I went to London today for a Radio 3 lunchtime concerts from LSO St Lukes. This restored and converted formerly derelict church just north of the City is one of my favourite concert venues. An hour's worth of chamber music is perfect. I can concentrate for that long, and there's a full afternoon left afterwards to go and do something else. The tickets are good value too, twelve quid for musicians of international standing, or just nine pounds if you book at least four concerts from the same series. Presumably the cost is partly met by the BBC to provide programme material, though what you hear on the radio is no longer quite what you get on the ground. Today's concert will be presented as the first of the current series with viola player Laurence Power when in fact it will be the second, and Radio 3's Fiona Talkington sometimes looks mildly embarrassed as she explains to the audience in the hall why the script she is about to read doesn't match their version of events. I thought the BBC was supposed to have given up that sort of fudge, but I suppose it is a small deception. I don't often get round to listening to the lunchtime concert on the radio since it seems unfair to impose it on the Systems Administrator who is not a chamber music fan, so I don't know if in the final edit they cut out the little interludes of tuning and coughing between movements. At any rate, it is not a live broadcast. A few years ago LSO the centre director of LSO St Lukes used to introduce the concert, but nowadays they wheel out a Radio 3 presenter and do interviews with the musicians.
Today was an all-Brahms programme from the last years of his career, his own adaptation for viola of his clarinet trio, and his reworking of an early trio for piano, violin and cello. I liked them both very much, and since I liked the Brahms at the last Brightlingsea concert enough to have looked at what recordings were available I should probably invest in some more of his chamber music. And I like the viola, and the cello. There is something about the sound that penetrates to the core. And Laurence Power is a very engaging stage presence, with a quick smile and lovely floppy dark hair.
Millionaire's Shortbread was on in the crypt cafe, and none of my neighbours fiddled with their programmes during the performance, so all in all it was a success. From LSO St Lukes I went to the Royal Academy to see Abstract Expresionism, since my previous projected visit had morphed into a trip to an entirely different exhibition. I was not sure beforehand if I liked Abstract Expressionism. I hadn't really seen very much in the flesh. The Tate has Rothko's Seagram Murals, which I love, but according to the Art UK Discover Artworks website there are only seven publicly owned paintings by Jackson Pollock in the whole of the UK and only a single solitary one by Willem de Kooning. By way of comparison, the site lists 114 for Rembrant van Rijn and 48 for Monet, so if the UK audience and I had not got our eye in for Abstract Expressionism that would be understandable.
Having seen them I am still not sure whether I like Abstract Expressionism, other than Mark Rothko, though I am happy to have seen the exhibition. It is a big, important part of Western twentieth century art history and worth an hour and a half of anybody's time, though it is a big exhibition and an hour and a half is not really very long. The trouble was, as I heard a young man mutter to his companion as they both stood contemplating a Jackson Pollock, it's exhausting to look at. And it is, apart from the Rothkos which are as mysterious and calming as the ones in the Tate (and include some in a different palette). Now there's no reason why art should not demand effort to look at it. One of Classic FM's irritating tics is their habit of presenting classical music as if its main role were to be calming. Or relaxing, or smooth. Art may be many things, but it is not necessarily relaxing, let alone easy.
But a dozen rooms of mostly very big paintings, largely bright or at least clashing except when they are black, and jagged or else restlessly wiggly, do tire you out after the first hour or so. There is no repose for the eye (except for Rothko) and the RA have not provided any seats in most of the rooms. I gave up and sat on the floor in front of the Rothkos, which seemed to start a bit of a thing as several other people sat down as well. I thought they were paintings of their time and place, largely post-war New York, brash and big and noisy and masculine. Being rural, quiet, small and female I didn't greatly relate to them. That's not to do them down as art, they just weren't quite my kind of art, just as I am not keen on Alan Ginsberg and found On The Road one of the most annoying books I ever read. They did make me think of the sort of works that get hung in the atriums of financial institutions, whose job is to signal the prestige of the organisation to an audience who are mostly passing through without stopping to look at them. I read a comment once by a landscape designer that planting for the banks of dual carriageways had to be done in hundred yard blocks because nobody could take in anything more detailed than that while driving past, and that's what some of the biggest and brightest Abstract Expressionist canvases felt like, art for people who are going to pass it at speed.
Room ten was devoted to works on paper and photography. One little pink tinged gouache in a gold frame caught my eye, whose delicate drawing had all the freaky fun and charm of Klee and which depicted what might have been a dancing chicken. I read the label, and it was an early Rothko.