About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

02 September 2014

Port Elizabeth's Beachfront

It's my fourth time in PE, and this is the first time I have actually spent any time at the beach front area. There doesn't seem to be much really - a paved walkway, some restaurants facing the beach, and the beach off course.

The Broadacres Casino is one of the better casino complexes; with a wide open promenade and a number of restaurants. It isn't much; but somehow it seems to be better than the beach.

01 September 2014

JPO's Fundraising Concert

In collaboration with University of Stellenbosch Symphony Orchestra, the JPO held two fund raising concerts last week; featuring soloists Pinchas Zukerman and his South African born, Canadian wife Amanda Forsyth. The tickets were on the expensive side - this was after all a fund raising concert - but both nights were sold out; although it was not as full as the Joshua Bell concert from a couple of years back.

The evening started with Pinchas Zukerman conducting Beethoven's Egmont Overture. It's a lively piece to start off, especially as Beethoven manages to fill a rather short piece with great symphonic orchestra elements - and the performance was simply superb.

Amanda Forsyth strode on to the stage in a regal flourish, dedicating the performance to her late father - Pietermaritzburg born Malcolm Forsyth - the composer of the cello concerto; Electra Rising.  For the first 3 movements, the piece (to me at least) was the tantrum - of a irate queen for instance, aided by percussion; while the orchestra plays the part of someone desperately trying to calm her down. This scene was further added to, when Amanda Forsyth asked a mother and her small child to move, due to the child's distracting movements in the front row! The last movement is very different - it is as if the tantrum is over, and everyone is ready to sing in happiness together - the symphonic movements are so different, that it is hard to believe it is the same piece! Officially, the piece is meant to mirror the fight against apartheid culminating with the dawn of democracy - but I prefer my interpretation :) As a modern piece, it was actually quite brave for the JPO to put on a concerto of this nature - especially in the context of a fund raising concert - but this is something the JPO needs to do more to survive.

After the break, Stellenbosch University's Corvin Matei conducted Pinchas Zukerman's performance of Bruch's Violin Concerto No 1. It was one of the best violin concerto performances at the JPO, and hands down the best performance of Bruch's Violin Concerto No 1, that I have attended. The performance was simply mesmerising, and fully deserved the standing ovation. 

The fund raising concert had a bit of everything - a very popular piece, a piece from one of the most feted composers, and a modern piece - with very impressive soloists. Hopefully, the JPO has many more!

24 August 2014

Buskaid Community Concert

Every year, Buskaid hosts a community concert at the Dutch Church in Diepkloof, 2/3 weeks before their annual concert at the Linder Auditorium. As I can't make it to this year's concert; I decided to go to the community concert instead. The program is the same; but the atmosphere is remarkably different. Unlike the Linder, the audience is far younger - with a lot of young kids; even babies. In fact, it was quite amusing to hear a few of them hum the recently played tunes during the interval, or to see them mime conducting together with the music. Unlike previous concerts, this year's program features complete pieces - which I think is a good move.

In keeping with Buskaid's tradition of playing lesser known composers, the concert started with Georg Muffat’s Passacaglia - a baroque piece from the 1680s. On YouTube, it seems that the piece is mostly played as an organ piece - and perhaps the richness of the sound is lost when converted to a string orchestra. Perhaps, it is also because the music seems to be background church music - something quite appropriate for the venue; but without the cavernous cathedral, it just didn't seem to fit.

Keeping with the time period, but a far better known composer, the following piece was JS Bach's Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins; except it was played with six soloists (two per movement). Buskaid performed this piece (with the same configuration) at the beginning of the year, and was once again a great performance. 

Completely different in mood, and somewhat appropriate given global events, was Elgar's Sospiri - composed 100 years ago at the start of World War 1. The piece featured a harp played by a young harpist, Jude van der Walt, and the intro is absolutely amazing. It is a somber piece, but the performance was quite magical - and received an enthusiastic applause.

The first half concluded, with a piece written for the Buskaid - Sancho’s Dance Suite by Julian Grant, who arranged a set of dance pieces by Ignatius Sancho - who is quite an interesting person in his own right. The music itself is contemporary of the period, although the start of the piece is quite interesting (and rough) - and it ends in quite a joyous note. I don't know whether the piece is meant to signify the trajectory of Sancho's life (born on a slave ship, emancipation and thereafter renown) - but I will keep that as my narrative of the piece  :)

The second half featured two virtuoso performances by three of the senior members of the Buskaid ensemble. Starting the half was Tiisetso Mashishi's performance of Max Bruch's Romance for Viola and Orchestra. His previous performance at the Buskaid concert at the beginning of the year, was the highlight of the concert, and once again he didn't disappoint.  

This was followed by  Pablo de Sarasate's Navarra for two violins and orchestra, played by Kabelo Monnathebe and Simiso Radebe. It was as much fun looking at them play, as it was to hear the piece - the communication between the two during the performance was amazing; and it is certainly a piece that commands the audience's attention on the soloists. It's a fun piece, reminiscent of a Spanish dance/song and a fitting finale for the "formal" part of the program. The encore for the formal part of the orchestra was a short, lively piece by Mussorgsky - but I am not sure of the title. 

