Mike Vickers' Blog

November 29, 2016

An Impression of St Petersburg

Filed under: Europe, Music, St Petersburg, Travel, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:07 pm

The immediate impression on driving from the airport to the city centre is how many shop signs you recognise. This is buoyed up as soon as you start to walk round the centre; you might have confused St Petersburg for any Western City. On flying out you are required to go through the usual array of booths selling perfume, biscuits and booze.

But of course St Petersburg is not only a western city; it is a living museum to a great Russian Past; first established when Peter The Great wished for a seaport on the Baltic from where he could attach the then Swedish Empire which had plagued the North Western Russian Baltic coast. Peter also was an avid travel within Europe and wished to ‘westernise’ Russia. He built the city and then required his state officials to move from Moscow. Which of course they did, after all Peter was a Tsar, but moving into the outback was unthinkable; they brought their mansions with them and so you have the magnificent heritage which is St Petersburg. Of course St Petersburg was not built in a day; St Petersburg was taken forward by Catherine the Great, who had married a grandson of Peter and looks to have usurped the throne from him. You can find much more about St Petersburg on Wiki including the transfer of power from the Romanovs to the short lived Democratic Government to the Bolsheviks.

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Short-lived Democratic Government

Short-lived Democratic Government

Catherine The Great

Catherine The Great

But one point worth bring up is that the area occupied by St Petersburg was a swamp, cut into two by the Neva River, a great wide navigable river; the swampland was drained by canals and these together make a splendid feature of walking around the city; the canals and palazzi reminder one of Venice though all a lot colder.

Neva River

Neva River

Canals

Canals

To the glamour buildings and there plenty of them:

The Hermitage – a truly enormous set of rooms spread over three buildings: The Winter Palace, the Little Hermitage and the Large Hermitage, all sumptuously furnished that the guide books says will take three days to do justice to. We spent just 1/2 day

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The Clockwork Peacock

The Clockwork Peacock

The General Service Building across the Palace Square– now an art gallery containing art from the world over: more Rembrandts than the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, more French Impressionists and Post Impressionists than Pompidou Centre in Paris

The Palace Square

The Palace Square

The General Service BuildingThe General Service Building

 

 

The Church of the Spilt Blood – plastered from doom to floor in mosaics – no longer a Greek Orthodox Church, but the church is excellently preserved.

The Church of The Spilt Blood

The Church of The Spilt Blood

 A Church Tower Dome

A Church Tower Dome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marble Palace – Marble Rooms with immaculate parquet  and mosaics floors and near the top the most modern of modern art.

A Mosaic Floor

A Mosaic Floor

Just One of the other Churches

Just One of the other Churches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Russian Museum

The Russian Museum

The Citizens

The Citizens

A Sculpture

A Sculpture

The Russian Museum – set to rival the British Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

All well attended but we were there on a public holiday weekend – Celebration of The October Revolution and it seems clear to me that Russians are proud of their history; history even prior to the Communist Revolution. On The Peter and Paul Fortress, an island in the Neva River near the city centre is the Peter and Paul Cathedral where all the Tsars are buried; even Nicholas 2 who was assassinated by the Bolsheviks: he and this family were exhumed from their grave at Ekaterinburg.

Peter and Paul's Cathedral

Peter and Paul’s Cathedral

 

But to us, as splendidly glamorous as the main buildings are we were as interested to the Museum of Politics: it provides a history of the period up to the Communist revolution and from then up to the passing of power to Putin on January 2000. Yes, the displays do contain some propaganda but not all ‘sunny side up’. And this to me was a feature of St Petersburg itself striving to be a western city, but glorying in its Tsarist past and little sign of overarching or even any Government power. Yes, you do go through careful passport control at the airport but even that scrutiny is exercised more in acquiring a passport in the Edinburgh Visa office in Edinburgh. BTW if you do want to go to St Petersburg (other than on a cruise ship) you do need a visa and the easiest way to get one is to have your St Petersburg hotel to invite you with dates of residence.

Two of the Tomes the Czars

Two of the Tombs of the Czars

To other things:

The available music is great.

