Musical Chats with David Owen Norris

During my time as Concert Promotions and Marketing intern at Turner Sims (if you’re in the Southampton area, make sure to check out their concert series!) I got to interview a lot of great artists. You can check out my interviews and reviews on the Turner Sims blog, as well as here on The Rosie Word. 

I will be uploading interviews in a series called “Musical Chats with…”, so stay tuned for more interviews with great artists! 

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David Owen Norris is a world-renowned pianist, educator, Professor and broadcaster. I had the pleasure of interviewing David before he delved into Mozart’s Jupiter symphony with orchestra SÓN at Turner Sims on Saturday 14 March 2020. This concert included Jupiter, and Debussy’s Clair de lune arranged for piano and orchestra.

Rosie Sewell (RS): How would you describe Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony to an audience member who has never heard it before?
David Owen Norris (DON): A sparkling diamond of a symphony that thoroughly deserves its nickname. Jupiter was King of the Gods, and nothing is more commandingly brilliant than this, Mozart’s last symphony. The themes perform that difficult trick of being both catchy and distinct, each with its own character, and rich in possibilities, as Mozart shows as he develops his ideas through each of the four movements. Unusually luxuriant harmonies, even for Mozart, and a dazzling tour de force of counterpoint in the Finale, where a whole world is conjured up from just the four notes we hear at the beginning. One of the great summits of music, up there with Beethoven’s Fifth and The Rite of Spring – and Clair de lune!

RS: Mozart and Debussy were alive and composing just over 100 years apart from each other, and were living in very different Europes to each other. Do you find that these composers’ works particularly complement each other? Or are they really quite distinct from each other?
DON: What Mozart and Debussy have in common is an exquisitely sensitive aural imagination – a fine ear, you could say. Putting just one note into a different octave, for instance, would completely change the effect. One of my favourite moments in Clair de lune is where the opening tune comes back at the end. It’s almost the same, but Debussy adds just one new note, a C flat, and the effect is heart-breaking. Or listen to how Mozart uses his single flute, like a painter touching in a dab of white to bring light into his picture.

RS: You are the Professor of Classical Performance at the University of Southampton, and are working on this project with SÓN, who place an emphasis on education and outreach. You also often make presentations alongside performances. Is music education and outreach a key point of interest for you when you undertake projects?
DON: Music is more than a warm aural bath for us to wallow in. Great music makes its emotional effects by intellectual means, and the better we understand its intellectual aspect, the more emotionally satisfying the music becomes. So, Bach can sound like a sewing-machine, or like a wonderful tapestry of interlocking threads of different colours. Beethoven can sound like an old, over-familiar, library book, or like one of art’s greatest revolutionaries. The difference lies in the intellectual comprehension of both performer and listener. Education and Outreach are tick-box words, but the activities that they imperfectly describe – Listening closely, Explaining simply, Knowing that everyone can enjoy music – are very important ones.

RS: On a similar theme, do you find that working alongside young musicians and students has influenced and impacted you as a performer?
DON: It’s good to see the effect that a by-now familiar piece of music has, upon someone who’s hearing it or playing it for the first time. And very satisfying to observe processes of discovery. Above all, it’s stimulating to hear the new interpretations of a generation with different formative experiences, different memories, and different emotional expectations. And a lesson on a piece, for both teacher and student, is a wonderful way of exploring it outside real time, as you try things in different ways.

RS: And finally, if you could host a dinner party and invite three composers, who would they be?
DON: Haydn, Poulenc and Constant Lambert. People who couldn’t be dull if they tried.

RS: Thank you very much for your time, David!

REVIEW: The Audience (NST, Southampton)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: For those who love good old Queenie, and for those who don’t.

 

A revival of Peter Morgan’s The Audience is currently showing at the NST City in Southampton. The play premiered in the West End in 2013, and stages the Queen’s private weekly meetings with her prime ministers. It poses questions of the Queen’s character and the necessity of the monarchy in our modern society, all the while showing us the comic and witty side of our serious figurehead. “Often funny, sometimes confessional, occasionally explosive” (NST Southampton), The Audience is a masterpiece not to be missed.

