Thursday, 3 November 2011

(Over-)Enthusiastic Musician present

This is the first photo I've taken in RAW, edited, converted to JPEG, and had printed
Goodness, what has got into me? It seems that on top of the usual happening with people asking me to sing or play for various things, I have now taken it upon myself to add yet more stuff to my calendar! Still, it is all good experience...

One of the more interesting things I'm gearing up for is the new Peter Donohoe competition in the Conservatoire. The watchword is 'versatility', and among the entries suggested was accompanying oneself singing - perfect for me! I'm quite the Peter Warlock fan, so I'll pick a few songs that I like  - including a solo version of the popular 'Bethlehem Down' - and get to learning them as best I may. Another awesome thing is that I'm playing a piano concerto! Well... a theme and variations, at least. Ernst von Dohnanyi's wonderfully cheeky set of variations for piano and orchestra on the 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star' tune often involves 'wrong' notes, arguments of key (not bitonality, just blatantly silly writing), and even goes whole-tone at one point. And then, a lot of semiquavers, and then, an amusingly abrupt ending. Up until yesterday I was using music from the library, but as they only had one copy I've had to buy my own music so that my accompanist, with whom I'm currently living, can learn it. I'm intending on entering the Concerto Competition, which should be enjoyable.

On a more vocal note, I've done a silly amount of singing in the past few days: a rehearsal on Tuesday evening with the City of Birmingham Chorus, with whom I will be singing Britten's War Requiem in Belgium three times; a rehearsal this morning with the conservatoire Chamber Choir, an All Souls service tonight at St. Albans singing the Fauré Requiem, and to top it off, another rehearsal tomorrow with the conservatoire's Camerata! Still, I will get paid for tonight's gig, which is always good for morale.

Now that I've procrastinated for a wee while on my computer, I need to head to bed, although only to rise again (hopefully) in less than eight hours time. I'm just going to add a picture, because I like pictures.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

An early recipe: Carrot Cake

Vivid colours in Christchurch botanical gardens
Back (all the way back) in 2007, I sang in the choir at Christchurch Cathedral, NZ. It was a shock to see the cathedral spire in ruins in the recent earthquake, knowing I had sung in that beautiful building. Anyway, before my trip to NZ, I had occasionally baked with my mum on a spare Saturday afternoon, but that was it. April 2007 was the time I started baking for myself, in the tiny kitchen of another British bloke in the choir at that time, Robert Cross,with whom I stayed for my time in New Zealand.

Looking across some of the Port Hills to Christchurch
 I started with some simple muffins, but then a friend passed me a copy of the AWW magazine (I refuse to expand the acronym) dedicated to baking, and I delved into it, fascinated. One of the many things I tried was carrot cake, and this took up an entire evening, at the end of which I was exhausted. This was because it takes one and a half hours to cook. However, when I had put all of the batter into the loaf tin and put it in the oven, it immediately started to rise, at which point I went ".... ah." And removed half the batter from the tin. Unfortunately there was only one tin, so after the first cake had cooked, I had to empty the tin and wait another hour and a half for the second to cook! It was well worth the wait, though, and I have made it on many occasions since. By the way, Rob also plays and sings in his group (the genre of which will become clear) called This Country Needs More Country; check it out, there's good stuff on there!

Ooh... dirty dishes visible! Bad food blogger!

Carrot Cake

1 cup oil
 1 1/3 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
3 cups coarsely grated carrot
1 cup/120g chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 a cup chopped raisins
2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp mixed spice

Cream cheese icing
30g butter
80g cream cheese, softened
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1.5 cups icing sugar

Grease a large loaf tin, line the base with greaseproof paper, grease paper.
Beat the oil, sugar and eggs in a large bowl (with electric mixer) until thick and creamy. Stir in carrot, nuts and raisins, then sifted/whisked dry ingredients.
Pour mixture into prepared pan, bake at 180 degrees C  for 45 minutes. Loosely cover with foil, bake another 45 minutes.
Stand for a few minutes before removing from pan to cool on a wire rack.

Beat butter, cheese, rind and juice in a small bowl until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the icing sugar. Spread onto fully cooled cake, or meltage may occur; this happened to me, and it wasn't pretty.