First night to see Puccini’s Tosca – as well a dressed performance as you would get anywhere in a western opera house and at less money.

The Opera House

The Opera House and Royal Box

A string concert in one of the rooms in the Large Hermitage – you need to get there early as the seats are unmarked and it is difficult to find the entrance – not the main one. One of the caretakers was very helpful in telling us the way

And finally the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra: three pieces finishing with Schubert’s Great C Major played with all the gusto of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 to the delight of the audience.

Just a couple more comments

  • Eating is cheap – we were set up when we found the Market Place – packed with students and great food
  • A café in the main street Nevsky Prospect which is up to any café in Vienna

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

  • Alexander Nevsky – the Russian hero who’s relics are buried in St Petersburg
  • The Singer Building – used to make sowing machine but now a book shop – that took me back what Foyles used thirty years ago before its splendid face lift
  • Pushka Inn where we stayed. Staff speak impeccable English – but so do most Russians who have anything to do with the tourists: English is the lingua franca – will it remain so after Brexit and Trump?

    Our hotel was on the right

    Our hotel was on the right

  • Is there any effect of Western Financial Clampdown.  Well some of the arcades are half finished but that could have started before the clampdown.

In Summary St Petersburg is an excellent place to visit even in November with an outside temperature of around -1 C in the daytime and a lot cold in the evening with winds blowing around the canals!

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July 22, 2016

Two weeks in The Western Isles – Barra to the Butt

Filed under: Land Ownership, Lesley Riddoch, Linda Norgrove, Music, Painting, Scotland, Travel — derryvickers @ 7:30 pm

Barra

  • Wind, Sea and Vatersay seasky
    • New road across from Barra. But there in LR’s time
      • EU supported
  • Kisimil castle – right in the middle of Castlebay
    • Get there by boat
    • Lovely restored wee castle of the MacNeils Kilmil
  • Kisimil restaurant
    • Not to be missed – need to book
  • Weather had been bad on first day and in the North saw three Twin Otters land within the hour the next

 

South Uist

  • Ceolas at Dalburgh –
  • Music Summer school
  • http://www.ceolas.co.uk/summer/
  • Ceilidh
  • Two young accordionists
  • Patsy Reid- excellent Scottish Fiddle Player
    • Did not play much at the evening we attended but she may have continued later
    • Tutor in Fiddle
  • Step dancing – people just got up one by one and danced
  • Mountains all down the East Coast
  • Machair on the West
    • glorious flower drenched in the sun
    • machair

 

North Uist

  • Balranald RSPB reserve
    • Otters but we never saw it
    • Oystercatchers in profusion, ringed plovers, dunlins
  • BB with Jac
    • Excellent house
      • Got the sun room
    • Artist – colourful landscapes
    • Views from our window great
    • Not easy to find restaurant
  • Chambered Cairn cairn
    • Unfortunately entrance recently blocked
  • Trinity Temple
    • Believed to be oldest university in Britain
    • Dun Scotus University

South Harris

  • Golden Road
    • Built in 1937 – so called as so costly to build
      • Must have been recently rebuilt
    • Harris Tweed shops and museum
    • Community café – excellent
  • Coffin Road
    • Ground too hard to bury dead in East
    • More likely because people wished to bury their dead in the cemeteries of ancestors, which were on west
      • People evicted from Seilebost in west to stony, poor ground in the east
    • Excellent walk over bealach
      • resurfaced
  • Scalpay
    • New bridge opened by Tony Blair
    • Fish restaurant – quality fish at a price – locally caught
    • No lack of small boats in small harbours with small jetties
      • Run by Community
        • A general situation in the Outer Isles
  • More Harris
    • One eagle observed from Eagle Observatory
    • Sight of St Kilda from Huishinish – Far West
    • Luckentyre – lovely beach but two cemeteries
    • North Harris Community buy out
    • Harris is very mountainous
      •  All over

