Saturday, 30 June 2007

Listen to the poor busker!

Buskers are a varied breed. Some are tuneless Bob Dylan impersonators of little talent; I even suspect some of being tone deaf. Others are true professionals; I've known members of major orchestras supplement their income this way, as well as music students and jazz bands. (Rockers and rappers seem not to busk; I wonder if their sound equipment just isn't portable enough.)

There's a marvellous busker in Salzburg. Go through the arches from the Franziskanerkirche into Domplatz and he'll be there, most days, playing accordion. Yes, the obligatory Mozart, of course, but also some rarities - a lovely piece by François Couperin, Les Rozeaux, which has never sounded so good on a harpsichord. He plays with real emotion as well as technical sureness - this is another of those free concerts you can be lucky enough to find.

Yet most people walked past without noticing. In the fifteen minutes or so that I sat and listened, only two other people stopped to hear. The rest just treated it as muzak.

There's not really a moral here. But I wonder why so many people pass up on the riches that life delivers for free?

Friday, 29 June 2007

Free concerts

I've had some marvellous free 'concerts' recently.

First in St Giles' cathedral, Edinburgh,  where a young lad was playing the Rieger organ.  Subtle, that instrument is not! But it's massive, and rather great, and he was pretty good, too.

And then at the east end of Regensburg cathedral, where the 'Domspatzen' were having their rehearsal on Sunday morning, and had left the door open because of the heat. I sat down on a step nearby and listened for half an hour or so.

It's nice when you get a spontaneous free concert like that. But more formal free concert opportunities are also worth looking out for. Many churches in the City of London have a free lunchtime concert - St Anne and St Agnes in Gresham Street does; it also has a Bach Vespers many Sundays, at six, with professional musicians performing Bach cantatas as part of the liturgy. Very highly recommended.

Church services aren't always a musical feast. But most English cathedrals, and the major Oxford and Cambridge colleges, have good choirs providing regular sung services. Watch out though as they have one day a week off. For instance at King's, Monday is a day off, and on Wednesday you will hear only men's voices - that is, the boys are not singing. King's also offers an organ recital on Saturdays at 630 pm, with free admission.

In Paris, Saint-Eustache has a monstrously capacitous organ and there are regular free recitals, at 530 every Sunday; Saint-Merri and the American Church (each Sunday at 5) also stage free gigs in summer.


I wish I had been in Vienna in November 2006 - that's when this fantastic light show was created on the facade of the Karlskirche by two artists, Heiko Hofer and Alexander Nickl.  (Needs Quicktime to run.)

This year, the same artists are lighting up the Essl art museum in Klosterneuburg. This isn't gentle son et lumiere - it's garish, geometrical, utterly wicked. Like looking at buildings through a kaleidoscope.

Conservation tourism (2)

I blogged before about how conservation of historical monuments can in itself be a tourist attraction.

The Karlskirche in Vienna is a particularly interesting example.  The church is under restoration, partly filled by a skeleton of steel scaffolding reaching up into the dome. A lift takes visitors up to a platform under the dome, for a close up view of Rottmayr's wonderfully dynamic paintings. Then you can - if you're so inclined and have a head for heights - make your way up a rather wobbly staircase into the lantern right at the top.

The entry fee is a steep 6 euros -  but for this amazing chance to see the paintings from close up, it's worth it.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Visits by candle light

Having enjoyed the Nuit des Musées in Versailles - open from 7 in the evening till half past midnight - I decided to look up what other nocturnal attractions might exist.

There aren't as many as you might think, though many museums now have one late opening every week. The National Gallery, in London, is open every Wednesday till 9 pm, with live music from jazz to Renaissance lute solos. And the Louvre is open late on Wednesday and Friday evenings - which are often much less crowded than during the day.

I was overjoyed to find that one of the rather special nocturnal events is quite close to us - so we will be heading there probably at the weekend. Vaux-le-Vicomte, the chateau which inspired the better known Versailles, has candelight openings every evening in summer. Even better, one ticket will last from 2 in the afternoon - so you can see the fine formal gardens - until midnight. Then, your coach will presumably turn into a pumpkin drawn by frogs unless you hop it smartly.

The chateau of Valençay also offers candlelit visits, which can be combined with dinner from EUR 26 (the basic ticket, assuming you're not hungry, or take a picnic, is EUR 10).

These are aristocratic palaces just made for seeing by the light of the fine chandeliers. But a more down to earth experience is provided by Monday evening visits at the Dennis Severs House in London's east end.  You'll need to book via the web site for this, as times vary depending on the time of year. This fine Georgian house is presented in eighteenth century style, just as if the occupants have left - even their dinner plates are ready on the table. It's a little spooky, and intriguing, and you can go for a curry in Brick Lane afterwards.