And the plants in my garden and outside growing faster. And, without a doubt, I thought that maybe I could now relate in a much intimate way with people and nature,” he said before the performance.

At the end of the eight-minute concert, the sound of leaves and branches blowing in the wind resonated throughout the opera house like applause.

Here’s the performance in full, complete with “please silence your mobile phones and no pictures please” announcement.

It’s strange seeing these places, designed especially for large crowds, being so empty.

Plush seats and ornate balconies sit empty in Joanna Vestey’s unobstructed photographs of London theatersColossal
In Joanna Vestey’s Custodians for COVID series, one worker poses idly amid an otherwise unobstructed shot of a historic venue. The Oxford-based photographer has been capturing the empty seats and balconies of London theaters, which have been closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For the timely series, Vestey visited 20 venues, including Royal Albert Hall, The Globe, and National Theatre, to photograph the breadth of the vacant architecture.

Scene changed?

Some desperately needed good news at last.

Boris Johnson pledges £1.5bn lifeline to keep UK’s arts sector afloatThe Guardian
After weeks of desperate warnings that the UK was facing an irreversible cultural catastrophe without targeted support, ministers announced a package that it said would protect the future of the country’s museums, galleries, theatres and music venues.

The playwright James Graham, who has spoken passionately about the urgent need for investment, said the money appeared to be more than most people in the arts had dared dream of. … “If this package is as ambitious as it looks, then conversations within our sector will now need to turn to what our recovery might look like in terms of protecting any gains made in recent years over inclusion, representation and diversity, and how this support can reach who need it most, particularly outside of London.”

A welcome lifeline.

S C E N E / C H A N G E (@_scene_change_) Instagram
A community for stage designers taking action for theatre.

But as ENO’s John Berry says, the devil will be in the details.

‘At last a glimpse of hope’: UK arts leaders on the rescue packageThe Guardian
“£1.57bn is a lot of money, but there are a lot of institutions for this to go round. It has to be seen as a positive step from the government and for culture in general, but it will all now be in the detail, in the balance between grants, loans and help for major institutions and help for individual artists, who have been hit the hardest.

“What are the strings attached going to be? In Germany, they just came out and said we’re going to pay every freelance artist now just to get them through, on top of everything else. The reason that opera and classical music have a voice and a direct line as high up as the prime minister is that culture is spoken about on the same level as health and social issues. So it is very normal in the rest of Europe for artistic leaders to be in regular conversation with the government about public subsidy during an emergency.

“Classical music and opera are central to the arts in this country and publicly there hasn’t been enough support for them. Freelance musicians have been hit hardest. It’s just depressing to see so many artists lose their work in opera, classical music and theatre in general in the UK. The plight of opera houses has been almost invisible.”

Will it be enough?

Emergency money for culture ‘won’t save every job’BBC News
The culture secretary said institutions would have to apply through industry bodies and would be asked to prove how they contributed to wider economic growth. He said the government was confident the emergency package would protect the majority of jobs in the culture sector – but not all.

“Sadly, not everyone is going to be able to survive and not every job is going to be protected and sadly, I will have to be honest with you, of course we will see further redundancies.”

Need a change of scene?

Cheers! But not everything’s opening back up tomorrow, on Super Saturday.

#scenechange designers wrap theatres with pink tape in #MissingLiveTheatre campaignOfficial London Theatre
While much of the UK’s entertainment and hospitality industries will be open to customers from tomorrow, theatres sadly remain closed, unable to stage live performances.

A community of designers named #scenechange have been struck by the negative visual imagery of theatre closures and the sadness that comes with seeing venues that were once bubbling with energy, now feeling stark and bleak.

Today, in collaboration with theatres across the UK, the #scenechange community will launch #MissingLiveTheatre, wrapping theatre buildings in a positive message of hope and visibility to the industry.

It’s not just a West End issue. Far from it.

Designers will wrap theatres in #MissingLiveTheatre tapeTheatre Weekly
Beginning with the National Theatre, #scenechange will, in conjunction with theatre staff, wrap theatres with pink barrier tape reading ‘Missing Live Theatre’. The baton will then be passed from the National Theatre to Royal Exchange Theatre, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Lyric Belfast and Sherman Theatre across the day on Friday, and throughout the West End on the Saturday. The week beginning 6 July will see further theatres nationwide joining #MissingLiveTheatre, with over 50 venues already committed including the RSC, Sadler’s Wells, Theatr Clwyd, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Sheffield Theatres, Ambassador Theatre Group, amongst many others.

It’s a larger industry than you’d think, and a difficult one to be in at the moment.

Designers unite to support freelance theater creatives with #SceneChange platformVariety
Freelance creative artists make up the major part of the theater ecology — of the 290,000 jobs in the U.K. theater industry, for example, more than two-thirds are freelance or self-employed.

As visual artists, designers bring a unique skill set that can help reimagine theater spaces as the industry navigates its way back to live performance. #SceneChange aims to positively engage with buildings, directors and producers nationwide, to support and inform the process back to production.

Hieronymus boats

Here’s something you don’t see every day, a floating theatrical and musical festival, dedicated to the work and spirit of Hieronymus Bosch.

