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Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Urban Cardiff

This morning, the first Urban Outfitters store in Wales opened in our very own city of Cardiff. I admit I did get quite excited as soon as it was announced. I will confess at this point that I have never actually made a purchase in an Urban Outfitters store, but I love wandering round and looking at all the creative things they stock that I would buy if I had endless disposable income. Their stores are always a visual treat, with wonderful interior design and planning.
Queuing outside new shops isn’t something I do habitually, but as my office is less than a minute’s walk from the new shop, I decided to make an exception this time. They announced on their Facebook page that it would be opening at 10am, so I took an early lunch break and set off at 9.57. There was one other person there, so together we waited.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

Looking in through the door.

Soon enough it was 5 past 10, then 10 past. Eventually one of the staff came to the door to tell us it would be another 15 minutes. I considered going back to work, but figured that if I’d been there 15 minutes I may as well stick it for the duration. Sure enough, 15 cold minutes later they opened the doors.

In I wandered, wide eyed. The staff were very welcoming but there was not a gift or freebie in sight. I know it’s rude to expect gifts, but generally at the ‘grand’ opening of such a high-profile shop one might at least be given a discount voucher as a reward for waiting outside.

Nevertheless the store did not disappoint. It’s an absolutely huge shop unit, large amounts of the old David Morgan store, at the site that used to be Borders. The construction of the building means that natural room-like areas are created. They’ve used this really well in the decor by putting each collection in a different part.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

Large spaces are used for creative displays, whilst maintaining original features like these fab windows.

As well as creative outfit presentation, they have all sorts of quirky accessories and plants around each display which really adds to the experience of walking around the store.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

Quirky design accessories.

I really enjoyed the way that it’s all a bit of a cross between a funky city loft and a department store. The fitting rooms look a lot like a living room, with sofas and reading material. Perhaps unnecessary but it is a really clever use of a big space that maintains a purpose.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

The fitting room area.

My favourite ‘room’ area could probably be described as a reading room. This is the sort of unique idea that a smaller shop unit just wouldn’t be able to accommodate, so it’s lovely and different. It also houses one of two iMacs that are available for browsing the Urban Outfitters website.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

The reading room.

As you may have read in other places, the store will also be used to showcase the work of local artists. I hope to see lots of this as it becomes established.

I was very well behaved and managed to return having not blown my entire month’s salary on pretty things, but I did really enjoy the experience. I can see it being the sort of place that people go to enjoy rather than just shop. It’s almost a shame there is no coffee bar in there, they’d have me converted in no time!

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London Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
St David’s Hall, Cardiff 7th October 2010

This was the opening performance in St David’s Hall’s new International Concert Series. This year’s is a fantastic season both in repertoire and artists and features orchestras including the Staatskapelle Dresden and London Symphony.

The concert opened with a ‘Scherzo Fantastique’ by Josef Suk, a work unfamiliar to most. Järvi’s direction led the orchestra through a wonderful execution, demonstrating Suk’s nationalist and folk influences superbly.

Next was Schumann’s only piano concerto, with soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Bavouzet is very much a character, and entered the stage with as much pizzazz as that with which he went on to perform the concerto. His enthusiasm and physical motion made an enthralling performance of a work not always thought of in this way.

Dvorák’s New World Symphony completed the programme, with Järvi making some fairly unorthodox decisions about tempi. The first movement set off at quite a pace, much faster than one expects to hear it but this lent it a driven excitement that it was easy to be carried along with. The slow movement, however, did become a little turgid in the middle as it was played rather slowly. That said, the cor anglais solo was performed with beautiful, elegant tone.

The orchestra, throughout the concert, showed a little too much disregard for the music and came across, as professional orchestras sometimes can, as being bored of the music they were playing. Whether or not this may be the case, other orchestras tend to hide the fact a little better. At the end of the slow movement in the symphony, the orchestration was stripped back to the front 8 string players, who didn’t seem to be able to finish phrases together. This was a little too noticeable.

