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Six reasons why we love Phoebe Waller-Bridge

No, no, we can’t believe it, either. And yes, we’re every bit as excited as you are. It’s only the actual bloomin' Phoebe Waller-Bridge right here in our very building. Cue a month spent breaking from conversation to give knowing side looks to hypothetical cameras, and general wondering of just how we can get our hands on tickets. 

But enough fan-girling, well for now at least. A brief pause for the important bits. So yes, multi-award-winning actor, writer, showrunner and creator of Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is appearing here at our Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 8 December. The appearance is a one-off special event to celebrate the 12 November publication of Fleabag: The Scriptures, and will see Waller-Bridge joined in conversation by comedian, writer and podcaster of Guilty Feminist fame, Deborah Francis-White.

So not only is that why we’re all excited, it’s also a perfect cue to revel in Waller-Bridge’s general amazingness. Whether you’re new to her (and if you are, get yourself off to your room with a Fleabag boxset as soon as you’ve finished reading this), or hang on her every turn to gaze down the lens, here’s six reasons – beyond her being a phenomenal actor and writer – why we love Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

 

She’s friends with the people we want to be friends with

People like the Oscar-winning actor and all round ‘national treasure’ Olivia Coleman, who plays the role of Godmother in Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag (more on that later). Though enemies in character, it’s clear the pair are best of friends off the screen, as shown earlier this month when Waller-Bridge and her sister, the composer Isobel, pitched up to play ukulele on Coleman’s charity cover of the Portishead song, 'Glory Box'.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge slays the ukulele to help Olivia Colman cover Portishead for charity - BBC

 

She tells a good story

One of the undoubted plus points of Waller-Bridge’s success for fans, is that it has led to her making several appearances on talk shows on both sides of the Atlantic. And wherever she appears, she does not disappoint, with an anecdote for every occasion… and some that perhaps aren’t suitable for any occasion, but what the hell? Gather round everyone.

Emilia Clarke LOSES IT At Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Ridiculous Story | Graham Norton's Good Story Guide

 

She’s as awkward as any of us would be around Hollywood stars

How would you be if you suddenly found yourself working alongside solid gold A-listers, or even just in a room with them? Probably a nervous wreck, desperate for them to love you? Right? Well, turns out Waller-Bridge is all of us.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge Made Meryl Streep Laugh

 

She’s cracking America with her own distinct style

Not content with dominating the glowing box in the corner of British living rooms, with two incredibly successful series of both Fleabag and Killing Eve, Waller-Bridge is also winning over hearts and minds in the United States. The guest monologue on Saturday Night Live is a daunting challenge to the biggest and best of stars. Not so for Waller-Bridge, who delivered hers with typical ease and humour.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge Monologue - SNL

 

She's not afraid to give honest answers and good advice

As her talk show appearances have shown, Waller-Bridge isn’t one to shy away from honest answers, something that can be enjoyed again in this short video interview for British GQ, in which she also offers some great advice that she has most certainly followed herself.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge on what wasn’t allowed in Fleabag | British GQ

 

She gave us Fleabag

Packed with humour, emotion, it’s no wonder Fleabag has been described by Hannah Parkinson of The Guardian as ‘the most electrifying, devastating TV in years’. But the key to its success among fans is arguably it’s very relatable awkwardness. As Waller-Bridge herself says “There’s a little bit of Fleabag in everyone, and everyone can relate to Fleabag”.

The Making Of Fleabag Series 2

 

Of course we can’t really leave it there without sharing a couple of classic moments from the two series. There’s a lot we’d love to show, but can’t quite do so within the confines of a widely accessible blog such as this, but his two seasons that are just about safe for work, albeit with language discretion advisable. Starting with Fleabag’s somewhat unique take on what constitutes a fun surprise…

Fleabag Season 1 - Clip: Prank | Prime Video

 

Oh go on then, one more. And an enjoyable reminder that hair is everything… especially if you’re left looking like stationery.

