:: John Potter & Ariel Abramovich


Alternative History

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Winestead

The final performances of Gavin Bryars’  Winestead in the New Music Biennial took place at London’s Festival Hall. It’s been great to spend so much time with one piece (and it’s a beautiful piece) and I hope there will be many more to come. The film, which like all films involving classical singing has too many shots of the inside of my throat, is available on YouTube. It was done in one take (very cleverly) on the afternoon of the first performance in Winestead church.

 Dowland to Sting in Catalunya

I’m soon off to Catalunya with Ariel Abramovich for three recitals in the Festival de Música Antiga dels Pirineus (FEMAP). where hopefully the weather will be a bit better than at our recent photo shoot.

The programme will be a mixture of Dowland and Campion with some Tony Banks, Sting and one of Jacob Heringman’s beautiful new Peter Pope intabulations. The first is in the Monestir de Sant Llorenç in Guardiola de Berguedà on July 28 at 22.00. The next day we go to Ordino in Andorra, where we’ll perform at the Museu d’Areny-Plandolit (20.00 start) and then on to the Refugi de l’Estany Gento in La Torre de Capdella on the 30th. As far as I can see this is a hut in the mountains, so it should be an intimate occasion. It starts at 6.00, presumably to allow time to climb back down the mountain for dinner.

Vibrato in the Proms

A few weeks ago I took part in a round table discussion about vibrato for Radio 3 with Peyee Chen, Helena Daffern, Janice Kelly and Richard Bethell.  Interestingly York-orientated – three of us were/are connected with the Music Department (and Richard Bethell gave a paper at the NEMA conference). We rabbited on for ages and the final 21 minute cut will be broadcast during the prom interval on August 6th. Not sure what Moussorgsky fans will make of it (my chosen example was June Tabor’s Finisterre).

Alternative History

 

 

ECM will release the new CD on August 25 worldwide.  I always pre-order a copy of my own albums on Amazon so that I can check it’s actually for real, but at £25+ I think that would be a bit silly (and they can’t spell Josquin…). You can get it from Amazon.de for 18.99 euros or from the US site for roughly the same in dollars. This is actually the first album I recorded with Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman, and it’s the first purely ‘early music’ album I’ve done for ECM since Hilliard Ensemble days (we went on to record Amores Pasados which was then released first). It’s by no means conventional early music though, with motets and a mass in new versions for two voices and two vihuelas (with two teams of vihuelists: Ariel and Jacob for Victoria, and  Ariel with Lee Santana for Josquin). It’s called Secret History because although cannibalising ‘acapella’ polyphony and performing it in this way was typical of the 17th century, the  modern early music movement has generally focused on the first pristine incarnation of the music rather than what musicians subsequently did with it (the real history which is too often ignored).  We’ve been inspired by later sources – in this case the English 17th century Paston ms which has both Josquin and Victoria side by side (though not pieces we do on the album). A little late in the day the four of us have decided to name our whole project Alternative History. The Dowland Project didn’t have a name until its second release, so we’re going a bit further with only half the name on our second one.  A while back I did an interview with Jazz Views which puts it all in  context (though it pre-dates the name). Our first concerts under the new name will be in Poland and Portugal later this year, and we’ll tweet about them nearer the time.  We’ll also be using the name for any permutation of the four of us when we’re doing programmes informed by these ideas. Jake and Ariel have recently released Cifras Imaginarias (on Arcana), an album of 2-vihuela intabulations which works in a similar way, and the three of us are working on a Morales project for next year.

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September is busy, and will include a Conductus concert with Rogers Covey-Crump and Christopher O’Gorman, a gig with Serikon at the Luther conference in Uppsala, a recital with Jacob Heringman at our course in Benslow, and the first Mare Balticum events with Cecilia Frode in Sweden. I’ll update the diary properly in a bit.

photos Guy Carpenter

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Gavin Bryars and Winestead

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Yesterday’s event at Winestead was an extraordinary occasion. We did two performances of Gavin Bryars’ eponymous piece, having spent most of the day filming it as part of the Hull City of Culture project. The rector of St Germain’s church between 1614 and 1624 was Andrew Marvell, and it was there that he christened his son Andrew, who grew up to be the metaphysical poet. Gavin Bryars set lines from several Marvell poems which reflect the mysterious landscape of Holderness, and we performed them to an audience that included descendants of the poet himself. The evening was hosted by Nick Hillyard, himself a descendant of Nicholas Hilliard. The church is still lit only by candlelight, and once we had said goodbye to the elaborate film machinery, Marvell’s verses soared over Gavin’s music into the air that first welcomed them four centuries ago.

