Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for October 2017

OUR CLASSICAL MUSIC COLUMNIST LIZ LEATHERDALE, FOUNDER AND OWNER OF COLCHESTER CLASSICS, BRINGS YOU HER PICK OF OCTOBER’S CLASSICAL MUSIC EVENTS IN, AND AROUND, COLCHESTER.

Classics

Christina Johnson – Blessing

Although this is all about concerts taking place in October, I would like to kick-off this column with information on a young Suffolk Soprano soloist Christina Johnson who will be singing in Colchester’s St Botolph’s Church on Saturday 30 September at 7pm. Christina is mid-way through her tour promoting her debut CD, Blessing and here is a sneak peek for you to hear and see Christina before her concert on Saturday.

https://youtu.be/8B0hSeeDPDw

Christina Johnston (originally from Framlingham, Suffolk) is said by many to be one of a kind in the vocal world. Despite her young age she is already making a name for herself in the classical world with her vocal range that most could only dream of.

On Saturday, she will be accompanied by the Russian coach, Inga Goldsmith who works with the likes of, Valeri Gergiev at the Marinski Theatre in St Petersburg.

Tickets are available to buy at:

www.ticketline.co.uk/christina-johnston or on the door.

Colchester’s Roman River Music Autumn Festival

Over the last few weeks, the Roman River Music Autumn Festival has brought a wealth of music to the heart of Colchester, such as outstanding international classical musicians, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, Natalie Clein, The King’s Singers making its festival debut and much, much more.

Not only does it attract outstanding international musicians to our area but the festival continues to form relationships and assist in the development of our aspiring local musicians. The festival ends on Sunday 1 October at 6pm showcasing work with young players from the Colne Valley Youth Orchestra plus contributions from local singers and other musicians joining the Festival Orchestra for its finale.

On Thursday 28 September, The King’s Singer’s made its debut at the festival with music ranging from William Byrd to Bob Chilcott.  This concert kick-started the festival’s residency at St Mary the Virgin in Stoke by Nayland, one of the largest churches in Suffolk, with a history stretching back to the 10th century.  On Friday 29 September at 8pm there is a re-orchestration of another of Mahler’s symphonies and tomorrow evening there is a performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor.

Visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk

Lunchtime recitals

Early next month, Charles Hine will be performing Clarinet music accompanied by pianist Ian Ray at the launch of the Lion Walk Lunchtime Autumn concert series. Wednesday, October 4, 1pm, Lion Walk United Reformed Church, Colchester. Free concert with retiring collection.

For information on all of the weekly concerts, please visit  www.lionwalkchurch.org/lunchtime-concerts

Ian Ray is also involved in the Moot Hall organ and he will be busy the day before at the launch of the Autumn 2017 lunchtime recitals on the magnificent Edwardian Organ in Colchester’s elegant Town Hall . On  Tuesday at 1pm Daniel Gárdonyi  will be performing music by Kodály and Mendelssohn.

Click here to find out more about the series  www.moothallorgan.co.uk

Music for Children

It seems that every month a new study is published confirming the benefits music can bring. A recent survey carried out by YouGov stated that 47% of people said more children should be inspired to learn an instrument and have the experience of playing and hearing music. Here are a couple of ways to hear Classical Music this October.

Over the October school holidays, the City of London Sinfonia presents its Lullaby Concert series in both Essex and Suffolk. The idea is to present orchestral music in a friendly way to youngsters aged 2 –  7. The first concert is at the Tendring Education Centre on Saturday 21 October.

Further information available from the Clacton Tourist Information Centre (01255 6866633).

The family concert, Around the World in 60 Minutes, presents a musical world tour inspired by each continent. James Mayhew will be providing live illustrations on the stage capturing the spirit of each land to be visited musically. This concert takes place in the award-winning Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden at 3pm on Sunday 1 October.

Tickets: £12 (0845 548 7650)

String Quartets and more

If you enjoy Chamber music, there are plenty of concerts to enjoy in and around Colchester. Here are just a few for you!

Now in its 92nd season, the Ipswich Chamber Music Society continues to hold concerts in the Great Hall in Ipswich School. The Nash Ensemble, a most distinguished group, constantly appearing at London’s Wigmore Hall, are coming to Ipswich to perform Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet, opus 166. The venue is intimate with excellent acoustics and fine views of the performers. Tickets are £15. For all details see www.ipswichchambermusic.org.uk

The Castalian String Quartet will be performing at Stour Valley Arts & Music on Sunday 22 October at 4pm. For more information and tickets please visit www.svam.org.uk or telephone 01206 298426

And just like buses ….. there are two concerts on 29 October! First up, The Kingfisher Ensemble will be performing at the Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester at 2.45pm on Sunday 29 October.  Please visit here for www.kingfishersinfonietta.co.uk

And last but by no means least, over in the beautiful church in Wrabness, The Solem String Quartet will be performing String Quartets by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven also on Sunday 29 October at 4pm.

Tickets £12 from Liz Connah  01255 886163

For full information please visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at www.colchesterclassics.co.uk and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Leatherdale

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

 

 

(BBFC 15 2hrs 21mins)


Oh dear.

