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The RNS perform Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’

A year on from watching the Royal Northern Sinfonia accompany Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, Wendy and I returned to see them repeat the trick with Chaplin’s 1936 follow-up, Modern Times.

I don’t think I’ve seen Modern Times before. The programme for this performance leaned into a narrative around automation and drew a comparison with the current debate about the future of work in the context of artificial intelligence. I found this a bit reaching: I saw the film more as a commentary on capitalism and the Great Depression.

You may already know the plot: Chaplin’s Tramp is sacked from his job at a steel mill after the pace and repetitive nature of the work produces a nervous breakdown. He meets a girl, they plan a life together, but he bounces in and out of employment and prison. It’s a mostly-silent comedy romance, scored by Chaplin.

Not knowing the film, I was disappointed by the score, which seemed to draw heavily on the jazz standard Smile. You may chuckle knowingly: as I’ve since discovered, the score came first, and combined with lyrics inspired by the film, it became Smile only two decades or so later.

Modern Times was brilliant, particularly in its physical comedy, but I thought it lacked a bit of the warm innocence of City Lights. It also had less emotional range: Modern Times didn’t have the profound melancholy and longing of City Lights: it was an altogether lighter affair, despite its political message.

But the film was only half the experience. The Royal Northern Sinfonia performed as brilliantly as always, and as with last year’s example, really brought the film to life.

We had a great time.

This post was filed under: Film, Music, , , .

The Royal Northern Sinfonia and Isata Kanneh-Mason

On Friday night, Wendy and I returned to the Glasshouse International Centre for Music to hear the Royal Northern Sinfonia play works by Beethoven and Schumann, plus a Clara Schumann piano concerto featuring Isata Kanneh-Mason. We saw Isata’s cellist brother several times last year, including in this very hall. The talent in the Kanneh-Mason family is astonishing.

The RNS now stream most of their home performances on YouTube, as they did with this one. It’s both fascinating and discombobulating to see the same concert I’ve witnessed in person streamed online, with all of the televisual close-ups and changes of angles that medium provides. I guess it’s a uniquely twenty-first-century experience.

I almost booked the seats behind the stage, and given how prominent they are in the streamed production, I’m glad I didn’t!

This post was filed under: Art, Music, , , , .

I’ve seen Erland Cooper

On Friday, Wendy and I were fortunate enough to visit the recently re-christened Glasshouse to hear Erland Cooper and a string quartet from the Scottish Ensemble, supported by Midori Jaeger. We had a brilliant time.

Neither of us had previously heard Jaeger, but her set of original songs performed solo with her pizzicato cello demonstrated remarkable talent. It was Wendy’s favourite part of the night. Jaeger also joined the Cooper and the quartet in the main set.

And what a main set it was, with remarkable performances. I’ve listened to all of Cooper’s albums repeatedly, but my favourite is still the original Solan Goose, and a fair proportion of the set was drawn from that album. There were a couple of moments of real imagination: the title song of that album accompanied by a ‘gannet choir’ made up of the audience streaming gannet calls from Cooper’s website; one song played entirely in the dark.

Cooper’s music isn’t entirely up Wendy’s street: the melodies are quite simple and repetitive (I would say ‘meditative’) but we were both nevertheless entranced by the skill of the musicians. Cooper himself also proved to be an endearing character, bringing real warmth and humour to the evening.

Basically: we had a great night out.

This post was filed under: Music, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

I’ve seen Postmodern Jukebox

When it comes to music that just makes me smile, nothing beats cover versions of songs where the cover is in a different musical style to the original. They can be as out of the box as you like—the madder the better, really—and Wendy generally can’t help but smile either.

Postmodern Jukebox do exactly that, covering modern tracks mostly in 1950s style. Until very recently, I was only aware of a couple of their tracks from albums, and didn’t realise they are very popular on YouTube.

Wendy and I were fortunate to get tickets to their tour, which called in at the Sage on Friday night. It was completely nuts—where else would you see someone tap dance to the Super Mario theme or watch a Motown cover of Beyoncé? But it was also brilliant, both for the joy in the insanity and for the outstanding musical performances of the band, the singers and the dancer.

We had two particular highlights. Our long-standing favourite, a 50s cover of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, is in a style that’s totally at odds with the lyrics yet is somehow spot-on, and it closed the show perfectly. And Effie Passero’s cover of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, which we’d never heard before, found something genuinely new in a song that has been covered to death, and received a mid-show standing ovation like nothing else I’ve seen before.

Their support act, The Last Morrell, was a complete unknown to us, but he struck us as a brilliant songwriter and he’s gone on our playlists.

We had a great night.

This post was filed under: Music, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

I’ve seen Park, Grosvenor and Kaneh-Mason

Yesterday afternoon, Wendy and I went along to the Sage to see Hyeyoon Park (violin), Benjamin Grosvenor (piano) and Sheku Kaneh-Mason (cello) performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C with the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

I’ve never previously seen a performance of this, or indeed any other, triple concerto. There aren’t that many of them, and they are relatively seldom performed, given the challenge of finding three suitably talented soloists to appear together.