Thursday, 14 April 2011

A day at the studio

Well, one of this week's trials is over! A few months ago I responded to a request on a poster in the Conservatoire for a performer to be recorded by Rebecca, a final-year Sound Engineering student. I offered my Schubert sonata in A minor (op. 143), and the Recital Hall was booked - a good thing, seeing as my end-of-year recital will take place there. It has been long in coming, and today I have played piano for four to five hours: at least one and a half practising beforehand, then about three and a half recording. I realise now we may have done things in the wrong order: least difficult (the second) movement first, most difficult (the third) last. I was having difficulty getting a proper run through at all, and was getting more and more frustrated. Still, Rebecca and the dude (sorry, dude, brainpower all gone) were good fun, and really helpful when I was getting angsty.

Rebecca and 'cool dude' allowed me to take a picture of them with my new camera
I spent quite a lot of hours yesterday, on the other hand, making bread for the first time in ages. I have found it quite challenging getting hold of active dried yeast, and I finally went to a big enough store where they had some Allinsons, which is good stuff. I got two cans. I was really pleased with the result: as a result of the dough not having risen properly for the first hour, I decided to deflate the dough and give it another hour. When I had gone through the curfuffle (I had to go and look that word up to check, and found it's actually Scottish!) of shaping my six rolls and two loaves and covering them in sesame seeds, and had FINALLY baked them, I found I had amazingly soft bread that sprang back when compressed. In other words, like supermarket bread, but so much better! I will make bread again soon, and maybe - *gasp* - try three risings to see what happens. I'm gonna have to work on my sizings though as my rolls had plenty of space whereas my loaves were cuddling up together. I'm going away now to take a picture of them.... be back in SECONDS What I actually did was go away, eat some bread, wash the dishes, then spend far too many hours on my computer.

Now it is way past my bedtime; tomorrow is essay-writing day! Oh joy.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Where Duncan Buys a New Camera, and Makes Some Lemon Curd

I bought a new camera on Saturday, a Digital SLR camera (a Canon EOS 500D) with which I hope to take many an artsy shot (especially of food). I have fancy wavy mirrors in my flat, and took a picture of myself, only slightly fearing that the camera would shatter upon attempting such a feat.
Yes Dad, I know my horizon is crooked
 I have been carrying it around in a cloth bag within my backpack, and every time I wish to take a picture I must hastily extricate it from the various zips and straps. About half of all attempts at shooting so far have been delayed by my inability to learn that taking the lens cap off, while a good start, does not automatically turn the camera on! I've had great fun playing with the various settings, and look forward to deleting many slight variations of shots I have because I've accidentally left 'continuous shooting' on.
Flowery Anthony Gormley
 When trying to take a closeup of the flower below, the normal 'White Balance' settings washed out the red, and it was only in 'tungsten' that it captured the colours somewhat correctly. The background is more bluish than reality had it, but that's generally what tungsten does.

 I made lemon curd! I used the recipe that I normally use, except that when attempting to double it (I had about 15 lemons) I only doubled the lemons and eggs, and neglected to do the same for the butter and sugar. Surprisingly, though, the curd still set, and I was rewarded with quite a tart, but still sweet, delightful lemony curd. I have to say, I did eat some with a spoon, as Joy suggests partway down her Tangerine Lemon Curd page - please note the photos, which are fantastic (even though she probably uses a macro lense!). I still have some lemons left, so I'll make the normal quantity (i.e. with correct proportions of everything) and compare the result with my current batch.
That be an odd-looking chutney, that be!

Lemon Curd 
(from the Sainsbury's Pressure Cooker book)
4 eggs
3 lemons
500g sugar
125g butter

Grating the rind off the lemons is probably easier before you mangle them.
Do so, and then get all the juice out of the lemons (jumping up and down on them: not recommended).
Whisk the eggs with the lemon juice and then strain through a sieve. Ours has a large hole in the middle. No-one wants to sell me a new one.
Melt the butter, sugar and zest in a pan, then add the egg and lemon juice mixture, combine over a medium heat. Keep heating, stirring regularly, until the mixture sets; you'll know when the stuff coats the back of the spoon you're stirring with.
Store in sterilised jars: boil them, or cook them at 100 degrees C, for five minutes, then fill jars and screw on lid tightly. Keep in the fridge.
Eat with the aforementioned spoon, or on toast (sorry, that's Tesco Value bread above) or in yoghurt, and definitely make sure to lick the bowl.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Kuala Lumpur, July 2010 - Part the First

