Monday, August 27, 2012

Article with Brian Josephson is out in Prospect

The article Evolution and the Complexity Principle with Brian Josephson is out in Prospect. It will be interesting to see whether anyone can find any substantive mistakes in it. As Brian says, it would be better if they made the joint authorship clearer, and I'd very much like them to restore our acknowledgement of helpful comments from Martin Nowak and from Denis Noble on earlier versions of the article.

We'll see if it helps move the debate forward.

Three days of sailing, one in the Thames (Sat), one at Shoreham (Sun) and one on safety boat duty at Shoreham, where of the 8 boats out 7 needed our ministrations - it was very blustery indeed and one gust capsized two boats simultaneously.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Magnificent late Prom - I Fagiolini

A remarkably full house for a remarkable late prom
A truly remarkable Prom last night - recreating music of 400 years ago, given by I Fagiolini under their massively talented director Robert Hollingworth.  They were joined by the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and The City Musick.  The idea was to give something resembling a Vespers that would have been sung around 1612 - although of course without the actual service of some of the possible embellishments (like fireworks) that might have happened in a grand Italian household.

The opening number was Viadana's Deus in auditorium, Dixit Dominus, a lovely performance with all the singers and (almost all the) instruments. Then Gawain Glenton and Emily White performed a set of "Divsions" on Palestrina's 'Introduxit me Rex', and there was more fine Viadana, with Clare Wilkinson as soloist. Then a curious and interesting Plorabo die ac nocte by Alessandro Grandi.

There was then a stunning performance of a reconstruction by Hugh Keyte of a 20/28-part Magnificat by Gabrieli. This was, as Keyte admitted, "after" Gabrieli since he was reconstructing an arrangement for 7 choirs of a lost original for 3, and only the parts of Choirs 1 and 2 are extant.  However the overall result was quite amazing.  Towards the end a trumpeter and two drummers appeared in the organ loft with bells and cannons (recorded) coming from the top right of the Hall. The overall effect was magnificent.

A Monteverdi Salve Regina was a very moving duet, and then another remarkable Gabrieli reconstruction by Hugh Keyte, of his In ecclesiis. This reconstruction was mainly expanding Choirs III and IV and there were certainly some "crowd pleasing" elements but of course there were "crowd pleasing" elements in renaissance music and rightly so.

Altogether a triumphant evening - in which the cumulative effect was even greater than the sum of the excellent parts.  As the best choral music and concerts should be.  It was also gratifying to see the Albert Hall so full (the capacity is just over 5,500 and I would be amazed if it were less than 65% occupied, so over 3,500 people for a concert of 400-year-old music from 1015 to 1130.

Our daughter-in-law was one of the additional singers which is what prompted us to attend, but we were delighted to have done so, since otherwise we would have missed an exceptional evening. Catch it on the web, or buy the CD.

PS there is something amazingly visually compelling about theorbos, and Lynda Sayce sounds and looks magnificent.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Terrific Leningrad Symphony at the Proms

Terrific performance of the Leningrad Symphony last night at the Proms, with Andris Nelsons conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  Nelsons has an ebullient and distinctive conducting style which was well suited to this work, and to the Glinka Ruslan and Lyudmila overture which began the concert.  The CBSO was playing its socks off in the Shostakovich, as well it might given that it is such a monumental masterwork.

I hadn't realised that Henry Wood scooped Toscanini and Stokowski to give the first Western performance on 22 June 1942 (possibly in an abridged form apparently) and then it was given its first Prom performance on the 29th June - before its famous Leningrad permiere in August 1942.  It's a great pity that Shostakovich's true quailty was not recognised in most of the West during the Cold War (apparently Bartok lampooned it in the 4th movement of Concerto for Orchestra) but it seems to me pretty clear that Shostakovich was arguably the greatest composer of the 20th Century (treating Mahler as 19th Century) and certainly the finest symphonist. Part of this of course was the fact that he was so fluent and prolific - which was an early gift honed perhaps by his days earning a living playing the piano for silent movies.  I love his 24 Preludes and Fugues, and who else would dare to write such a set after the 48 - not even Beethoven.

There was also the first UK performance of Calculus of the Nervous System by Emily Howard, a former junior chess champion who read Maths and Computation at Oxford and now teaches composition at the RNCM. This sounded pretty much as one might expect. It is of course vital that new works by living composers are performed....

Look out tonight for the late Prom by I Fagiolini. It should be fabulous!