Lewis

    • Lewis is flat
    • Old Village at the end of the road, Orasaigh OldVillage
    • Ravenspoint museum
      • Unbelievable collection of old documents and photos off South Lewis
    • Callanish – stones fabulous
      • Callanish 1 2 3 etc
    • Black houses occupied till 1940
    • Harris tweed made largely in Lewis
      • Calloway loom – Hattersley 60 inch now out of production
        • Complex to set up
        • To be classed as Harris tweed it must be woven at home Hattersley
      • Norman Mackenzie
      • Isle of Berneray
      • Good walk
      • Iron Age House
    • Uig
      • Mangersta
      • Restaurant
      • Glen Bhaltois – geology
    • Butt of Lewis
      • Birds
        • Gannets diving, fulmars nesting, kittiwakes, shags fishing and nesting, terns, ravens
        • Fulmars unbelievable fliers when close to cliffs
      • Lighthouse TheButtLight
      • St Moluag’s Church ButtChurch
      • Crofts not being crofted
    • Pol’s Pantry
      • Excellent food
        • Chef saved a buzzard caught in barred wire Buzzard

General

    • Roads of good quality and surface
    • Communities very much on the move
    • Plant trees, protect them and they grow
    • Difficulty of cash machines – then we find them in Post Offices but they close at 5pm
    • Great that CalMac kept the Western Isles Ferry contract
    • For a better travelogue with people read Lesley Riddoch – On the Outer Hebrides

February 28, 2016

Western Civilisation and why we need to remain part of it

Filed under: economics, Europe, History in the making, Music, Painting, Politics, War — derryvickers @ 9:01 pm

Cameron’s deal with Brussels despite Martin Kettle writing in the Guardian was ‘Much Ado about Nothing’

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/05/david-cameron-eu-deal-brussels-media-reaction

Is the deal anyway legally binding – I don’t know – I’m not a constitutional lawyer. In any case like all laws they can be rescinded. I have no doubt that if the EU Referendum result is for Out then the new Tory incumbent of Number 10 would quickly rescind any such laws; indeed she would be commitment bound to Brexit.

By the real question is why are we in Europe anyway and the same question applies equally why is Scotland in the UK. Despite what one might think from the media, Scotland voted to join England to create the UK by the Act of Union; one could argue that some duress was brought to bear but nevertheless the Union was voted through, through the then Scottish Parliament. There is duress in most unions; but the UK joining Europe was not one of them. The UK applied three times to join the then EEC and succeeded on the third attempt under the Tory PM Edward Heath – no duress here.

Looking back to the end of WW2

‘The European Economic Community (EEC) was created against the backdrop of post World War II Europe, with the aim of never again allowing human rights atrocities such as those committed by Germany.  Three Communities were founded in the 1950s: the Coal and Steel Community, the Atomic Energy Community and the Economic Community, with their own law-making institutions and flag.’

One of the drivers to setting up the EEC was Churchill who was also an instigator of the European Court of Human Rights.

We cannot aim at anything less than the Union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that Union will be achieved.’

OK Churchill was a somewhat left of centre Tory but a Tory no doubt.

And to me both the EU as successor to the EEC along with the European Court are rightful products of us as members of Western Civilisation.

Yes European Wars have been going on for 3 millennia, ever since Athens established the ground work for Western Civilisation, but since the EEC was set up there have, with the exception of the Bosnian wars, been no wars since – a real plus. I am not suggesting that should the UK Brexit we will automatically launch a war with our European neighbours; and I have little doubt that should another war take place in Europe we will go to the aid of one side. But why risk it.

An enduring memory, for me, was when lessons were stopped in my primary school days to listen to the war reporters provide on-line commentaries from the D Day landings. I prefer not to sit and listen to such reporting of this nature in my lifetime.

The EU if far from perfect; it does worry about setting up trivia rather than taking the high road; but whose fault is it that Brussels avoids the high road; certainly the UK objects to anything that smacks of central policy and direction. One of Cameron’s agreements,               that he considered key, was ’ever closer union’ is about trust and understanding, not political integration.