That said, the audience was ever appreciative, with a contingent of what might be termed ‘groupies’ on their feet and whooping away in an upper tier at the end of the concert. Several other audience members also stood as Järvi encouraged the whoopers, who kept the applause and thrilling atmosphere going for a good few minutes.

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The Magic Flute – Welsh National Opera
Wales Millennium Centre, 6th October 2010

The Wales Millennium Centre, purpose built for opera, really does the genre justice. Even from seats in the upper circle every one of Mozart’s notes, each sound and every consonant was crystal clear.

The visual appearance of this production is much talked of, and rightly so. The set is minimalist with several doors on and off stage, and relies on the excellent lighting design to change scene and mood. Simple colours are used to characterise people generally, with Papageno’s and the Queen of the Night’s costumes more complex.

Neil Davies’ Papageno was the highlight, sung wonderfully with just the right amount of comic timing. Also very commendable were the Queen’s ladies in waiting who moved in unison and sang with a beautiful vocal blend.

The only let-down of the evening was the audience. Coughs and splutters were almost constant from all over the auditorium and one person’s mobile phone even rang towards the end of the first act. Although many are aware of the conventions of being an audience member, one wonders if the opera would benefit from a pre-show pep talk about keeping quiet and turning your phone off. The cinema doesn’t suffer from it.

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Review: Gary Coyle: ‘At Sea’

Gary Coyle: ‘At Sea’ – Chapter Arts Centre, Friday 3rd September

Gary Coyle’s solo performance ‘At Sea’, a culmination of over 10 years spent swimming in the sea every day and photographing and documenting his experiences, is a beautifully presented glimpse into the mind of an artist.

Using photos as visual pointers, Coyle talks through his experiences and motivations in the photographic project which, throughout its course, developed to include writing notes about his swims as well as collecting and bottling the sea water.

A natural public speaker, Coyle is very engaging and easy to listen to and his account includes a lot of humour as well as well-structured tales of particular journeys. His philosophy about performance art is also very insightful; he tells of how he has always hated performance art but somehow became a work of performance art over this epic mission to record his unique experience.

The photographs themselves are stunning – sometimes surprisingly ordinary images are brought to live by the stories recounted in relation; other images need no explanation, many are humorous, some completely mesmerising.

The most interesting aspect of the performance is seeing Coyle recount how absorbed he has become with the experience of daily swims recorded in this way. It’s almost as if he wants it to seem ridiculous but is feeling a deeper commitment to the art than he is prepared to let on.

This is not the sort of performance one encounters every day and is a must if you want to experience a very interesting way to combine several art forms without losing the beauty and greatness of any of them.

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A Whole New Hair Experience

I love going to the hairdresser. But actually I hate it. But I love it. The feeling of someone else washing your hair, giving you a lovely massage, focusing their attention on making you look nice is brilliant but then there’s always that nagging, uncomfortable feeling. In my experience everyone else who goes to the hairdresser seems to know the etiquette – whether to ask for a cup of tea and magazines or not, what to talk about, how to describe what style they’re after – and I don’t know any of it. I am filled with panic.

The last time I went, a couple of months ago, I thought I was quite clear in saying I wanted choppy layers and a bit of volume but the stylist just cut two layers into my hair and then blow dried it. To add insult to bad hairdressing, she left the room as I was leaving instead of thanking me an saying goodbye. That, of course, meant I needed to find a new salon, with all it’s awful new-etiquette perils.

Luckily I was recommended (by my lovely co-blogger Raitapaita) a new one to try. Sweeneys Hair Design is in the Duke Street Arcade in Cardiff’s city centre. As I work in the centre of town this made it really convenient to pop over in my lunch hour for a bit of R&R and a new look!

When I arrived I was welcomed with a smile and not a disgruntled stylist trying to finish the conversation she was having with her colleague. I felt really at ease when she sat me in front of the mirror and I explained that I need something interesting doing to my hair, and then went to get my cup of tea (I declined the magazines in the end).

She listened to what I’d asked for and actually did it, efficiently and professionally, whilst making small talk about where I work and how horrible the weather was looking. In addition to improving my hair she gave me a few tips on how to maintain the style myself at home, and didn’t try to inflict the salon products on me for a ridiculous surcharge.