Monday, August 20, 2012

As EO Wilson says: Dawkins is not a scientist

Interesting interview of EO Wilson in the Guardian on Sat.  He lets the cat out of the bag re Dawkins:
"I hesitate to do this because he's such a popular guy, but Dawkins is not a scientist. He's a writer on science and he hasn't participated in research directly or published in peer-reviewed journals for a long time."
Interestingly the tenor of the comments is very much anti-Dawkins as well.

I hesitate to compare Dawkins to the odious Julian Assange and I don't think Dawkins has ever been accused of sexual offences, but in both cases we can I think see that these darlings of the left are not such darlings any more.  It will be interesting to see how the Assange saga ends - the Unasurg declaration only supports Ecuador in respect of the inviolability of it's embassy and "Urge[s] the parties to continue dialogue and direct negotiations in search of a mutually acceptable solution in accordance with international law."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kathron, Ruth and interpretation

Music lesson yesterday evening from Kathron who had just flown back from BASS2012 in Copenhagen where she had been accompanying Duncan McTeir. It was wonderful to have 90 minutes of her amazing wisdom - which I in no was deserve but from which I greatly benefit.

Ruth Palmer then joined us for supper (she had been teaching as well) and there was a fascinating discussion on the role of interpretation and the performer in music. Kathron told us of one of her earliest teachers for whom she had played a major piece and he said "that was fine, but you will play it very differently in 10 years time".

The Economist has featured the bacteriome on its front cover. It is of course a significant argument Brian Josephson and I use in our Prospect article.  Waiting to hear when this will come out - probably Oct/Nov I would guess.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Francis Collins Comments + IBAB

Long after it was written I have stumbled upon Francis Collins' article about "my friend Hitch"  Very moving.On any view Hitch is now a former atheist - he either doesn't exist or is ... better informed.

Collins also has a comment piece in Science about the mix of priorities in NIH funding.

A fascinating comment piece in Nature bemoans the fact that "the polluted science-communications environment drives people apart" on issues like climate change. This is to a significant extent due to dangerous fools like ... well you know who I mean ... who pretend quite falsely that science requires you to give up your faith. They therefore become massive drivers of public distrust of science.

In Business and Battle is officially published today. At pixel time it's 140k in bestsellers - mercifully QoT is 73k.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Toby Spence Prom

On Sat we prommed with Ruth Palmer to hear Toby Spence in Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts.  Being in the arena was a wonderful place to hear such an enormous work. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales must have borrowed percussion and brass from many other BBC Orchestras - I counted 17 tympani - and the National Chorus of Wales was joined by the Huddersfield Choral Society and the London Symphony Chorus.

Toby taking a bow at the end of the Prom
Although it is a tremendous work and it was a tremendous performance in many ways, I wasn't quite convinced. Maybe Berlioz isn't quite a good enough composer to pull this off?  Either that or Thierry Fischer isn't quite a good enough conductor. The initial soprano entry sounded horribly flat and I wonder whether they had enough rehearsal together - almost certainly not given the exigencies of proms scheduling.  Toby really got to the emotional and spiritual heart of the piece - surely the composer lamenting his loss of faith (Lord, I don't believe, help thou my unbelief).

Great to see Toby afterwards and I'm delighted to learn that he will be in NY at the Met doing The Tempest when I'll be there giving a seminar chaired by Ned Phelps at Columbia.  Must see if I can re-jig schedules and get tickets.

We watched the Olympics closing ceremony last night but although the Olympics as a whole were wonderful the choice of music was dire. Bringing all the athletes in to fill the corners of the Union Flag was inspired, and they seemed to be enjoying it which I guess was the main thing.  But apart from the return of Darcey Bussell and the Royal Ballet there was nothing to celebrate British culture as opposed to Rock and Pop. None of this detracts from the fact that it was a wonderful Olympics and I really hope that the spirit of optimism and pride in the country will persist and permeate the UK for the coming months and years.

And so to work!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Two days watching Olympic Sailing

Men's 49er
Had two days watching the Olympic sailing - Weds and Fri.

On Weds Daughter and I saw the Men's 49ers medal race, where there was a distant hope of a Bronze for GB but in the end we finished 5th (both in the race and in the medal table) but we also saw on the big screen the 10th Women's 470 where Hannah Mills and Saskia Clarke came 2nd and their Kiwi rivals came 18th. This put them neck and neck and set up a medal race for Gold between these two teams.  The BBC doesn't cover sailing properly, so they were not filming the start of the Women's 470 (despite very strong GB Medal chances) and I don't know why the Kiwis did so badly - according to news reports in NZ they "made one mistake and then another one, and just followed on. We just didn't quite get it right."