The film is being shown  at 7, Whitefriargate, Hull on Friday 30th June 5pm-8pm, Saturday 1st July 10am-7pm and Sunday 2nd July 12noon-7pm (admission free). We’ll be performing the piece again at the Albemarle Music Centre in Hull on June 30th (8.00 start, and also free) and it will be recorded and broadcast on Radio 3’s New Music Biennial slot the following evening. We then do it again at London’s Festival Hall on July 8th (3.00 start nb – also free admission with ticket).

 

Dowland to Sting in Catalunya

 

Ariel Abramovich and I are doing three recitals for FEMAP (Festival de Música Antiga dels Pirineus) in July. The programme will be a mixture of Dowland and Campion with some Tony Banks, Sting and one of Jacob Heringman’s beautiful new Peter Pope intabulations. The first is in the Monestir de Sant Llorenç in Guardiola de Berguedà on July 28 at 22.00.

 

Image result for Monestir de Sant Llorenç de Guardiola de Berguedà

 

The next day we go to Ordino in Andorra, where we’ll perform at the Museu d’Areny-Plandolit (20.00 start).

 

 

Finally we’re at the Refugi de l’Estany Gento in La Torre de Capdella on the 30th. As far as I can see this is a hut in the mountains, so it should be an intimate occasion. It starts at 6.00, presumably to allow time to climb back down the mountain for dinner.

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I’m taking August off before a very busy September hits. I’ll post updates about the release of Secret History (due end of August), and also of plans for the future of my project with Anna, Jake and Ariel. We’ve finally (a bit late)… settled on a name: Alternative History. It won’t appear on Secret History (well, half of it will…) but we’ll use it in future when any permutation of the four of us does music that reflects our take on Amores-Pasados-type-early-music-related-performance. More anon.

 

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Buenos Aires to Blackburn

Friday, September 30th, 2016

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Ex-Hilliard Ensemble

October’s concerts start with a trip down memory lane with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues. On Wednesday  5th we’re taking part in a charity concert in St Paul’s Covent Garden. The plan is to sell off the group’s remaining stock of albums in aid of  Music For Open Ears which supports classical music in primary schools. We’ll be singing Tallis, Brumel, Dufay and Leonin among other composers. So come along and see if we can still cut it! If we’re still alive and kicking we’ll all be at the Singer Pur 25th anniversary concert at the Prinzregententheater in Munich on March 8th next year.

The Hilliards’ recording of Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick, commissioned for the anniversary tour with us ex-members,  is hot off the press and available from the Lawrence Sterne Trust.

'Alas Poor Yorick' CD by Roger Marsh

and Miserere and Officium are now available on Vinyl! Though the picture accompanying the Officium catalogue entry is a little misleading…

Goodly Ayres in Buenos Aires and Tenerife

 

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At the crack of dawn the next day I set off for Argentina, and a recital with Ariel Abramovich in the fabulous CCK hall in Buenos Aires on the 8th. It’s a programme of Dowland and Campion with one or two surprises thrown in (and will be my first visit there). I then have a week off before meeting up with Ariel again in Tenerife on the 21st (my first visit to the Canaries since playing in a lava tube in Lanzarote with the Dowland Project a while ago). This time we’ll be featuring Johnson’s Shakespeare settings alongside Danyel, Campion, Dowland and Tony Banks at the Festival de Música Antigua La Laguna .

Amores Pasados news

 

 

Then it’s swiftly to Germany via Madrid for Amores Pasados in Murnau at the Grenzenlos world music festival on the 23rd  and  Enjoy Jazz in Heidelberg’s Heiliggeistkirche (above) the following day. We’ll be adding Jacob Heringman’s new transcriptions of Butterworth and the elusive Peter Pope, and having a first rehearsal of John Paul Jones’ Blake Lullaby which he’s just finished for us and which we’ll probably unleash in Madrid or Trieste in March (it’s going to be a busy month). We’ve just agreed to do the Swaledale Festival next June and hope to slot in more UK dates before recording the next album.