There’s no easy way to say this but Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the follow up to director Matthew Vaughan and writer Jane Goldman’s fun, breezy, occasionally off-colour, occasionally shockingly violent but always exciting spy-spoof Kingsman: The Secret Service, is a bit of a slog. It’s a “Tough Mudder” of a movie, an exhausting trial of endurance, and the only prize waiting for those crawling across its finish line is to sniff a bucket of poop. It’s not without a few fun moments but unfortunately, as a whole, it’s a disappointment.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the council estate raised hero of the first movie, returns as a now fully-fledged member of ultra-dapper secret service organisation The Kingsmen, to face an all-new super-villain and an all-new threat to World peace. Poppy (Julianne Moore), the Martha Stewart/Kirstie Allsop-ish head of a major drugs cartel has been lacing her product with a lethal virus thereby infecting her entire userbase, an antidote to which will only be forthcoming if the US President (Bruce Greenwood) ends the war on drugs. The problem here being that POTUS sees Poppy’s plan as the way to solve the drugs problem once and for all.

Tired of the Kingsmen’s meddling Poppy destroys the organisation leaving only Eggsy and Kingsman Quartermaster Merlin (Mark Strong) as the surviving members. The pair then bounce around the world, team up with their US counterparts The Statesmen and discover that veteran Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is still alive (despite being shot in the head at point-blank range in the first film), albeit suffering amnesia.

If you’ve seen the first movie or, indeed, any James Bond movie ever you’ll know where this is all heading: set-piece upon set-piece leading to an all-out, mega-action finale.

The problem is that it takes so long to get there and those set-pieces become increasingly tiresome, one extended sequence in which Eggsy has to… ahem, how should I describe this?… deposit a fingertip mounted tracker inside the genitals of a bad guy’s girlfriend (Poppy Delevingne) at Glastonbury becomes a particularly wearing test of endurance. So much time and effort is put into that sequence and none of it is really worth the pay-off, which, in many ways, sums up the whole movie.

The introduction of The Statesmen is a pleasant enough diversion but they are so poorly served that they feel like a wasted opportunity. Stars like Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry are painfully under-used and only Pablo Pascal gets a decent amount of screen time. Bizarrely Elton John (yes, Elton John) gets more to do in The Golden Circle than many of the other extended cameos, that’s how weird this movie is. The wonky use of The Statesmen is sort of resolved in the final third of the film but by then patience and suspension of belief has already been stretched to their limits.

Much of the criticism of The Secret Service was aimed at a particularly jarring and ill-advised gag at that movies end and chances were that The Golden Circle was always going to respond to those complaints by gleefully asking, “You think that was bad? Here, hold my pint…” And it certainly doesn’t hold back in its attempts to shock, in fact it tries way too hard (as evidenced by that Glastonbury sequence) and as a result sinks to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brothers Grimsby levels of lad-mag humour. Great if you like that sort of thing, alienating if you find it don’t and, whatever you feel about it, it adds very little except bum-numbing minutes to an already too long movie.

It’s understandable that they’d want to bring back the always likeable Colin Firth as Eggsy’s mentor Harry but the way it’s done is a cheap cop-out (apparently the application of some super-Savlon can repair the damage of being shot in the face), a cheat which removes any life or death tension. Harry believes he’s a lepidopterist (butterfly collector) because of his amnesia and is perfectly happy and content until Eggsy forces him to relive a past trauma to snap him out of it. It’s a stretch to believe that the Eggsy of The Secret Service would be the callous Eggsy of The Golden Circle to take that away from him. It’s all too contrived and jarring and sells out the characters for a plot that doesn’t deserve them.

For all its fun moments, of which there are too few, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is too dogged by forced motivations, forced situations, increasingly weightless action sequences (all of which try to be as iconic as the church massacre of The Secret Service, none of which are successful), flaky CGI and wasted opportunities to hang together as an enjoyable whole. It’s a shame and I hope that it’s not a franchise killer, I’d love to see more of The Kingsmen, The Statesmen, Eggsy, Merlin, et al. Vaughan and Goldman just need to understand that more is not always necessarily more, sometimes you need to touch the brakes to get around the corner with speed.

Andy Oliver

American Assassin

 

 

(BBFC18 1Hr 51Mins)


Unlike Mother! the last movie I reviewed, if you want to celebrate toxic masculinity then American Assassin is the movie for you, my friend. A film so rampantly stupid that it doesn’t have the intelligence to recognise just how rampantly stupid it is. If movies wore hats, American Assassin would proudly be donning a red #MAGA baseball cap.

Mitch Rapp (The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien) is on holiday in Europe with his girlfriend when a Tunisia style beach attack by Islamic terrorists leaves her and many other sun worshippers horribly murdered. Rapp then goes rogue in an attempt to track down the killers. His minor league successes eventually bring him to the attention of CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who quickly recruits him for some kind of black ops unit or other under the auspices and training of Gulf War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Cue training montages and a plethora of blink-and-you-miss-them glamorous locations which are basically pretty backdrops for a lot of punching and shooting and murdering (mostly of young and attractive women). The second half of the movie seems completely at odds with the first half as Rapp is put on the trail of arch-villain “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), a former pupil of Hurley’s (a point, at which, I placed my head in my hands and felt like weeping). It’s all very “Seen it all before”, ho-hum, Jack Ryan/Jason Bourne/Jack Reacher-lite (if any of those movies were rooted in Alt-Right sensibilities, which thankfully they weren’t).

