Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


Secret Location near London - Lost At Sea, 29-30 August

The Lost Lectures' mission statement is to take talks out of institutions and into inspiring new spaces. The location of its upcoming event is secret, but we do know it will be somewhere wet enough to call for the audience to be seated on inflatables. The speakers will include an explorer, a photographer, scientists, puppeteers, and comedians, and the talks will be accompanied by zany interactive classes, including pigeon racing and pizza making.


British Library, London - Wonderlands: Children's Literature Festival, 24 - 26 August

If one is to believe the Olympics opening ceremony, the British heritage of children’s literature is one of our great accomplishments. In celebration of this tradition the British Library is holding three days of stories, drawings, conversations and talks from big name writers including Michael Rosen, David Almond and Michael Morpurgo. Alongside the ticketed events, visitors are invited to drop into the free storytelling tent where they will be immersed in tales from around the world.


Noel Coward Theatre, London – Julius Caeser, 15 August - 15 September

Shakespeare's famous political thriller Julius Caeser is invigorated in this RSC adaption, which transplants the action from Rome to Africa. Critics have found powerful contemporary echoes in the piece and it has already garnered several five star reviews. Gregory Doran is in the director’s seat and is complemented by a cast including Paterson Joseph as Brutus, Cyril Nri as Cassius, Ray Fearon as Mark Antony and Jeffery Kissoon as Caesar.


BBC2 – Murder, 26 August 10pm

Birger Larson likes his verbs deadly. This Sunday the acclaimed danish director of The Killing brings death and intrigue to Britain with a one off program Murder. Following the death of a young girl, the action leaves the traditional grounds of court-rooms and police stations to let the viewer play jury in a series of character testimonies delivered straight to the camera. As well as being set and filmed in Nottingham, it features an impressive array of local talent including Joe Dempsie, Stephen Dillane, and Lauren Socha and is written by Bafta award-winning Robert Jones and Kath Mattock.


Various Independent Cinemas – F for Fake, August

The Sight and Sound Poll might have recently deposed Orson Welles from his throne, but the critics who still toast him as the best director of all time (of whom there are many) will be pleased to hear that his last completed work is currently showing in independent cinemas across the capital. A testament to misdirection of the sort Orson was so fond of as a director, F for Fake is a ‘documentary’ about two notorious fakers, which examines the nature of artistic authenticity.

Director Orson Welles, whose 1973 classic "F for Fake" is playing in selected London cinemas this month
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On the trail of Keith Jarrett's melodies

Lose focus for a second and you can quickly drop the thread of Jarrett's complex improvisational techniques.

“So, this is a piano,” said Keith Jarrett, sitting down at the one that had been placed centre stage for him in the Royal Festival Hall on 20 November. Blowing on his hands to warm them, he acted as if he had never encountered such an instrument before, raising a chuckle from the hundreds of fans who had turned out to see the man in the flesh. For 40 years, Jarrett has been giving concerts like this – alone with the piano, playing his improvised music to a room full of rapt devotees. Notoriously grumpy – and now as well known for his tirades against cameras and coughing audience members as for his early days playing with Miles Davis – he has an almost eerie focus onstage, relieving the tension only very occasionally with his barbed observations about the excellence of the instrument, or the shuffling in the auditorium.

Jarrett gave us a series of short pieces, each rendering separate and distinctive musical ideas. He began with an intricately woven flash of notes in both hands, criss-crossing the melodies that were by turns dark and haunting, or light and dancing. At particularly complex moments, when his arms were crossed over and the notes were flowing from his fingers faster than anyone could imagine them into existence, he leaned his ear down towards the keys, as if physical closeness could help his ideas more swiftly become sound.

A couple of folk-inflected ballads followed; heart-achingly sweet melodies picked out above rumbling, sour arpeggios. Like Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist best known for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Jarrett can’t help adding vocalisations as he plays, which are all the more evident in his quieter compositions. He rose and fell from his stool; we heard his guiding hum along with the melody, as well as the odd strangled shout, yelp and grunt. He might insist on absolute silence from the audience but his own noises seem completely uninhibited as the music spins around him.

Although notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude to his fans, Jarrett was mostly restrained in this outing, allowing himself just one short, sweary outburst about killing a “f***ing camera”. At the age of 70 and with the power to sell out his concerts in just a few hours, you do wonder how much of the persona is genuine and how much of it is just giving the audience what it expects. A case in point came near the end, when he yielded to clamouring and gave a surprisingly simple and straightforward rendition of “Danny Boy”, an encore that long-time fans know well.

Given that this recital was under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, there was surprisingly little in Jarrett’s programme that could easily be identified as jazz. One piece, full of brisk rhythms and chunky chords, gradually revealed itself to be based on a modified 12-bar blues structure and another had haunting overtones surely pulled from the classic American songs of the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this musical ghosting becomes a major preoccupation when you see Jarrett live. It is too easy to distract yourself in trying to follow the auditory trail he has laid for you – was that a bit of Debussy, or Bach, or Glass just then? – and lose the thread of what he plays next. The improvisational technique might have more in common with jazz but now, 40 years on from his bestselling live recording The Köln Concert, it’s difficult to characterise Jarrett’s output as anything other than contemporary classical music.

If it needs a classification, that is. At one point, I became convinced that a particular piece was a Jarrett riff on Beethoven’s Bagatelle No 25 in A Minor – or Für Elise, as it is more commonly known. I was sure it was all there: the extended opening trill, the rising arpeggios in the left hand, the melody cascading from treble to bass and back again. Except, by the time I surfaced from my musing, there was no trace of Beethoven to be heard. A clashing, almost violent melody was dangling over a long drone in the bass. If you try too hard to pin down Jarrett’s music, it moves on without you.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State