Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

La Casa de la Salsa

Salsa with Heart: La Casa de la Salsa

Salsa with Heart: La Casa de la Salsa

Valentine’s already seems a long time ago. But before memories fade, I’d like to look back and thank La Casa de la Salsa for their fine Valentine’s Ball at the Britannia Hotel, Stockport.

It was a lovely evening. Gorgeous table settings, beautiful balloons everywhere, an imaginative cocktail menu at good prices, Mike Parr’s usual suave and seamless DJing, and of course friends, lots and lots of friends, and wonderful dancing.

Open Break with Vicky

Open Break with Vicky

And why didn’t I write about it sooner? Well, it took some days for Lydia’s pics to appear on Facebook (I’d lost my own camera at the time so it was Facebook or nothing!) and then life just got so busy and chaotic I wasn’t blogging at all.

But it was a good enough evening to make me want to say, Watch out for La Casa de la Salsa and their future events. Check them out on Facebook and keep up with what they’re doing.

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Braz, Tina, Silvia: Awesome Threesome

Besides the music and the company, a special feature was the ZOUK LAMBADA demonstration from Braz (of Kaoma fame) and his partner Silvia. I’m not sure I’ll be taking on this (literally) head-turning dance in the near future, but the performance was an amazing spectacle. The highlight in some ways was the point where Braz insisted on involving Tina (of Latino Euphoria) in the dance and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Despite a modest display of resistance Tina allowed herself to be drawn in and Braz performed a truly extraordinary Lamada threesome with her and Silvia. Astonishing.

What else? Well… Several people said they’d had a terrible time finding the Hotel. Maybe better directions could be available next time? Lighting: perhaps a bit bright on the dancefloor. Any chance of dimmer, warmer, coloured lights or even a disco ball? Music: maybe a bit bland (and no merengue, no reggaeton? well, perhaps you can’t expect reggaeton at a Valentine Ball…) – but some faster, heavier music, some salsa dura, might have been welcome. Though I admit this is from the viewpoint of a Cuba fanatic: all those hours of sweaty dancing on cracked concrete in near-darkness, moving between the tropical heat outside and the freezing air-conditioning inside, have probably warped my brain more than a little.

Thanks, Girls: And here's looking at you too! (Next time I'll bring my camera...)

Thanks, Girls: And here's looking at you too! (Next time I'll bring my camera...)

The more people come to these events the more the atmosphere and the urgency are going to build, so watch for La Casa de la Salsa’s next production. Definitely worth the journey!

Majestic Manchester Mahler 3

Gustav Mahler - currently celebrated in Manchester

Gustav Mahler - currently celebrated in Manchester

The Halle set a very high standard with Mahler’s Second Symphony a couple of weeks back (you’ll need to scroll down 5 posts should you want to see comments). So the BBC Philharmonic faced quite a challenge with the Third, another epic soundscape with a passionate philosophical programme behind it.

But they proved equal to the task, and if the Third didn’t send us out quite as dazed and elated as its predecessor, it was mainly because this symphony, though just as complex, is more contemplative, a slower-paced work with quieter dynamics relying more or mood and melody than on stark contrasts and shattering climaxes.

Vassily Sinaisky took the first movement, with its resounding opening fanfare on the horns representing the great god Pan arriving to reanimate nature after the winter, at a steady but not rapid pace – very much the approach Stenz used last time for the opening of the Second. The brass section was superb throughout, playing with resonance and precision. Just as well because in every movement the brass has vital thematic parts to play, most often to remind us, in some way, of that opening motif of descending horn notes. The first movement as a whole gave an experience of restrained power, deep strings sporadically throbbing and surging, with the brass and the more fragile, fragmentary woodwind floating over the top.

Here’s an extract from the movement (LSO, splendidly conducted by Valery Gergiev, looking more than ever like Boris Karloff):

Mahler’s idea for the symphony was to make it ‘a work of such magnitude that it actually mirrors the whole world…In my symphony the whole of nature finds a voice.’ The movements aim to layer one tier of being on top of another. The orchestra gave second movement (originally titled ‘What the flowers tell me’) a light, almost staccato touch and brought out the exuberant, dance-like qualities of the third (‘What the animals of the forest tell me’, according to Mahler’s early notes). The distant horns (how Mahler loves those!) sounded here like a faint reminder of the world of men, rather thanan eruption of the animalistic Pan.

Reaching ‘Night’ and the world of men, the 4th movement, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill got her entrance exactly right: the voice seemed to emerge and radiate without an identifiable starting-point, simply welling up out of the orchestral sound, as if uttered by the universe as well as by humanity. This lovely setting of the mysertious Nietzsche poem was a delight.

Mahler’s gentle audacity is astounging and wonderful: having begun the symphony with Pan, then led on to Nietzsche (who loathed Christianity), he then dances into the fifth movement with a children’s folksong – it sounds almost like a skipping game – about Jesus, St Peter, and God’s forgiveness. And every so often what sounds like a reminiscence of a Bach choral sweeping in to underline the religious elements. The CBSO Youth Chorus made a fine job of the children’s chorus, vigorous and precise, entering with the ‘Bimm bamm…’ of the church bells. Personally I would have liked a bit more volume from them, and I suspect Sinaisky held them back a bit too much; but it wasn’t a major blemish.

