Horror! Mermaid raped. Belgians suspected.

Last week, one of the nicest couples in the diplomatic firmament left Warsaw. I was saddened because Warsaw`s diplomatic firmament is not brilliant, the British being amongst the least impressive. But the Belgians seem to have the knack of producing engaged and engaging diplomats: and its harder for them than most because they have one embassy and two quasi-embassies to staff.   The ambassadress was particularly remarkable. Indian by birth, once she was detained at Warsaw airport for two hours by an immigration officer whose experience of the world was not sufficient to allow him to believe that people with eastern skins could hold Belgian passports, least of all diplomatic passports. She felt sorry for him; he was not much more than a boy, the age of her son.  Of course, she made a lot of noise, she was that sort of person, but she also had a good laugh too. A loss to Warsaw.   But I am glad they have gone. Yesterday I read of Belgian plans to ‘re-develop’ Plac Unilubelski. An office tower block in a residential area. An office tower block of no architectural merit. A mean and cynical money making machine planned and executed by people who do not even live here; amongst the worst aspects of  unregulated capitalism that is doing huge damage to our city. I say ‘our’  because my family has produced one city architect and about the greatest developer of the 19th century.    As for ‘their’ city, it is enough to go to Brussels to see how much the Belgians care for their own architectural heritage. The damage they have wrought to their own capital over the last 20 years is criminal. Why must they be allowed to do the same to Warsaw? Who is letting them?   As if the Marriott, the Intercontinental, the Hilton complex, the Danone building, the PwC building, the Sheraton, the Metropolitan, almost all of the new buildings in al. Jana Pawla, the outrageous and non-functional Zloty Tarasy and many more, were not eyesores enough, the Belgians are planning to obliterate the skyline of one of Warsaw`s more charming districts.   Belgian and Dutch developers are amongst the most guilty in the rush to rape Warsaw and get rich quick!  This excerable bunch ( and there are British and Scandanavian names on the list) is doing untold damage that will remain for generations. Will they, please, go away.   If I felt it would make any difference, I would get on my bike now and picket the front door of the Belgian Embassy. But there is no one there, at least if I remember what the Ambassadress said to me at lunch last week. Thank goodness for our friendship that I only heard of this plan yesterday.   But, what is happening here? Why are residents of Warsaw not enraged? Why this indifference? And what is Mrs. Gronkewicz-Waltz`s role in this scandalous lack of regulation? Shame! What can you and I do to stop this rape of Warsaw?


Prof. Dr. Wit and the magic of Naxos


Against my better judgement, a few months ago I went to the National Philharmonic to hear Prof.Dr. Antoni Wit conduct something, I forget what. We, the paying public, were greeted by usherettes handing out rather tacky photocopied flyers advertising the latest Wit conquest of the recording industry. (Whoever was responsible for promotion might have been a little more generous or stylish, especially as the concert was in the presence of the Mayor, Mrs. Gronkiewicz-Waltz, she whom the President of Poland does not seem to want to allow the President of France to award the Legion of Honour. But that’s another story.) 

Yes, it is true, the National Philharmonic and Prof. Dr. Wit have received high praise for their recordings of Bruckner for Naxos…well, that was in the opinion of  the august Gramophone, and is the only a review  I have read. There may be others. Congratulations all round, anyway!

My dilema is this. Why doesnt what the critics in London hear on the disc transfer to what the audiences in Warsaw experience in live concerts?  Baffling.

After that particular concert, I wrote to Prof. Dr. Wit asking him not to rehearse in public at my expense, or words to that effect. Inflammatory, I know, but how much of this can one take?

His PR man, who addressed me by my Christian name, and who corrected my improper manner of addressing Mr. Wit ( a stickler for form)…hence the Prof. Dr….suggested that I might have an over-sensitive ear and hear things that other people do not hear!  Well, I did spend five years at a London music academy but I dont think the majority of the concert going public in Warsaw is that deficient. Or are they?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to give the dear old Prof. Dr. another chance. Silly me. His rendition of Beethoven`s fifth piano concerto last Wednesday would have been best missed, especially at 150 pln, as you know. Why?