If ever there was a need for direction by the EU it is now with immigrants seeking asylum from the Middle East and Afghanistan, with a well structured fiscal policy rightly or wrongly based on the euro; a far better understand between Europe north and south and a mature and workable foreign policy not only with respect to Russia but with the Far East and with the US.  Why is the US pressing hard to keep the UK in Europe? It is hardly for financial reasons, for all its financial problem the US economy is far larger and stronger than the UK’s or for that matter Europe as a whole.

The UK boasts of its strong financial position with respect to Europe but ‘come the revolution’ that would evaporate; the UK has no fall back on manufacturing compared with the other states of Europe; Germany of course but France and Italy also. But it’s not the economy stupid it’s that the UK is integral to Europe, we play their music, act their plays and appreciate their art; and so does the US. The US is as bound to Europe is as the UK is; after all the US expelled its indigenous peoples and peopled it with Spanish, French, English and Scots. If the UK left Europe the US would lose its interlocutor with Europe and that’s why Obama seems so worried with a UK Out. The Marshall Plan wasn’t wholly altruistic.

Clearly the UK could exist outside the EU just as Scotland could exist outside the UK. The UK would continue to trade with the rest of the world but the UK is a minnow compared with the US and China and increasingly India. But that is not the point, for good or ill and I believe because that’s where I was brought up, for good, we are part of the Western World; a world which largely recognises and abides by Human Rights and whose governments generally act civilly towards its citizens, and I would be loathed to be outside its main stream culturally and morally.

PS I believe in local government, which is missing in Scotland, but I see no contradictions in local government being within the umbrella of a regional council which is within Scottish/ UK Government which in turn is within the umbrella of a Europeans Commission responsible to the European Parliament.

February 25, 2016

Our place in Europe

Filed under: Europe, Music, Scotland — derryvickers @ 3:57 pm

Last night we saw, in Edinburgh, Ariodante an opera by Handel a German with a libretto by Ariosto an Italian, produced by Scottish Opera with a Scottish Conductor, a heroine, Sarah Tynan, from London and only the hero, Caitlin Hulcup, from outside Europe, Australia.

And we are asked to vote on leaving the Europe in June. Civilisation as we know it has borne in Europe; whether in Athens or at Skara Brae(that’s in Orkney) it is our heritage and one doesn’t give that up easily.

By the way the production of Ariodante was excellent.

December 5, 2015

It’s been a great week for Scottish Music

Filed under: Music, Personal, Sally Beamish, Scotland, World Class — derryvickers @ 7:31 am

NOISE (New Opera in Scotland Events) – not a very inspiring name for an opera company but last night at the Queens Hall they put on Hirda – wreckage / mess in Shetland dialect.  Certainly not a mess in an Opera – a performance that will live on in our memory .  You can read more at

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/29/hirda-review-noise-opera

But the story to me was past and present brought together in Shetland, the newly married couple and the prodigal brother and moderating sister with the background of a distant love affair where the ghost of woman left in Shetland by her whaler lover can’t rest till she finds her lost mitten.  And it all comes to an end on the moor with the newly wed wife almost on the point of death next the corpse of the women in a splendour of singing by all six of the cast (I need to cast my mind back to the finale of Rosenkavalier for an equivalent).

Music by fiddler maestro Chris Scott (last seen in a glorious concerto by Sally Beamish with Catriona McKay Scottish Harp) and Gareth Williams and libretto Sian Evans.  I just hope that the opera gets south of the border to show the sophisticated Londoners what Scotland can produce.  At least the review was by the Guardian so may be some small hope.

 

On Monday it was Red Notes – Noisy Notes (Noise again) with their excellent musicians playing music composed by young musicians, each piece being no more than 5 – 10 minutes in length.  Often in The Traverse but this night in an old Anatomy Theatre for vets – the theatre is small in the round and gives wonderful visibility of the players – no more than three or four players usually with a conductor John Harris conducting with what looked like a red ball point.  The session is usually split into two halves with space for the audience to come up in 10 minutes with an off the cuff piece.  This time it was no surprise that Sally Beamish in audience won the prize for the best piece but she did squeeze a couple of extra minutes before her score was prised away from her.