Hair Is Everything: Fleabag Series 2

 

 

Phoebe Waller-Bridge appears at Southbank Centre in conversation with Deborah Francis-White on Sunday 8 December. Tickets went on sale on 7 & 8 November and have now sold out.

 

The venue for London Literature Festival and Poetry International, Southbank Centre is the home of literature and spoken word events in the UK. Throughout the year we host talks, discussions, readings and more featuring bestselling authors, award-winning poets and inspirational writers.

find out more

 

Southbank Centre’s Book Podcast: Angie Thomas On the Come Up

Angie Thomas: On the Come Up by Southbank Centre's Book Podcast

In March 2019 we were lucky enough to welcome bestselling author of The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, to our Queen Elizabeth Hall. Thomas joined award-winning writer and deputy editor at Galdem, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff for a discussion about her second novel On the Come Up, the power of storytelling and a homage to hip-hop.

On the Come Up – the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be – firmly positions Thomas as a writer of compelling novels with audacious characters that offer a prism through which we can view contemporary culture, politics and the black American experience.

 

 

Here I am as a black woman author in children’s literature, my counterparts are not threats, they’re my inspiration, they’re my motivation, we’re all doing this and we’re doing it for a greater good so why not support and celebrate one another?
Angie Thomas

 

Subscribe to Southbank Centre's Book Podcast via your preferred podcast provider to enjoy more interviews and insights from well-known names, including Roxane Gay, Anna Burns, Khaled Hosseini and Salman Rushdie.

 

The show must go on(line)

Sadly, for everyone’s safety, our venues are currently closed. But you can still get your Southbank Centre fix online. We will continue to share inspiring and thought-provoking arts stories through our website and social channels.

follow us on Twitter
follow us on Facebook
follow us on Instagram

As a charity, we rely on ticket sales for a huge chunk of our income. But now they’ve stopped. And it's a huge worry to us, and the people we work with. We all need the escape of art and culture; it can inspire and unite us. So please – if you can afford to – consider a donation to the Southbank Centre today, to help us be there for you in the future.

Kader Attia discusses his photographic series The Landing Strip (2000–02)

Kader Attia discusses his photographic series The Landing Strip (2000–02) with Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery Director. A special publication devoted to the series will be launched at Hayward Gallery on Wednesday 20 March. 

Ralph Rugoff: Did you start out taking pictures in and around the neighbourhood where you grew up? 

Kader Attia: Yes, I was always taking pictures there. I grew up in a neighbourhood of concrete buildings – but behind these towers there was a huge area of forest and a farm. I remember how much time I spent there when I was a kid, looking at the landscape, drawing it. It was just a small piece of land, but in this very rough, poor, concrete place, it probably helped to create my desire for dreaming. I used to run alone in that forest, and I think my teenage years were made bearable because of the presence of nature. I don’t know if I would have been the same if I had grown up totally surrounded by concrete architecture.

 

When did you realise that making pictures was something you wanted to pursue more seriously?

I think my first photographs were of architecture, taken in Mexico when I was travelling. I was 19 or 20 at the time and I was fascinated by the Spanish colonial architecture there. But I have to say that even though I was interested in the texture of walls and the shapes of buildings, I’ve always been taking pictures of people. I’m definitely a humanist photographer. When you photograph people – whether the person is posing for you or not – there are so many things going on: your curiosity for other cultures, other generations, other types of people; you are also trying to understand how they think. 

After Mexico I went to Algeria many times, and also to the Congo, where I took portraits of people in Brazzaville. When I was back in Paris after more than two years travelling, it happened that I was crossing the street one very sunny afternoon and I heard behind me, in the middle of this crowd in the street, two men talking like women in Arabic. I turned around and discovered the two men were dressed as women, wearing skirts and stilettos. People were staring at them but they didn’t care. They were just so free and brave that I decided to follow them. After walking for half an hour we ended up in a small, very bizarre cafe, full of transgender people from Algeria, which was for me, like, ‘Wow!’ I didn’t know that this world existed.