65 Years. 13 Prime Ministers. One Queen.

Queen Elizabeth is a public figure that we perhaps do not take much time to sympathize with. The Royal Family is steeped in tradition and protocol, and so it is very easy to forget that the head of that institution is also a person. Faye Castelow perfectly captures this tension between the figurehead and the people in her portrayal of Elizabeth. Her Elizabeth is passionate about her country and the Commonwealth, but also about fairness and justice. She is not permitted to state opinion on political affairs, and yet her facial expressions and body language go a long way to show how she feels. Droll, intelligent, likeable and very upper class, we see Elizabeth as both a “postage stamp with a pulse” and as a woman trying to maintain her integrity in a position that demands she compromises it.

The staging for this production includes a large conveyer belt which wheels the Prime Ministers out onto the stage, adding a layer of comedy but also a more profound statement on the longevity of the Queen’s service as well as the seemingly never-ending trail of middle-aged white men that seem to occupy the PM position. Paul Kemp is a triumph as the male PM’s, where he embodies the essence of all of them with remarkable skill and finesse. His Harold Wilson was the stand-out, with witty comedy and poignancy in his diminishing health, showcasing a close bond with the Queen.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole show is the confrontation between Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, played by Lizzie Hopley. Thatcher storms into Buckingham Palace in a rage about a newspaper article that has been published stating Elizabeth’s poor opinion of her. A wonderful scene then ensues in which Elizabeth and Thatcher engage in a hostile confrontation, stalking up and down the conveyer belt towards each other in what feels like a hunt, yet we cannot quite tell which is the predator and which is the prey.

The combination of Morgan’s writing, Hodges‘ directing, Vize’s set design and the performances from Castelow and Kemp make The Audience unmissable. The private meetings liken to therapy sessions for the Prime Minister, and throughout we get a sense that all of the Prime Ministers are very similar men, just in a “different tie.”  By the end, we feel we have grown to understand the Queen, her PM’s, and the delicate balance that keeps it all together just a little bit more than we did before we started, all the while being entertained with Elizabeth’s wit and perfectly posh accent.

 

See The Audience at NST City, Southampton from 24 May – 22 June. Get your tickets here

 

 

 

REVIEW: Catwoman Soulstealer

Quick summary: Giving ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ a whole new meaning.
Rating: ★★★★☆

Try this series if you like: DC Comics (obvs), Cassandra Clare, Daniel José Older, Richelle Mead


In this rewrite of DC’s Catwoman, we are re-introduced to the badass anti-hero Selina Kyle, and her ‘band of merry men’, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. We also meet Luke Fox as the ex-military do-gooder, Batwing. Full to the brim with high-stake heists, romance, allies and enemies, this stand-alone book is good for hard-core fans and comic book rookies alike.

The world-building in this story happens quickly. Within the first few pages we are introduced to the teeming, corrupt underworld where Selina Kyle spends most of her life. We learn about the social hierarchies and some of the basic politics of Gotham City but are expected to fill in the gaps ourselves as far as societal culture goes. When it comes to feeding the reader information about the world, it is more ‘tell’ than ‘show’; for example, we find out that Selina’s sister Maggie is very ill, but instead of finding this out through clues such as her coughing, or taking medicine, Maas writes “with her mother gone and her sister sick, no legit job could pay as much or as quickly.” This does the job, but I would have liked a teeny bit more subtlety.

As far as the characters go, they are interesting and reasonably well-developed. Selina Kyle has an interesting storyline; a female anti-heroine who is interested in protecting the people she loves, but ultimately has no qualms over committing high-level crimes. She is cunning, wily, an excellent fighter and adept at having secret plans that aren’t revealed until late in the novel – Maas’ forte, it seems! Her secretive personality complements the brash insanity of Harley Quinn and the stoic, green-fiend Poison Ivy well, and overall I found her character to be an enjoyable and pleasing read.

