Friday, 31 May 2019

An Impressive Start to the JPO’s 2019 Winter Season

I was excited for the opening concert of the JPO’s 2019 Winter Season for a number of reasons. Firstly, to hear the orchestra back in its home venue, at the Linder Auditorium in Parktown. The last time I heard the JPO was at the Opera Jewels concert, which was held in the totally unsuitable Teatro at Montecasino; the sound stopped dead at the end of the stage. In my regular seat at the very top of the centre balcony in the Linder Auditorium, the blend of sound I get is the most resonant and most balanced on offer. Secondly, I was looking forward to hearing Haydn once again after a long absence of his works from JPO programmes. Thirdly, I was most eager to hear from one of my favourite conductors of any JPO season, the Japanese guest Yasuo Shinozaki.

I first heard Shinozaki with the JPO last November, when the clarinettist Robert Pickup played the first Weber concerto with the orchestra. As I reported, I was struck by the orchestra’s precision, unity, and strength under him. Those same qualities were present in his return this season.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Double Bill: A Country for Old Men

I wish I’d been able to share my enthusiasm for two new movies while they were still showing in theatres (both came out early in 2019 and have long left the circuit); however, they’re now both available by other means, all the better to savour and ponder them in the comfort of your own home.

“The Old Man and the Gun”

Available on DVD.

David Lowery’s latest movie is about the real-life career criminal and escape artist Forrest Tucker, who was first imprisoned at the age of 15 (in the 1930s), and spent the rest of his life in and out of jail, having attempted 18 successful and 12 unsuccessful escapes, by his own reckoning. Tucker was profiled by David Grann for The New Yorker in 2003, and the movie is adapted from Grann’s article. Robert Redford stars as the 61-year-old Forrest in the movie, which starts in Texas in 1981, and which shows him in action robbing banks, eluding the police investigators on his trail (headed by Dallas Police Detective John Hunt, played by regular Lowery collaborator Casey Affleck), and growing warmly attached to a widow he meets named Jewel (Sissy Spacek).

The Old Man and the Gun seems tinged with nostalgia, shown in a number of its elements — the grainy, period look of the images (shot on 16-mm film); the calmly poised and friendlily animated manner of people in small-town and rural America; the presence of two elder movie stars, who recall heydays of forty, fifty years ago; and the quiet sentimentality with which Forrest regards his long career of risks and thrills. Yet Lowery’s nostalgia isn’t spread in a thick haze of treacle and tears, but is touchingly dignified, and delicately modulated into other complex and nuanced emotions and a serious sense of fun. Anyone who’s seen Lowery’s previous movies (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story) will be expecting the finely composed, richly layered images that mark each shot of this movie, as well as the concentrated performances by the actors. Here, Redford, Affleck, and Spacek achieve truly beautiful modes of grace and authenticity, that can best be described as sublime. Redford has announced that The Old Man and the Gun features his final onscreen performance, and it’s wholly apt that the role itself is one that centres on performance and charisma. Lowery’s portrait of Forrest Tucker seems elevated into a portrait of the artist Robert Redford, and the very best qualities and abilities that brought him so much admiration.