I watched American Assassin with a mixture of dismay, anger, disappointment, confusion, embarrassment and more than once had to bite my tongue to stop myself from shouting at the screen. Did the film-makers have no idea about the irony of America recruiting disenfranchised young men to go kill their enemies? It’s a movie that disgustingly bends over backwards to either humiliate or murder its female characters. It doesn’t have the backbone to stand by its own convictions, heinous as they are, its “White Saviour” storyline morphing into the worst kind of Star Wars Obi-Wan/Darth Vader/Luke rip-off. Even the action sequences can’t save it from ignominy, poorly choreographed, limp and lifeless.

It is an awful, awful movie. Casually racist and misogynistic, it definitely has an audience in mind, probably the kind that carries Tiki torches to rallies, hide behind anime avatars on social media and I think we all know which way they vote in US Presidential elections. Please avoid this movie or they’ll make more.

Andy Oliver

Mother!

Anywhere between

 

and

 

(BBFC 18 2Hrs 1Min)


If you were anticipating my review of Mother! I’m afraid I have to disappoint: Although I tried many times to write a spoiler-free review, I have failed miserably. All I offer here is a kind of steer, a warning to the unwary, a softly whispered piece of advice in the ear of the hopelessly intrigued. In fact, I’m not sure this movie is even reviewable, it is possible to read it on so many levels, all of them right, most of them wrong, very few of them unworthy of friendship destroying argument.

Nominally, Mother! concerns a couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) renovating the man’s childhood home (none of the characters have names, by the way, so this might get confusing), when a stranger (Ed Harris) appears on their doorstep, closely followed by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). Bardem’s character invites the strangers in and Lawrence’s character begins to doubt her sanity (and their relationship) as more and more people come to the house and Bardem welcomes them all in and offers them free lodging. Where it goes from here is all spoiler territory into which I shall not tread, suffice it to say that the plot spirals into ever more horrific psychological and, eventually, physically violent acts which are not sexual but definitely gender-specific.

Be aware that if you’re handing over your hard-earned money for a ticket it may well be for something you will absolutely hate, I suspect more people will loathe Mother! than love it. It is one of the most divisive movies I’ve ever seen. I’m talking Anti-Christ/Eternal Sunshine/Only God Forgives/Spring Breakers/ Neon Demon level divisiveness. If you think you’re going to see a horror movie, you’re wrong. If you think you’re going to see a marital drama, you’re wrong. If you think everything will be wrapped up with a neat bow or Shyamalan-esque twist, guess what? You’re wrong.

Is it a thesis on toxic masculinity and misogyny? A religious parable? A satire in the mould of Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (albeit one with a 180⁰ shift)? A damning critique of celebrity relationships? An environmental warning? A puzzle akin to Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad? An anthropological study of solitude versus tribal responsibilities? It’s all these things and more… or some of these things and less… or all of these things and none of them. Listen, how you respond to Mother! will depend exclusively upon you and what you take from it and how much you’re willing to put into it.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Noah, Black Swan), everything about Mother! is next level: beautifully shot, designed and lit; incredible performances from everyone in the cast, Lawrence remarkably manages to up her already “A” game and Bardem, Harris and Pfeiffer are nothing if not magnetic, to mention but four of this astonishing ensemble.

I’ve tried to help here but, honestly, nothing can prepare you for Mother! You will love it or you will hate it with venom. Caveat Emptor, my friends, Caveat Emptor. Maybe ask yourself would you watch this if it wasn’t a Jennifer Lawrence movie?

Me? Predictably, I loved it.

Andy Oliver

It

 

IT (BBFC 15, 2hrs 15mins)


It may not be the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel to make it to the screen but it is certainly the most Stephen King adaptation to make it to the screen. It really feels like a Stephen King novel, it understands what it is that makes his novels so readable and, whilst it is not a direct lift of page to screen, it manages to deliver everything that any fan could want (unless you actually want a direct lift of page to screen, that is). King knows that time spent with characters is as important (if not more) as the moments of horror they have to endure or succumb to, we have to know them and empathise with them for the scares to hit home, and It understands this as well: there are as many scenes that will have you laughing and/or crying as there are sequences that will have watching between your fingers. It’s proper scary as well as being lump-in-your-throat inducingly moving.

Something evil stalks the streets of Derry, Maine. Something that eats children and bathes in their fear. Something that haunts the town every twenty-seven years. When little Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) seemingly vanishes into thin air, his brother Bill (Jaeden Liebeher) and six pals (collectively known as The Losers Club) decide that only they can solve the mystery of a town with a disturbingly high rate of child disappearances. What begins as a Hardy Boys Mystery adventure for the kids soon becomes a battle for their very lives as they uncover the terrifying truth: Derry is the home of an ancient evil, an evil that can shapeshift and become the manifestation of a child’s deepest fear, but most often it appears as uber-creepy clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).


