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: Joglaresa at Turner Sims

The Coronavirus pandemic has got us all locked inside, and I’m on my laptop significantly more than normal! All of that screen time got me reminiscing about better times when we could go to concerts and shows… and so here is a review of optimal jollity from those better times!

Joglaresa’s ‘Teatime Special’ at Turner Sims was full of life, energy, beauty and fantastic musicianship. The group ‘continues to delight and surprise’ (Classical Music Magazine) from the first strum of their period instruments, until the last chord of the concert.

Led by Belinda Sykes, the renowned early music group took us through Middle Eastern, Celtic, European and Medieval music in a new and exciting way. In both the haunting love songs and the uplifting, satirical dances, Joglaresa’s early music was completely different to anything I had heard before. Instead of simply reproducing old music on old instruments, the group brought a vivacity and life to the early music that made it feel both steeped in tradition and completely new.

The singers took on the role of bards, who delivered and reinterpreted age-old stories for this new audience. Their story-telling was without fault, and every humorous line landed perfectly with the audience. This was assisted by Sykes’ hilarious interjections between each song, explaining a little more about the climate in which the songs had been written and performed. A particular highlight was a mournful love ballad, performed by Jeremy Avis, which left the audience in hushed awe.

The musicianship of the group was also incredible, with each song seeming almost improvised. Every groovy medieval tune seemed more complex and interesting than the last, and their joy and energy was relentless and contagious.

Hilarious, exciting, surprising and musically ingenious, Joglaresa was one of the best concerts I have seen at Turner Sims. Once this god-awful lockdown and disease is over and done with, get yourself to a Joglaresa gig!

REVIEW: Waitress (Adelphi Theatre, West End)

Quick Summary: Sugar, butter, flour – the perfect ingredients for a feel-good musical
Rating: ★★★★

If you’re looking for a show to fill you up with laughter, good singing and great looking pies, then Waitress the Musical is the one for you. Based on the 2007 film of the same name, we follow waitress Jenna through her unhappy marriage, her pregnancy, her affair with her doctor, Dr. Pomatter, and all of the lessons she learns along the way. Alongside her two best friends, the feisty, opinionated Becky and ditsy, American Revolution re-enactment enthusiast Dawn, Jenna takes us through a show that explores the ups and downs of relationships, both with other people and with yourself.

Lucie Jones as Jenna is a complete triumph. Her performance is in both parts vocally excellent, and theatrically interesting. She combines Jenna’s strength and vulnerability, as well as the desire to feel something again, in a powerful way so that you are left feeling incredibly sympathetic. She is balanced well by the hilarious David Hunter as Dr. Pomatter. Hunter is, again, brilliant at creating a nuanced, balanced character who is funny but also reveals traits beyond his comedic facade.

Other highlights include the pairing of Laura Baldwin and Joe Sugg as Dawn and Ogie respectively. The pair bounce off each other very well with quips and facial expressions, leaving the audience laughing when they say almost anything. Baldwin’s ‘When He Sees Me’ was both hilarious and sincere, and Sugg’s ‘Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me’ had the perfect level of dorky-ness.

Overall, nothing about this show is particularly extraordinary or revolutionary; the songs are generally written in a typical pop-theatre style, and the story is reasonably predictable. However, what makes the show enjoyable and successful is the fact that it takes its relative simplicity and executes it perfectly. The comedic timing and structure of the story all land very well with the audience. Every song is nice to listen to, and the harmony is divine. There are touches of crude humour, sincere love and real-life problems, all of which combine to make a lovely, all-rounded show.

Sweet, sugary and delicious, you leave Waitress feeling as if you could watch it all over again.

 


 

Have you seen Waitress? Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter!

 

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.

REVIEW: Truthwitch

Quick summary: Sisters before misters, *KAPOW*!
Rating: ★★★★★
Try this series if you like: Sara Raasch, Renée Ahdieh, Kendare Blake and Laini Taylor.


This book is 479 pages of brilliant, completely enjoyable writing. You have to take this opening novel of The Witchlands series as it is – a light fantasy with sparks of romance, high-octane adventure and a sister-bond between two female witches. It is fun, easy to read, and puts friendship above all else, which is a nice angle that you don’t always see in YA Fantasy.

