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The Ancient World Explored - June 2015 eNewsletter

Thursday 4th June 2015

“The Greek custom is to represent the gods by the most beautiful things on earth – pure material, human form, consummate art.” Maximus of Tyre, writing in the 2nd century AD Welcome to the second in our new series of monthly newsletters, this time devoted to Antiquity! Connoisseurs of the visual arts, not to mention those with an interest in the ancient world, have a remarkable opportunity just now to see some truly stunning works of art in contexts probably never to be repeated for decades to come. These are on show in two exhibitions, one in Florence, the second in London. Both exhibitions explore the human body within the context of the Greek and Roman worlds and they include works of art never before brought together in the same spaces – the conversations and confrontations created will long live in this writer’s visual memory! London’s BRITISH MUSEUM is currently hosting Defining Beauty – The Body in Ancient Greek Art which closes on 5 July. It is an ambitious exhibition which takes as its theme the manner in which the human form is used to convey not just the figure depicted, be it idealised or realistic, but also other meanings conveyed across social and sexual activity. The majority of the exhibits are sculptures, both in marble and bronze, supported by objects in pottery and other media. The exhibition is divided into a number of themed spaces which succeed (some brilliantly!) in conveying what is not always easily understood subject matter. Thus the first room, entitled Encounters, offers an initial series of juxtapositions where a few statues associated with some of the most famous sculptors of ancient Greece – Pheidias, Myron, Polykleitos – range from the restless fluidity of Ilissos, one of the marble pediment figures from the Parthenon in Athens to the poised beauty of an Apoxyomenos, a young athlete in bronze recently recovered from the Adriatic off the coast of Croatia. The Museum has managed to secure some spectacular loans, none more so than persuading the Vatican to allow one of its greatest treasures to travel to London. The final room is entitled The Shock of the New, offering a spectacular juxtaposition between the BM’s recumbent Dionysos from the east pediment of the Parthenon and the Vatican’s Belvedere Torso, never before seen in Britain. Indeed, I know of no other occasion when two of the very greatest sculptors, Pheidias and Michelangelo, have been seen in such proximity. It is an encounter you should not miss – hurry along before it is too late. Even greater speed or enthusiasm for travel may be needed if you are to catch my second star exhibition: PALAZZO STROZZI in Florence is hosting Power and Pathos – Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic Period until 21 June, when it transfers to Los Angeles where it will go on show at the J PAUL GETTY MUSUEM from 28 July – 1 November. This exhibition is less ambitious in terms of its theme, has fewer works of art, BUT, it is stunning - a knockout, in fact! Ancient Greek bronze sculptures are much rarer than their marble cousins, given that most of them have been melted down. In recent years a remarkable series of these rarities have come to light, mostly found in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. Given that the world’s two leading centres of technical investigation and conservation are in Florence and Los Angeles, this joint expertise has been harnessed to provide us with an amazing feast for the eye and the mind. “Less is more” may have been in the minds of the exhibition curators when making their selections of objects to display (would that the BM team had taken note of this advice!) and in the high rooms of Palazzo Strozzi, the exhibits have space in which to breath, allowing visitors to view the pieces from multiple angles. This is particularly well done for the poignant image of the bruised and exhausted Seated Boxer, a third century BC bronze found on the Quirinal Hill in Rome in 1885. Some of you who have been to Rome with us in the past may recall that it is normally on display in Rome’s Palazzo Termini Antiquities Museum where it is placed against a wall, not well lit and impossible to view “in the round”. In Florence (and in Los Angeles too, hopefully?) the full power of this amazing piece is fully revealed as never before. I could instance exhibit after exhibit in terms of rarity, beauty, power to impress and many other categories. However, it is the cumulative effect of seeing so many of these remarkable survivals brought together in one place which remains in the mind’s eye. On a practical note, the explanation panels in both Italian and English (the English is particularly well translated, or perhaps it may be the other way round, given the Getty’s involvement?!) are a model of intelligent introduction not overwhelmed with professional jargon. Finally, both of these exhibitions are supported by excellent catalogues, in English. The Strozzi catalogue wins by a short head. Should the above outbreak of enthusiasm for all things antique have whetted your appetite, you may remember that we have planned a number of group visits in the next few months which will explore some of the themes mentioned above: Professor Christopher Smith, the Director of The British School at Rome, will lead Antiquity Explored – The Golden Age of Ancient Rome, from 12 – 16 November later this year. The early second century AD saw Rome’s empire grow to its full splendour under the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, whose patronage and collecting will form a major focus of this visit. This is particularly apposite given that Hadrian was particularly addicted to all things Greek, particularly Greek sculptures. We shall see some of the exhibits from both London and Florence as by then they will have been returned to the Roman museums from which borrowed. Read More> Professor Smith is also one of our most distinguished ancient historians and he has recently published The Etruscans, in the Oxford University Press “Very Short Introductions” series. At £7.99 it is the ideal introduction at 143 pages to this most sophisticated, if at times mysterious, people (ISBN 978 0 954791 3). By amazing luck, Christopher will lead a tour for us next year titled From Bronze to Gold - The Etruscans. Based in and around two places long associated with the Etruscans, Tarquinia and Cortona, it is sure to be an exciting visit. Taking place from 5 – 10 April 2016. Further details will be published shortly. However, if you would like details to be sent to you prior to the brochure in September, please email the office. The collapse of the Roman Empire in Western Europe forms a spectacular conclusion to a remarkable sequence of developments over several millennia. Who better to introduce you to his not much explored chapter of European history than Charles Freeman, author of the seminal Egypt, Greece & Rome – Civilisations of the Ancient Mediterranean, now in its third edition and published in paperback by OUP (ISBN 978 0 19 965192 4). Charles will lead Imperial Splendour – The Mosaics of Ravenna, from 15 – 18 October 2015 later this year. Ravenna is truly where east and west met in the late antique period and the visit will offer participants a thrilling insight into this amazing world from one of the world’s leading experts. Full details of the visit can be found on our website. I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts on the exhibitions featured and that you might be able to fit in a visit to one or both of them in the coming weeks? Equally, I hope you might also be tempted to discover more about the cultures and objects displayed, at first hand, by joining one of the visits just mentioned? In any case, may I wish you a pleasant few weeks to come and I shall return early next month with a newsletter full of horticultural revelations! With every good wish, Tom