 

I’m definitely a humanist photographer. When you photograph people – whether the person is posing for you or not – there are so many things going on: your curiosity for other cultures, other generations, other types of people; you are also trying to understand how they think.

You had never noticed any transgender people when you visited Algeria?

At that time – this was 1998 – Algeria was in the middle of a civil war between the Islamists and the army. And to be someone who looked different could mean death. Many of the transgender people that I met were in Paris to escape from the risk of being killed in Algeria. So that was how it came about that I started to photograph this group of transgender immigrants – completely by chance, but also through curiosity. In addition, I felt there was something important to do, and that I needed to do something because I was lucky enough to be there. 

I think this notion of curiosity is very important in my practice, because I really like to share not only my experiences but also a non-objectified view of people who are unknown to the mainstream. When I was working on these photographs over a two-year period, my aim was to show the viewer something they had no idea about.

 

Violet Nights: La Colonie
This image: Kader Attia, La Piste d'atterissage (The Landing Strip), 2000-02. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Why did you call this series of photographs The Landing Strip?

‘The landing strip’ is the slang way that they referred to where they were working as prostitutes in the outskirts of Paris, along these avenues that are so big and so flat that they look like landing strips. They used to say, ‘I arrived here directly.’ It was a very tough area. 

 

Were they comfortable with you taking pictures of them? I can imagine that if you are an illegal immigrant and working as a transgender prostitute, you are probably worried about getting the wrong kind of attention.

I think it was more difficult for me at first to gain their confidence because I was Algerian, and they were all worried I would send images to their families. It took about six months of building up trust before I could make the first pictures. I started out by trying to assist them with their legal efforts to stay in France, because they were all illegal immigrants. You can imagine the danger they faced: if they were arrested by the police and sent back to Algeria dressed as women, they might have been murdered on arrival. These Algerian transgender people are very strong. Few of them have pimps. 

They also have different ways to enjoy life – one of them is to have a nice big party for their birthday, but the birthday is like a ritual, either for presenting a new boyfriend or to entertain the audience with the love story that they are living with the boyfriend. As we became friends, they asked me to become the photographer of their parties and fake weddings. I know how to do wedding photographs, of course, with a flash and a nice camera. I did this because it helped me become part of the whole family. And for me it was a way to illustrate the good moments in their lives, because I was also shooting scenes of prostitution and their difficult day-to-day existence. 

I wanted to represent the whole picture of their lives, to show that even illegal migrants working as transgender prostitutes have moments of joy, of happiness. For me, this is about being respectful. When we represent minority communities like this one, we need to include images that do not show them as victims. 

 

Many of your pictures portray very intimate scenes, and almost feel like they were taken by a member of the family. How did you manage to create this sense of closeness with your subjects?

Since I was a kid I’ve always had a sort of empathy with the pain of others. It’s in my nature. And I really do think that this empathy is often expressed in my work. With The Landing Strip photographs, it’s the only explanation for why I was so interested: I was never intrigued by the glamour – though they are glamorous of course – but to be honest, they really touched me. Some of them have very tough stories. Especially in Muslim societies, they are often the perfect scapegoat. So when I talk about making humanist photographs, it means creating pictures that convey a certain respect for someone and trying to do as much as I can to retain the dignity of that person.

 


 

The full-length interview between Kader Attia and Ralph Rugoff can be found in Kader Attia: The Museum of Emotion, the catalogue accompanying the Hayward Gallery exhibition.

buy the catalogue

A new publication devoted to The Landing Strip, featuring over 140 images and an essay by Tarek el-Ariss, Associate Professor and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, will be launched at an event at Hayward Gallery on Wednesday 20 March. 

buy the publication

 


 

Kader Attia: The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery ran from 13 February until 6 May 2019.

