Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-01-29 - 11:56 a.m.

This is from a motor lodge at the east end of the North Circular Road where I arrived about 1 am this morning having had a late night drink with James in Cambridge. He has been very busy on top-up fees issue and is even named on the front page of the student newspaper, making life more awkward for the new US vice-chancellor. He said that today he has a seminar on the theory of representative democracy which is a nice irony. I am amazed that he is so deeply engaged in just four months – and also managing to do some work. Politically he seems to be left liberal democrat – and he is scathing about the radicals eg in Kings, locked in a 60s timewarp.

He was busy earlier in the evening with the Commons vote and so I went to the opening of the Magic Flute at the ADC getting one of the last few tickets which happened to be in the front row. I thought the production was excellent. Cathie Bell sang the Queen of the Night with great aplomb. She looked absolutely extraordinary – quite unworldly. I said to Betty that I thought her presentation of the first aria spanned all ages – from toddler to old age. I have only seen MF once before and I loved it – I don’t understand it but it has such brilliant, surprising symmetry.

I caught another fine set of performances on Sunday afternoon in Warwick – a harp led ensemble with string quartet, flute and clarinet. They started with a Mozart flute quartet. It was an earlier composition than the one I have done (with piano reduction). I mostly prefer later Mozart but this one had a great slow movement with pizzicato strings. Next up was a late Brahms clarinet quintet. Apparently Brahms had given up composition until he heard some clarinet player who prompted him to write several pieces. Brahms is far from a favourite composer but it was good to listen to the music in that context. You can’t help thinking about how he finishes the movement.

One of my all times favourites was in the 2nd half – Debussy’s sonata for flute, harp and viola – and the performance was immaculate. I have listened to a performance close up before but this time I was able to get some very high partials from the viola that I have never heard before. The recital closed with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro which is all about extended II:V harmonies – very jazzy. Watching the musicians made me aware of how much the string writing is like the SQ.

The really unusual item on the programme was a new piece by Howard Skempton – this was the world premiere and Skempton was in the audience. It reminded me a bit of the Polish composer, Baird. Like much of the Skempton I have heard it was deceptively simple – starting with a folk-like theme that comes from a setting of a Blake poem which is gradually elaborated. There’s another chance to hear the programme when it comes to the Farnham Maltings. Tempting.

I seem to have beaten the weather down to London – which is always warmer with its own microclimate – Peterborough, not that far north of Cambridge had 5 inches overnight. Maybe I will go back to Guildford via the south loop of the M25 tonight and then drive into my favourite Victoria carpark just outside the congestion zone tomorrow . Maybe I will go back to the NEC before going to Swindon Friday – depending on the weather of course.

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