Words in Pictures: Bloomsday

Join this week's Bloomsday celebrations with readings and footage of James Joyce.

On the morning of 16 June, 1904, Leopold Bloom began a meandering progress through the city of Dublin. The day's events - his drinking, dining, philosophical musings and erotic fantasies - became the substance of James Joyce's Ulysses and the high-water mark of literary modernism.

Every year Joyce enthusiasts gather to celebrate "Bloomsday" - now expanded into a week-long festival. Readings, lectures and of course drinking (occasionally even public urination) all play their part in celebrations. These extend from Dublin itself to Trieste, Genoa, Philadelphia and even the tiny Hungarian town of Szombathely - fictional home of Leopold Bloom's father, Virag Rudolf.

The inaugural Bloomsday festivities took place in 1954. A party of Dublin literati gathered to pay homage to Joyce, intending to recreat Bloom's journey by way of pilgrimage, complete with two horse-drawn cabs. The lure of the Duke Street pubs proved too great however, and they made it no further.

Join in this week's Bloomsday celebrations by listening to an extract from Ulysses read by Joyce himself. And, in a lighter vein, watch original news footage of Joyce and hear of his drunken escapades with Ernest Hemingway.

 

 

 

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.