Anyway below is the team except the flutist was replaced by an Australian Accordionist who in one piece was almost a show on his own

RedNote

 

November 15, 2015

Operas and Vienna

Filed under: Music, Painting, Personal, World Class — derryvickers @ 9:40 pm

Four operas in the last 10 days: Carmen at the Festival Theatre by Scottish Opera, The Choir at the Glasgow Citizens, Cosi fan Tutte also by the Scottish Opera with a touring version around Scotland this time at the local Academy and lastly La Boheme at the Staatsoper in Vienna. All very familiar except for The Choir – a amateur choir who come together – fall out over the programme and eventually make up again – very joyous!

But to the Staatsoper – we were in a loge near the back but could see very well. The set was by Franco Zeffirelli so quite dated and the second act was with a cast of thousands on two levels. My wife didn’t rate the singing much up on the Scottish Opera. But we really went for the experience.

We also went to the Musikverein again for the sheer experience of being there – also in a loge but immediately above the orchestra with somewhat limited visibility of the orchestra – but it didn’t matter. It was an all-Beethoven night; Leonora 2, Symphony 2 and Symphony 5 conducted by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil. The performance, particularly the 5th, brought the House down but then its Beethoven in his adopted home town

As to Vienna, it was excellent, sunny with temperatures around 15 – 20. As my hearing aid consultant said before we went – Vienna oozes with Empire and he’s right – Vienna has come to grips with the fact it lost its empire and looks sumptuous in consequence – it’s a pity that London can’t recognise its loss of empire and settle down to be more like Vienna.
Another feature of Vienna is the almost absence of sky scrapers – and very good too.

We did the main sites; the Belvedere, the Hofburg and two contemporary art museums, the MUMOK (truly modern) and the Leopold and walked around the centre within the Ringstrasse – really quite small. I also went to the Albertine to see an exhibition of Munch woodcuts and lithographics – very good if you like Munch – which I do. But Vienna is dominated by Klimt – everywhere you go – even in our hotel room – I’m not a great fan and after so much in Vienna even less so – but in contrast Schiele is much less familiar to UK art goers but so much more interesting – the Leopold had a whole floor to him. But what was also interesting is that there are whole gamut of Austrian and German painters I have never before come across who are clearly very good.

February 22, 2015

Scottish Ensemble – Queens Hall – 21 February 2015

Filed under: Music, Scotland — derryvickers @ 11:15 pm

The Scottish Ensemble is always great – as they say Re-defining the String Orchestra

They are led by the music director and lead player on the violin – Jonathan Morton.

4 1st Violins, 4 2nd Violins, 2 Violas, 2 (but this time 3) Cellos and one Double Bass.

A interesting feature is that the violins and violas stand while playing.

This performance was titled Sax Serenade with the saxophone played by Amy Dickson – an Australian now living in London –Ms Dickson is going and will go a long way.

The first piece was by Glazunov – Saxophone Concerto and Amy Dickson played wonderfully – it stuck me that the saxophone can play the sweetest of sounds; I’m all too familiar with the sax of the jazz club.

The second piece was Chamber Symphony in C minor by Shostakovich – a good piece with spiky intermissions.

And back to the sax – this time a Soprano Saxophone with a piece by a Georgian Giya Kancheli – Night Prayers – starting very quietly but reaching a crescendo before subsiding with treble tape accompaniment at the start and end. This piece I understand was discovered by Amy Dickson – always looking for classical pieces for her instruments

Finally Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings – an easy flowing piece with a very well-known 2nd movement. Great cello solo bits by Alison Lawrance. All reminding me of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings until I remembered that Tchaikovsky came first!

The real pity is now that we have to wait till the autumn before we can hear them again.

For snippets of the Scottish Ensemble in action watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZqCkGB3_yc

Or more specifically Seavaigers composed recently by Sally Beamish

August 25, 2014

Marvellous music composed in extreme adversity

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, Music, Personal, War, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:04 pm

Away from the politics – well not the usual politics.

Today at the Edinburgh Festival it was Sofie Von Otter and ‘friends’ as they now say, at the Queens Hall.  One friend was Daniel Hope, violinist, born in South Africa and brought up in Britain (I have to be careful at this time whether I say Britain or the UK).