Early last year, a tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire announced at the end of a rehearsal for the Conservatoire Camerata that the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus was looking for extra tenors for two productions. One was a performance of Howard Goodall's 'Eternal Light - a Requiem', and the other was a trip to Kuala Lumpur for the last week of July, where we'd perform Berlioz's Damnation of Faust in the concert hall under the Petronas Towers.
The terminal at KL airport
The journey was pretty tiring, but went without mishap. The terminal at Dubai, our stopover, was mind-bogglingly massive; stepping out of the plane, one could feel the wave of heat wash past you: at first, I though it the exhaust from an engine, it was so hot. Inside they had a strange background music that grated on the nerves after the third playing. It played continually, many more than three times. I hadn't forgotten it on the way back. Once we had arrived in Kuala Lumpur, we were transported by coach to the hotel. Another tenor, and a fellow student at the conservatoire, kept pointing out the Petronas Towers, which consistently turned out NOT to be the Towers.
The view from my hotel room
The hotel we stayed in - PNB Darby Park - was not the  prettiest of buildings, but it had reasonable facilities, such as tennis courts and a swimming pool on the 8th floor. Both western-style and Malaysian breakfast was available. The first morning, I chose some of the western food, with small pieces of exotic fruit and umami jelly stuff (sorry for the technical jargon) in order to ease myself in. I only recently discovered that the fruit, which was very white with black seeds, was actually dragon fruit; I really enjoyed it. The second morning, I went for the proper thing: Nasi Lemak, having had it for lunch in Little Penang Cafe the previous day. I really enjoyed it, despite it being quite a bit hotter than before! Nasi Lemak is rice, with beef or fish, anchovies, and egg, and other additions. Another thing I enjoyed was Teh Tarik, literally 'pulled tea', which is sweetened with condensed milk then poured at a height from one container to another, frothing it up and cooling it down. I had several, of various degrees of sweetness, and one I had in a cafe one evening was just too sweet, it almost ached! The dessert I ordered in the Little Penang Cafe was Cendol, which consisted of shaved ice, red beans and green rice noodles, with coconut milk poured over the top. Unfortunately, owing to the tendency to blast the buildings' interiors heavily with air conditioning, I had by now cooled down, and I had to take my icy food slowly to avoid freezing my brain.

The stormclouds build up
On the third day, I suffered from 'stomach-can't-adjust-to-so-much-spicy-food-so-quickly' syndrome, and was unable to attend the rehearsal. On the upside, I finished my book, which I was planning to leave somewhere in KL as part of a venture called Book Crossing, where one goes to the website to generate a 'book-crossing I.D.', which one writes inside the book along with a message asking whoever finds it to register on the bookcrossing website. I left mine in the luggage compartment of the coach on the way to the airport for the return journey. My stomach didn't really recover, and I suffered from bouts of diarrhea for the rest of the trip, including during the first of the two performances where I was late entering with the choir after the interval, which was unfortunate. Thereafter I took certain remedies and was much more comfortable during the second performance on the Sunday.
The real Petronas Towers!

I do have a picture of the Petronas Philharmonic Hall in which we performed, but taken with the camera on my phone, so it is not of particularly high quality. I have other pictures, some taken with my phone, others with my camera, but I shall post them another time, as otherwise this post will become longer than reasonable.

In musical news, I will be accompanying a singer in the conservatoire's Lieder Prize prelims tomorrow, and am a little worried about the music: I'm still learning it! We'll perform Ravel's Trois Poeme de Mallarme, which are devilishly difficult, and two songs from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which, although slightly less tricky, are awkwardly written for the piano.

I have just submitted my application to the WAM foundation to teach classical music - mostly piano - in a school in India for July and August! I will hear within about two weeks whether I will be jetting off at the beginning of July for two months of piano tutoring and group workshops. The blog of last year's participants makes for interesting reading, and gives me some ideas as to what I could do when if I get there.