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21.3.12 (european spelling)

palindrome day… Happy vernal equinox everybody, and happy birthday Johann Sebastian. So glad you are/were around…

A moment of panic when it seems part of the ceiling in my apartment in NY is falling in and my wonderful tenant (who is also looking after my cat) threatens to leave immediately… but thank the lord for good friends… within 24 hours of my flurry of panicked emails, the thing is fixed and all is once again calm and bright. So I don’t need to abandon my mum, to get on a ‘plane to go fix a ceiling – just as well, as she (my mum) is due for more slicing and dicing shortly – though I have to confess to a small, sneaking extra beat of the heart, thinking of a few days back in nyc with my cat and my friends… but the ticket would have been exorbitant, the timing excruciating, and that pleasure will come, that will come, in good time… looking at maybe the end of may, for a week or so, if all is well? kamikaze, wau-wa, anyone? I have regretfully decided that spending the entire month of May at Montalvo is out of the question – too far for too long, things are way too uncertain… the folks at Montalvo have been wonderfully understanding, saying that I have an open invitation to complete my 3rd month of residency when the time is right – I am deeply appreciative, both for their generosity and for the light at the end of the tunnel that it provides…

meanwhile, back in teesdale, spring is springing… the daffs are out in force, and the birds are deafening.


March 14th

my, what a difference the sight of sunshine and blue sky (not to mention warmth) can make in a girl’s life… a long weekend in Marseille with good friends (L’Estaque, actually… I can vouch for why Cézanne and all those painters chose to live there – the light, that exact shade of blue in the sky, is unlike anywhere else)… markets & music, hikes in the hills, ferry to Frioul, cous-cous in the quartier…. a brief but ecstatic dose of mediterranean living that was exactly what the doctor ordered – I could feel myself opening like a flower….

to combat the hedonism, sunday was the anniversary of the Japan ‘quake & Fukushima disaster, so we drove to Avignon to take part in the 235 km Chaine Humaine from Avignon to Lyon (the area of most of france’s nuclear plants) – my friend Christian, whom I went to visit, and whom I’ve known since we were 14, always reminds me what it is to be a socially responsible human being, in the nicest possible way… a grand day out with kids and grannies, students and shopkeepers hand in hand, all 60,000 of us inching along to join the dots… (it’s missing from the photo journal – couldn’t take pictures because my hands were otherwise occupied) – we also went to a wonderful benefit concert/party the night before at Rouge, a restaurant run by friends – a food drive combined with all kinds of music – african percussion, classical piano trio, lyric chansons, R&B and swing – again, kids and grannies and all in between, a real clubhouse for the community…

en route to marseille I stopped in london for some other “culture” (staying with a friend whom I’ve known since I was seven- we’re talking real roots here). Tate Modern (Kusama and Boetti), Tate Britain (Picasso & the Brits), and Rossini at the Hackney Empire (Barber of Seville), a fabulously restored old vaudeville palace, worthy of the florid lines of the barber’s arias… Kusama’s Infinity Room will stay with me for a very long time… good meals with good friends, one day being breakfast in Cotherstone, lunch in Putney, dinner in Balham, nightcap in Tufnell Park… thank god for London Transport. In spite of all the travel, I feel fully restored.

I’ve been reading Morton Feldman’s collected writings, “Give my regards to eighth street” – what a revelation he is. He had somehow passed me by all these years, until I heard Neither at City Opera last year, as part of the Monodramas evening (with Zorn and Schoenberg), great night, particularly the Feldman, which knocked my socks off. And now this (I found it at the South London Gallery last time I was down) – I find myself constantly saying “Yes!” – particularly when he talks about not being able to work until he has found the perfect chair… and his connection with the visual arts…


March 1st, 2012 Cotherstone

Spring is ever closer – in fact a couple of days ago some blue sky appeared overhead on my afternoon walk, the birds were in full throat (well, almost), the views across the dale were distinctly softer, and I had me a new spring song by the time I got home…

I’ve been checking out the local music scene – singing with two different community choruses (the choir thing is very strong in this part of the world) and playing/singing at a couple of different folk music venues. The choruses rehearse in schools – both in Barnard Castle, the local market town (Barney, as it’s known), one in the state school, the other in the private one, or “public” as they’re called here, very confusing – and the music is made in pubs – one at the Old Well in Barney, a monthly gathering of the B.C.Folk Club, and the other in the tiny hamlet of Butterknowle, a half-hour drive along tortuous back roads to the back of beyond, but a thriving community and happening gathering. A wide range of talent from beginner to pretty great, they’ve all been very welcoming to a stranger from across the pond playing ‘foreign’ music – tho’ I do know some traditional tunes, and am spending time with the mandolin learning more – I’ve been taken under the wing of a whistle player who lives in the village, so I have some local cred… And the choir singing is really good for the wind, after years of singing on a microphone… all grist to the mill…