The transition to the sixth movement made me see something I’d missed before, listening to the symphony endlessly on disc, which is that having brought Christianity and Gid into the structure, Mahler goes a step further and higher. Where the 2nd symphny ends in song, it’s as if he now sees that words aren’t enough and nothing but pure music will say what he has to say. We’ve gone beyond God too, beyond anything that can be formulated or imagined.

The final movement was wonderful, with that sense of endlessly-shifting and changing and evolving harmonies as Mahler finds his way very slowly through a vast musical mist, drawing notes out and mutating the harmonies so that you constantly find a chord emerging that’s different from the one you expected, and then that melds into yet another and so on. Sinaiski did a good job with the dynamics here, very slowly building and building the movement until all the layers came together in those vast closing chords that show you the whole imaginable cosmos towering up octave above octave, layer above layer, energised and tranquil but completely alive, like a vast wall of glass or water that doesn’t topple but just settles and poises there, with the brass finally folding harmoniously into the picture and the timpani slowly repeating deep notes that echo the bell-chimes of the children’s song. The combination of energy and peace at the end of the symphony was very impressive. Here’s a clip (Dudamel, La Scala Philharmonic):

I didn’t cry this time (though the girl next to me was in tears throughout the final movement). There’s less melodrama, more serenity in this than in the Second Symphony, but the vision is vaster. Maybe Sinaiski didn’t always make the dynamics as exciting as he might have done. I overheard one departing audience member talking about the difficulty of staying awake, in a way that made me wonder if the work is just too big and complicated to grasp until you’ve heard it over and over again and got all those details into your system. The applause was loud and long but it didn’t really match the reaction to No 2.

Certainly I notice these days how closely-integrated the Third is. The pattern – melodic and rhythmic – of that opening fanfare, for example, comes into just about everything in the work. Sometimes I think Mahler 3 has an entire symphony for its first movement, and a whole other one for its last, with a suite of other things in between. Then again I find myself thinking the entire work is a single movement. The first time you hear it, it’s a sprawl. By the tenth time, you just notice the mind-boggling precision with which it’s all integrated. Very strange. But how wonderful to hear these masterpieces one after another, so well-played. Not sure yet if I’ll make the Fourth on Thursday. Lorraine’s Rueda class at Cuba Cafe is calling, and Amanda is able to dance again now her broken arm has healed. A dilemma. But I’ll post something as soon as I get to another Mahler extravaganza. Meanwhile there’s always salsa and a million other things.
And don’t forget: starting 5 April, BBC Radio 3 will broadcast the entire series on consecutive Monday nights at 7 pm. Listen to any you missed and see if you agree with me! And do post your comments.

Salsa Republic Postponed to April 3

Next Salsa Republic will be April

Next Salsa Republic will be April

Well folks, here we are with the fifth and (sadly) definitive version , which is that there will be NO Republic of Salsa in February. It will happen again on 3 April – resuming the usual first-Saturday-of-alternate-months pattern.

Update: Salsa Republic 20th February! and a Hot Taste of Japanese Salsa

Republic of Salsa: Manchester's Best Cuban Salsa Nights

Republic of Salsa: Manchester's Best Cuban Salsa Nights

Yet again (sigh) the date for Republic of Salsa (Chorlton Irish Club, Manchester) has been changed. It is now going to be Saturday 20 Feb. I think this is the fourth date I’ve been given but this seems to be definitive. And it is the best Cuban Salsa party going, so let’s hope we can all get there.

I don’t want to leave without giving you more fun than that, so here’s something a bit different. Last night at Pauline’s rueda class (Tuesdays, Spreadeagle, Chorlton, Manchester) I heard some good music on Jordan’s iphone. He told me it was Orquesta de la Luz. Ever heard Japanese salsa? No? Then take a look at this clip, recorded in New York. I guarantee it’ll blow your socks off!

That’s all for today. But watch out shortly for posts about the wonderful, rediscovered Ennerdale poet Tom Rawling, and about Anacaona – the song, the woman, and the stories behind the song we all love to dance to!

Opus Girls Promise a Salsa Valentine!

Valentine Girls: Katherine Rosati, Vicky Gouldbourn, Jack Mellor (photo by Lydia Oslejova)

Valentine Girls: Katherine Rosati, Vicky Gouldbourn, Jack Mellor (photos by Lydia Oslejova)

Opus in the Printworks, Manchester was as good as ever on Sunday 7 Feb, with excellent DJing from Alex and a sparkling surprise in the shape of a troupe of gorgeous ladies giving out chocolates and inviting everyone to write valentines – all just to let us know about the upcoming Valentine Salsa Ball on 12 Feb at the Britannia Hotel, Stockport, organised by La Casa de la Salsa. Full details (plus more amazing and beautiful photos) are at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=157097846260 and it should be a fantastic evening.

STOP PRESS:
Tight Squeeze at Opus...
Tight Squeeze at Opus…

The next SALSA REPUBLIC at Chorlton Irish Club will now be on 27 FEB (not 20 Feb as previously announced)!!!

My Valentine (caught by the pararazzi AGAIN!!!)

My Valentine (caught by the paparazzi AGAIN!!!)