Tag Archives: Southbank

The London Years: Moments in Art (13 of 20)

[Spoilers below for Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler]

I don’t think anyone could see the desperation. Why would they? She was a privileged woman, quite well – off, newly married to a promising professor. Back from her honeymoon, it was time to settle to the delicious routine of married life. She smiled at the gentlemen, went to the next room and blew her brains out. Welcome, to the world of Ibsen.

Don’t know what’s going on? I’m leaving London soon so this is one of my 20 London stories – a celebration of 20 years of my life here.

The very first time I went to the theatre I was twelve. I am not sure I would take my 11 year old to watch The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams but at the time we were living in a small provincial town and my mum was desperate to expose me to something more substantial. I thank her to this day. It was an historic show with one of the best Greek theatre directors and to this day I feel quite emotional about it. I had such an intense and deep reaction to it that I’ve never been able to enjoy a play that left me lukewarm. When I was taught Aristotle’s poetics years later I already knew that in modern theatre there is usually no catharsis. Which is probably why I need a walk and quiet time with myself after a night at the theatre.

So this then – the story of the promising young woman turning the gun on herself – was one of those monumental plays. I had seen Hedda Gabler before. I had even heard a friend practice the monologue for her entry exams to the Greek National Theatre school (she passed). But there is nothing like seeing this play on stage with a talented cast – someone has to make you believe that this woman is battling between society’s expectations and the interesting life that is not designed for her. The moment for me was 2012 at the Old Vic. When I heard the shot, I swear, I stopped breathing for a while.

Hedda, it seemed to me, was a warning. Let conditions dictate your life and you will soon act like a cornered monster. You will destroy someone and destroy yourself. It is time to live.

Same year, 2012 (ain’t that funny?), I was in the Royal Festival Hall for a London Philharmonic Orchestra concert and that was the first time I hear Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

That autumn had been difficult. Over the summer my life had come crashing down and I felt bruised and battered.

Tchaikovsky’s piece starts with desperate people pleading with god to save them, as the French army approaches – with bits from La Marseillaise inserting themselves in the harmony. The Russian Army rallies and fights back (actual cannons are heard if this is properly staged). In the end it all explodes with joy as the bells are ringing, people celebrate and the cannons are heard again.

To this day I put this overture on when I’m celebrating or when I’m struggling. It transports me back to that feeling, to that evening.

I sat there, in that auditorium, (at the back seats as I’ve mentioned) and tears were running down my face. I started feeling sad for myself and gradually, the music took me where I needed to go. Blasting the fucking cannons. I had survived. It was time to ring the bells and get on with it.

And that’s exactly what I did.

—- Featured image by Runemaker on Flickr

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My #20LondonStories

  1. Grexit/ Brexit 
  2. The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
  3. The night bus 
  4. Words save our lives… sometimes 
  5. The rest is noise 
  6. How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box 
  7. Always have a sister 
  8. Greek London 
  9. This green and pleasant land 
  10. The bridge of aspiration 
  11. The knight in well travelled armor 
  12. Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
  13. Moments in Art 
  14. The NHS hunger games 
  15. In nocte consilium
  16. The friends we found, the friends we lost
  17. Blogging tips for beginners 
  18. Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
  19. γνῶθι σεαυτόν
  20. How to leave London

The London Years: The Rest is Noise (5 of 20)

As the symphony began there were only a few musicians on stage. The lights were down, so I knew the thing had begun but I had never seen anything like this in the Royal Festival Hall. Gradually more musicians came – some warming up, others obviously playing from the score. Until, when the whole orchestra was assembled, the sound exploded softly and I was happy, in my seat at the back, £12 if booked early enough. Welcome, to the music and the noise in London.

Don’t know what’s going on? I’m leaving London soon so this is one of my 20 London stories – a celebration of 20 years of my life here.

My favourite walk in London by very long mile is this: Exit Leicester Square station (or somehow magically be there), turn left and continue along Charing Cross Road – stay on the left side. Turn left at the Chandos (better avoid Trafalgar Square) and then take a right on Adelaide Street. If it’s late enough you’ll notice that some of the homeless are already waiting for a hot meal that gets delivered somewhere behind St. Martin in the Fields. Cross the Strand, enter Charing Cross station and find the door on the left hand side, just before the platforms, that leads you to the path suspended above Villiers Street. Look left, you can see inside some of the flats – who the hell lives there and how do they deal with the rats? Enter the little pedestrian tunnel, yellow tiles and sickly yellow coloured lamps – they always bring to mind Jack the Ripper for some reason. Exit breathing and magically you are on the Golden Jubilee bridge (east side) – look to the left and you can see Saint Paul’s. The Royal Festival Hall beckons on the other side of the Thames – as long as you can slalom between the people taking a photo and the couples dancing in front of the bridge musicians.

I’m not good with concerts. Let’s start there. This is a fact that baffles my husband who could live his whole life in concerts, preferably in Camden. To be honest I only started going to those with him – he became somewhat of a guide to my hard rock education. But before that I had the Royal Festival Hall and an intense dislike of standing up in dark rooms for hours at a time to listen to a music I couldn’t quite catch, acoustics in Camden gig spaces being notoriously shit.

I do loads of things alone. Let’s make a note of that too. Theatre, exhibitions, music, it’s time with myself I thoroughly enjoy. This seems to be a weird or rare trait – people I share this with are visibly panicked at the thought of going to some sort of spectacle or even going to eat alone. For me, these are some of my favourite memories in London.

Being poor and interested in the arts in London is no joke, even though to be honest there’s plenty to see for free, most museums not charging an entrance fee. At some point, I have no memory of how, I discovered a couple of neat tricks for booking cheap tickets. My most cost effective one is the Royal Opera House one – I’ve written a blog post here about it.

