Review – RPO/Kempf, St David’s Hall

Review – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Freddy Kempf
St David’s Hall, Cardiff/Friday 7 October 2011

This was the first of two concerts in which Freddy Kempf will act as piano soloist and director, joining the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform the entire cycle of Beethoven’s five piano concertos. They are a magnificent series of works, demonstrating the development of the composer’s style from the lightness of his youth to the darker, more dramatic, late works. As they are so rarely performed together, or even as a series, this was a fascinating opportunity to hear the first three concertos performed together.

Kempf stood up to conduct the orchestra and then sat to play, a contrast to many piano-directors who remain seated at the piano throughout. Whilst this was probably down to personal preference it was at times distracting to watch. Towards the end of long piano passages he was appearing ready to stand; and towards the end of conducting passages was half seated but still trying to face the orchestra. It did feel that the ends of some of the phrases, usually perfectly placed and caressed, lost out to the requirement to stand up or sit down in time for the next section.

As a conductor Kempf was full of the same character he has as a pianist – creative swirling motions and full-body expression led the orchestra through a piece in which he was completely involved at every moment.

This is music that really puts an orchestra’s ensemble skills to the test, and having the conductor also at the piano can only have added to the challenge. The RPO rose to the task and played together beautifully in each of the works. Kempf led the players through Beethoven’s high and low times, perfecting every detail of dynamic and tone, like a slick machine. There were moments of startling brilliance emerging from the sound every so often – perhaps as Beethoven wished it. The orchestra’s woodwind players really shone, especially a particularly excellent passage shared between a solo flute and bassoon in the third concerto.

Despite his constant upping and downing from piano to conductor, Kempf was as ever a delight to watch and listen to. His playing is loved by so many for good reason – there are few who can make something seem so natural and easy but at the same time be filled with passion in the way he can.

The second concert in the cycle takes place at St David’s Hall next May. Details here.

Llwyth (Again)

I saw Sherman Cymru/Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru‘s Llwyth [Tribe] for the second time last night at the brand new Richard Burton Theatre at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. I loved it all over again, and I was really impressed with the new facilities at RWCMD. The atmosphere was great, the bar overlooks Bute Park, and everything’s clean and well placed. If you haven’t been to check it out, you should definitely get over there!

Now, for your reading pleasure, I present my original review of Llwyth, originally published on Almost Welsh, my former joint blog with @raitapaita on 10 May 2010.

Llwyth [Tribe], Dylan Thomas Theatre, Swansea, 8th May 2010

Llwyth explores the theme of identities, and how these can change the way we respond to the world. The story centres on a group of gay men in Cardiff, ranging from the older, experienced Dada to the young, naïve Gavin making his first steps into the world of the night, to a seemingly mismatched couple.

Dafydd James’ new script is excellent, mostly Welsh language, but mixing in some ‘Wenglish’, along with English for certain characters. If you’re not Welsh speaking don’t let that put you off. I’m a dysgwr (Welsh learner) so I found it fun to see how much I could pick up, but there is at least one performance at each venue with English surtitles.

The main character, Aneurin, played by Simon Watts, has returned from London to his homeland, and his anguish and hiraeth [longing for home] run through the narrative. Aneurin’s various soliloquies showed a depth to the character’s emotions that was longing to be set free. Watts’ acting was truly incredible, and had me gripped from start to finish.

Some wonderful references to Welsh life are also included through the story, as they have meaning for each of the characters. Highlights for me were regular references to traditional Welsh song and poetry forms from the Eisteddfod and ‘O’r Fan Acw’ [the Welsh version of the song ‘From a Distance’] performed in truly individual style!

The small-scale Dylan Thomas theatre, an ideal setting, was packed with a very appreciative audience, who gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation. The performances throughout were brilliant. Each cast member had to play several smaller parts as well as their main character, and did so with brilliant clarity. From lighter funny scenes, to portraying a drug-induced haze, through to emotional torture each emotion was vivid and clear, and I really felt drawn into the story.

The play is on tour around Wales at the moment, after starting at Chapter in Cardiff, and I strongly recommend catching it if you can. A fantastic evening of theatre!

Photo by Farrows Creative, with thanks to Sherman Cymru


Playing with Tate’s ‘Inspire Me’ Tool

FootballerArtBe inspired here.


Commuter Class: National Dance Company Wales

National Dance Company Wales Commuter Class

Wales Millennium Centre, 20 June 2011

Wales Millennium Centre have been running commuter classes for some time, often with National Dance Company (NDC) Wales and also with visiting productions. A Footloose commuter class last month was reportedly very well attended. I think they’re a great idea – a way to get a bit closer to the performers and find out more about the way they work.