Some reviews make the comment that Luke Fox is only present in the book to give Selina a love interest, and, as a black character, to add diversity to the cast. I did not find this at all. I read him as a man struggling to keep control over his PTSD, Gotham City while Batman is away, and his growing feelings for someone he really should not be feeling things for. He frequently commented on police brutality against the black community, and this did add a good dimension to the book as there was the antithesis of him being targeted by law enforcement for his skin colour and yet he is the one protecting the city from criminals. I found it ever so slightly basic in its delivery; it was similarly more ‘tell’ than ‘show.’ This is not, however, a criticism of Luke Fox as a character – I liked him, I saw his good intentions, and although he was a bit vanilla, he complemented Selina’s character well.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I got through it quickly. The plot, world-building, eand characterisation were arguably not anything jaw-droppingly special, but they held my interest, and I was invested in what happened. For both A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass (Maas’ series,) I found that while I enjoyed the first book, the later books in the series were where I became truly captivated. Perhaps Maas’ writing is like cheese or wine – it is good at first, but it gets really good over time. If we were to have a series made out of this, then I might fall head over heels in love with it, but as it stands, I love it as you might love a close-ish friend. You’re not my family, you’re not my soulmate, but I get on with you and I’d hang out with you again.

SUMMER READING PREVIEW

This summer we are once again taking on the challenge of trying to read one book every week! There is nothing better for expanding your imagination and challenging your mind than reading, and to celebrate this, here is a preview of some of the exciting books we are reading over the summer.

Catwoman Soulstealer – Sarah J Maas

When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play.

Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. Batman is off on a vital mission and Gotham is at the mercy of the new thief on the prowl. Joined by the cunning Poison Ivy and the notorious Harley Quinn, she wreaks havoc across the city.

Selina is playing a desperate game of cat and mouse. But with a dangerous threat from the past on her tail, will she be able to pull of the ultimate heist.

What’s the deal?

DC superheroes are being brought to life by well-loved authors in the DC Icons Series. Sarah J MaasCatwoman is the third release in this series, and is preceded by Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman and Marie Lu’s Batman. Most recently, Matt de la Peña’s Superman was released in March 2019.

What’s the hype?

Many of the reviews for this book are positive. People are loving the DC/Maas crossover, and most are liking the level of human emotion Maas brings to the character of Selina Kyle. Some want more strength and sassiness in the character, but by the same token some “think there is room for the exciting villainous Selinas of the past and for this more sensitive, emotionally-complex version.” (Emily May on Goodreads)

What are we expecting?                                                                                                                 

We know Maas can write action. We know Maas can write romance. We know Maas can write fantasy. We can probably confidently say that her action writing, character development and world-building skills will translate into her contribution to the DC Icons series, and therefore this book is probably very good.

However, what is particularly exciting about the prospect of this novel is that it is very different from Maas’ previous output; whereas A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Throne of Glass is set in a very clear fantasy world, with high magic and royalty, Catwoman is closer to urban fantasy, and is already established as part of a very famous, loved world created by a large franchise. It will be interesting to see how Maas’ fares in this style of writing, especially ahead of her urban fantasy series Crescent City in late 2019.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

They killed my mother.

They took our magic.

They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

What’s the deal?

Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi debuts with Children of Blood and Bone, which has already got a movie deal with Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions. Adeyemi describes it as an “allegory for the modern black experience,” and in this West African YA-Fantasy magic, epic adventure and racial tensions all collide.

What’s the hype?

There is a HELL OF A LOT of hype surrounding this book, which is both a good and bad thing for the book. The more hype, the more exposure, but conversely, the more hype the higher the expectations of the reader. YA Fantasy readers have been wanting more diversity in what they read for a really long time, and Adeyemi more than delivers with this novel exploring race and issues in a world based on Nigeria and its mythology. Some readers have found issues with the book, saying the pace was very slow and they did not feel invested in the characters. Others, however, love the construction of both the world and characters, and feel it perfectly hits exactly what the YA market needs.

What are we expecting?                                                                                                                 

From reading some reviews, we are expecting the world building to be a particular highlight, with characters that you gradually warm up to the more the book progresses. We’re hoping there will be some good action and plot writing. Some of the more negative reviews have mentioned that they think the plot and characters are too trope-y, so it will be interesting to see what we think regarding that. Ultimately, this is Adeyemi’s debut novel, and we can’t wait to be introduced to her writing and finally catch up with reading this massively hyped book.