From internationally acclaimed artists at Hayward Gallery, to pop-up installations, showcases and immersive experiences. Engaging and inspiring art and exhibitions can be found across Southbank Centre.

current & upcoming exhibitions

 

 

Header image: Installation view of Kader Attia: The Museum of Emotion, Hayward Gallery, 2019. Photo: Thierry Bal

 

Valeria Luiselli on giving life to the stories of the US-Mexico border

Valeria Luiselli is an award-winning Mexican author who, at 35 years old, has already experienced more of the modern world than most of us will cram into a lifetime. Luiselli has lived on four continents, and has worked as a teacher, a librettist, and as an interpreter.

It is the last of these roles, volunteering for young Central American migrants seeking legal status in the United States, that led Luiselli to write the critically acclaimed Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, in 2017. Her experiences on the US-Mexico border continue to influence Luiselli’s work, and in February this year she published Lost Children Archive, which brings the border crisis to light through a reimagining of the American road novel.

In March we welcomed Valeria Luiselli to Southbank Centre to present and discuss her novel in person, but ahead of her appearance we spoke to the author about the inspiration and the development of Lost Children Archive.

Was there a particular event or idea that proved the genesis for Lost Children Archive?

Yes, there was something very concrete. It was the 2014 crisis at the US-Mexico border, when there was a surge of arrivals of unaccompanied children, who were fleeing Central America and coming to the US to seek asylum. Tens of thousands of children were arriving, after fleeing unspeakable horrors, after crossing the hell that Mexico offers them, and were being locked up in detention centres, and receiving deportation orders. 

I wanted to explore how humanitarian crises of that nature and those dimensions might touch and transform the psyche of people whose lives appear to be distant in circumstance from those suffering it directly – but who also realise that their private world is not at all disconnected from the public world they are witnessing. That, in fact, the line that divides passive witnessing from active participation is only a matter of choice. And, moreover, that witnessing does not have to be a passive consumption of headlines and ‘feeds’, but can become an active form of participation – through documenting and storytelling, for example. 

 

How do you begin distilling such a broad topic into a novel?

When I began writing the novel, I was spurred on by a single question – which of course later branched into many other questions. That initial question was about the place of storytelling across generations, about how fathers and mothers tell their children stories, and how children learn to piece the world together that way, and how they, eventually, will retell the story to their elders and also, eventually, to their own children, casting a different light on them. 

In a larger plane, perhaps, the question is not so much about storytelling between parents and their children, but about the way that we read and write history, and the extent to which we are able to perform the difficult, almost impossible, but always indispensable art of reckoning. 

 

Witnessing does not have to be a passive consumption of headlines and ‘feeds’, but can become an active form of participation – through documenting and storytelling

Did you always know you were going to tell this family’s narrative through the voices of the mother and the son? 

No, I never know what is going to happen when I start writing a book. There is never a plot, or pre-figured characters, or a form. Definitely never a teaching or a moral of the story. There isn’t even a theme. There’s never anything, really. I didn’t even know, in this case, whether the novel had to be written in Spanish or in English. 

The only thing I have when I begin a new project is a bundle of questions I want to explore, and a force that some people call inspiration, but that I prefer to call intuition. This drives me forward and sits me down every day, for many hours, in front of my notebooks or my computer. 

 

At what point in the writing process did you decide to embed a combination of collected texts and images into the novel, and how do these elements become integral to the telling of the story?

This novel is, among other things, a kind of essay on documenting. That is, on what we document, on how we document it, and on how documenting changes the way we see, the way we listen, and the way we feel the world around us. 

There were many types of documents that needed to be collected before the documentary process of this novel. Collecting those early documents did not amount to research, but it fixed together a kind of scaffolding that enabled a first entry into – or contact – with the process and its matter. Collecting didn't imply or necessarily lead to a thorough study of the collected documents, but it allowed a materialisation of early intuitions – some of which were followed, some of which were abandoned; all of which led nowhere in particular, nowhere certain, but which eventually led somewhere. 

