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September 2009 Archives

September 6, 2009

A festival of premieres

The 2009 festival was perhaps our most exciting yet. It began on 18 August with Mendelssohn’s Elijah, a work that I had performed while still a member of the Stirling University chorus, so I found it particularly engaging. And it ended on Saturday night with Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, a sublime and dramatic performance conducted by Mark Elder with the Hallé Orchestra, Edinburgh Festival Chorus and splendid soloists. 24 hours later, after the pressure of packing and preparing for Nepal, I’m sitting here at Heathrow typing this with Alice Coote’s sublime interpretation of the Angel still going around in my head singing her “Softly and gently”. These two choral works stand like colossuses, marking the beginning and end of our 2009 Festival experience.

In between, two days stand out a mile. The first was a week ago, when we journeyed to the Queen’s Hall for an important reason: the premiere of a work by Nigel Osborne on 31 August. Looking with mounting desperation at the piles of unfinished work and production issues around the Rucksack Readers office, I came close to resenting giving up most of a working day to this concert. But it was wholly extraordinary, truly a revelation. The Arditti Quartet played a late Beethoven quartet (op 85) and a Berg which was challenging but not offputting. After the interval followed the world premiere of Nigel’s Tiree, commissioned by EIF specially for these players, augmented by the shimmering live sounds of the metal plate loudspeaker installation (controlled by a Mac, naturally). This recreated the sounds made by Tiree’s famous stones, and added a wholly fresh, new dimension to the tones and timbre of the string quartet.

Nigel, who is a friend and colleague of Keir’s, joined us after the concert for a beer. I wasn‘t surprised to learn that he had deputised for Ligeti (whose String Quartet no 2 followed Tiree) but when the conversation drifted to fractal geometry (talking to Nigel is full of such hazards) it turned out that he knew and had worked with Mandelbrot at a conference about art, music and maths. Having studied sums long ago at Cambridge, Mandelbrot was a famous name to me, but Nigel is innocent of all pretension when he drops such names. Fractal geometry of the Scottish coastline is grist to his mill as a composer, as is Tiree’s best-known folksong. Nigel is a very rare example of a 21st century polymath: he also speaks about 19 languages. It's just as well he is so modest, or he might be very daunting, or even quite annoying. Anyway, I was fired up enough to ask him to sign my programme, which he did without a murmur. I wonder what he thought of the review I just read on the plane (in Scotland on Sunday, 6.9.09) which described the work as “an ethereal miasma of folk tunes and harmonic expansiveness”. Hmmm.

The other outstanding day was last Friday, which also began with String Quartets: the Emerson were playing Beethoven and two Mendelssohn quartets, one early and the other written in the year he died. We went straight on to Oloroso, to take son Sandy for a birthday lunch. Afterwards, we just had time for the National Gallery of Scotland exhibition on Spain and Scotland (Spain had all the world-class artists) before Brian Friel’s extraordinary “Yalta Game” at the King’s – an unbroken hour of pyrotechnic theatre with shades of Bennett and Stoppard full of teasing ambiguity and tensions between reality, imagination and yearning.

Finally, after several cups of coffee we were off to another world premiere from Scottish Ballet with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the Playhouse. The first Stravinsky (Scènes de ballet) was choreographed by Frederick Ashton, followed by Workwithinwork set to Berio. But beyond question, what set the evening apart was the stunningly fresh, modern and fluid Petrushka choreographed by Ian Spink. By setting the story in Russia of the 1990s (instead of Tsarist St Petersburg) it gained a whole new lease of life. Scottish Ballet created a spectacle of energy, drama, full of innovation, and it was good to see the programme give credits for specialist coaching in breakdancing and pole-dancing. The staging was brilliant, showing the love triangle portrayed in the “show” performed in a lorry trailer and "for real" in the chaotic, and finally violent, street scene. It was breathtaking.

September 8, 2009

From the Hotel Thamel, Kathmandu

We are staying here for two nights in the hope of starting our trek to Kala Pattar tomorrow by means of an early morning flight to Lukla. This "mountain" is really a shoulder peak of the much higher Pumori, but it has the immense allure of sensational views without the need for technical climbing. At 5545m (18,190ft) it's only about 200m higher than Base Camp, but (unlike Base Camp) it gives (when clear) an amazing view of Everest's summit, as well as several other 8000+ mountains.

