Sunday was a great day for stumbling across interesting shows. First, I came across a programme on Radio 4 that was nothing but orchestral musicians and conductors talking about playing Ravel’s Bolero, intercut with relevant snippets of the music. I love hearing musicians discuss playing (like Alan Rusbridger’s 2002 article on playing the piano) and this didn’t disappoint: a slew of performers who dread playing the piece; how to get it to build in pace imperceptibly; and especially the percussionist who found it easier to play the repetetive beat with only one hand before dashing off for beers when it was all over. Unfortunately the show doesn’t seem to exist on Radio 4’s site.
An unpromising evening TV schedule turned up trumps too. I caught a few minutes of America’s Fattest City (Houston), the skyline and accents (and flab) providing a quick nostalgia blast of my months in the city of cellulite. Then over to BBC4 for half of Urban Soul: The Story of Modern R&B. I love histories of musical genres, especially when, like this, they make music that previously meant little to you sound interesting.
I was then just in time to catch the final episode of The Office. I’ve no idea how the Christmas double-pack has been received, but I was pleased. It seemed to rely less on the over-the-top crudeness which the second series relied on, and I was amazed a show as embarrassing and cringe-inducing as this came up with an ending that was beautiful and uncynical; I cried. Not bad going. In retrospect, and without giving too much away, the most touching moment is possibly the guy swapping Secret Santa names with Tim.
The end of a Pop Idol highlights show produced much the same response: awe-struck embarrassment (at doomed auditions) followed by tears (at a clip of the winning moments). However much I hate the music and, well, pretty much everything the show stands for, seeing nice kids so happy really can’t be beat.
I think I forgot to unpack my cynicism after returning from the country. I’m sure I’ll find it soon.