I’ve been a fan of contemporary dance for a long time and I’m a regular attender of lots of different dance classes. I’m not a brilliant dancer – I have rhythm and can follow quite well but nothing beyond that – but I really enjoy dancing so I take part when I can. This commuter class seemed like a fun way to find out more about how a contemporary dance company warm up and organise a class and, with the added benefit of it being led by two of the company’s dancers (Eleesha Drennan and Neus Gil Cortés), see how they work and think too.


We started off with a standard warm-up and then moved into the realm of dance a little more. The various ways in which dance teachers encourage their students to develop skills in a specific dance style are always fascinating. This was no exception. To begin thinking like a contemporary dancer we were asked to spell out our names on the floor with our toes. After this we spelt our names in the air, our friend’s name with our elbows and our mother’s name with our heads. Following a few seconds of early inhibition the class quickly found themselves in ‘the zone’ and there were some great shapes appearing.


A few more exercises taught us how to follow and remember a short routine and then we moved on to an excerpt from one of the company’s recent pieces: Stephen Petronio’s By Singing Light. I was lucky enough to be involved as a member of the BBC National Chorus of Wales when NDC Wales performed this piece at the WMC and at Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea so I was quite excited to learn a section of the dance I’d enjoyed watching every one of the 15 or so times I’d seen it during the rehearsal process. We went through the excerpt step by step with guidance from Eleesha and Neus about the sort of shapes an imagery to aim for. I particularly liked Eleesha’s suggestion that we imagine a colour and with each hand movement try to paint the space around us.


The class lasted around an hour and afterwards the dancers were happy to chat to participants and talk about their upcoming Wales Dance Platform project. Several of the company dancers have choreographed works which will be performed as part of this event.


I found the class very accessible and really fun, despite my limited dance training, but it was not at all patronising. The dancers seemed genuinely pleased that people had come to learn from them and the room was constantly full of smiles. What more can you ask on a wet and windy Monday?


Commuter Classes run regularly at the Wales Millennium Centre and are usually free.

Wales Dance Platform, various venues 1-3 July 2011.

An Art Gallery in your Hand

Poolga have been curating illustration, typography and graphic design work since 2007, with the specific intention of providing high-quality wallpaper for the iPhone. The work included is digital art, sized specifically for iPhone or iPad, and created by established and up and coming illustrators.

They have been offering these wallpapers on their website since 2007 but have recently created their first app. It includes a selection of work by 15 of their favourite artists. It has a great interface and you can save the images quickly and easily to your photo album to set as wallpaper, or Tweet a link to the images for your community to see.

What they are really doing is bringing an art gallery to handheld devices. The Google Art Project is working on a similar basis. Art galleries are wonderful places but you have to have been to one to know that. Online and iPhone galleries are a brilliant way to introduce new audiences to the concept of an art gallery. Whether it’s digital illustration or the inside of the Prado gallery it is an easy way to be exposed to art on your own terms.

Poolga’s ‘share’ function is where the real strength lies. The fact that when I like one of the pieces I can post a link straight to Twitter involves me and my online community straight away in the work.

I don’t see why ‘real live’ art galleries don’t have this function yet. Surely it wouldn’t be so difficult for the Tate to put a QR code next to every work, taking you to a microsite which would share it across your social platforms? I can see this setting off quite a buzz but also continuing to work way down the line when people are still getting excited by the things they see.

Get Offline to Go Online

People socialising in a cafe

I read this post by @documentally recently.

He talks about going to a conference about online interaction and discovering that the real interaction took place on the ground, with the people rather than in the brand-heavy conference space or its associated online space.

It led me to think about what we actually use social media for. There are so many of us (myself included at times) who spend hours online being ‘social’. We’re sharing ideas about digital media, we’re talking about building Facebook pages, we’re updating each other on the status of our websites. The trouble is, does any of it actually mean anything?

From my point of view marketing the arts, I know I need to be using the online social space to communicate about and around the physical experience of live art that we present. There are some brilliant online projects, like the RSC’s Such Tweet Sorrow project, an online telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet, but the main bulk arts events and performances are offline, relying on a very tangible interaction between performer, audience, people and a space.

We use the digital to help us build communities, and to facilitate interactions that may not be possible when relying solely on the people on the ground, but at the end of the day it’s still a community that we’re building. By the same metrics as Documentally’s conference experience, it is not enough for an arts organisation to have 10,000 followers on Twitter. If we’re not socialising within our online community enough that they become our offline community (i.e. paying audience) then we’re not using the tools correctly.

At the end of the day social media websites and new technologies are just tools. It’s up to us to actually be social.

We Want Music, Not Marketing

This morning a friend of mine shared a link to an article in The Telegraph. The headline reads ‘Mitsuko Uchida: Give me music, not marketing – The recent Grammy winner Mitsuko Uchida tells Adam Sweeting why standards matter more than PR.’

