|Two concerts and a mountain
||[Sep. 25th, 2016|10:02 pm]
Ten days ago we heard Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys at the Sage - Hall 2 of the Sage itself, this time, promoted from Gateshead Old Town Hall where we have previously seen them (more than once, I thought, though I can't find any record of that). As before, an immensely enjoyable live band - they deserved a larger audience than the Sage had managed to muster - who I'll happily see every time they play locally, without feeling any need to buy their CD and listen to it in their absence. Sorry about that, guys.
Last night's concert was about as different as it could be: the Durham Hymns in the chapel of Ushaw College. The Durham Hymns was commissioned as part of the First World War commemorations, with poems by Carol Ann Duffy inspired by contemporary texts, set to music for choir and brass band. Plenty there to be ambivalent about, but a friend had been immensely impressed by the premiere at the cathedral, so we agreed to join her for this small performance at Ushaw.
The setting, in the college's magnificent Gothic chapel, could have added so much atmosphere - but somehow it didn't work out that way. The choir and the band seemed immensely remote, below the altar at the end of the long high nave; and the readers seemed to be having problems with the acoustics - the more emotion they gave their words, the more the echo blurred what they were saying. As the performance went on, they seemed to get the hang of it, and by the end they were almost entirely intelligible, but the initial problems added to the distancing effect. Right at the end, after the last poem, which is called The Last Post, a single trumpet (I think - don't quote me) played the Last Post from the west end of the chapel, ringing clear and true down the nave - and when the choir and the band picked up the finale, it felt magically connected by this one strand, and the effect was electric. Which only made me more aware what had been missing. I wonder how it would have played in the lesser grandeur of Ushaw's Exhibition Hall, where we recently heard Alistair Anderson and co.
Somewhere between these two we watched a television documentary about early films of the ascent of Everest: the programme's argument was that huge resources were thrown at the ascent of the mountain, the race to be the first to the summit became a matter of propaganda and the role of film in that race doubly so. I don't dispute it, but I was more interested in the story of John Noel. I expect everyone but me already knew this, but it was new to me, and fascinating. As a young man in the army in India he became fascinated with the distant peaks of the Himalayas, and in 1913 disguised himself as a pilgrim to travel into Tibet and get closer. Then he came home and lectured to the Royal Geographic Society about it, and seems to have created, single-handed, the idea that Everest ought to be climbed. When an Everest expedition set out in 1922, he was its official photographer and cinematographer, developing his photographs in icy water in a darkroom-tent. The expedition failed, in the sense that it did not reach the summit, and no-one was willing to fund another. So Noel set up a company to make a film of the expedition, and by buying the rights, made the expedition possible. In 1924. This time he was able to film even higher than before: he filmed Mallory and Irvine setting off to attempt the summit, and he filmed the search party return without finding them. His film, The Epic of Everest is on YouTube. Some of Noel's photographs (I'd like to see more of these).
I'm pretty much immune to the romance of mountaineering: when I hear of people returning again and again to attempt climbs on which their friends have died, and on which soomer or later they will die themselves, what I think is not complimentary. I am if anything repelled by the rush to climb summits in order to take selfies, scattering the slopes with litter. Noel would seem to have a lot to answer for. Even so, what a story! And what pictures!