No idea of phrasing. The same dynamics: very loud, softish….doesn`t he realise the limitations of the hall? …its not much more than a chamber hall…….. it was not built for the huge dynamic of a modern orchestra…he should study the dynamic of the building and learn to use it intelligently.

Then, absolutely no care taken of the harmonic structure, the nuances, the inner voices. Dead music. And it takes quite a lot to kill Beethoven`s 5th concerto.

If the orchestral ‘interpretation’ was not enough, Boris Berman took the evening off to practise his finger exercises. Yes, Berman has a solid technique but where was the music?

Enraged, I left as the interval applause began and Mrs Penderecka had not yet risen to lead the standing ovation…I assume she did, she always does ( a clever trick)  and tried to get my money back. Unsuccessfully, as it transpired.

I simply dont understand how an orchestra can record for Naxos so well (if it does: I`ve not heard the recordings) and be so disappointing in live performance. Is there something in the Naxos water? Surely not.

Obviously, Mr. Wit`s habit of frantically waving his hands around as if he were standing on hot coals, even in the piano passages, cannot induce any subtly of playing  from this potentially fine orchestra. Maybe he only does that when he is in front of an audience? That might explain the difference.

All in all, I have to admit, I am utterly  bemused. If anyone can throw light on this mystery, I should be very glad to hear from them.

Volvo, China and the Beethoven Festival


You`ve heard the news, no doubt. Ford has sold Volvo to the Chinese. Ford bought the Swedish car maker for 4 billion 4 years ago and sold it yesterday for 1 billion.The Americans must be losing their grasp of capitalism: selling a quality car maker to a mass market at loss. The Chinese want Volvo for their growing internal market for better cars (cant they make a quality car of their own?). There is money to be made. Nor do they want to flood western markets with their cars. They cannot repeat the Japanese miracle: in the 1970s the Japanese killed the soul less nationalised British motor industry by marketing a car that started first time. Today, few in the west would need to buy Chinese cars.

I suppose this isn`t so different to what is happening with culture. I dont think anyone wants to spend long listening to the Chinese playing western music. Last time I heard the Shanghai Quartet, at the Beethoven Festival (of which one member was western, American, if I remember well) it was about as good as a better academy quartet.  As for pianists, most Chinese pianists have splendid techniques but with nothing to say. Why should they have anything to say? I am sure most western musicians would make a pigs dinner of their music. Put simply, we have different souls. Of course, if you are only bothered about technique, buy Chinese. But, if you want soul, and I admit that is in short supply even in the west, the western choice is still the better option, at least for western music.

Fw: Aston Martin is coming to Warsaw. Oooerrr!

  Astons are great for being seen in. I know. My dad used to have two famous models: one of the two surviving DBR2S and a DB3S. He used to drive them around London and at Brooklands, Goodwood and, later, Silverstone. He also had a D Type Jag (he was scornful of the now sought after E type) and a lot of other cars that nowdays people pay silly prices for. The DBR2S cost £4000 pounds in 1956 or 7, I cant remember when exactly, but our house in Hans Street, London SW1 cost £7000 at about the same time. So conclude what you will.   My memory of these cars is mixed. Yes, it was fine to be seen in them driving around London but the driving bit was the rarity. Usually, we would just be  sitting in them waiting for someone to come from one of the motoring rescue services to get them going. These were temperamental, thoroughbred beasts and whilst my dad was a great driver I would not have trusted him to change a tyre. As he was a farmer, so he was a driver: a gentleman. Other people did the dirty work.   The prospect of the unsuspecting rich of Poland queuing up to buy an Aston warms the soul. Britons are still producing something that other people want. But I suspect that we shall be seeing a lot of them reliving my childhood memories. Of course, the new models do not have the temperament of their ancestors, they start and stop on command or, at least, I imagine they do. What I think will be the trouble are the roads. These cars sit low. They hug the road. They are totally unsuitable for Polish potholes. I can envisage ripped off Aston parts scattered all over our roads and their tearful owners, sitting on the curb, perhaps feeling a little silly, awaiting the wrecker`s lorry. 