Northern Song

I’ll be making my way to Blackburn on the 30th to join my ex-Swingle colleagues Linda Hirst and Catherine Bott on the panel for the Kathleen Ferrier Junior Bursary. I was unable to make the recent Swingle reunions (one of them coincided with the Hilliard reunion gig) and I don’t think the three of us have sat down together in the same room for decades so we’ll have a lot to catch up on as well as listening to some of the brightest young singers of the year. Very appropriate, having started the month raising money for primary school music, to end it hearing what talented first year conservatoire students can do.

 

 

 

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Autumn gigs

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

It’s going to be an interesting autumn with the first Amores Pasados concerts in Germany, and recitals in Argentina and the Canary Islands with Ariel Abramovich. I’ll also be getting together with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues for a grand charity concert at St Paul’s Covent Garden, and Jacob Heringman and I will be doing a lutesong course at Benslow (the first time I’ve been there since the days of Tragicomedia and the Hilliard Festival of Voices eons ago). We hope to encourage participants to think beyond the 30 year window that is English lute song.

Here’s what I’ll be up to in the next two months:

September 10 Blaibach  Kulturwald Festival Amores Pasados

September 19 Benslow Music Hitchin Secret Lute Songs recital with Jacob Heringman

September 20-22 Benslow Music Hitchin lutesong workshop with Jacob Heringman

October 5 London  St Paul’s Covent Garden ex-Hilliard Ensemble charity concert

October 8 CCK Buenos Aires lutesong recital with Ariel Abramovich

October 21 La Laguna (Tenerife) lutesong recital with Ariel Abramovich

October 23 Murnau World Music Festival Amores Pasados

October 24 Heidelberg Enjoy Jazz  Amore Pasados

 

There are no Conductus dates in the diary at the moment, but we have a newly revamped webpage here.

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Cuban reflections

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015


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Our final musical treat was a concert by Portugal’s most celebrated Fado singer Dulce Pontes. I kept wondering why on earth anyone would want to hear a concert of Dowland or Handel when they can hear Dulce and her band. It had charm, emotion, stunning vocal virtuosity, but best of all the charisma of Dulce herself. There was nothing generic about her – she could only have been herself. The audience were ecstatic.

Then we went to a reception at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano. FAC is described in the DK Guide as the latest hip venue in Vedado. In fact it could have been a hipster haunt in London’s East End, bursting with the self-consciously beautiful.  It was another bit of wonderful weirdness. Earlier we’d been talking to Cubans about their life, how they manage on 25 dollars a month, and the punters here surely earned a lot more than that. The social system clearly isn’t perfect, especially when doctors and teachers are leaving their jobs to become taxi drivers or waiters, or small-scale (but relatively high earning) entrepreneurs.  These are professions where convertible currency can be earned, often substantial sums. One of our drivers had two degrees and owned an apartment that he rents out to tourists. He obviously benefits from the more open economy, but he was the first to point out that already there is a western-style class system. You need to be pretty dedicated to be a doctor or a teacher for 25 dollars a month when you can earn the same amount in a morning driving a taxi. There is what we would call poverty, but there are no beggars, no homeless and everyone has an income of sorts. Seeing life in the old city – no big business, no advertisements, no rush, people getting on with life, very relaxed and charming despite not having all that stuff – makes you realise just how materialistic our Western lives are and how raw capitalist values have permeated almost every element of our society. But they permeate Cuban society too – the reception at FAC after Dulce Pontes’ concert seemed to be almost entirely a white middle class affair.  It’s all a bit unfathomable to a foreigner.

We asked about the ending of the US embargo but it was something that didn’t seem to interest Cubans at all.  They have plenty of visitors from Europe and South America and don’t particularly welcome more contact with the USA. There is, of course, the possibility that in time a small number of enterprising neo-capitalists will eventually buy up the state, as happened in Russia and the old East. There’s a sense of inertia somehow – as though nobody thinks anything much will change. Downtown Havana is surely a history lesson in what can happen when the mega-rich lose contact with the daily reality of ordinary people, and they accomplished one revolution pretty well so let’s hope they manage to avoid another one by not repeating the same mistakes. It would certainly take vast investment to restore Havana to its Spanish grandeur but it would be a terrible shame if free education, free medical care and the other state benefits were just swept away.

I brought with me a copy of Real Havana by Mario Rizzi, a Canadian who loves the country and its people and who wants visitors to get beyond the superficial tourist experience. One of his top ten tips is not to let yourself be put off by the many irritations that you’re bound to experience. He also goes into some detail about the scamming of tourists and how to avoid it. It’s good to know when you’re being scammed, though being guests rather than bone fide tourists we tended to just let it happen in case we got someone into trouble. The book turned out to be pretty accurate: we did get charged for non-existent drinks in the mini-bar, we did find that sometimes the menu either wasn’t the printed one it’s supposed to be or that we had to choose the same things from the a la carte menu, just as the book says. But it wasn’t exactly capitalism as we know it and it was a pain threshold easily crossed.