Musical Thoughts from Sicily! - May 2015 eNewsletter

Thursday 4th June 2015

This April newsletter comes to you from Sicily where I am in the middle of a wonderful tour, currently exploring the famous Greek temples at Agrigento amidst spectacular Spring sunshine. However, all is not “stones and bones” here at the rock face of cultural tourism! Technology allows us to travel with comforts undreamt of in times past. For me, the greatest boon which decent WiFi provides is the ability to listen to Radio 3 when away, all made possible via the web and the use of one of those excellent Bose “Soundlink Mini” speakers. The quality of sound is remarkable for its size and if you do not know this piece of kit, delay not! Just now the ever marvellous “Composer of the Week” strand is exploring the work of that madman, Scriabin! I’m not sure if the music or his life is the more extraordinary… That said, the real purpose of this newsletter is to tell you first about a number of exciting new developments for 2016, above all our plans to introduce two particularly important visits to Munich and Glyndebourne. And second, to alert you to three destinations where we shall operate musically themed visits in the coming months: Verona, Padua and Malta. The Munich Opera Festival is one of the great events in Europe’s roster of summer festivals. Following on from our visit to Munich last year when participants all commented on the amazingly high standard of performances at the city’s Staatsoper, we have decided to return next year, 30 June to 5 July. These dates will allow us to include Wagner’s Lohengrin together with Puccini’s La Boheme and Tosca. The performance of Tosca will be particularly special as the cast will include our greatest young tenor, Jonas Kaufmann singing the role of Cavaradossi, one in which he excels! To add to all this excitement we shall also spend time in and around Munich, exploring the remarkable heritage of art and architecture given to the city and to Bavaria by its ruling family, the Wittelsbach Electors and Kings. I am delighted to tell you that from next year we shall begin what I hope will be a long and happy association with Glyndebourne, one of Britain’s greatest musical institutions. The earliest and greatest of the country house opera festivals, Glyndebourne offers those who are lucky to be able to secure tickets an evening of outstanding opera, set in the lovely Sussex countryside. We shall offer members of our mailing list the opportunity to join Stephen and myself in Sussex for a few days next year, 14 - 19 June, when we shall attend two operas - as the 2016 programme has yet to be made public, we are not able to confirm the included operas until the end of August this year. A number of private visits to local houses and gardens will add a true experience of an English Summer to this exciting new addition to our visit programme. Further details of these new visits will be available later this Summer on this website. Returning to our visit programme between now and early 2016, we have three visits which again have operatic and musical themes as their focus. We are returning to The Verona Opera Festival again this year, 6 - 10 July, when the spectacular Roman Arena will provide a splendid setting for some of the great spectacle operas of the past: Verdi’s Aida and Nabucco, plus Puccini’s Tosca. The included operas will be supported by a gently paced series of visits in and around Verona. These will highlight not only the city’s historic past, but also the many fine villas and gardens created in the 16th and 17th centuries, in two of which our group will be hosted privately over lunch by the owning families. All of this takes place within the wider setting of the Valpolicella region, one of Italy’s premier wine growing areas so mealtimes are guaranteed to be full of some wonderful wine. The Puccini Opera Festival at Torre del Lago is another of Italy’s fine outdoor summer festivals and we shall take a group there for the first time this year, 26 - 30 August. The included operas will be Turandot and Madame Butterfly. Our visit will be based for four nights in the delightful walled city of Lucca, a wonderful amalgam of medieval and renaissance churches and palaces. Our hotel is situated in the historic centre and it is a short bus journey to and from the operas. The supporting visit schedule will include some truly lovely villas and gardens and, as ever, we shall enjoy hospitality from many of the owning families. There are a few places left on both these visits. Last January we took a group to Malta for the Valletta Baroque Festival, one of the most vital and stimulating new music festivals of recent times. It was hugely enjoyed by those who came out to Malta, so much so that we shall return again next January. Indeed, so varied and interesting is this two-week musical feast that we shall run consecutive tours so that you can choose between two remarkable sequences of concerts, chamber and solo recitals. The highlight of the first week will be Bach\'s Musical Offering performed by Les Concert des Nations led by Jordi Savall. During the second week the \"must have\" ticket will surely be to hear Philippe Herreweghe conduct Collegium Vocale Gent in some of Bach\'s most challenging Cantatas. Booking for both visits to Malta is now open. With all best wishes for what I hope will shortly be a sunny and warm Spring! Tom

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