Director Andy Muschietti plays the horror of Derry on two fronts, there’s Pennywise, of course, but there’s also something about the town that breeds bullying, abuse racism and violence, there’s not only supernatural horror but everyday horror that dwells here. The first half of King’s novel placed The Losers Club’s investigation in the late 1950’s, here Muschietti (along with screenwriters Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman and Cary Fukunaga) has transposed the action to the late 1980’s and replaced the kids’ fears of The Wolfman and The Mummy with things drawn directly from their psyche to give the film a more contemporary, not to mention relatable, feel. How these fears manifest themselves via Pennywise and his shape changing ability are at once strange and horrifying and pant-wettingly scary, one example *SPOILER*: the sole female member of the gang, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), has a fear of puberty and menstruation, there will be blood. And lots of it.


The young cast are very good indeed, along with the afore mentioned Scott, Liebeher and Lillis there are some great performances from Jeremy Ray Taylor as the chubby nerd Ben, Chosen Jacobs as Mike, Jack Dylan Fraser as germ phobic Eddie, Wyatt Olef as Stanley and, best of all Finn Wolfhard as bespectacled smart aleck Richie. But it’s Pennywise you’ve really come to see and Bill Skarsgård and the make-up and effects department don’t let you down. Although his appearances are kept to a minimum he’s the movie monster that will have grown men sleeping with the lights on. He’s all weird angles, distressing stillness and a fast-forward effect so chilling it gives you goose-bumps in even your warmest of places. Even if you’ve never suffered Coulrophobia (a fear of clowns) there is a distinct possibility you’ll have it in spades after watching It.


However, there are a few structural problems with the film, for example each of the kids’ encounters with their fears/Pennywise feel somewhat disjointed and episodic (an effect that is heightened by the interstices between each that tonally and dramatically give this portion of the film a kind of stop/start momentum). The dialogue tends to get rather heavy-handed and clunky whenever there’s a whiff of exposition and it tends to lean into its 1980’s references a little too heavily. There’s also a lot of connective tissue between It and the Netflix serial Stranger Things, not least being the appearance of Finn Wolfhard in both, and it’s a shame because this might be detrimental to some viewers, but if you can put these qualms to one side you’re in for a fun and scary ride (if a film about child murdering can be fun).

Now, people who’ve read the novel or seen the 1990 mini-series adaptation (you know, the one with John Boy Walton and Tim Curry) might wonder why I haven’t mentioned the second half of the story, the half where The Losers Club come together again as adults to continue the fight. Well, there’s a good reason for that, you see this is only Chapter One, the second (and final) chapter hasn’t even started filming yet so don’t expect it for at least another 18-24 months. Having said that, It stands alone pretty well and there’s a satisfying conclusion to this part that is definitely no lead balloon. So, until Chapter Two comes out you’ll just have to float along on the waves of expectation and anticipation… We all float down here.

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for September 2017

OUR CLASSICAL MUSIC COLUMNIST LIZ LEATHERDALE, FOUNDER AND OWNER OF COLCHESTER CLASSICS, BRINGS YOU HER PICK OF SEPTEMBER’S CLASSICAL MUSIC EVENTS IN, AND AROUND, COLCHESTER.

Classics

It’s all happening in Colchester this month!

If, like me, you thoroughly enjoyed the Film Music of John Williams at the BBC Proms on July 20, here is your chance to hear some of these iconic film scores again. On September 9 our excellent Colchester Symphony Orchestra under its strong and stable conductor Chris Phelps, kickstarts its 2017/2018 season with some well-known movie music such as Star Wars and Schindler’s List by John Williams, Walton’s Spitfire Prelude & Fugue, Shostakovich’s The Gadfly and much other popular movie music.

This concert is on Saturday September 9 at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester and tickets are already available (01206 271128)

Colchester Classics is delighted to be hosting a CD stand crammed full of Film Music and some bargains too! Freephone 0800 999 6994 to find out the type of CDs we will have on offer.

In the early nineteenth century, the guitar enjoyed remarkable popularity among upper and middle-class society throughout Europe. British award-winning mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley with guitarist Jens Franks will be performing many works written in this era by Schubert for voice and guitar in the intimate setting of Colchester’s Headgate Theatre.

Anna has been described as a rising star and presents recitals in the UK and internationally and has recently appeared  in a variety of roles for  English National Opera, Welsh National Opera and English Touring Opera. Her recent CD with Jens, Schubert: Songs for Voice and Guitar has received much praise from music magazines and broadsheet newspapers.

Saturday 9 September at 7.30pm Headgate Theatre. Tickets: £14 (01206 366000). This concert forms part of the Virtuoso Guitar Series at the Headgate.

The next concert in this series is on Friday 17 November at 7.30pm with Tim Pells.

Many Colchester musicians play in  Essex Chamber Orchestra (ECHO) will be meeting for  intensive rehearsals leading to a concert on Sunday evening taking place in Felsted School. It will include Kodaly’s Peacock Variations and Elgar’s Symphony No.1. Sunday 3 September,  Grignon Hall, Felsted School at 7.30pm.

Tickets £10 on the door.

