I have had a weekend of doing a couple of things that I have not understood. I am always reading that it is good to go outside your comfort zone and that is where I have been.  Has it been beneficial?  I’m not sure.

My comfort zone is fairly easy to describe; music that is tuneful, representational paintings, hot soup, fruit cake, trains that run on time, people that are punctual and polite and share my sense of humour, brisk walks, lawns with stripes – things like that. In other words, I’m easy to please.  A pushover.

I spent Saturday at Wigmore Hall listening to music composed by Huw Watkins. Huw was born in Wales in 1976 and is an accomplished pianist and (I’ll quote from the programme) ‘one of Britain’s foremost composers.  He is blessed with the unfailing ability to communicate and draw audiences to the edge of their seats.  His chamber compositions, many of them premiered at Wigmore Hall in recent years, have earned critical acclaim and entered the repertoire’.

So Huw, Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, is to be taken seriously.

However, to my untutored ears his music is a discordant noise.  I watched accomplished musicians play some of his chamber music and they all looked suitably reverential. I watched Huw himself play four pieces inspired by Stanley Spencer paintings.  As I listened I had all the paintings in my mind’s eye and I simply couldn’t understand how Huw managed to get from those wonderful paintings to the dreadful noise he produced on the piano. I watched Carolyn Sampson, my favourite soprano, sing five Larkin Songs.  Larkin was the librarian at my University and I’m very fond of his poems, but I can’t get on with songs that don’t have what I’d recognise as a tune and where the singing and the piano accompaniment are apparently disconnected. So, for the first time ever, I did not like Carolyn’s singing – though I much admired her ability to master tuneless songs and sing them with no score.  By contrast, Huw, who remember composed the music, played it using a score and had a page turner. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t know his own pieces by heart!

So, as you’ve gathered, I was completely out of my depth. I watched other members of the audience to see if I could detect any unease, but everyone looked appreciative and even clapped fairly enthusiastically.  This was irritating since I took it as a sign that they all comprehended something that to me was incomprehensible.  Still, feeling uneasy and inadequate is presumably all part of what’s good for you when you venture outside your comfort zone.

That was Saturday.  On Sunday I went to Tate Modern and saw an exhibition called ‘A Bigger Splash’.  This was quite extraordinary.  I watched films of artists pouring and dripping paint onto a canvas spread across the floor, of naked women rolling in paint and then pressing their bodies against a wall (watched by an invited audience of people who were all fully dressed), of archers firing hundreds of arrows through a white cotton backcloth, of another artist making paintings by hanging from a rope and moving splodges of paint around with his feet.

I occupy another world where my innocent watercolours are done with a box of paints and applied with a brush. I even wear clothes while I produce my paintings and it has never occurred to me (until now!) to have naked women daubing themselves with paint and rolling around on large sheets of paper.  I rather kick myself for not having organised it.

Never mind.  These unsettling experiences were ‘corrected’ by two other things I did this weekend. Handel at The Barbican (a bit too long as usual but blissful TUNES) and a black and white film at the BFI made in 1951, ‘A Place in the Sun’, with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.  Wonderful – clear diction and a great story told in chronological order (no flashbacks!).

Equilibrium is restored. I’m back on an even keel.


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