[personal profile] neil_in_the_hat
Thursday 6 July
I had a small tangle with Hull's City of Culture festival at the weekend.

I started in the Ferens Gallery with the Skin exhibition. My favourite part of this was Spencer Tunick's recent antics in the city. There are few cities that wouldn't be improved by filling its streets with hundreds of naked blue people pretending to be the sea, and I think Hull particularly lends itself to this kind of treatment. The sea was very clearly cold. I then went over the road to the Maritime Museum for their "Cabinet of Curiosities", a collection of fossils and historical objects that were enlivened by half of the captions being pure invention by local schoolchildren, and the other half pure invention by Bill Bailey. I don't think it's any disrespect to Bill Bailey to say that the schoolchildren won.
I then went to the Albemarle Centre for the reason for my visit, "Anxiety Fanfare" by Jocelyn Pook. This took the form of five songs on the theme of anxiety. To liven things up, the singers had all been fitted with biometric recording devices, so that their anxiety levels could be displayed on the screen in front of us, which made it impossible not to try to stare them out to get the readings up. The conductor seemed to be having a panic attack himself, and showed us why when he turned to the audience for the third song and revealed himself to be a countertenor singing about the nerves he got just before having to sing ("Phlegm! Phlegm! I've got a zillion frogs!" is clearly a line that could only be written for a countertenor). I love Jocelyn Pook's music and have no idea why she isn't more widely known. I don't know anyone else who so deftly combines emotional depth with sheer wit, and the music is quite accessible and catchy (although you wouldn't want to be standing too near the mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg when she had an existential crisis in the final song. The soprano certainly didn't). In fact all the singers sang with such personality that it was difficult to believe it wasn't a staged opera.

The concert was also structured oddly - after the performance, which was about twenty minutes, there was an interview with the composer (who had also played violin in the piece) while half the audience barged past her on the way out and the latecomers tried to knock her over on the way in, and then they did the whole thing again, this time with two anxiety-inducing additions - an extra melody from an audience member's mobile phone, and a microphone fault for the countertenor. Just the same I can now claim to have done something I've never done in my life before. I enjoyed being in Hull.

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