Following last month’s exhilarating concert of Music for Brass and Organ, this month there is a chance for you to pull-out all the stops in a Meet (and Play) the Organ which is housed in Colchester’s beautiful Moot Hall.

The event takes place during this year’s Heritage Open Day from 12 – 2pm on Sunday 10 September in Colchester’s Town Hall in the High Street. Further details (01206 272908).

Colchester’s Roman River Music Autumn Festival brings music to the heart of our town. Outstanding international classical musicians returning to the Festival include pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who will play at All Saints’ Church in Fordham on Saturday 23 September and Natalie Clein will give a cello recital including compositions by women composers in the Colchester Arts Centre on September 17.

Another Festival highlight for me is The King’s Singers making their festival debut on 28 September in Stoke by Nayland Church. For full information please visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk  Colchester Classics is delighted to be hosting a CD signing with The King’s Singers after its concert on 28 September.

If you subscribe to our e-database we will keep you up-to-date this concert and signing. (Simply email liz@colchesterclassics.co.uk to join our exclusive service.)

The Kingfisher Ensemble launches its Sunday afternoon 2017/2018 concert series on 24 September in the Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester with a performance of a Piano Quintet by the 19th century Hungarian composer, Dohnanyi.

Further details from www.kingfishersinfonietta.co.uk

If singing is your thing – why not join a choir and find out for yourself the benefits of singing? The great Ella Fitzgerald once said “The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Only recently a broadsheet newspaper said that choir practice is healthier than yoga so here are a couple of ideas to get you singing.

First up, Clacton Choral Society is offering an informal ‘Sing-In’ introducing music for its Autumn concert such as Puccini’s sparkling Messa di Gloria. This choir is most welcoming and friendly, with singers being particularly attentive throughout to Gilli Dulieu’s rehearsal requests.

The ‘Sing-In’ takes place on Saturday 2 September and more details are available (01255 427691).

Handel’s Zadok the Priest is the most famous and popular of Handel’s Coronation Anthems. It was composed for King George II in 1727 and has been performed at every Coronation since then and is heard regularly on radio and TV. Next month there is a chance to rehearse this all-time choral favourite and other music at a ‘Come & Sing’ event on Sunday 10 September in the Old House Barn in Great Horkesley.  The choir members on this day will perform in the Roman River Festival’s finale concert on Sunday 1 October.

Further information email info@romanrivermusic.org.uk

Handel’s most famous oratorio, Messiah, tells the story of Jesus’ life from birth to resurrection.  It includes many rousing choruses including the most famous Baroque chorus – Hallelujah! Over in Ipswich its Choral Society will present a ‘Come and Sing Handel’s Messiah’.  The day includes a rehearsal and an evening performance of this great oratorio with young soloists from the Royal Academy of Music, accompanied by the professional period instrument ensemble, Vivace!

Further details on the choral workshop on Sunday September 17 (01473 738324).

There are many other opportunities to sing with local choirs and a good source of information is www.makingmusic.org.uk and www.MusicInEssex.info

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at www.colchesterclassics.co.uk and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale

 

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for August 2017

OUR CLASSICAL MUSIC COLUMNIST LIZ LEATHERDALE, FOUNDER AND OWNER OF COLCHESTER CLASSICS, BRINGS YOU HER PICK OF AUGUST’S CLASSICAL MUSIC EVENTS IN, AND AROUND, COLCHESTER.

Classics

This month offers more opportunities to explore Classical Music through the BBC Proms with a diverse season of live concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, on BBC TV and BBC Radio 3. With your appetite now whetted for Classical Music, feast your ears and eyes on just a few of the concerts in our musically rich region.

If, like me, you thoroughly enjoyed the Film Music of John Williams at the BBC Proms on July 20, here is your chance to hear some of these iconic film scores again. On September 9 the Colchester Symphony Orchestra under its strong and stable conductor Chris Phelps, kickstarts its 2017/2018 season with some well-known movie music such as Star Wars and Schindler’s List by John Williams, Walton’s Spitfire Prelude & Fugue, Shostakovich’s The Gadfly and much other popular movie music.

This concert is on Saturday September 9 at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester and tickets are already available (01206 271128)

If you have ever fancied getting up close and personal with Colchester’s magnificent Moot Hall organ and would like the chance to pull out all of the stops, then read on!

First up, tomorrow (Tuesday August 1) the Borough Organist, Ian Ray, will show you how to play the Edwardian organ in a lunchtime recital with music by J S Bach, Vivaldi and Richard Strauss. Ian will be joined by the Seckford Brass Ensemble, led by John Jermy (recently heard as the trumpet soloist with the Colchester Symphony Orchestra). Tuesday August 1 at 1pm in Colchester’s Town Hall.

Free concert with a Retiring collection. Further details (01206 272908).

The Moot Hall’s majestic organ was first installed in 1902 and the Heritage Lottery Fund-sponsored restoration was completed in 2015. On this year’s Heritage Open Day you have the chance to pull-out all the stops in a Meet (and Play) the Organ from 12 – 2pm on Sunday 10 September.

More information coming soon!