Our departure is far from certain because it’s too early in September to count on the weather and Lukla boasts the world’s shortest, steepest runway so there is no room for error even in good conditions. However, we are booked on the 0700 flight and will wait out the day at Kathmandu airport if need be. Let us hope that tomorrow’s date – 9.9.9 – proves auspicious.

The hotel is in central Thamel, the busiest part of the city centre. This morning we walked up the huge flight of steps (the eastern stairway) to the Buddhist temple at Swayambhunath (the monkey temple). Its hilltop position is impressive, although the thick smog over the city marred the view. Winter or early morning would be much clearer. Sadly the all-seeing eyes of the Buddha were missing because it’s undergoing restoration. But our guide Phurba was there today, and he’s coming on trek, so it was great to meet him. (Phurba means Friday, and like most Nepalis he is called after his birthday.)

We dined tonight at the famous Rum Doodle bar, which is just around the corner. I came back to find that despite the power cuts, my wi-fi still works from my hotel room, so I seized the chance to catch up with my blog. This entry was written after we’d been issued with kit bags and told to sort out kit for 4.45 am tomorrow. It’s after 10pm here (bizarrely, we are 4.75 hours ahead of BST). However in the pitch-dark bathroom, temperature control was tricky during the power cut, so now I’m waiting for the water to cool down enough to enjoy.

Anyway, the laptop isn’t coming on trek with me. Blogging and emailing get harder as you climb higher: it isn’t just the dicey power supplies, unreliable hardware, vagaries of satellite position and need to co-ordinate the trek itinerary with solar power, it’s also the fact that there never seems to be as much spare time or energy as you expect when you first see the itinerary. And being away from computers is, for me, part of the appeal of trekking.

September 26, 2009

On return to Kathmandu

Sadly the 9.9.9 date turned out to be inauspicious: we waited 6 hours at the airport that day before it became 100% clear that no planes were leaving for Lukla. Fortunately the next day we got away, so our trek began only one day late. Mine ended only yesterday when I arrived back at Hotel Thamel after a strenuous fortnight.

The first thing I did (after checking emails, of course) was to enjoy my first shower for 15 days. If you’ve never trekked, it’s hard to imagine how much you will relish the luxury of an inside flush toilet, running water and freely recharging batteries. (The last place I checked prices on trek cost R300 (nearly GBP3) per hour for charging, so I was glad of my two spare Lumix G1 batteries.)

Between 10 and 19 September the group trekked from Lukla to Lobuje via Namche Bazaar. We left Lobuje on 19.9 at 3 am for an early breakfast in Gorak Shep, then all climbed Kala Pattar (5545m/18,190ft) which gives splendid views over Everest, Nupstse and the Khumbu Glacier: the photo shows Base Camp at lower left, beneath Changtse, with Everest's summit a dark triangle at upper right:


Next day, I diverged to trek “alone” (in fact, with guide Phurba and porter Govinder) for a further six days. While the group returned to Kathmandu, I trekked past the Chola Glacier and its lake, toward Dzonghla:


Next day I crossed the Cho La pass (5370m/17,620ft), a stiff climb followed by an even tougher rock-hopping, knee-wrenching descent. Later I crossed the Ngozumpa Glacier (Nepal’s longest) to the lakeside “resort” of Gokyo, and climbed Gokyo Ri (5360m/17,585ft) the following afternoon. We waited in thick cloud at the summit about "sunset", hoping for the clouds to lift, but sadly we caught only glimpses of Everest, Makalu and Cho Oyu. Our descent finished in darkness, on challenging terrain. Here's a shot of the lovely turquoise lake that Gokyo overlooks:


The next two days demanded over 42 km/26 mi of “descent” (in fact, on undulating terrain) to Lukla – including 300m of vertical ascent to the Mong La (pass) before the descent to Namche. So that was another two early starts and two long days before the final bid to catch the 0730 Lukla flight. It’s now about 5 weeks since I have slept later than 0530, and although I didn't need to get up this morning, my internal alarm went off regardless. So I’ve started the huge project of weeding and captioning over 1000 photos, some of which should end up in the guidebook that eventually will result. For a break, I walked to Durbar Square (which was heaving with people because of the Hindu festival of Dashain). Now I’m really looking forward to starting the long journey home tomorrow. I can’t wait to catch up with husband, family, friends and Bramble.

About September 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in September 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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