If you want to find out exactly why the Spaniard is considered to be art’s greatest genius of the 20th century, go to the Gargosian Gallery in Mayfair’s Grosvenor Hill, which is staging a stunning exhibition of his work under the title Minotaurs & Matadors, turn right from the lobby into a room devoted to the corrida and examine a series of 11 drawings of bulls on the left-hand wall. The sequence, completed in six weeks over Christmas 1945, begins with a busy, rather traditional image of a bull. Then slowly the delineations are withdrawn until by Work No11 the huge animal is rendered with fewer than a dozen strokes. Yet this minimalist outline, almost a logo for Picasso, captures, even underscores, the essential power of a creature that plays such a symbolic role in the human psyche in a way that the traditional drawing cannot. It also connects with the Cro Magnon cave-drawings of giant aurochs, bringing Man’s eternal search for cultural and spiritual meaning full circle. The works are on display until the end of August, so no excuse to miss out. The rest of the exhibition, curated by Picasso’s friend and biographer John Richardson, is pretty bloody marvellous too.
Classical music is often perceived as a serious business but there’s no reason that it can’t be fun too, as the likes of Victor Borge and, more recently, thanks to his orchestral guide stage show, Bill Bailey have shown. The Galliard wind quintet share that same combination of brilliant musicianship, breezy humour and great communication, a winning combination to which they gave full rein at a free lunchtime concert at St Alfege in Greenwich. Their take on Berio’s hilarious but complex Opus Number Zoo was masterly, with flautist Kathryn Thomas, oboist Owen Dennis, clarinettist Katherine Spencer, horn player Richard Bayliss and bassoonist Helen Storey showing a remarkable talent for interjecting half-spoken, half-sung words into what were already challenging musical parts. Their performance rightly brought the house down. Two days later at the same venue, Musicke In The Ayre, an evolving ensemble of singers and instrumentalists centred on lutenist Din Ghani, played a wondrous recital of 17th century songs from the pen of Thomas Campion, who was born 450 years ago and was a contemporary of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson.
Music-lovers revere Campion for his melodies, wordsmiths for his poetry. But as this recital showed, he had a genius for both, a gift underlined through the playing of Ghani and bass viol virtuoso Esha Neogy and the soprano voices of Trinity Laban alumni Alysha Paterson and Timea Gazdag. The highlights of the concert for me were when the two sopranos sang duets such as the gorgeous There Is A Garden and Tune Thy Music To Thy Hart. But it was all a delight – and it proved yet again what an important cultural hub St Alfege is for Greenwich are its environs.
A 6ft tall rosewood and silver contrabass clarinet that plays notes so low in pitch you’d be forgiven for thinking an earthquake was revving up to lay waste a city was at the centre of a new composition, Chamber Symphony by rising star Scott Lygate, which was given its world premiere by this brilliantly named group of musicians at Blackheath Halls. Lygate, himself a contrabass virtuoso, scored the three-movement piece for 12 instruments which covered almost the whole range of sounds the human ear can detect, from the rumbling depths of the giant clarinet to the vertiginous heights scaled by the piccolo. It was a joy to listen to, shapeshifting from the quiet beauty of the two violins, viola, cello and double bass taking turns to play a gorgeous lilting leitmotif to a jaunty, raucous sort of roundelay between the contrabass clarinet and a bassoon. The premiere took up the second half of a magnificent concert, conducted by Aaron Holloway-Nahum, that included Augusta Read Thomas’s jazz-tinged Capricious Angels, Jonathan Harvey’s gloriously eclectic Jubilus – which featured dazzling viola soloing by Stephen Upshaw – and Helga Arias Parra’s Incipit, a lovely work inspired by Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.