Anyway the concert was superb.  All the music was written by Jews interned in Theresienstadt (Bohemia) .  None of them survived – all sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.  It’s amazing how their music survived – one lady, llse Weber,  buried hers in the ground – how much more didn’t survive.  Mixture of sad, traumatic, thoughtful and even a few comic songs.  A flourishing, outpouring of music under unbelievable adversity.  The only composer I had come across before was Pavel Haas – but what about Robert Dauber, Viktor Ullman, Karel Svenk, Martin Roman, Erwin Schulhoff, Carlo Sigmund Taube.

Von Otter sang well and could let it rip when the songs demanded but this was seldom.  But to me it was the violin of Hope that brought the tears to my eyes –Schulhoff’s Violin Sonata No2 and his Sonata for solo violin were stupendous.

A concert to remember.

It is a complete paradox to me how the Israeli government can wage such war against Gaza, after they suffered so much in WW2.  May be its just continued insecurity

August 14, 2013

Good Music – Edinburgh Festival

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, Music, Personal — derryvickers @ 7:00 pm

Last evening the concert was Patti Smith and Philip Glass celebrating the work of the poet Allen Ginsberg; the concert the concert was outstanding, the audience overwhelmed.  Folk/pop concerts are new to me.  Today I was much more in my normal environment at the Queens Hall. It was a group playing woodwind, string, piano and song. By Mozart, Schubert, Glinka and Brahms.  I particularly enjoyed the Schubert, the Shepherd on the Rock; there is no one better at writing music for poetry in the classical repertoire than Schubert.  The group was fronted by the clarinettist and the pianist. The group were mainly Australian. The clarinettist who played in all the pieces was Nicola Boud as did the pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout. Nicola Boud obviously delights in the clarinet and is reputed to have 30 different instruments varying instruments of from Mozart’s time up to the present. See her YouTube

You can hear today’s performance on the pod provided by BBC Radio Three: it will be available for the next week.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0385569

Why do I like the Queens Hall, it’s partly because I’m close to the players, it’s also partly because I am deaf and the groups that play are small and you can hear the each individual quite clearly. And of course the music comes directly to you, so different from either the TV or radio.

But back to my initial comment on “ normal environment”; is today’s concert  really that different from last evenings concert with Patti Smith and Philip Glass. Okay people would say that one is classical, the other approaches folk.  Today and last night I was watching and listening to groups playing, singing and making good music including poetry. In both cases the atmosphere was intimate and a Patti Smith said earlier in the day, it’s not just the players but it’s the audience as well who have to be partners in the performance.

July 7, 2013

East Neuk – The Johns, Lister-Kaye and Adams

Filed under: Literature, Music — derryvickers @ 7:09 am

The East Neuk Festival – that’s at the east end of Fife.

It’s a weeklong event but to yesterday Sunday – probably the hottest day this summer (and likely to stay that way)

Held at Cambo  a late Victorian estate.  Just three events: the first a nature literary talk by a famous guy who I admit I had never heard of till today –John Lister-Kaye.  A great reader – many from his own work but non-the worse for that.  His thesis is that there are few literary writers in the UK – a genre mainly taken over by the Americans (he did not mention but I can’t help giving a plug for Stephen Jay Gould).  I not in a position to dispute this – the only one I am familiar with is Gilbert White – the History of Selborne – a classic of its time  – some odd bits when White assumed the conventional wisdom that swallows hibernate over winter here. Giving his thoughts  Lister-Kaye was passionate that we are part of nature – not outside of it and he railed against ‘Growth’.

The second event was percussion music by John Adams –- Inuksuit – held in the magnificent walled garden – the players (25 in all) were distributed with their percussion instruments throughout the garden

The final was again John Adams – songbirdsongs – just two flutes and 3 percussions – again distributed around a large barn – and again only a few seats for the elderly and the rest of us just strolled around the players as we felt like it – just watching them play – interesting to read thie scores – just scraps of notes and notes on what Adams expects.

You either like Adams or you don’t – we do – it grows on you.

GeneralViewPICT0105med

Waiting to play PICT0108med

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