Saturday, October 27, 2012

Britten in Beijing

Morning off, but then took Graham to 798... again - this time to sit in on the Dressing the Screen panel discussion at UCCA with curators & film-makers from both sides, and then, over coffee, to meet two of the 20 Chinese arts managers who've just returned from their 6-week UK placements. One had been to National Portrait Gallery in London & National Galleries in Edinburgh, the other to Sainsbury Institute in Norwich & Courtauld Institute in London. They seemed to have had a productive time. 
After that, I went to a bizarre event at Galaxy Soho - a huge new mixed-use building in the centre of town designed by Zaha Hadid. It wasn't exactly an official opening (it's finished but not yet occupied). Instead Hadid and Zhang Xin, the CEO of real estate company Soho, had 'a dialogue'. There were thousands of people, in the central atrium and lining the galleries of the floors above, all waiting for the starchitect and her client to arrive... in a golf cart. Once seated in armchairs, the cordon was dropped and everyone rushed forward to grab the available seats. It was like a cross between a rock show and Harrods New Year Sales. They talked about creativity and stuff. Hadid confessed that she was "critical about everything" and it was all hard work.  "I haven't had fun in architecture for 20 years", she concluded. 
A funny thing happened. I went off to have a look around the building (from the street it's a bit boring, but within it's pretty amazing) and by chance wandered into a darkened room full of architects. I turned round and in swanned the Hadid contingent, heading straight for me. So I thrust out my hand and congratulated her. We exchanged a few pleasantries before she realised I was a minion, got bored and turned to someone more important. 
This evening, by complete contrast and coincidence, there were two UK Now-related Benjamin Britten productions: Noye's Fludde (Noah's Flood) and Spring Symphony.
The former is an operetta written in 1958 and designed to be performed in either a church or large hall - not a theatre or concert hall. This particular production was the brainchild of the colourful & energetic Lady Linda Wong Davies, who's been in out of our office over the years, and got its premiere at Belfast Zoo this summer as part of the Cultural Olympiad, performed by Northern Ireland Opera and local children, including those from the local Chinese community. It's now come to Beijing, with the NIO core supplemented by musicians from the China Philharmonic Orchestra and local schoolchildren, and presented in the multi-purpose hall of an upmarket shopping centre. It was wonderful, not least the design. The stage was dominated by a huge & ingeniously designed ark, the animals were based on Chinese lanterns (designed in Britain, made in China), and there was some amazingly creative projections of flooded landscapes based on Chinese ink paintings. They managed to squeeze in three shows in one day, and the whole thing was just about perfect.
I saw it in the evening and then went out with everyone (including God) to celebrate. Liz & the girls saw it in the afternoon, which they loved, and then went on to see Spring Symphony performed by the International Festival Chorus & Peking Sinfonietta... partly because the girls' music teachers were also performing. This is an earlier piece, written in 1949, and not as immediately appealing. Still, they're one up on me: they got to see a UK Now event that I didn't.

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