In this case, the challenge was all the greater: the violin part was due to be performed by Nicola Benedetti, but she had to pull out at the last-minute due to illness.

Quite how the RNS managed to pull off getting Hyeyoon Park to fill in, and quite how she managed to give such an incredible performance at the drop of a hat, I’ll never know.

If I’m honest, it was Kaneh-Mason’s name that attracted us to book tickets. He’s probably most famous for his royal wedding turn or that performance to an empty Royal Albert Hall during COVID, though his list of achievements is endless. Yet, in the moment, Park definitely stole the show. The warmth and richness of her playing was astounding, even alongside the other two exceptional soloists.

The RNS were on their usual top form too, giving a passionate and fun rendition of Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony after the interval.

Apart from anything else, it was great to see The Sage packed to the rafters once again: this was a sell-out encore performance, laid on after Friday night’s performance sold out.

This post was filed under: Music, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

I watched the RNS perform Charlie Chaplin’s ‘City Lights’

On Friday evening, Wendy and I crossed the glassy Tyne to see Stefan Geiger conducting the Royal Northern Sinfonia. The occasion was a performance of Charlie Chaplin’s score to his 1931 silent film, City Lights. The film played out on a screen above the orchestra. This was our first time back to the Sage since the pandemic, and it was delightful to be back in a venue that holds so many happy memories for us.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen City Lights before. But, it is one of those films with such cultural relevance that perhaps I’ve just seen so many clips and references to it that I think I’ve seen it before. I’ve certainly never paid much attention to the score, and I wasn’t aware that Chaplin had ever written music. As Geiger pointed out in his opening remarks, Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in and scored the film, surely marking him out as a genius.

The experience of seeing the film with the score performed live obviously drew our attention to the music to a much greater degree than usual. The score is notable for its melancholy, which might not be expected in a comedy film. The Royal Northern Sinfonia performed it beautifully.

This was also, I think, my first experience of seeing a Charlie Chaplin film with an audience—and perhaps even my first time seeing a silent film with an audience. I was struck by how the laughter of the crowd—and especially the final “ahh”—became part of the soundtrack in itself, and made for a genuinely shared experience.

This was a lovely night out.

This post was filed under: Film, Music, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

Photo-a-day 183: Bungee jumping over the Tyne


You’ll need a sharp pair of eyes to spot the figure on the end of this bungee rope, right in the centre of the photo.

You can see rather more easily the Sage, the Tyne Bridge (complete with Olympic rings), the Castle Keep, and St Nicholas’s and St Mary’s cathedrals, all of which I’ve featured previously!

You can also see the quayside’s Sunday market in full flow; a bit of the 136 year old Swing Bridge, whose predecessors date back some 1,800 years or so to the Roman Pons Aelius; a smidgen of Robert Stephenson’s High Level Bridge, from which hundreds of people watched the Great Fire of Newcastle and Gateshead in 1854; and the roof of HMS Calliope, the stone frigate on the Gateshead bank of the Tyne.

You can’t see the talented young musicians performing in the North East Youth Steel Pan Festival, part of ¡Vamos! 2012. This festival was actually my reason for visiting the quayside this afternoon, but inclement weather moved it indoors, which would’ve made a fairly dull photo. So you’ve got a bungee jumping nutcase from outside instead!

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , , .

Photo-a-day 140: Hall One at The Sage


Hall One is acoustically astounding, and also looks gorgeous. Unfortunately, a photo can’t really show acoustics, and my bad photography makes the hall look pretty dull (though the decision to drape a black curtain in front of the rear of the rear of the stage doesn’t help).

Nevertheless, Wendy and I really enjoyed seeing Ramin this evening, and as we left the Sage, we saw the Tyne Bridge looking twinkly and pretty.


It may be an apocryphal tale, but I understand that the Vermont Hotel, in response to Council cuts, paid the electricity bill for the lighting of the Tyne Bridge for to benefit its guests’ views. If it is true, the owners will no doubt have celebrated when the current LED lighting system was installed, as I’m sure it cut the bill substantially…

Though, having said that, the hotel recently went into administration. It’s since been sold, and is now anticipating a £3m makeover. Hurrah!

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , , .

Photo-a-day 22: Sage


This is a roof detail of Norman Foster’s £70m Sage Gateshead, home to the very fine Northern Sinfonia (lead by the charismatic Austrian Thomas Zehetmair) much more besides. It is undoubtedly one of the country’s finest music venues. Hall One’s acoustics are sublime, and whilst I’m personally less keen on Hall Two, the ten-sided performance space is still architecturally impressive.

Also, the Sir Michael Straker on the concourse is a great place to sit and work in relatively quiet café surroundings with free wifi.

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , , , .

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