We were also very conscious of our extreme luxury in Vedado once we’d seen street life in the old city. But once you’ve had a day or two of luxury it just becomes ordinary  – a hotel room is in the end just a hotel room. I didn’t actually use the top floor VIP suite at all as it turned out that Ariel and Edin were on the floor below (being mere lutenists…) and so I hung out in the depths with them instead. With one exception: my floor meant that I had a 24 hour free internet pass. Ariel had to pay 5 CUC an hour on the floor below. In other words my pass was worth 120 dollars. We shared it, Cuban fashion.

There were many musical delights during the week, and being part of the festival was a heart-warming thing. We were incredibly well looked after, and meeting Leo and Isabelle Brouwer and seeing what they achieve for ordinary people in the name of music is the kind of thing that makes the heart sing. It was a privilege to be there and I’ll certainly never forget the experience. I have one other enduring Cuban musical memory. I was walking on the shore one morning – it’s volcanic rock and not a beach by any stretch of the imagination, and even in beach shoes it’s tough going – and I saw a man and two women right at the water’s edge with their backs to me. He was playing maracas and chanting, and the women responded with a repeated chorus. The only audience was the sea.

 

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Hilliard Havana tribute

Sunday, October 11th, 2015


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The Hilliard tribute concert by the Cuban Sine Nomine ensemble was amazing. They are a phenomenally gifted group – not remotely like the Hilliards (think more Latin American King’s Singers, if that’s not an oxymoron), but all the more impressive for that. It was very touching that the festival was celebrating both the HE’s 40 years and Arvo Part’s 80th birthday. As I was going to be there anyway, they’d got in touch a few months ago to ask for advice on what pieces to do, and whether it would be OK to do the Morales with trumpet. My only suggestion was not to try and imitate the model but do something that just acknowledged it. The Morales worked well (it’s just a chord sequence so perfect for improvising over) and there was no attempt imitate Jan Garbarek. They also used the trumpet in a Hassler piece that the Hilliards didn’t do but was the kind of piece we might have done.  It worked spectacularly well. The young trumpeter, Yasek Manzano really came into his own in the encore, a fiery version of Joshua fit de battle of Jericho where he could really let rip. It was a wonderful collection of voices – especially the countertenors. Two of them had been winners in the contest earlier in the week, full-on and over the top, and here they were perfect ensemble countertenors. It was an extraordinary transformation and a great tribute to their musicianship and sense of purpose. They’re directed by Maestra Leonor Suarez, who sometimes conducted but mostly left the singers to their own devices. They were usually more than one to a part and were obviously rehearsed to perfection (two of the ways they differed from the Hilliards) but they were perfectly in tune, energetic (they can even dance…), well balanced and blended, and great communicators. It was a privilege to be there, and I’m sure my former colleagues would have loved it too.

 

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Ariel and I spent the afternoon exploring the old city. This was a great adventure. It takes a bit of getting used to as it’s unlike any other city on the planet. There’s no sign of big business, no towering new hotels, no advertisements, no stressed people struggling to get from A to B. It’s the most relaxed and informal city I’ve ever been to. But that doesn’t come close to telling you what it’s actually like. In some ways it’s as though time has stopped since the revolution in the 1950s – many of the grand Spanish baroque buildings are just as they were then or have been left to decay, or patched up to make living quarters or mysterious small enterprises . But just as you think the whole city’s falling apart you come across beautiful restoration. Once you’ve got over the architecture you begin to see the people – the ethnic mix (the whole spectrum from white to black and almost never two of the same shade at the same time – an object lesson in social cohesion), the colourful life of the street. I was very fortunate to have Ariel with me, as whenever anyone approached us he would chat away and they’d end up talking about football or the problems of being an Argentinean (even the drug dealer, a jovial villain who knew he had no hope of a sale but enjoyed a bit of Cuban-Argentinean repartee). I’ve not yet met a Cuban who wasn’t utterly charming. It was very humid, but as the sun went down it cooled a bit and the lights came on. That’s another very distinctive characteristic – minimum lighting creating a sort of gloomy intimacy. It’s often loud, and on the main streets you see those fabulous cars smoking past, but most of the streets in the old city are too narrow for cars. You just have to watch out for bicycle taxis, though even these are very polite in their attempts to avoid you. We forgot to change some local currency, which is what you need to do for the proper Cuban experience (there are two varieties of peso, one convertible and tied to the dollar, the other the one in which Cubans are paid and which you need once you get off the tourist track). That was the only downside (apart from the fume-laden air). We were also approach by people who’d been to our concert – so touching to meet people who had themselves been touched by what we did two nights before.

