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August 2007 Archives

August 9, 2007

The West Highland Way revisited (north)

On Sunday, I resumed my West Highland Way hike, starting from Crianlarich with the goal of hiking the 48+ miles to Fort William by Tuesday afternoon, taking the train back to the car back to Dunblane. Logistically, it all worked perfectly, with overnights at the Inveroran Hotel and in Kinlochleven. The weather, however, was something else. Remember that great forecast for August? Well, it didn't apply to those three days, at least not in the Western Highlands. Apart from the fact that trudging through soaking ground in horizontal rain isn't much fun, it certainly thwarted my hopes of getting photographs for the new edition of my book. Of course I could and did check the validity of the directions, but I suspect I'll end up having to go back in better weather. It's really frustrating, having climbed the Devil's Staircase, knowing that you are looking north over the splendid scenery of the Mamores, to see nothing but cloud, rain and mist!

On Monday morning I had walked from Inveroran to the King's House, where a nice thing happened over my lunchtime bowl of soup. Being in the business, I always look to see which guidebooks and maps people are using, and had been talking to some Danes with a really old Footprint map that they had used 9 years ago and were still finding good this time around. A guy from Paisley then told me about this neat guidebook he had, with drop-down map and signpost graphics and all waterproof. I waited until he got it out before producing mine and saying "snap", revealing myself as author and publisher. Even better, he too was using it second time around, it having rained both times, and although it wasn't pristine, it certainly didn't owe him anything. He thought this was an amazing coincidence. It certainly made my day.

On arrival in Kinlochleven, I fell into conversation with a fellow guest who clearly knew the Way rather well. I asked how often he had done it, but he couldn't remember "about 15 or 16 times" he thought. This underlines the fact that this walk has something special.

After my last hike, I took up the issue of how the official website recommends maps, by the way, and I am delighted to report that as a direct result it no longer lists the 10 OS Explorer maps. So if my friends Bees, Brad and Marc are reading, they can see that I listened, learned and acted - even though they had bought the wrong guidebook!

August 12, 2007

Lunch with a composer

Yesterday was the start of the 2007 Edinburgh Festival, and the most memorable day I have spent there. We began in the Queen's Hall with Jane Irwin and the Hebrides Ensemble. Jane Irwin used to be famous for singing like Janet Baker, but now she's famous for singing like Jane Irwin. Her performance of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder was so moving that the audience was silent and still for a full ten seconds after the sound of its final bars died, before bursting into inevitable applause. Harper's lean arrangement of Mahler's orchestral score for 8 instruments was intriguing and fresh. Less is more.

After the interval, the Hebrides Ensemble played Osborne's Balkan Dances and Laments, which they had recently commissioned. It draws on his interest in folk and popular music from the South Balkans, as well as his rigorous classical training, and features a new method of playing the piano: a string is bowed with horsehair, which sounds gimmicky, but was very effective. Sandwiched between Mahler and Berio, Nigel Osborne was in good company, musically speaking, and the audience obviously liked the fact that the composer was not only present, but also shook hands with the performers.

Even better, because husband Keir works with Nigel Osborne through the Tapestry Partnership, we had lunch with him in a nearby restaurant, so I got to ask him the questions that had been building up in my head. The conversation ranged widely over Balkan history, James Joyce, his pioneering work in music therapy for child victims of war, his music school in Austria, the Robert Winston conference in Glasgow in September et al. He speaks about a dozen foreign languages more fluently than I'll ever speak a single one, and if he weren't such a modest chap, I'd almost resent so much musical and linguistic talent in just one person.

After lunch, we went to some Fringe theatre, and finally to On Danse, the most eclectic and athletic dance programme I've ever seen. Montalvo-Hervieu is a blazingly creative Spanish-French partnership, and their company marries creative video animations and multi-talented live dancers in an improbable but brilliant fusion. Hip-hop, classical ballet, break-dancing and trampolining all blend in this choreography, to a background of music by Rameau. The playful computer-based morphing and antics of the animals made us laugh out loud at times, with elephants pirouetting on tightropes and storks doing gymnastics. There was a subtle and surreal interplay between the live dancers and their filmed (naked) selves, via the catwalk, halfway up the massive upstage screen. It was utterly different from any other ballet.

August 17, 2007

A touch of greatness: Alfred Brendel

We went to a stunning performance of Monteverdi's Vespers yesterday at the Usher Hall. In a world seemingly obsessed with fleeting fashions and newness, it's heart-warming to find that a work composed almost four centuries ago (1610), performed on authentic period instruments, can speak so strongly and directly to its audience in 2007. Conducted by Jordi Savall, the Catalunyan singers were memorable, the baroque ensemble (La Capella Reial de Catalunya) and surprised us all by performing an encore by Arvo Pärt (2004), movingly introduced by Savall.

Before the concert, waiting in line to buy a programme, we were stunned to recognise the bloke just in front, after he turned round, as Alfred Brendel. Some conversational greeting seemed inevitable. Fortunately we had heard him play the previous evening in this very place, so were not too overawed to mumble something about how much we had enjoyed his concert, only to be told, in his self-deprecating way, that it wasn't a terribly daring programme. (It had been a masterly performance of Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart piano sonatas, plus two Schubert impromptus.) Now you don't want to impose on the world's most famous living pianist, especially not in a programme queue, but we couldn't quite let that pass. Only at the Edinburgh Festival does this kind of encounter take place!

About August 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in August 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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