A Parade of Earthly Delights: Floating Bosch Parade celebrates painter Hieronymus Bosch in spectacular aquatic eventColossal
A floating parade dedicated to painter Hieronymus Bosch honors the artist’s fascination with the fantastical and absurd in an annual event that embodies his philosophy and aesthetic. The 2019 occurrence of the Bosch Parade included a musical performance played on a partially submerged piano and a scene with two people straddling enormous horns, just two of fourteen vignettes devoted to an evolving story about “power and counterforce, battle and rapprochement, chaos and hope.”

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Stunning photos from the Bosch Parade, the sailing parade in the spirit of Jheronimus BoschDesign You Trust
This floating, poetic parade of art works portrays a universal tale of power and counterforce, battle and rapprochement, chaos and hope. From the chaos after the battle a new order has to emerge. Eventually, old opposites will form the foundation for a new hope in this storyline filled with symbolism and fantasy – as it is in Jheronimus Bosch’s works.

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Glass in Manchester

Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre have a new Philip Glass work, Tao of Glass, “an exploration of life, loss and a single question: Where does true inspiration come from?” It’s a collaboration with Phelim McDermott, who has worked with his music before.

Tao of Glass review – golden odyssey through Philip Glass’s music
Tao of Glass, co-directed with Kirsty Housley and with a score by Glass himself, is – on one level – the story of McDermott’s long-held dream of creating a piece to his music. Aided by three puppeteers and a small band of musicians, he acts out his story not as a narrative, but as a collage of fragments. His initial idea, he tells us, had been to stage Maurice Sendak’s children’s book In the Night Kitchen, about a boy falling into a surreal underworld. But Sendak died before work could begin, and the project came to nothing. Yet what do we have here? A falling puppet boy, a model piano that ingeniously transforms into a toy theatre of kitchen cupboards and utensils, a fantasy flight inside a milk bottle, all to a specially composed score.

It all sounds extraordinary.

Meditating in Manchester: Tao of Glass – in pictures
This world premiere at Manchester international festival combines Philip Glass’s mesmerising music and performer-director Phelim McDermott’s theatricality.

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Philip Glass: from Einstein on the Beach to a superfan in Manchester
As a young Glass fan, McDermott saw ENO’s European premiere of Akhnaten in London in 1985. After picking up his ticket, he says, he spotted the composer in the street and followed him around Covent Garden until Glass disappeared into a sushi restaurant. “I guess there was a fantasy – if I stopped him, what would I say? A little bit like when I saw Quentin Tarantino at a crime writers’ festival in Nottingham. On some level, Tao of Glass is me finally daring to stop Philip and ask him a question.”

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I love how he has a matching anecdote.

Philip Glass: I once had Salvador Dali in the back of my cab
An element of this show is Phelim McDermott’s love of your music. He says in 1985 he followed you down the street and was too shy to say hello. Have you ever had a moment where you were starstruck?

Oh yes. In my early days as a composer, I had day jobs as most people do. For a period of time I was driving taxis and Salvador Dali got in my cab. Can you believe that? With the moustaches and everything. And I was dying to talk to him.

But it was a very short ride. I took him from a restaurant back to his hotel, only about six blocks. And I was thinking, I’ve gotta say something. I never could think of anything to say to him. Better that, because I’m afraid that if I said something, whatever it was, it would have been probably very stupid. In the end I can say I missed meeting him by very little.

Reminds me of the time as a student when I almost met Peter Greenaway. We were both on a train to Cardiff, for a showing and Q&A of The Baby of Mâcon at the Chapter arts centre. Yep, just too shy to meet a hero. Good to know I’m not the only one.

Apes on a stage

One of my favourite books is now a play, and Patrick Marmion’s stage version of Will Self’s Great Apes is getting great reviews.

Young British Apes
Transferred to the present day, complete with mobile phones, Twitter and “the statue of the colonial fascist Rhodes”, the story loses none of its satirical power. There is a hilarious scene in which a celebrated naturalist (Stephen Ventura) talks to Simon about the mating habits of humans in the wild. Office politics are shown in all their fighting, biting, bum-kissing glory. Monkey puns – “the green shoots of recovery”, “the swing of my group house” and suchlike – are good, but the funniest scenes are those that take place among the art mob. Simon, with his asymmetric quiff and endless supplies of drugs, is a composite of all the trendy artists of the past two decades.

Back in the Young British Artist era, Self’s novel was an early prophecy of artists losing their “sense of perspective”. Marmion’s version is cleverly done, playing on our nostalgia for the year when New Labour’s landslide victory was followed by Charles Saatchi’s show Sensation: Young British Artists – a feeling that endures because 1997 was “the future that never happened” (to borrow the title of Richard Power Sayeed’s recent book). Twenty years and Turner Prizes later, we are, in Busner’s words, “not into the woods yet”.

And here’s a section from the author on what he was aiming for with his novel.

Will Self on Great Apes
It became my objective to write the ape satire that would mark our annihilation of our near-conspecific: a prolonged and clamorous howl of approaching species-loneliness. My tactics were simple: to pile detail-upon-detail of chimp/human physical correspondence, until my readers had no option but to accept – in their very guts, muscles and sinews – the reality of their kinship.

Read more about Great Apes at the Arcola Theatre and watch the trailer and behind-the-scenes videos.