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Even more from Havana

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

I did spend the morning by the pool – or at least as much of it as I could take (lying in the sun takes a bit of getting used to) but it was great to have a day off. Another excellent lunch at the private restaurant we went to yesterday. Then it was back to the Teatro Marti for Andreas Scholl and Edin Karamazov. We were able to pass on our experience of the aircon and sound system so at least they knew what to expect. They also got the lighting right, having seen what we looked like apparently bathed in blood last night.

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It was a stunning concert. The two of them have worked together for eighteen years so there’s a very obvious rapport between them. The highlights for me were, appropriately enough, Leo Brouwer’s beautifully delicate El Cantar de los Cantares and his exquisite English folksong settings. Maestro Leo’s instinctive affinity for the countertenor voice, and Andreas Scholl’s extraordinarily subtle singing would be enough to convert anyone to the countertenor cause. Not that Andreas needs any help – he’s a kind of countertenor rock god, complete with scores of girls waiting for his appearance at the stage door. It’s the first time I’ve really enjoyed a classical singer singing folksongs. Not only were the arrangements subtle and intricate, but Andreas has the great advantage not only of being the great musician he is, but also being a countertenor he’s never going to encounter the RP/Vernacular texts conundrum that always fails conventional trained singers. This was real authenticity. Dinner afterwards was with Maestro Leo and Isabella, his charismatic and dynamic wife who is responsible for the impressive juggling act that keeps the festival running. The conversation ranged from tango (Brouwer orchestrated Piazolla) to the lack of state support the festival receives. Every young guitarist has at some point played Leo Brouwer’s exercises (including me in the dim and distant past when I thought I wanted to learn classical guitar) and huge numbers have gone on to play his music. That’s how the festival keeps afloat.

I awoke to something Iike silence this morning. I’m sure it’s never actually very quiet anywhere in Havana but at least the high-octane salsa beamed from the neighbouring hotel 500 metres away was turned off.  Then after breakfast (I can recommend guava quince and cheese) I’m afraid I succumbed to the pool for an hour, then some gentle work back in my room before being taken off to yet another wonderful lunch (ceviche and ropa vieja) . Tonight it’s the Hilliard tribute concert, and before that Ariel and I are going to do some exploring in old Havana.

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Not much doubt over who did the miserable programme and who did the happy one…

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More news from Havana…

Friday, October 9th, 2015

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Well, we’ve done it. We arrived at the theatre – an exquisite building – as the sound guys were setting up. We knew straight away that it wasn’t going to be easy. There were several trees on stage – young palms in big pots – and they were waving in the breeze. Aircon is the kiss of death for singers as it dries you out, but in this particular case it was the noise; it was so loud I couldn’t really hear Ariel’s lute from only a metre away. Could they lose the aircon during the show? No, because it was on the same circuit as the lights. OK, so we do it with aircon accompaniment.  We tried a song without mics while the sound men were doing their stuff and the sound stopped before it reached the edge of the stage (a dramatic reminder of how much power an opera singer would have to use). So we had to use the PA. In fact, it was a very sophisticated system (which seemed to be operated from an iPad) and we soon found a way to make things more or less work, though it wasn’t ideal for music intended for small rooms with an audience in single figures. The audience listened apparently in rapt attention; it was probably the first time most of them had heard a lute song and a whole hour might have been rather hard going. We slightly lost it in the last piece (Tony Banks’ Laura) when the lute was finally overwhelmed by the aircon and I couldn’t tell where the main beats were. But overall we were quite pleased with the way it went, and the theatre staff were charming and efficient (and made us the most drinkable coffee so far).

