Saturday, 26 September 2015


Peter Zumthor's Kolumba is a museum in the centre of Cologne, built between 1997 and 2007 on the site of the Church of St Kolumba, bombed during World War 2. Unlike so many of the Romanesque and medieval churches in the city that were lovingly reconstructed after the war, St Kolumba was left as a symbolic ruin and a smaller church was built amongst its ruins in the 1950s.

The museum encloses the 1950s church, the medieval ruins and is also a new multi-floor gallery space. The gallery and stairways are reduced to an absolute minimum of internal decoration of "reduced materiality" in which the art-works are given the space to breathe. 

The way in which space is organised and how visitors can move through it is breath-taking. The arts works themselves range from medieval to contemporary installation art.

Rebecca Horn: Berlin Earthbound, 1994
The fabric of the building itself is astonishing in the care and details with which everything is finished along with the attention to details - for instance, the wonderful brickwork or the wooden rails. 

Small openings have been introduced into the brickwork at certain point that allows the sound of the city outside to penetrate into the meditative quality of the space. 

Yet the impression left is quite different to most galleries and is a strangely quiet and meditative experience. 

On the top floor I came across a workshop of pieces by contemporary composers, but such in the nature of the building that it could equally well respond the requirements of medieval polyphony.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

But where are the Swans?

I was in Antwerp, Flanders, recently and I thought I’d pay a visit to the city’s castle - the setting for Wagner’s Lohengrin. When Wagner eventually visited Antwerp in 1860, he realised that his ideas about its location were the rather wide of the mark (he imagined it was a fortress on a hill...). Here’s what the castle looks like today.

Its oldest sections date back to around 1200 (though built on an earlier site) and today only a fragment remains. It stands next to the mighty River Schelde and one of Belgium’s great  harbours.

It was presumably on the Schelde that Lohengrin arrived, his boat pulled by a swan.

Alas, there were no swans on the Schelde that day, so I visited the seaside resort of Blankenberge instead...

... to find where the swans had gone. I found them at an exhibition of work by the Flemish artist Roger Raveel at the city’s casino.

The exhibits included these splendid swans...

Raveel was one of the first Belgian artists to build work from everyday objects and the exhibition also included a magnificent painting through which one's own face can be displayed. 

                                                                     Photo © Marc Cauwenbergh

I wonder what Wagner would have made of it all...

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Powerhouse at Presteigne

I've been in the sleepy little Welsh bordertown of Presteigne over the bank holiday weekend where conductor George Vass curates one of Britain's best contemporary music festivals.

It's a great festival where composers meet up and get together with discussions going on into the early hours at the various taverns around the town. Most of the concerts are held in St Andrew's Church in the town's centre (see below), as well as in various medieval churches in the surrounding villages. 

Presteigne is one of the most fascinating Welsh bordertowns, with lots of hugely characterful late eighteenth and early nineteenth century houses and cottages.

The concentration this year has been on the composer Matthew Taylor (who gave a fascinating "Desert Island Discs" type interview about his life and work on Monday afternoon) as well as marking the 150th anniversaries of Nielsen and Sibelius's births. I've been reviewing some of the concerts for the Hereford Times and Western Mail. You can read the reivews at the links below.