Looking back at 2010 in London

It’s the end of the year, and I’m sitting listlessly late at night in my study, pondering on the development of yet another obsession. Perhaps that’s to overstate, but according to my box of used ticket stubs I went to 89 concerts and dance performances in 2010.

Much as the serried ranks of book spines in bookcases bring back awareness of the words inside them, these ticket stubs have prompted some particular musical memories. 10 highlights for me were:

1. Hélène Grimaud playing Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata op.1 and Franz Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor at the RFH on 23rd November. The Berg felt like being transported to a lunar landscape, and the Liszt was one of those rare moments of total concentration that made the bit of my brain that never stops thinking, stop. Similarly, and I’m not sure if this happens to other people, the musician can play with such intensity that I sometimes cease breathing, for really quite long periods, because I’m concentrating so hard on the music.

2. Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tieberghien’s concerts in the Wigmore Hall. My wife laughs when I say I’d fly to another country to hear them play if that was the only way to do it. But it’s true.

3. Russell Maliphant’s “Afterlight” in September at Sadler’s Wells which felt like being in a dream for an hour. The critics strangely didn’t like it so much. Had it been on for more than just two nights I would have gone again. Happily it returns to Sadler’s Wells in April 2011.

4. A dance I did see twice (thrice if you include the rehearsal) was the Bonachela Dance Company’s “The Land of Yes and the Land of No”. The second performance was Amy Hollingsworth’s farewell dance – she’s a great dancer and won last year’s Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Outstanding Female Performance (modern).

5. “MOVE: Choreographing You” at the Hayward in October – a fascinating attempt to do the conceptually difficult thing of curating contemporary dance works as pieces in an art gallery. Walking around I remember being unable to tell who were the dancers and who were the visitors, so I became acutely aware of everyone in the gallery’s movements as something choreographic; watching some of the dancers I began to feel that I too was immersively part of the dance – it reminded me a bit of attending a Punchdrunk performance.

6. Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara playing at the Roundhouse in January. I’d taken my friend Naomi to hear them play – and as she and I propped up the bar after the concert the band came over to talk to us. Had a long chat with Justin, who is a very amiable chap. Their EP “The Trance Sessions” combining R&B guitar with African griot was one of my favourite pop CDs from the year.

7. Standing on the balcony in King’s Place looking directly down on to six marimbas being played by the London Sinfonietta (Steve Reich’s “Six Marimbas”, of course). I made a modest contribution to the Sinfonietta to help them commission a piece of music by Steve Reich, and very excitingly got to meet him as a result. It was fascinating to hear his view of the historical context of his compositions (including that he sees his music as a continuation of the themes of Bach Cantatas), and makes listening to his music even more rewarding.

8. In early September, watching the Philharmonia’s final dress rehearsal of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in the RFH – four and half hours of music accompanied by four and a half hours of a Bill Viola video piece. Each of the music or the video by themselves would have lost my attention, but together it was absorbing – the Viola piece making a brilliant psychological counterpoint to the music.

9. Going to the Tate Modern on my 49th birthday to see the reformed Trisha Brown Dance Company performing some of her early works from the 1970s. In the first piece four female dancers went through a preprogrammed series of movements, while 4 men rather nonchalantly occasionally moved them into different orientations or positions – such as standing, lying down, leaning against the wall and so on. I remember thinking the dance was about the power of men over women, illustrated by the casualness with which the men were moving the women around, and the apparent passive submission of the women to this. I talked to one of the company after the performance who instead thought it was about the deterministic power of movement to overcome the capricious intervention of men

10. Midnight Mass in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve where the sensual assault of the choir singing, the drama of the pageantry, and the nostril filling incense created a lovely antidote to my normal secular existence.

Of all the concerts planned for 2011, the one I most keenly anticipate is a performance in October at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre, the centrepiece of which is some music I have commissioned to celebrate my 50th birthday. I’ll be writing about that next.

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