With recent reports continuing to extol the beneficial effects of singing in choirs, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce a day of singing, exercise, socialising and learning some new music

Last month I had the privilege of featuring Colchester’s Roman River Summer Music Festival in the beautiful setting of St Peter ad Vincula in Coggeshall. This month I would like to highlight an opportunity for all our many local choral singers to treat themselves to work with the young conductor Ben Vonberg-Clark in a varied programme from the all-time choral favourite, Handel’s Zadok the Priest through to new repertoire by Eric Whitacre. The choral works will be accompanied by an orchestra and be part of the Roman River Festival Finale concert on Sunday 1 October.

For further information click  http://romanrivermusic.org.uk/events/event/come-sing-2017 or email info@romanrivermusic.org.uk

If you can’t get to the above singing day, other opportunities are available! It may interest you to know that The Telegraph has recently been quoted as saying Choir practice is healthier than yoga”After the summer break many choirs and choral societies open their rehearsal doors to new members, so don’t miss your chance to improve your well-being by singing and socialising in your local choir.

A good source of information is www.makingmusic.org.uk and www.MusicInEssex.info

Next month the Roman River Music Autumn Festival brings music to the heart of Colchester. Outstanding international classical musicians returning to the Festival include pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who will play at All Saints’ Church in Fordham on Saturday 23 September and Natalie Clein will give a cello recital including compositions by woman composers in the Colchester Arts Centre on September 17. Another Festival highlight for me is The King’s Singers making their festival debut on 28 September in Stoke by Nayland Church.

For full information please visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at www.colchesterclassics.co.uk and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

 

(BBFC 12A 2Hrs 17Mins)


Imagine a big empty cardboard box. Now imagine that box wrapped in the most astonishing paper, ribbons, bows and gift tags. Got it? Okay, now imagine that the box and wrapping cost the best part of £200 million and you’ll come close to understanding the experience of watching director Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi extravaganza, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (hereafter just referred to as Valerian in this review for the sake of time and word count). It’s a sprawling epic that blasts beyond the screen with eye-popping visuals and aesthetics but, beyond that, it’s a bit like a bubble-headed Love Island contestant, “… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, as Lady MacBeth once decried.

Alpha, the “City” of the extended title, is an ever-expanding space station, a repository of the collected knowledge and information of a plethora of CGI and practical effects alien races. Into this neon-infused, candy-crush coloured diaspora arrive Special Agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), a couple in all but name, squabbling and babbling inanely, spreading their own unique brand of “banter” as they try to solve I’m not sure what because I’m not sure why. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I suspect nobody involved in the movie did either, the plot has something to do with a Pokemon dinosaur that poops marbles and the destruction of some kind of “Ibiza” inspired planet full of lithe, pale supermodels and an infection/dead zone spreading through the city/space station. None of it makes any sense and there’s over two hours of it.


But what Valerian lacks in plot, characters or plausibility it more than makes up for in its visuals, every frame is crammed full of invention and mind-bending colour. If you’ve ever wanted to know what Aldous Huxley, John Lennon or Doctor Timothy Leary experienced without the hassle and expense of consciousness expanding drugs? Look no further: Memory consuming jellyfish; a bazaar that exists simultaneously on multiple dimensional levels; Cara Delevingne wearing the Universe’s biggest hat; fat-bottomed frogs; fish in spacesuits… you’ll want to check that bucket of popcorn you’re inhaling to make sure it hadn’t been inadvertently switched out with a huge tub of mescaline.


I’ll be honest here and admit that I’ve never truly been aboard the Luc Besson train, his movies leave me cold, he’s a director whose ideas are vacuous and, whilst almost always visually impressive, as a storyteller he has all the panache and craft of Monty Python’s Mister Creosote forcing a last “wafer thin mint” between his bloated, gluttonous lips: yes, there’s a huge explosion of colour on the screen but ultimately his bacchanalian greed leads to disappointment and emptiness. People may leap to his defence citing The Fifth Element (loopy fairy-tale powered by cliché) or Leon The Professional (amoral and smarmy in its Hollywood excess) or The Big Blue (free divers squabble when not holding their breath, tedious), but even they would have a tough time denying the indulgence and sheer lack of soul in Valerian. For a director steeped in self-indulgence, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets surely represents the pinnacle of his achievements.

There are moments of dizzying invention, for instance a chase scene that crashes through multiple dimensions, but it is dazzling empty spectacle and, unfortunately, nothing more.


Both DeHaan and Delevingne struggle to bring anything based in reality to their characters, neither has the charisma or joie de vivre necessary to carry the film or imbue it with any sense of fun. Dane DeHaan is best known for his moody “outsider” roles such as Chronicle (moody teen become moody teen with super-powers), The Amazing Spider-Man (moody, rich teen becomes moody, rich teen with super-powers) and The Cure For Wellness (moody banker becomes moodier banker but with added incest and eels), Valerian should be a crazy, thrill-ride of a character; as quick with his thoughts, actions and quips as he is with his trigger finger; DeHaan, with his permanently furrowed-brow and slow delivery only manages to convey a sense of fatigue. Cara Delevingne, all pouts and eyebrows, is best known for being a coat hanger and for being easily the most appalling thing in the appalling Suicide Squad; like a personality vacuum, she manages to suck all the life from practically every scene she’s in. Valerian and Laureline sound like ingredients in the latest, miracle shampoo but that’s where any analogy to chemistry ends; they bicker like a couple who’ve been together too long, a pair you’d spend two weeks trying to avoid on your holidays, which makes it all the more bewildering when a “Will they, won’t they…” story thread is introduced. Like I said, “NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE”.