But my favourite is the Royal Festival Hall one. Here’s how it goes: The Royal Festival Hall is a venue that is *designed* to be a concert hall. To the untrained ear there is no actual discernible difference when you sit here or over there – the whole space being designed for the purpose of sitting on your lovely behind and enjoying the music. Ergo, the cheap seats in the back are not inferior even though they cost only around £13 today – £12 back in 2013 when our story takes place. By the way, my recommendation is always for row WW bang in the middle. Thank me later.

2013 was a peculiar year. I was 33, had met the love of my life (and had no idea it had happened), was exhausted by a terrible work environment, had given up on a PhD and was recovering from a monumentally regrettable and sufficiently abusive relationship. Yet, it was also introspective and interesting and actually I was quite at peace. I look at my photos and realise it was a year during which I thought a lot, walked a lot, listened to a lot of music and walked around London. A lot. It was a year I developed my relationship with myself and this city and it was actually a year I felt beautiful – which any woman will tell you is usually a revelation of her thirties.

2013 was also the year that the London Philharmonic Orchestra put together The Rest is Noise, a programme inspired by the Alex Ross homonymous book. I went to a few of the concerts – I recall the Rite of Spring which is always a difficult piece – but the one that sticks in the mind was the 30th of October concert of Alfred Schnittke‘s Symphony No 1. Don’t worry, I also had to look him up.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Sofia Gkiousou (@sofiagk)

The maestro was Michail Jurowski and he kindly gave a talk about the piece beforehand. He sat on stage and I remember his male power stance – relaxed, legs apart and his hands controlled, an impressive belly, restrained and yet expressive. When he was conducting later he was a different man, stricter, playful, agile. Jurowski attempted to explain something of the Soviet reality and the Russian psyche but what stuck in my mind was the theatricality of the symphony, this idea that musicians enter and leave the stage. He mentioned the trauma of all the lives lost in Russia during World War II – all the talent vanished and that idea of art that never got made has stuck with me ever since.

Now, let me be honest, Symphony No. 1 is tough. It’s chaotic, it’s difficult and I lacked – and still lack – the musical education to really understand it. But, and this has sustained me always, art is not necessarily meant to always be understood by everyone. Sometimes, art is meant to be felt and to invite thoughts and questions and, why not, aversion. I might not have understood it but it was one of the most impactful concerts I have ever been too.

When I left (go up the stairs, cross the Golden Jubilee bridge etc.) I could not listen to the symphony again in my earphones – which is what I usually did with music from other concerts. I just let the sound of London float around me and realised that sometimes, in the comings and goings, in the misunderstood creativity, in the chaotic noise and in the brash people you bump into there is also life and balance and a conductor – somewhere – who can be a bit more magical when he is on stage.

I don’t think I lifted my hands to conduct the noise, walking over the bridge, looking out towards St. Paul’s, but if this was a movie script, I probably would have.

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My #20LondonStories

  1. Grexit/ Brexit 
  2. The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
  3. The night bus 
  4. Words save our lives… sometimes 
  5. The rest is noise 
  6. How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box 
  7. Always have a sister 
  8. Greek London 
  9. This green and pleasant land 
  10. The bridge of aspiration 
  11. The knight in well travelled armor 
  12. Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
  13. Moments in Art 
  14. The NHS hunger games 
  15. In nocte consilium
  16. The friends we found, the friends we lost
  17. Blogging tips for beginners 
  18. Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
  19. γνῶθι σεαυτόν
  20. How to leave London

Ideas for the autumn season of the Philharmonia and London Philharmonic

Hands down I love the Philharmonia Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Both have given me some quite memorable evenings in the Royal Festival Hall.

Now, I get it, orchestral music may sound a tad boring but don’t knock it until you have actually gone to a concert. No, it’s not the same if you listen to it at home. Seeing the orchestra working together is half the fun.

Another point. Performances are dirt cheap. I mean come ON! When was the last time you could spend £12 for a concert? Don’t be scared of the cheap seats at the back, acoustics in the Royal Festival Hall are to die for.

Already booked a good number of tickets so I thought I could note some interesting things I saw in their programme. I should say here that even though I enjoy classical music I am NOT qualified to judge adequately so I might be missing some GREAT ones. Please leave me a comment to suggest more 🙂

Shostakovich’s vision of war
Jurowski conducts Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Lindberg. There, that says it all. Be prepared to possibly shed a tear with the Shostakovich piece.
Royal Festival Hall – 24 September 2014

Rachmaninov Inside Out Series (London Philharmonic) 
Russian genius. I mean, what is not to like? Try and book for one where Vladimir Jurowski is conducting, he is a pleasure to watch (and listen). I am gutted that I can’t go to the 3rd of October one, when Jurowski conducts and Alexande Ghindin rocks the piano.
Royal Festival Hall – various dates

Sci-Fi movies (Philharmonia) 
If you don’t know if you like orchestral music this is the one you should go to. Just see what a proper orchestra does with recognisable tunes and you’ll probably be booking Berlioz after.
Royal Festival Hall – 15 October 2014

Van Zweden conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)
This will probably be one of those concerts where you will not be able to get up and leave after it ends. Mahler certainly does that to me.
Royal Festival Hall – 01 November 2014

Pelléas Et Mélisande (Philharmonia)
What is not to like? Debussy as a one hit opera wonder? Check. Paris? Check. Love triangle? Check. Should be great.
Royal Festival Hall – 27 November 2014 

Rouvali Conducts Prokofiev (Philharmonia) 
Just cause I love Prokofiev.
Royal Festival Hall – 11 December 2014