 

The previous night, as audience members we’d have given our eye teeth (whatever they are) for some air conditioning. It was also by some way the weirdest concert I’ve ever been to. It was the final concert of the world’s first (so they say) countertenor competition, with performances by the winners and members of the jury. We heard 8 countertenors in music ranging from cabaret that was camp in excelsis to a stunning realisation of the Erlkonig  with guitar and mandolin. All amplified, so there were quite a lot of countertenor decibels, and none of them shrank from giving us the full benefit of their (often very impressive) top z’s. The first thing to say is that the audience absolutely loved it (despite the crippling heat), and that each singer had a small army of very vocal fans. Secondly, for those of us used to European countertenors these were mostly not like anything we’d experienced before. All were full of character (some overpoweringly so) and some were wonderful musicians. There were too many ego-maniacs for my taste though (sometimes the gestures were bigger than the voices, and that’s saying something). One was so bizarre that a certain famous countertenor sitting next to me videoed him as otherwise his wife would never believe him. But it was an evening I won’t forget – and just one of the many delights in this extraordinary festival.

Now we’ve got the work out of the way it’s time for some proper Havana action, but I think I might start with a day by the pool.

 

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News from Havana

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

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Yesterday I decided to skip the VIP breakfast to see what was happening downstairs. There was a live band. At breakfast. After some very loud fruit and jamon I went for a walk along the shore, and passed another musical happening – an al fresco dance with couples twirling around. At 11.30 in the morning. It was 32 degrees. There’s certainly a different kind of energy here.

I got back to my room to find a welcome note from my maid (her name is Lula) and on the wash stand was written this in soap crystals:

 

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I wasn’t sure of the tipping etiquette, but after a bit of research established that the going rate is 1 cuc (about a euro) a day, so I thought I’d rearrange the letters:

 

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I guess I’ll find out tomorrow if my gesture was the right one or whether I’ve committed a major faux pas

 

Then we were taken for lunch. We’re actually staying in Vedado, which is some way from the old city, but you can tell how close you’re getting as the newer European cars give way to old American models. It really is like being in a 1950s film. I’m not really into cars but you can’t help being impressed by the sight of so many beautiful machines. They’re so colourful and immaculately kept, a product of Cuban isolation which meant spares were like gold dust. And there’s a very distinctive atmosphere – burning oil. We’re being taken to a different restaurant for every meal, so we should eventually get the whole gamut of Cuban cuisine. Today was tuna stuffed peppers with croquettes and cheese followed by prawns on a bed of potatoes, peppers and green beans. It was hosted by Maestro Leo Brouwer, the founder and presiding genius of the festival. He’s a slight man of enormous warmth and dynamism.  His mission, when not teaching,  writing pieces for the world’s most famous guitarists or conducting symphony orchestras, has always been to take music to the people. Not just the standard classical repertoire but all of it – especially that which is new and evolving. The maximum ticket price anyone pays at festival concerts is around a dollar, and each concert has a kind of consciousness-raising dedication. Ours is to paz e igualdad para hombres y mujeres.

 

After a siesta Ariel and I had a rehearsal session. Lubricated by the Havana Club, this got better and better as we went on. In the evening we were then taken to dinner. I thought at first we were in a state-run establishment and that I was eating a government owned lobster (Real Havana says the government owns all the lobsters), but in fact you can buy them in the market and we were in  a private restaurant. It was delicious.

They do sunsets too.

 

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Magical Mystery Tour

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

It’s not often I get on a plane with no clear idea of where I’m going when I get off. The contract says I’ll be met by a chauffeur and driven to a five star hotel so it looked promising if a bit short on detail. In fact I was whisked off the plane (as they say) and taken to the VIP lounge (that doesn’t happen very often) and then driven to the most luxurious hotel I’ve ever stayed at. I’m still exploring my suite, with the Atlantic rumbling seven floors below, and have discovered two bathrooms so far. There may be more. The hotel manager  rang to apologise for not greeting me personally, and he’s just sent round a bottle of 7 year old Havana Club. It’s surreal.

The travel was surreal too. I realised I was getting off a Virgin train onto a Virgin plane. Both were very friendly and on time. Tempting to do one of the Herrick settings as an encore: To the Virgins to Make Much of Time. And a transatlantic flight without any Americans on it, just returning Cubans and holidaying Brits. It was fascinating. I also discovered you could improve the Virgin curry no end by stirring in the butter and Boursin meant for desert. They ran out of alcohol as they have to save enough for the trip back, but no one seemed to mind.

Interesting times ahead. I’m hoping to hear some Senegalese griots tomorrow night. I’m giving the world’s first counter-tenor contest a miss though. And our concert is on Thursday, not Wednesday as I’d thought.

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