Oh, and Rihanna, Ethan Hawke and Clive Owen turn up as well. Mostly briefly, mostly looking bewildered.

If, like a toddler who delights in the wrapping paper more than the present, there’s probably plenty to enjoy here. Valerian, for the rest of us is just that big old empty box.

“Out, out brief candle”, indeed.

Andy Oliver

Dunkirk

(BBFC 12A, 1hr 46mins)


Nothing can prepare you for the experience of watching director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk on the big screen (and, let me make this point crystal clear, you absolutely have to see it on the big screen, the bigger the better). It is not thrilling. It is not enjoyable. It is, most definitely, not fun. It is, however, one of the best movies of the year: a visceral, terrifying vision of Hell; it’s harrowing and draining, emotional and triumphant; it shakes the viewer to the core; immerses you in fear and horror; physically shakes you and breaks your heart before tossing you out of the theatre where you stagger, zombie-like, in stunned awe and silence.

At the outbreak of World War 2, the UK government declared war on Germany and sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to support the French and impose an economic blockade on the aggressors. The unified armed forces of Nazi Germany, the Wehrmacht, swept down through Holland and Belgium, however, quickly defeating our allies and pushing the BEF back toward the French coast. In May 1940, four-hundred thousand allied troops were forced onto the beaches to await evacuation. British High Command put into action the hastily formulated Project Dynamo, requisitioning as many sea-worthy craft and crews as they could get their hands on to help the evacuation, from a 15-foot fishing boat to a River Mersey Ferry and a paddle steamer normally used for pleasure cruises, the 700-strong flotilla of “Little Ships” managed to rescue some three-hundred and thirty-eight thousand troops from the blood-soaked beaches.


Over eight long and, one can only imagine, utterly terrifying days and nights the men at Dunkirk waited their turn for rescue, all the while strafed by the Messerschmitt fighters and Stuka bombers of the Luftwaffe (Hitler, crucially, making the mistake of not sending his armoured divisions into battle, thereby saving countless thousands). Great acrobatic dogfights soared and exploded above the men as the Royal Air Force bravely battled to keep the evacuees and ships safe and allow them the time to escape unharmed.

Dunkirk tells its story from four perspectives: a trio of young soldiers awaiting evacuation (including Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles); naval commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh); RAF fighter pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy); and, finally, civilian boat-owner/skipper Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) along with his teenage son and his son’s schoolfriend (Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan). These are not separate sub-plots but all part of the whole sum, just each from the view (and timeline) of the different protagonists. It’s a conceit that allows the story to flow, yet keeps the movie to a tight and manageable running time, there’s absolutely no fat allowed onto the script’s slight, yet muscular, frame. Nolan lets the action do most of the talking, there is little rhetoric or exposition and while the characters are given little in the way of backstory, you feel for every one of them and rejoice in their triumphs, swell at their courage, cry for their losses.


Time is one of Christopher Nolan’s signature themes (look to Memento, Inception, Interstellar and even his Batman trilogy, when taken as a whole, for further proof), and with Dunkirk he has once again created a complex yet intuitive structure that, with most directors may seem like a gimmick, moves the story forward without ever seeming complicated or disjointed. The soldiers’ story covers the full week; Farrier’s a single hour and Mr. Dawson’s a single day. It’s a triumph of story-telling which I would struggle to explain, just rest assured that it works. It works really well.

From a technical standpoint, Dunkirk is nothing short of miraculous. Filmed on 70mm Imax film cameras and using minimal CGI some of the shots on display should be genuinely impossible. Here’s the science bit: a 70mm Imax camera weighs roughly 240lbs as opposed to a 35mm camera which weighs about 40lbs or a digital camera even less (Tangerine, the 2015 indie movie was shot on iPhones, but that’s another story); the size of the film (70mm obvs.) means the camera can only hold about three minutes of film and takes about 20 minutes to reload; it requires special supports and rigging to move it around; on the plus side, and the reason Nolan prefers to use it, you get 12,000 lines of horizontal definition as opposed to the 4,000 of a regular high definition camera. So, because most of the effects are practical, strapping one of these cameras to the side of a Spitfire, filming the inside of a sinking ship and, let’s not forget, filming on a beach mean that this movie really shouldn’t exist and yet it does and we should all be thankful to the geniuses who got it made.


There’s great performances all round and, although I was dreading the slings and arrows from 1 Directioners, I breathe easy saying that, although not a revelation, Harry Styles is pretty good (I stress though, this is not a film I would recommend the youngest of 1D-ers go see, it may prove far too intense for the under-twelves). Mark Rylance shines (again), Tom Hardy is a stoically British hero and Fionn Whitehead has firmly placed his foot on the first step to stardom.

