Mahler as you’ve never heard it before…

Last week ended with Mahler very much in mind.  The BBC Proms had the charismatic Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in Mahler’s Symphony No.2 ‘The Resurrection’ and down at Dillington we had some extraordinary Mahler arrangements by Stephen Goss for guitar quartet.  Entitled ‘Mahler Lieder’ these were six pieces drawn from orchestral song cycles and the symphonies – the first and second.  I’m not sure whether these were wholly successful.  Certainly three of the four arrangements originating from the song cycles lacked the deep soulful dimension provided by the human voice.  I know these works well and I will admit to a longing for this missing element.  Despite these reservations, it was a worthwhile and interesting project.  The reduction of full symphony orchestra to four guitars is, if nothing else, an experiment in ingenuity.  More wonderfully in this same programme were reinventions of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne and Gymnopedie piano works and Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera.

The annual Classical Guitar Festival week in August is always full of interest, superb instrumental playing and musicianship.  Check it out next year.

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Dillington’s First Royal Visitor

Monday 25 July 2011 was the occasion when Dillingon welcomed its first ever visit by a member of the Royal Family.  The Princess Royal descended from the skies in a helicopter to attend the Somerset Carers’ Conference.  She was attended by the Lord Lieutenant, Lady Gass, and a lot of discrete but efficient security.  Landing in the park HRH walked up to the House where she was greeted by a host of civic dignataries before retiring for a private lunch.  The Princess Royal then walked across to the Mews where she chatted to about 100 people who looked after those with mental health problems.  The royal presence should be viewed as an endorsement for the amazing commitment many people make caring for those with what can be described as hidden illnesses or conditions.  Their work is often heroic and it is unstinting and relentless.  Their day at Dillington was a moment of solidarity and respite and as well as an opportunity to talk about their experience.  It was a day which no one will forget.

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Images of Dillington

The Hyde Bedrooms Facing West - just look at those clouds!



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Something Old, Something New

In a couple of weeks’ time I am going up to London to see both the Miro Exhibition at Tate Modern and The Vorticism show at Tate Britain.  Tickets have been bought online and I will make the journey between the two buildings on water via the Tate to Tate riverboat service.  I mention this not simply to boast my cultural interests but to talk of the difficulties and challenges of promoting something old and something new at the same time.  When Tate Modern opened we all talked enthusiastically of the vast Turbine Hall and the decks of world-class modern art all stacked on top of each other like some great palimpsest of artistic achievement.  Tate Britain on the other hand, even after a very successful refurbishment and re-hang, has struggled to attract the great numbers of visitors and the sheer excitement of its younger sibling down the river.  Now all this is a preamble to an issue at Dillington.  The old house of Dillington dating back to 1580 – if not before – is perceived as the very emblematic element of place.  The Hyde on the other hand is new and contemporary – daring even!  But I would suggest that this contrast is not contrary but complimentary.  The Hyde is something beautiful and glorious too. Dillington House stands in its landscape setting magnificent and dominant.  The Hyde sits quietly into the slope of the land and looks out, almost secretively, to the vistas of beautiful south Somerset.  At a superficial level, the buildings seem to chalk and cheese but in a deep sense they compliment and engage with each other wonderfully.  In our new age of unbridled technological possibilities we live a schizophrenic existence in which at one moment we embrace a new digital age (smart cards, satellites, mobile phones and the online world of the internet etc) whilst we also long for the integrity of personal relationships, happiness and a simpler life.  The reality is that we want it all.  This schizophrenic existence need not be mutually exclusive if we are prepared to be open and accepting of difference, change and complimentarity.  The Hyde is not the House but it adds to excitement of the location.  The Hyde is about the present and not about the past. The use of the House is about the present and not about the past.  At Dillington, like at the Tate, we are committed to the one ideal of excellence in everything we do.  That transduces all superficial values.  The commitment to excellence may seem old fashioned to some but I believe in old fashioned values like public service, hard work and commitment.  At Dillington I would say look beyond the surface and delve deeper into the qualities of place.

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The New Programme is Out!

After months of hard work – sweat, inspiration and chasing – the usual stuff, the new programme is now hitting door mats across the country and the telephones are going bonkers.  This is excellent news of course but please be patient if you don’t get through immediately.  Three people are working on the telephones during office hours.  If your booking enquiry is straightforward then you can always use the link in the website.  The programme is full of riches including many new course subjects and formats as well as new tutors.  As well as the printed version, you will find the downloadable version available as a pdf but the entire programme with subject search can be found using the tabs on the website.

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All That Jazz….and more perhaps

Mid-summer has been and gone and so has our annual jazz fest.  The inimitable David Price entertained us with his knowledge and insight of the jazz greats whilst The John Petters jazz and swing band gave a truly wonderful concert on the Saturday evening.  The stage was packed with great musicians who thrilled us with wonderful music stylishly performed to an appreciative audience.  Now Dillington is not renowned for its jazz programme but the last Saturday got me thinking and we need to change that.  Although many find the adventures of contemporary jazz difficult, the virtuosity and melodic inventions of traditional jazz has a great following.  Rooted in the deep south of the U.S. via the clubs of Chicago and New York (primarily), we have a musical inheritance that is greatly admired even to the point of influencing the classical music avant guard of 1920s Europe.  So – and this is early stage stuff – we  are beginning to plan a week long Jazz Festival in 2012.  The last week of August has been pencilled in.  Who knows, from the first steps, it will grow into something big in the Dillington calendar – just like the classical guitar festival which this year celebrates its 17th anniversary.

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Vienna Rules!

We’ve just completed our mini-fest of music from Vienna with a concert of piano trios given by Ashley Wass, Matthew Trusler and Alexander Chausian.  Three concerts on three consecutive summer evenings (and yes, the weather was wonderful and the gardens are looking their best) featuring music composed in Vienna – and as you’d expect we heard trios by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Zemlinsky.  We were to have heard Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht in a piano trio version by Steuermann but busy schedules scuppered that idea and we heard a third Brahms and so the complete set.

These trios provided a great insight into the creative drive brought on initially by the development and musical possibilities of the piano.  Of course, Beethoven was for many the star of the week and the performance of the Archduke last night simply the one of the finest performances we had encountered at Dillington ever.  Some even compared it to their hearing of a Barenboim, Zuckerman and Jacqueline du Pre performance no less.   That said, the hearing of all three Brahms trios was wonderful too.  The rich sonorities and gift for melodic invention was proof, if proof was needed, of his indebtedness to Beethoven and his legacy to composers such as Elgar whose own chamber works (there are only three) owe as much to Brahms’ own works and I think especially the Trio in C major.

Ashley Wass and his collaborators clearly relished their work.  When you think about it, they had prepared and played a huge amount of music.  Three nights and three different programmes.  Their personal friendship and chemistry was self-evident and more so as each concert passed.  This was picked up on by the audience who clearly felt that this was great music-making by three friends.  Being in a room on such occasions demonstrates why ‘chamber music’ gets to the heart of what music is about.  It is touches the spiritual dimension, is social and is deeply human.  Thank goodness for this and thanks too to Wass, Trusler and Chausian.

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