The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead


Nosferatu, Barbican Centre, London EC2, 31 October - 3 November

Halloween may be over, but if you haven’t got your fill of scary thrills, head over to the Barbican for their current theatre production, Nosferatu. Performed by the multi-award winning Polish company TR Warszawa, who are rapidly gaining an international reputation for experimental theatre, this show takes a new interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula. In a production full of horror tropes - dry ice, billowing curtains and flashes of lightening, the production promises to seduce the audience “into a dream-like state”. Director Grzegorz Jarzyna is collaborating for the first time with avant-garde musician John Zorn in an attempt to explore “what lies between an idea and reality, between light and shade.”


Seduced by Art: Photography Past & Present, National Gallery, London WC2, 31 October – 20 Jan 2013

Perhaps surprisingly the first major photography exhibition to come from the National Gallery, Seduced by Art, looks specifically at the influence of Fine Art traditions on photography. Spanning the early beginnings of photographic technology to its current digital phase, the show will juxtapose current photographers such as Sam Taylor-Wood and Gustave Le Grey alongside iconic paintings from the national gallery collection including Ingres and Degas. Divided into the themes of portraiture, still life, nudes and landscapes, the show demonstrates the continuation of an historic tradition which has been re-worked, re-interpreted, but still remains very much relevant to aesthetic judgements today.


The Master,  Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson With: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

This hugely anticipated film by renowned director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood) could have scarcely been more hyped-up by its previews. Initial reviews have uniformly reduced critics to stutters as they attempt to articulate its power.   Joaquin Phoenix stars in what has been dubbed a "laceratingly powerful" performance alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in a story loosely inspired by the life of L Ron Hubbard. Essentially a  story of two sociopaths and the elusive American dream, the film has been hailed as “a supremely confident work from a unique film-maker”, which leaves viewers “utterly lost in its demagogic thrall”.


London International Festival of Exploratory Music, Kings Place, London N1, 31 October – 3 November

For those who don’t like their music mainstream, LIFEM is a four day festival at Kings Place which self-professes to “push back boundaries, challenging audiences with bold musical initiatives and a rejection of expectations”. This year’s theme is "Sounds from the Arctic Cool". Featuring a line-up of Scandinavia's most cutting-edge musicians, including Biosphere, EF, Deaf Centre and Wimme Saari, this promises to be four days of dark, surreal sounds.


Day of the Dead, Old Vic Tunnels, London SE1, 31 October - 3 November

Appropriating the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, the Old Vic Tunnels are being transformed into a four-day festival featuring music, art and theatre all to celebrate the eventual prospect of shuffling off this mortal coil. Featuring world music from Rodrigo y Gabriela alongside a host of stalls and bars selling Mexican street food and a liberal dose of tequila. New art commission enliven the tunnels with works from photographer Graciela Iturbide and the Le Gun collective, whilst families are also accounted for by Saturday’s children’s workshops.

Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. (Photo credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Show Hide image

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