Minor niggles? As good as Hans Zimmer’s score is there’s maybe a little too much of it. The sound mixing (very loud, very intense, the scream of the Stuka’s left me overwhelmed and shaking, the deep growl of the Spitfire’s Merlin engines reverberated through my entire body though, strangely, proud) works so well that, at many times, the musical soundtrack is redundant.


In Nolan’s hands, “The Miracle of Dunkirk” has become the miracle of Dunkirk. This is movie making taken to the next level: the craftsmanship, expertise, genius on display is nothing short of breath taking. While Dunkirk is most definitely not a rollicking good night out it is something that you have to experience.

In a cinema.

Not on a phone.

As a personal postscript I’d just like to mention that my grandfather, Charles King, was one of those young guys waiting patiently on that beach back in 1940, but he never spoke of it. Watching Dunkirk, I can totally understand why, and why, twenty-something years since he passed away, I love him even more and I’m so grateful for the time we got to spend together.

 

Andy Oliver

War for the Planet of the Apes

(BBFC 12A, 2hrs 22mins)


War. Huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’ (?).

Or, at least that was the stance taken by Andy Serkis’ remarkable creation, Caesar the chimpanzee, at the end of the last instalment of the Planet of the Apes saga, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar had killed the warmongering simian Koba and looked to live in (an uneasy) peace with mankind, both sides wanting to build or rebuild their societies and start afresh.

War for The Planet of the Apes opens with an establishing battle that destroys that accord, a massacre perpetrated by the now-militarised humans that hints that something has shifted within the status quo. That balance is subsequently blown out of the water when a sneak attack by the humans led by a figure known only as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) leads to the deaths of Caesar’s wife and eldest child. Consumed by anger, Caesar vows revenge on the Colonel and sets off to exact his vengeance along with his closest allies, Maurice the Orangutan (Karin Konoval), Rocket the Chimp (Terry Notary) and Luca the Gorilla (Michael Adamthwaite). His quest leads him directly into the heart of darkness and a final battle that will change the fate of the world forever.


There is plenty in War for The Planet of the Apes that connects it to “Heart of Darkness”, or, more accurately, the most successful adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s best-known work, Apocalypse Now: from Woody Harrelson’s bullet-headed, unhinged Colonel, held in reverence by his troops/followers to an explosive attack by a formation of helicopters; the forest settings a constant reminder of how far from civilisation we’ve come; crucifixions, compound building, the soldiers referring to their ape enemies as “the Kong” (as in “Viet-Cong”, geddit?) and, most obviously, graffiti scrawled on a wall that reads, “Ape-pocalypse Now”.  It’s a lofty bar to aspire to and whilst War is hugely entertaining and affecting, it never quite hits those heights.

For the most part War moves successfully between revenge Western and escape movie, it’s a humane story written across an epic landscape and when it focusses on these aspects it is at its most effective often recalling the films of John Ford or David Lean, it’s director Matt Reeves’ pretensions to Coppola that prove less than satisfying. But that’s a film-nerd niggle, when judged against other Summer blockbusters, War is a hugely thoughtful and satisfying movie, a thinking person’s epic that proves good, old-fashioned storytelling is just as exciting as bloomin’ great big explosions.


The performances and performance captures are, across the board, of the highest quality. Andy Serkis lays down his heaviest gauntlet yet to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be recognised for its highest awards, an Oscar nomination being the very least he deserves. It’s mostly a two-hander with the Caesar/Colonel relationship at its centre, Serkis’ motion capture performance is remarkable in its subtlety and nuance, conveying emotion through his body language, expression and small gestures, you are never unsure as to his essential ‘goodness’ even as his soul is consumed by his roiling need for justice and Harrelson has never been better as his driven and unceasingly chilling nemesis. There’s light relief and heart-breaking tragedy offered by the monkeyshines of Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape and if you thought it unfeasible to love Maurice the Orangutan more, his relationship with a young mute girl (played by Amiah Miller) manages to prove that nothing’s impossible.

I cannot even imagine how much work has gone into rendering the CGI of the apes, there’s a scene early on where Caesar walks amongst his tribe of primates, seemingly hundreds of them, and every single one has its own personality, a light behind the eyes that suggests each and one of them has a story to tell that’s worth listening to. The effects are absolutely flawless and, after an initial few minutes of stunned wonder, you no longer question that what you’re watching is the result of clever programming and immaculate artistry, there are no jarring moments that shatter the imitation of life, there’s never a second that you don’t believe they are living, breathing creatures deserving of your full attention and every ounce of your empathy.


It’s a formidable, thematically dense, soul-stirring and thought-provoking conclusion to the one of the more well-considered trilogies and, whilst there is no cosmic-bending “Statue of Liberty” or (Heaven forbid) “Lincoln Memorial” twist, Keyser Soze-like War for The Planet of the Apes pulls its greatest trick after you have left the building and you’ll find yourself wondering, “Wait, was I just rooting for the end of mankind?”

War is the apocalypse mankind knows full well it is rushing into but even with both eyes fully open seems unable to prevent. Yet, as dark as it gets, like the ending of a classic Western there is always a bright horizon and a better tomorrow.

That’s always worth seeing, isn’t it?

Andy Oliver

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