I’ve seen more than 30 recitals this year by students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and all of them have been tremendous. But I’ve had to wait almost until the end of 2016 to name my favourite – Trinity chamber choir’s performance of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue at St Alfege’s church. It’s a marvellous piece by any standard, a brilliant mix of the sacred and secular that combine to create a spiritual experience of exceptional depth. In the hands and voices of this young choir and a wonderful Trinity jazz quartet, however, it was given extra zest thanks to the sheer exuberance of the performances and of their conductor Stephen Jackson. This free lunchtime recital underlined yet again how ridiculously lucky we are to live in Greenwich where we can hear music like this every week throughout the year.
A play referencing Einstein, Kafka, Ibsen, Leskov and the history of New Cross risks calamitous pretentiousness. But in fact it’s intelligent, involving and downright entertaining thanks to Teatro Vivo, co-writer Michael Wagg and director Sophie Austin, who cast their audience as house-buyers being shown round a south London home by estate agent Amelia Spoke (Debbie Korley). The viewing is interrupted by ghostly couples from the area’s past as medieval farmland, gentrified Victorian development, post-war slum and today’s multicultural hub. They drift in and out in a kind of narrative kaleidoscope and are all played – brilliantly – by Mark Stevenson and Kas Darley. There are also some genuinely spooky plot-twists and clever sound effects that make this production, in association with the Albany in Deptford, a delight – with an enjoyably generous dose of goosebumps, of course.
There have been some marvellous recitals in the chapel of the Old Royal Naval College but few better than the one showcasing this Trinity Laban graduate and rising star of orchestral percussion. He opened with a scintillatingly fluid version of Paul Smadbeck’s playful Rhythm Song before joining forces with flautist Rebecca Speller to perform the world premiere of Richard Prince’s Petite Suite for the two instruments. It was a delight. But the highlight of the occasion for me was Fynn’s solo rendition of Bach’s Partita No2 in D minor, which was written for the violin and is considered one of the master’s most technically difficult works. The combination of German baroque and a sound with its roots in west Africa would have been pretty astonishing under any circumstance but Fynn’s prodigious skill, particularly in the finger-blurringly fast giga movement, rendered it truly extraordinary. His is unquestionably a name to watch.
The high point of a recital by the Trinity Laban Saxophone Choir at St Alfege in Greenwich today was the guest appearance of French virtuoso Laran, who first enchanted us with a magical rendition of Andy Scott’s haunting Fujiko before leaving us entranced with his take on Jun Nagao’s Paganini Lost, a dazzling chamber composition for two altos and piano which he conjured up with Trinity sax professor Gerard McChrystal and accompanist Leo Nicholson. It was a real joy. He finished his slot by joining the choir for a marvellous version of Michael Nyman’s Time Lapse, written for the 1985 Peter Greenaway arthouse film A Zed And Two Noughts. You couldn’t have asked for more different styles – and each was a beauty.
It seems almost incredible that the last collective exhibition in London devoted to this postwar school was at what is now Tate Britain in 1959. Few painters can have had such a profound influence on contemporary art as this US school. And some of them – in particular Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Willem de Kooning – have already rightly taken their place in the pantheon of the masters. It’s apt that this fabulous retrospective of their work at the Royal Academy should have Pollock at its core: his genius shines through despite so many of his creations being so well known. But there are wonderful surprises in the rooms that orbit his work, none more so than the works of his widow Lee Krasner who unforgettably mirrors his style without ever mimicking it. And take a long look at the apparently black paintings of Ad Reinhardt – whole worlds of design and colour eventually reveal themselves in the darkness. The exhibition runs till January 2.
Fifteen fine concerts over three days made this a must-see event – and two of the events were exceptional. Blondel is made up of Emily Baines, Elizabeth Gutteridge, Belinda Paul and Arngeir Hauksson who are prodigiously skilled players of such wonderful instruments as shawms, recorders, bagpipes, gittern, fiddle and drum. They gave us a programme of songs from the age of Henry V which were interspersed by actor Anthony Taylor reading Agincourt references from the works of Shakespeare, Holinshed and Esmond King. It was magnificently done. The European Union Baroque Orchestra closed this year’s festival with works by Handel, Galliard, Babell, Sammartini and Geminiani. The concert also featured a heartfelt pro-European speech by its Danish director Lars Ulrik Mortensen – which won a rousing ovation from the largely pension-aged audience.
The National Portrait Gallery has brought together a fabulous cross-section of the Spaniard’s likenesses of his family, friends and idols which range across most of the 20th century. They begin with early, loosely traditional studies in oil, such as the extraordinary Bibi-la-Puree from 1901, take in his transition from figurative art to cubism (see the neighbouring portraits of Fernande Olivier), feature marvellous drawings (Stravinsky, 1917), pay tribute to old masters such as Rembrandt and Velazquez, flirt with comic caricatures – the porno take on Raphael is particularly good – and include, of course, wonderfully intimate pictures of his wives, lovers and children. If you have ever doubted Picasso’s genius, this exhibition will put you right. It runs till February 5, so no excuse to miss out.
Peter Shaffer’s masterful play about perhaps the greatest classical composer of them all has at its core one of the modern stage’s finest villains, Antonio Salieri. He is played by Lucian Msamati in Michael Longhurst’s new version at the National Theatre – and it’s one of the most sensational performances to grace London in recent years, swinging wildly from murderous jealousy to self-destructive guilt by way of raging against God, yet always retaining a credible humanity. I was less keen on Adam Gillen’s posturing as the titular genius but Msamati’s turn and the brilliant decision to have the Southbank Sinfonia play Mozart’s sublime music live on stage more than compensates for any shortcomings. Indeed, those two elements alone make this a stunning theatrical experience.
Our greatest landscape painter of the past century finally gets his just deserts from Tate Britain with this comprehensive exhibition. Most people know his astonishing world war paintings – The Menin Road from the first and Totes Meer from the second – but the show goes on to reveal how his horrifying experiences in the trenches on the Western Front in 1917 coloured his perception for the rest of his life and inspired some of the most memorable evocations of our countryside ever created. For example, the geometry of The Rye Marshes mirrors WW1 zigzag trenches while his painting of the sea-defences at Dymchurch makes them look like impregnable gun emplacements; yet in both cases the lonely beauty of the scenes remains absolute and unsullied. Less convincing are his experiments in surrealism.But don’t be put off by what is a mere quibble, for this is one of the best exhibitions currently running in London.