L van B was green. The festival is addicted to monster BMWs.


Everyone involved with the Beethoven Festival seems obliged to use cars, usually monster BMWs, with which to arrive at the concert hall.

I saw the Festival manager arrive by car (though not, I think, a BMW)  when his office is only a five minute walk away. I use  a bicycle in Warsaw, why cant he?  A little walking would be good for his health and much better for the environment.  Mrs P. might consider walking from the Victoria Hotel: she might even drop into one of the excellent jazz clubs, so much in  need of more custom. But she has a great, golden BMW which she parks where other people are not allowed to.

Irina, Princess W turned up in a monster BMW, dressed as befits the noble creature she is. Lovely, but so out of place.  Can`t she understand, most children in Poland don`t have music. Outside Warsaw and the great cities, there is real cultural poverty. Here is not cosy Germany.
The German ambassador turned up in a BMW as did a junior Polish minister. Breeding like rabbits these BMWs.

As said an elderly lady, who was helping me give out flyers to the arriving audience before taking her seat, ‘don`t they realise, they won`t have an audience unless they educate the young?’

I think Mrs. P, her lovely friends and their flashy, tasteless, gas-guzzling cars, don`t really care about the future. Its all about image. Beethoven would have walked! ..but he was only a composer.

Oh, and by the way, sending Festival representatives out onto the pavement to shout at us is all part of the democratic process. Please keep it up!!

Mrs. Penderecka: give me my money back!

> When you go to a first class restaurant and get a second class dinner you
> have a right to be cross. You have a right not to pay or, if you have been > required to pay on entry, to ask for the return of your money. What you > served up this evening was second class. It did your reputation no > favours. Neither did the refusal of your manager to respect the wishes of > a client, namely me, when, at the interval, I asked him for a refund of > 150 pln, the cost of my ticket.
> His argument was flawed…… Why, if no one else is complaining, should I > refund you anything? He should learn that basic skill of everyone who is > in the business of selling: the customer is always right.
> As it happens, I can answer his question. No one I spoke to after the > concert, (some were Ambassadors who are both polite and who may, for all I > know, have been invited by you), had anything positive to say about the > evening. One conceded that the pianist was the best thing!…and Boris > Bermans is fairly pedestrian at the best of times. Nothing else. (And > what, someone asked, were those haphazard, rustic flower things decorating > the balcony and the ‘piped music’, yes, piped music! doing in the concert > hall?)
> The Beethoven Festival is supposed to be first class. It is not and that > failure robs it of any justification for public funding or, in this > climate, private money. The hall was barely full despite the free tickets > in music schools.

This situation cannot be tollerated. And, I`d like 150 pln!

Beethoven Festival. Remember Elijah!


As the beau monde (and others) of Warsaw has been traipsing its way religiously to the Beethoven Festival concerts by command of Elzbieta Penderecka, (she who must be obeyed, the pioneer of self-promotion of women in Poland and the Mrs. Thatcher wig, which is so popilar with many ladies of a certain age who attend the festival,) we have been giving them flyers to remind them of the real cost of their pleasure. Many, the older women mainly, of whom there are many and who have not gone for the wig, seem to appreciate the gesture. The technique is simple. Catch the eye of the dowager, smile, something a younger man may not have done for some time, memories flood back, the hand goes out  and into it put a flyer.

Of course, there are some people, like the image conscious Prof.Dr. Antoni Wit, who turn their noses up at such an approach. This is right and proper. What cares Wit for public opinion? And he`s not a dowager anyway. But, to their credit, members of the government, national, regional and local, ex-prime ministers, bank presidents, captains of industry, lawyers, diplomats, Andrzej Sulek (he who is the boss of NIFC and has much to answer for), musicians, not the many Germans because they dont read Polish,  and a few of the few young people, take, read, inwardly digest and coem to their own conclusions. Aleksander Guzowaty ignored me, though I have eaten at his table…I think the very act of breathing requires his entire effort, actually, his minders would not let me near, and Mrs.Gronkewicz-Waltz who has a tricky eye to catch, illuded me. But I dont despair. Remember Elijah!