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September 4, 2010

Our last day at the Edinburgh Festival

Today began with the Simon Bolivar Quartet playing at the Queen's Hall: the first half had Bach and Shostakovich, and I'd have gone for the latter alone. We first heard his 8th string quartet at the Argyll Lodging in Stirling on the day that Keir became Chief Executive of Clackmannanshire, and it had an electrifying impact. The Bolivar players gave it a splendid, spirited performance and after the second half (Halffter and Brahms) gave us two encores. My only disappointment was with the programme note, of which the so-called Biography told us nothing about the players, not even their ages, but only about El Sistema, the Venezuela system of children/youth orchestras. We already knew a bit about this anyway, and Sistema Scotland has created the Big Noise in the Raploch, Stirling. But I'd love to have found out more about the backgrounds of these four very talented young men. In case you don't know about El Sistema, here's a clip of a performance that's well worth hearing.

Then we headed for Locanda de Gusti at the foot of Broughton Street, possibly Edinburgh's finest Italian restaurant. The occasion was to celebrate son Sandy's birthday yesterday, and (courtesy of his girlfriend Anna's iPhone) here is the birthday boy:


His lunch looks good, but I wouldn't have traded it for the superlative lobster that the rest of us enjoyed. Chef Rosario Sartore is to be congratulated. We left a couple of hours later in mellow (prosecco-assisted) mood and spent a relaxing afternoon. Finally we headed for the Usher Hall for Mahler's 8th symphony (Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Edinburgh Festival Chorus and RSNO Junior Chorus). This extraordinary work juxtaposes Veni, creator spiritus with the final scene from Goethe's Faust - culturally worlds apart, separated by 1000 years, yet somehow it works as an unbroken whole. The Usher Hall's platform cannot literally accommodate the "symphony of 1000" as it's nicknamed, but there must have been at least 600 or 700 performers on stage.

I learned from the programme note that Mahler composed it in "a mere eight weeks of incandescent creativity" at his lakeside retreat on the Wörthersee in 1906. He later said, and I find this even more humbling:

The whole immediately stood before my eyes. I had only to write it down, as if it had been dictated to me.

September 18, 2010

Sea stack mystery

On Tuesday, the Press & Journal published a piece about our forthcoming Moray Coast Trail guidebook, including a photo from the book. (On Monday late afternoon, while up a ladder painting my daughter's flat I got a phone call saying they wanted a photo, but needed it inside half an hour for the next day's paper, so having raced home to email it, I was pleased to see printed.) It shows Covesea Bay, including a sea stack at lower right:


I had identified this sea stack as Gows' Castle (gulls' castle) in a caption that I thought was beyond doubt, because I had seen it thus named on the Moray Coast Trail website map as well as on its official leaflet and also by other sources including another newspaper. It seems I was completely wrong.

Happily the P&J not only included my caption, but also when Iain Campbell, a sharp-eyed resident of Hopeman of over 60 years' standing, saw the piece and wrote in to tell them that the sea stack was wrongly named, they forwarded his letter, which arrived today. The story is extraordinary: it seems that in 1941 when the Home Guard were practising firing mortars in thick mist, they blew up the real Gows' Castle by mistake. Must have been mortified!

Here is an archive photo of the former Gows' Castle, which stood about half a mile further west, and which Mr Campbell tells me is known locally as Groff Haughs (Legs):


For comparison, here is today's sea stack as it appears in our guidebook's geology section:


As you can see, the two are totally different shapes. It all underlines how easily a mistake, once made, is propagated. Indeed, for all I know there may be people who will contest Mr Campbell's assertion, although I am persuaded by his total clarity on the point and the attention to detail in his letter. Anyway, had the information come just 24 hours later, the mistake would have been perpetuated in my book, so I feel indebted to both Mr Campbell and the P&J.

September 21, 2010

A little gem from Panasonic

I've been playing with a pre-production 14mm lens on my Lumix G1 and I'm seriously impressed. Its 14 mm focal length (equivalent to 28 mm in the film-based world) offers a classic landscape perspective while also being usable for people shots. It's launched today at Photokina in Köln. For some reason they've called it H-H014, but then all their cameras and lenses are lumbered with cryptographic names.

This is the smallest, lightest lens in the world, weighing 50 g (less than 2 oz) without its lens cap. It earns its "pancake" label by protruding less than 2 cm beyond my G1 body. It can focus impressively close - down to 18cm/7in - and does so very fast indeed on autofocus.

Above all, its aperture range is stunning. Not only does it stop down all the way to f22 for massive depth of field when you want it, but it opens up to a mighty f2.5 so you can blur everything except your subject. (Early rumours of f2.8 have been exceeded by one-third of a stop.)

Large aperture also gives enormous scope for low-light photography without flash, and mostly I avoid flash in pictures (other than when used for outdoor fill-in). Because a wide-open lens permits faster shutter speeds, you are less likely to have unwanted blur from camera shake or subject movement.

A big range of aperture restores creative control to a photographer who has become slightly jaded with zoom lenses. They give you lots of focal length flexibility, it's true, but little control over aperture. I'm a fan of the 14-45 kit lens that came with the G1, but its maximum aperture is only f3.5 to f5.6 (and its sharpest performance is in the f8-f11 range). This wee gem of a lens reminds you that photography is about taking control of the image and deciding which aperture to choose.

You may feel that fixed focal length is a limitation, and it certainly means that you need to think a bit harder about composition and probably to walk towards and around your subject. But that might even result in better photography than the lazy "stand still and zoom" approach. The lens is expected on general release by mid-October at a UK price of £350.

Let me share a few snaps from around the garden/field yesterday. All were taken hand-held, in a casual, experimental mood. At the low resolution shown here, you may not see the subtle effects of large aperture, but believe me, at full screen the effect is clear and brilliant. Here is a standard kind of small-aperture (f22) straw bale shot, with distance in focus:


And here is a similar shot with the lens opened up, this time with bale straws spiky sharp but background defocused:


Finally, here is a humble leaf of Virginia creeper, symbol of the equinox and the onset of autumn:


About September 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in September 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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