February 12th, 2012 Cotherstone, Co.Durham

It’s strange… it’s still winter, but you can feel the burgeoning of the coming spring… the birdsong has shifted, and not only are the snowdrops out in force (not in themselves a signal, they stick their heads up happily through the snow) but I caught the first sight of a crocus bud yesterday, and even, down in the lowlands of Richmond this afternoon, where I’d gone for an Alexander technique lesson, the first daffodils – hallelujah. However, I always want to shout “go back, go back!”, as we are sure to get more frost and snow before the winter is out, and things are already confused enough, with the mild january followed by a real deep freeze for the past couple weeks – poor trees don’t know if they’re coming or going…

The sudden frosts create the most fantastic ice patterns on the banks of the river – with the rapid drop in temperature, and the consequent slight drop in water level, the most amazing ice crystals form around the rocks by the water’s edge, star bursts of crystals up to 4 or 5 inches long… and one morning a skin on the surface of the river like cellophane…

After 6 weeks of family visits, it’s just me and my 91-year-old mum (and her two ancient dogs, and my ancient aunt down the road). Theoretically I should be able to get down to work, now that my studio doesn’t have californians staying in it, but it is surprisingly hard… I am not accustomed to grabbing an hour here or there in between caring for other people (unlike some people I know who have written whole books – mainly between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. – while raising children and holding down a job)… I guess I’m spoiled rotten, having lived alone for the past ten years, and so used to being able to just disappear down the rabbit hole when the spirit (or deadline) moves me, leaving the world behind… is it too late to teach this old dog new tricks?

I caught the David Hockney exhibit at the Royal Academy in London – what a colour bath for the eyes – he is a wonder. He lives and works in Yorkshire now, not so very far from here, and I recognise his landscape – he too moved back to be near his aged mum, and reconnected with his roots after a lifetime away in the States – strange…


December 1st, 2011, New York

I’ve been home for 3 weeks, and the city has been seducing me all over again – warm days, cold nights, blue skies and riotous colours in the foliage – yes, it’s autumn in new york…

a couple of great gigs last week – first, the public debut of a new band, at the favourite small venue, Barbes in Park Slope Brooklyn. (If someone had told me years ago that I would end up living in the west village and going out to brooklyn to play I would have laughed – but hey, just call me old-fashioned… we are all eternally grateful to Olivier & Vincent for providing the musical community with such a wonderful home.) The brainchild of Doug Wieselman, clarinetist extraordinaire, the Funes play “mostly quirky tunes suited for an urban tight rope walker – most of which came to Doug Wieselman while walking”. The other members are Don Falzone on bass and Jim Pugliese on drums, and it’s a total pleasure playing accordion with them all (and not being in charge!) – I look forward to more… the second was a house concert on the sunday after Thanksgiving, for an invited audience at a beautiful West Village home, that was a total delight: a gorgeous autumn afternoon turning to evening, birds singing outside the window, making music in a room that sounded sooo good… with no piano and no bass player, I combined the”In My Skin” and “Baseless Rumors” quartets for the baritone uke/accordion repertoire – what a joy…
with me were Charlie Burnham on violin, Marika Hughes on cello, Doug W on clarinet and the incomparable Matt Munisteri on guitar. I’ve been working with Charlie, Marika and Doug a fair bit this year, both on Baseless Rumors and Septimus & Clarissa, but it felt like an age since Matt and I had played, so it was a real pleasure…

I got back to town just in time to join a good friend at the bi-annual gathering of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, held at the NYPL. Gilberto Gil talked, and sang solo with his guitar – what a shining light he is… Osvaldo Golijov turns out to be as articulate and inspiring a speaker as he is a composer – I hope to pursue that some day… Brian Eno talked of the choice between creating from the top down or the bottom up – “do you want to be an architect, or a gardener?” – a revelation – I realise I need to do more gardening… And then that strange moment when Gilberto, Jessye Norman and Jose van Dam, put on the spot, jammed on The Girl From Ipanema – could have been embarrassing in the extreme but was in fact totally charming… and witnessed by about 30 of us… only in new york…

Speaking of which, I’ve walked the length of the HIgh Line a couple times recently – this is a great time to be up there, with the grasses and foliage all turning – first time I’ve seen the new section – the variety in astounding… what a great addition to the community, it’s the best thing that’s happened to the city since the opening of the Hudson River Park. I look forward to when they finish the final section of the High Line and you can walk all the way to the river… the opening up of the riverfront reminds me of what’s happened in London – back in the day, that city had its back to the Thames, now it’s becoming the centre, with the south bank as vibrant as the north, and river traffic flowing. More of that…

Having finally completed Septimus and Clarissa in September, and having also put Baseless Rumors out into the world this year, completing the trilogy of ‘solo’ projects that began with Bed Time, I now feel ready to work on a bigger canvas again… I’m going to be spending some time in a beautiful but remote part of the north of England, for family reasons, and have decided to use this time out of the hurly-burly as a gift, to work on a new opera, one that’s been on the back burner for far too long. Third time’s a charm…


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