Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

Moniker Art Fair, Village Underground, EC2A 3PQ, 11-14 October

Now in its third year, Moniker Art Fair has become a highlight of London's autumnal art week. This year, it has attracted some of the contemporary scene’s most accomplished and renowned artists, including legendary Pop Surrealist Luke Chueh, fresh works from Pam Glew, and the work of Surrealist up-and-comer Nancy Fout

Music

Ether Festival: John Cale. Royal Festival Hall, Sat October 13

A founding member of one of the most defining bands of a generation, the Velvet Underground, John Cale’s return to the Royal Festival Hall coincides with the release of his cryptically titled Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, which is out this week.  His experimentalist verve and willingness to explore new artistic frontiers ensures that he remains an unstoppable force on the contemporary scene.

Literature

Durham Book Festival, 13-30 October

Durham Book Festival returns for another edition this month. It is jointly produced by New Writing North with Durham Country Council and Durham University. From prose to poetry, the festival programme includes events spanning a wide spectrum of topics at various locations in County Durham and at iconic venues in the city itself. The festival boasts a host of newly commissioned work from the likes of Michael Smith and Carol Ann Duffy.

Festival

Inside Out Festival, London (various venues), 22-28 October

In association with The Times Higher Education and the New Statesman, the Culture Capital Exchange delivers the third instalment of the Inside Out Festival. The programme includes 50 eclectic events taking place across the capital over the course of the week, ranging from talks, panel debates, performances and exhibitions. The festival offers the chance to experience in person some of the city’s most celebrated thinkers, including Will Self, Michael Morpurgo and Bidisha. Most events free, but require booking.

Theatre

All That Fall, Jermyn Street Theatre, until 3 November

Originally commissioned by the BBC as a radio play in 1957, Samuel Beckett’s All that Falls charts the journey of Maddy Rooney, a 70-something unwieldy woman as she trudges across country back roads to meet her blind husband. All that Falls is a bawdy comedy with a life affirming charm, full of superb one-liners, even if they are somewhat spiked by intimations of mortality. Although not originally conceived for stage, All that Falls offers a rare opportunity to experience a superlative cast – including Michael Gambon and the excellent Eileen Atkins – in an intimate, 70-seater setting. 

Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins in Samuel Beckett's All That Fall. Photo: Alastair Muir
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.