Once and Future – Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

What’s the deal?

Entangled author Amy Rose Capetta joins forces with The Color of Rain’s Cori McCarthy in this gender-bending, space-crossing retelling of the King Arthur legend. On the surface, this novel seems to have everything that’s hot in YA right now; a badass female lead, adventure, and a “sizzling, bold exploration of gender, power and revolution” (Jessica Khoury.)  We received this book in a subscription box from Illumicrate.

What’s the hype?

In reviews, this book has been described as “that strange blend of sci-fi and quirky comedy that some people seem to love” (Emily May on Goodreads) The hype around this book, however, is not huge. In fact, it seems almost non-existent. The majority of the reviews rate the book a happy average, with little to no outstanding or awful ratings. Many reviews positively comment on the inclusivity and humour in the book, but are a bit more critical of the pacing and intention.

What are we expecting?

This seems to be a good, creative idea for a novel, and the premise is something we are likely to enjoy, and so the success of this book will all be in the execution. How are we introduced to the world which is seemingly quite different from our own? How are we introduced to the characters and how are their relationships built and developed? What is the pacing of the novel like? Are we getting bored? These questions are all challenges we expect to have to put to this book.

City of Thieves – David Benioff

Four months into the siege of Leningrad, the city is starving. Seventeen-year-old Lev fears for his life when he is arrested for looting the body of a dead German paratrooper, while his charismatic cellmate, Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested for desertion, seems bizarrely unafraid.

Dawn brings, instead of an execution squad, an impossible challenge. Lev and Kolya can find a dozen eggs for an NKVD colonel to use for his daughter’s wedding cake, and live. Or fail, and die.

In the depths of the coldest winter in history, through a city cut off from all supplies and suffering appalling deprivation, man and boy embark on an absurd hunt. Their search will take them through desolate, lawless Leningrad and the devastated countryside surrounding it, in the captivating journey of two men trying to survive against desperate odds.

What’s the deal?

In City of Thieves, Benioff retells the story told to him by his grandfather of two boys in WWII Leningrad on an insane mission. The horrendous and the comical are interwoven in every aspect of this book. We have two young boys about to face the firing squad in desolate, bleak wartime Leningrad, and all of the horrors that war has wreaked on their city. At the same time, we have a Soviet sending them across the destitute city to find some eggs, and if they return empty-handed then they will face their deaths. Described as an “intimate coming-of-age story”, this book seems to transcend all normal expectations of a war novel, finding the humanity in the inhumane.

What’s the hype?

Described as cinematic in its style, with writing that transports you, reviews are loving this deft combination of fiction and biography that provides an insight into a city that was devastatingly affected by the war. Many say that Benioff successfully manages to write a historical novel that both puts characters at its heart and also provides a harrowingly accurate picture of war-stricken Russia. In fact, it is very difficult to find negative reviews of this book. The vast majority of reviews rate it 4 or 5 stars, and even those that are lower are very complimentary, and the reason for the low rating is that they weren’t particularly interested in the subject matter. The consensus among reviewers is that Benioff’s writing is exquisite; indeed, J. Kent Messum says “it’s a modern textbook example of how to write a great story.”  

What are we expecting?

We’re expecting it to be really good! Benioff is co-creater of the TV phenomenon Game of Thrones, and so the cinematic writing that everyone is raving about is something we really hope comes across. We are interested to see if it has the same sort of pace and tone as The Book Thief, as this is what a fair few of the reviews seem to imply. The characters seem to be of central importance in this book, and so it will be interesting to see how attached we get to them, and how they are developed throughout. As is it historical fiction, we expect that the world-building will be good, and we want to get a real feel for what life was like in wartime Leningrad.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

What’s the deal?

In Uprooted, Novik presents a high-fantasy world saturated with folklore and magic. The anti-hero of the novel seems to be the evil Wood, and clumsy, average Agnieszka finds herself at the centre of the battle against this “malevolent power.” “One part Polish folk tale, one part coming-of-age magical fantasy, and one part horror,” (Tadiana on Goodreads) and with a purposefully vague blurb, before even picking the book up, we are expecting big things.