Have a read if you haven’t seen it already. As someone who spends their life marketing and promoting the arts, including classical music, I have to raise one or two objections to both the headline and content of this article. I don’t understand why music and marketing have to be in opposition.

“She says that these days, she only works with people with whom she can say it is a privilege.”

How did she come to see these people in such a way? If they had just stood on a podium at the age of 18 and waved a conducting baton they may well have been demonstrating passion and musical integrity but no-one, not even Uchida, would have heard of them. They needed marketing, self-promotion and, yes, PR in order to become top names in the business, to be written about in industry magazines and for her to find out who they are.

She too requires PR. How did she come to win a Grammy? Promotion from the record company. How did she get an interview in The Telegraph? Extensive relationship-building and Press work by her agent.

The other angle on which she criticises arts PR is this:

“Uchida is at the opposite pole from those who believe the future of classical music lies in getting people who look like supermodels to play it in “chill-out” clubs. “Maybe these people who think it is so easy are more talented than I am,” she says. “For me it is difficult, and I don’t mind admitting it. But today people want things to happen fast and earn a lot of money, and therefore it is even more important to go to concerts.”

Again, this is somewhat of a misconception. People who are employed in the PR and Marketing of classical music certainly do not feel that performers should be supermodels and the setting should be a club. (I personally believe that bringing classical and crossover music into new spaces from time to time is something worth consideration, and could break down barriers, but that is for another blog post). When my colleagues and I promote a classical performance our selling points are based around a world-class acoustic, high-quality concerts, respect for the performers’ talent and a unique musical experience.

There is an audience for very traditional classical music but there is also an audience for change. Classical music lovers are now part of a modern world. There is more choice of entertainment than ever before and we need to keep people’s attention in order to maintain any future for live classical performance. This does mean, as Uchida says, that it is vital to present the highest quality of musical interpretation possible but there is more to it.

“I say [PR] is the least important issue if you have something musical to say! If you have something to say, the world will come to you.”

I’m afraid this is simply not true. If the PR department don’t tell anyone about the concert then no-one will know to come. It’s easier for us if the performer has something really musical to say, of course, but we still need to invite the audience. That is, after all, what we actually do.

Lessons in Signage – Museum of London

I have just returned from a weekend in London, during which I made a trip to the Museum of London to see their London Street Photography exhibition.

The friend I was with and myself are London-navigation savvy so we had no problems with buses and finding our way to the museum. After getting off the bus we walked in the right direction and saw some large lettering on the side of a building for Museum of London. Eventually, after walking round two sides of a building, we found our way in to the museum only to discover that there was a quicker way from where we had just come from.

On the information counter there was a notice saying that all the day’s timed tickets for the exhibition had run out. Although both of us had checked the details on the website, neither my friend nor I had noticed that there were timed tickets so we were a bit frustrated about this. (It turns out this information is actually on the site, but well below the fold and not on the Visit Us page at all).

After a little wandering around the permanent exhibitions we happened upon a queue of people who (a small notice informed us) were waiting to get in to the Street Photography exhibition. We did the obvious thing and joined the queue. We’d come all the way so figured we may as well wait. We noticed that the people around us in the queue had timed exhibition tickets. There was no-one to ask about this so we left the queue and went to find someone.

It turned out that the people with tickets didn’t need to be in the queue, and it was actually for people without tickets. Still figuring that we’d come all the way to see this exhibition we got back in the queue and waited a further 20 minutes before being allowed in.

The actual exhibition was very good. There was a lovely selection of photographs stretching right back to 1860, along with helpful information about the sort of cameras used, and trends in photography by era. They covered everything from street urchins to the decadent classes enjoying the city, with each photographer’s take on life demonstrated in their work. I was also interested to see an iPhone amongst the display of historical cameras, with careful explanation of the way it has changed street photography via its ability to upload media to the internet straight away.

It was very busy, and people’s inconsiderate behaviour did cause a bit of frustration when trying to see the photographs, but we did manage to get round them all.

The lesson of this story is that signage is very important. Too many signs, as we can sometimes find on Britain’s roads these days, are not much use. What we need is appropriate signs for the location, giving the customer the information they need. If there had been a sign on our way to the museum, we wouldn’t have walked out of our way for several minutes. If there was clear signage about the exhibition tickets, and the nature of the queue, we would not have wasted time and been confused at that point either.

Next time you’re thinking about the layout of your venue, your exhibition or a new building, take a moment to really consider signage:
What will the user be thinking?
What will they want to know?
How can you help them?

It’s a fairly simple process but it really will make a difference.

Museum of London

Image from

© 2018 Jen Thornton

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