I left feeling revitalised and happier – what more could you ask for?!

Sweeneys Hair Design, 9-11 Duke St Arcade, CF10 1AZ. Wash, cut and blow dry £30 for new customers.

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Review: 25th Birthday Prom, St David’s Hall, Cardiff 17 July 2010
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes

The Welsh Proms 25th Anniversary season at St David’s Hall got off to a rousing start with this round-up of music which was all performed at the first season of Welsh Proms in 1986.

Rossini’s Thieving Magpie overture opened the concert and was presented as buoyantly as one might expect in such a circumstance. The RPO’s technical excellence really shone through here and every note was crystal clear in a way not often heard in this sort of music. After that Grace Williams’ Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes brought a nod to national pride, which was incredibly well received. A less well-known work than the rest of the programme, this was a highlight for me as the playful nature of the nursery tunes was perfectly captured alongside the subtleties and tone of the orchestral setting.

Having never heard Ravel’s Boléro performed live in full before, this was particularly exciting. My partner looked on wide-eyed as all sorts of new and exciting instruments arrived on stage and they really made their mark in the magnificent sound world of the work. The Boléro basically consists of one passage of music repeated and repeated, the trick of course being to make sure it doesn’t sound like that. Happily Owain and the RPO achieved just that – demonstrating the stunning orchestration and contrasts of dynamics and expression in a way which made the performance utterly mesmerising.

Getting off to a slightly faltering start, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition once in its stride maintained it boldly. A thrilling orchestral piece by anyone’s standards, this was a platform for the RPO’s technical superiority to place miles ahead of the competition. Clarity abounded, but without being boring and the varied emotions and feelings of each ‘picture’ come across brilliantly.

The RPO made a wonderful sound throughout the concert, and I genuinely can’t wait for an opportunity to hear them again. The very appreciate, though sadly not full-to-the-rafters, audience would, I’m sure, say the same.

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And then there were two…

Review: The Three Peters Piano Trio, St David’s Hall, 18th May 2010

This free lunchtime concert was originally to be the Three Peters piano trio performing Beethoven and Mendelsohn. Ufortunately, due to problems on the motorway, Peter Fisher, the violinist was held up. They hoped he’d make it in time to play the second trio but it was not to be.

Instead we were treated to an impromptu programme for cello and piano including Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, Saint-Saens’ The Swan, and the inevitable dip into Bach’s suites for solo cello.

Sone of the works are really very difficult, even when planned and rehearsed, but the two remaining Peters did a fantastic job performing them at short notice. The cellist Peter Adams even added some entertaining commentary in between.

The Kol Nidrei was full of exactly the passion one wants from this piece, and the same can be said for the performance of Faure’s Elegie. In between these two was The Swan, a piece generally familiar to cellists, especially as it often features in the programmes of school and youth orchestras. Peter Adams has obviously followed the same path: the notes were well-known and technically perfect but musically this left me wanting more, as it tended toward the mechanical in places.

The Bach was at times taken a little faster than felt comfortable, and consequently some of the scalic passages lacked clarity. Having said that, the very spritely gigue movement may be the best I have heard it, with every note crystal clear and a real excitement about the performance.

Following the Bach, Peter Hewitt performed a new solo piano Fantasia on themes from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, the music for which was emailed over and printed during the concert. The tunes were familiar to the audience who bobbed and smiled along and, as piano Peter noted before beginning, its vivacious speed made a change from ‘all those Elegies’ for the cello!

The concert ended with a fiendish Hungarian Dance by David Popper. Popper, as Peter Adams explained, is a name that puts fear into the hearts of cellists everywhere – a cellist himself, he wrote showpieces to perform, as well as a vast catalogue of studies. No fear was to be found here, however, as the two Peters took this at a rip-roaring pace, taking every opportunity to showcase their excellent technique and style.

Although unplanned, this was clearly a performance they enjoyed, and that carried over to the audience who were buzzing with praise and admiration as they left.

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