What’s the hype?

This book has a lot of hype from some really big hitters in YA Fantasy; for example, Cassandra Clare, Lev Grossman, Maggie Stiefvater and Robin Hobb. If that doesn’t hype the novel up, I don’t know what does. With words such as “enchanting”, “thrilling” and “a delight” being regularly thrown around, Uprooted is being reviewed as both “otherworldly and planted in the real”; the seemingly perfect combination for a fantasy novel! On the other hand, some reviews are not so positive, with readers wanting much more character development, particularly for the anti-heroes, and describing the story as “nothing new.”

What are we expecting?

Described as “a charming and inviting story that looks unflinchingly at the strangling roots of hurt and revenge” (Robin Hobb), we expect this novel to be an easy read, but one with some dark tension interweaved in with the enchanting magical world. This is exactly the sort of book a YA Fantasy fan should hope to love; satisfying plot lines, adventure, perhaps a hint of romance and some epic magic. After the build-up from all of those authors, we’re really, really hoping it’s amazing – – please don’t let us down, Uprooted!

REVIEW: Dunkirk

 

Quick summary: Detailed, intriguing, edge of the seat
Rating: ★★★★

This contains spoilers… sorry!



 

The pre-conceived ideas I had of this film were that it was likely to be good and I was likely to enjoy it because 1) it was directed by Christopher Nolan, and 2) it is historical which is always a genre I enjoy. I expected it to be full of action, fast-paced, excellently shot, and I also thought that maybe the plot line might be a bit stagnant. Usually I find in war films that although I love the basis of the film and the history behind it, I find I can’t get invested in the plot line or the characters. Other things I knew about the film was that there was quite a young cast, perhaps to emulate the age of soldiers who actually were in Dunkirk; also, Christopher Nolan both wrote and directed the film, and so the cohesion between the writing and execution of the film was probably going to be excellent.

My initial reactions were that I loved it, and that the casting was great. It was thought-provoking and emotional, I was often on the edge of my seat, and the emotions invoked were very authentic to the horrors of the war. The music was a major highlight for me – there was a continuous ticking noise, much like a clock, throughout most of the major scenes, and this made me think of the feeling of time running out; the sound emphasised and intensified the panic and hysteria present in such dramatic situations as those in Dunkirk. The plot was nowhere near as stagnant as I thought it would be, and in reality was complex and fast-paced. The characters were well developed and you were invested in whether they survived or not; it was this interaction between the audience and the story which, for me, elevates it above other war films I have watched.

Other key aspects that impacted me as I watched the film and as I came away were mostly to do with subtleties that had been implanted which actually contributed massively to the overall effect of the film:

  • The youth of the actors added to the authenticity of the experience because you could really imagine people that age in situations that were being portrayed on the screen. This almost made it more harrowing because the fact that some soldiers were barely adults makes their deaths seem even sadder.
  • The aesthetic of the actors was also interesting – the majority of the soldiers on Dunkirk beach had dark hair. This mass of dark haired young men made them all look like carbon copies of each other; this emphasised that lack of individuality that war creates. We did not know who all of the characters were, just as we do not know who all of the men that died in WW1 and WW2 were.
  • Having said this, there was something profoundly human within all of the characters. We see two examples of this – one where Peter (played by Tom Glynn-Carney) lies to Cillian Murphy’s character about the death of George (Barry Keoghan), and the second where Alex (Harry Styles) gestures a helping hand to the man he had just called a German spy in the previous scene. These two examples of a glimmer of humanity shows those watching the film the saddening truth that this was young boys fighting against the loss of humanity.

Overall, I loved this film because it was complex and interesting, and emotional; it was sad because it highlighted that everyone was impacted, and no-one could escape the horror of war (George is an example of this.) In fact, George as a character was a microcosm of a generation of boys eager to join the war effort and who paid with their lives. Ultimately, it was the juxtaposition of hope for an end and survival with the hopelessness of fighting against a seemingly relentless enemy in a quintessentially human struggle for survival that made this film so touching, poignant and so damn good!