Buskaid's informal part of the concert is probably what makes their performances so special. It also highlights the difference in audiences - here, as the gospel, kwela and afro-pop songs started, the audience joined in, dancing - and not the young members only - it was the mothers and perhaps even the grandmothers. But that was only in the front - the dancing was in the aisles, and at the back - it was a celebration. 

I am quite convinced, that it may even make sense for Buskaid to link up with one (or more) afro-pop bands - and produce an album; with Buskaid performing the music, and the singers singing. One of the great things about Buskaid, is the variety of types of music performed - today's performance spanned almost 350 years of music. Buskaid always manages to balance the classical with the contemporary; and looking at the packed hall, it works.

Buskaid's annual concert in on Saturday, 6 September at Linder Auditorium - and highly recommended.

17 August 2014

Carlo Mombelli's Stories Quartet

I am not completely sure of how I came across The Orbit - a newish live music and restaurant venue; focusing mainly on Jazz. It has been a while since I last went to a live jazz performance, and Carlo Mombelli's Stories Quartet looked quite promising - both with the inclusion of prominent performers and the streaming music on the website.

The first experience at arrival was not great - they had managed to lose the dinner reservations - but they recovered quickly; finding us a good table. The menu was not extensive - but the food was good, with attentive but not overbearing service. 

The music was the highlight - a mixture of amazing energy, with many moments of individual brilliance - as well as slow and mournful. Mbusa Khosa, who sung almost entirely in Zulu, has an absolutely amazing voice - and was in itself an instrumental performance in its own right. It was captivating, and magical - fully deserving of a standing ovation at the end of the night.

16 August 2014

City Press' African Women Feature

In a first for me, I went out and bought three different newspapers last Sunday. It was interesting to note the diverse range of coverage of news stories and opinion - but I didn't get through all of it on Sunday! 

City Press had a feature on African Women - a profile of 60-odd notable African women in diverse fields; as part of Women's Day commemorations. As a South African publication, there was the expected high proportion of South Africans on the list - but what was notable for me, was who was left out. There was, for example, not a single opposition party member from South Africa featured, neither were notable leaders of African countries like Joyce Banda or Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. 

It does seem a bit one sided in selection. I am not saying that those that were profiled were not warranted to be included in the profiles - just that the selection seems a bit odd.

11 August 2014

FTL: Faster than Light

About 14/15 years ago, E, discovered this abandonware DOS based game that involved piloting a cargo ship between various ports of the world. It was part Transport Tycoon (build up a shipping empire) mixed with some slow manoeuvring as the "auto pilot" for docking didn't work every now and then.

I discovered FTL: Faster than Light, via a Kickstarter newsletter. The concept is deceptively simple. You are a pilot of a ship carrying sensitive information, across the galaxy pursued by rebels. Your mission is to hand over the sensitive information, and then defeat the "mothership". Along the way, there are pirates, rebel scouts, aliens who don't like you, lost civilians, storekeepers, mercenaries, abandoned planets etc. which you must help, fight, or flee. The right outcome will provide with opportunities to upgrade your ship; and the wrong outcomes could end the game.

The game is simple to play; and incredibly difficult to beat. Even on the easy mode, I have raked up over 15 hours to beat the boss just once. There are some tricks - but the game's random generator can be brutal. About 5 games before I finally won - I did get the boss to 1 health bar - but then a strike from the boss, caused a fire in my weapons room (when I still had about 40% health), and my weapons just couldn't recharge fast enough to finish the boss off. There are no save points to recover from - it's either finish it, or restart.

It is addictive, and an absolutely impressive strategy game. Like the shipping game from years past, the graphics aren't amazing. It is the gameplay and the strategy that makes it worth coming back to; over and over again.

03 August 2014

Movie: Mr. Pip

The brief synopsis of the movie does not really capture the social tensions, the brutality, and the beauty of this movie - it is one of those that you walk in expecting something, but leave after watching something quite different.

Set in early 1990, in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville island/region - the movie, based on a novel of the same name, explores the civilian village life in a fairly brutal civil war for autonomy/independence. The story follows Matilda, and Mr Watts, who takes up teaching the village kids; primarily through Dickens' Great Expectations - but also weaving in other villagers who bring their own expertise in exchange for staying to listen to the story. Matilda's imagination leads her to reimagine Pip in the context of her own people (but strangely still in Victorian clothing) - but this leads to a rather disastrous end as the army captain decides that Pip is really an important rebel being hidden by the village.

In the end, Matilda's life runs parallel to that of Dickens' Pip - in that she is a person of which there are great expectations, and one that eventually is (partially?) fulfilled. But it is not so much the parallel - but the sheer beauty and innocence of village life that makes this a compelling movie. In the context of current world events in Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere - it really captures the dichotomy of experiences and wishes of the fighters and the people caught in between.