Eliot 6M Quarter-finals
We then saw Eliott 6M quarter finals. This is a knock-out and GB were 2-1 up on the Russians. We rounded the final top mark ahead of them but they just out-sailed us downwind in light airs. Excellent tactics by GB got us back into contention and it was a genuine photo-finish but won by the Russians who proceeded to trounce us in the deciding 5th race.

On Fri Elder Grandson and I had the Mens and Women's 470 Medal races. In both we were guaranteed Silver. For the Men's to win Gold we had to beat Australia buy at least 2 places and at the first top mark we were there, but we were outsailed downwind in light airs - a consistent theme alas.  Still Australia were worthy winners, and they had fun with capsizing the boat afterwards.

Women's 470 GB Finishing
The Women's 470 was in principle much closer - whichever of GB or NZ came ahead of the other would win Gold. The GB team got an excellent start, out sailing NZ and starting 2nd on the left side of the course which was the favoured side. NZ were about 6th so they did the only thing they could do - taked over to the right hand side. GB couldn't take to cover them because we were in a line of most of the rest of the fleet. There was then a massive windshift, the RHS became favoured, and NZ came in first. GB did exactly the right thing, and it didn't work out, but that's sailing and they got a well deserved Silver.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Olympic sailing - and Josephson Article finished

Brian Josephson and I have a final text of our article. The great Denis Noble sent us a link to his debate with Sydney Brenner which is fascinating. We sent him our draft text and he made some very helpful comments, including pointing us to the work of Shapiro.

Brenner emphasises that there is no such thing as a genetic program which Denis thinks should be treble-underlined. Of course Brenner and Noble are both clear that it's not "all in the genes" but Brenner was inclined to think that the Cell is the priveleged level of explanation. he concludes his remarks with "I don’t think we’re far apart, except I think my jokes are better”

Brenner also says "I think we should stop talking about genes" and points out that we don't even know how many different types of cells there are in the human body. Fascinating stuff.

Watched the Finn class Medal Race, which was gripping. If the Dutch sailor (Postma) hadn't got into a mini-duel with the NZ sailor (Slater), and lost it then he could have snatched the Gold. In the Star class it looks as though the duel between the UK and Brazil let the Swedes through to Gold.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Olympic hopes, and Cornwall

Read Chris Stewart's Three Ways to Capsize a Boat  and am re-reading the immortal EM Delafield's Provincial Lady in America.  I would very much like to know who was the prototype for the ghastly New York Literary lady Katherine Ellen Blatt.  There should be contemporary accounts in the newspapers of EMD's visit but I can't at present locate them. It must have been in 1933 because the Chicago World Fair is on.

Mixture of good and disappointing news at the Olympics - disqualification for Pendeleton and Varnish was very unfortunate. I do rather take heart at the disqualification of several Badminton teams for not trying to win - a very gentlemanly sport. 

So far in sailing:
  • Ian Percy and Andrew Simpson seem to be well on course for a Gold Medal in the Star class,
  • Ben Ainsley looks set for a Silver (but has never beaten the leader). 
  • We're doing OK but not spectacularly in the Eliot 6M (Australia look set for Gold, Bronze for the UK seems a realistic target)
  • Our Men's 49er team after 3 misfires is really in the groove, Silver looks probable, Gold just possible.
  • Paul Goodison is struggling manfully in the Laser with an injusry but he's lying 6th and it will be very hard for him to get into contention.
  • Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell have started very well in the Mens 470 and are toppng the table but it's only Race 2 as yet.
  • Men's RS:X has GB in with a reasonable chance of Silver.
  • Women's RS:X a somewhat remote prospect of Bronze.
  • Women's Laser a slightly better prospect.
I'm very much hoping for a Gold Medal from Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger in the women's Double Skulls.  They are both PhD students and Watkins was at Newnham College Cambridge. Chances seem pretty good, they were the fastest in the heats by 4s.

PS: and they got it - well done Watkins and Grainger!
We've had an idyllic few days in Cornwall, kayaking, sailing and coasteering. And my joint article with Brian Josephson is finished, if Brian accepts my latest amendments.