Character-wise, we have some interesting ones in this mixed bag. Safi and Iseult are the two main female characters and they are Threadsisters, a bond stronger than those between families. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, and the fact that the twenty-year treaty keeping the peace between the countries in Susan Dennard‘s world is swiftly coming to an end leads us to the conclusion that these girls will somehow be heavily involved in what’s to come. Both Safi and Iseult bring something completely different to the table. They are individuals, but both work together, and this is what catapults them from arguably run-of-the-mill YA characters to something vastly more interesting.

They are joined in the ensemble cast by Merik, Safi’s steamy love interest and Prince of Nubrevna, who is desperate to ensure his country doesn’t collapse into poverty and starvation after the costly wars. Merik is earnest and has good intentions at heart, but there were many times where I did want to reach into the book and throttle him.
We also have Aeduan, who threatens to fall into the brooding-bad-boy trope, but deftly swerves away into a well thought out character with emotional complexity and multi-layered villainy. He is definitely a key one to watch for character development, and also for potential romances… (I’m looking at you, Iseult!)

I got on with the writing of relationships in a similar way to how I got on with Laini Taylor – there were similarities in the dynamics between relationships, both romantic and platonic. This was an aspect of Taylor’s writing I really enjoyed, and this enjoyment translated into Dennard’s writing as well.

Dennard’s world-building has had mixed reviews from what I can see, as others think while there is some vague background information, we don’t get to deeply dive into the Witchlands with elongated descriptive writing. We are asked to grasp the geography, culture and politics pretty quickly, and sometimes you do have to reread sections to fully grasp the implication it has on your understanding of the world. From this angle, I did find it a slow start and if you want world building to have a stronger presence than action or plot, then this isn’t the book for you. While detailed world-building is usually something I really enjoy, I didn’t find I needed any more than Dennard gave. Her writing is full to the brim with fast-paced action and “dynamic storytelling” (Publishers Weekly), so to slow the pace down with too much descriptive writing would take away from what Dennard’s writing is all about.

We want kick-assery, magic, deep-rooted friendships and some “tense (tense!) romance(s)” (Susan Dennard), and that is what we get! What’s not to love?! I say give this book a read.

Susan Dennard also has a really good blog/newsletter, and for any potential writers/enjoyers of literature, I recommend giving it a follow here!

Rosie x

REVIEW: The Dark Artifices (series)

Quick Summary: Did someone say romance, demons and battle scenes?
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Try this series if you like: J.K Rowling, Sarah J Maas, Holly Black


Check out the full synopsis here

Demons, faeries, Shadowhunters, and a little bit of sizzle in the romance department – this would be an apt summary for most of Cassandra Clares writing. Indeed, The Dark Artifices series does not differ greatly from The Mortal Instruments or The Infernal Devices. There are obviously developments in the plot and the world-building, but overall if you like the Shadowhunter world, you will like this series. If you don’t, then you probably won’t.

The plot of this series is very good, with lots of twists and some interesting surprises. It begins at the of The Mortal Instruments and takes us through the lives of Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn, friends of Jace and Clary and fellow Shadowhunters. We see more drama unfold for Shadowhunters, and once again the world as these young people know it threatens to come undone. This is a common theme for Clare’s plots, but I suppose if “it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it!”

Now, one thing I do really like about this series is the character building. One of my favourite parts is how Clare flips traditional male and female roles within the family. The clear example of this is Julian looks after the children, paints, and is very emotionally intelligent and available. Emma, however, loves fighting and is hell-bent on avenging her parents deaths. While these are not the only qualities these characters have, I do like how Clare reworks male and female stereotypes.

Another interesting talking point is the diversity within the characters in this series, and indeed in all of Clare’s writing. We have a bi-sexual couple, a transgender woman, a polyamorous relationship, hints at a gay relationship, a character on the autism spectrum, and the reversal of traditional masculine and feminine roles within a family. She gets it all in there. However, it does not feel like Clare is cramming in diversity for diversity’s sake. There is a wide range of people in these novels because there is a wide range of people in life. Clare is capturing a slice of humanity in her writing, and so of course there will be a whole range of different people. Being gay or Autistic is not the primary reason for the character’s existence; it is just a facet of their personality, and this makes these novels refreshing!

Overall, I find these books a bit of a slow read, but still enjoyable. If you are already into the Shadowhunters world, or like urban fantasy, then this is a good series for you. The character building is good, there are some fun and more devastating plot twists, and Clare is a great romance writer.

I would say that although you can be introduced to the Shadowhunters world for the first time with this series, I would recommend starting with either The Mortal Instruments or The Infernal Devices. 

Have you read any of Cassandra Clare’s books. Let us know what you think in the comments or on our Instagram!

Rosie x