Collecting documents was similar to digging holes in the ground, hoping to find significant traces, evidence, remains of something that would later on be studied, pondered, and embraced. Collecting was a form of fruitful procrastination, of inactivity pregnant with possibility.

Ultimately, the collected texts and images in the novel are simply part of my own process of documentation as I was writing it – and the novel exposes them, just like an archive exposes the documents that integrate it. 

This is a novel that is its own archive. I think of it as a box that someone has left out on a kerbside, a box full of pieces and traces of their life – a life they no longer have, but that someone might be able re-piece together as they explore its components. 

 

I never know what is going to happen when I start writing a book. There is never a plot, or pre-figured characters, or a form… the only thing I have when I begin a new project is a bundle of questions I want to explore, and intuition.

Woven throughout the novel are a number of elegies, what prompted their inclusion in the text?

I started writing the elegies in the early morning of New Year’s Day, in 2016, in the Mexican Pacific coast. For more than a year I had been trying to find a tone and a viewpoint that could do justice to the story of the children who migrate to the US, alone and undocumented, in search of safety. Nothing was working. During the last days of 2015, I had been reading a book called The Gates of Paradise, by the Polish writer Jerzy Andrzejewski, about the Children’s Crusade in the 13th century. It was thanks to that book, and perhaps thanks to the particular rhythm and brutal intensity of the waves of Mexican Pacific that that first morning of the year 2016 – which would later reveal itself to us as a year of sharp turns and terrifying changes around the world, especially but not exclusively in what concerns migration – I was able to take a deep breath and take a step back from the immediacy of the story I wanted to tell, and think of it in wider historical and geographic terms. 

I had found the exact narrative distance. I began writing the elegies, then, in the third person, in English and not Spanish, without giving names to the seven children, without aspiring to impersonate their voices or appropriate their stories. And as soon as I wrote the first few lines, I knew: this is it, this is the heart that has been palpitating, invisibly but powerfully, irrigating every sentence I wrote until now; this is the reason why I needed to write this novel.

 

In addition to the images you’ve included in the book, the concept of sound surfaces a lot—sound, and even echoes. Why did you want to explore this?

I think sound – in a world increasingly flooded by instant images of everything – has become the most powerful means of documentation. Did you listen to the sound footage this past summer of children being separated from their parents at the border? If so – that is exactly what I mean.

 

This novel is, among other things, a kind of essay on documenting… on how we document, and on how documenting changes the way we see, listen, and feel the world around us.

A lot of your work – both fiction and nonfiction – humanizes topics like migration and displacement, and you’ve also dedicated a lot of your time to helping refugee children. What is it like to write fiction about such a timely and pressing issue, especially one that you are personally connected to?

For those of us who have the privilege of not having been born into war, into poverty, into abandonment and systemic abuse, there might have been a time when crises like the one I explore in the novel seemed to belong only in the public realm, and only tangentially touch our private sphere. 

But something changed, not too long ago. The line that divided the public and the private has blurred completely –in many ways for the better– and we can no longer live on, pretending that this world, here, now, is something that exists ‘outside’ of us, pretending that we are not the ones who are responsible for it. I write from the space of that blurred line.

 


 

Valeria Luiselli joined us at Southbank Centre to read from and discuss her novel Lost Children Archive in Purcell Room on Tuesday 19 March.

The venue for London Literature Festival and Poetry International, Southbank Centre is the home of literature and spoken word events in the UK. Throughout the year we host talks, discussions, readings and more featuring bestselling authors, award-winning poets and inspirational writers.

upcoming literature events

Think Aloud podcast series

Think Aloud is where you will hear some of the biggest and most influential names in modern literature, art, music and performance share their stories, thoughts and ideas. Each month presenter Harriet Fitch Little is joined in conversation by the people shaping arts and culture today.

Southbank Centre's Book Podcast

Presented by Ted Hodgkinson, Southbank Centre’s Book Podcast goes deeper into literature, critically and culturally. With a different theme each month the podcast celebrates new and global voices, explores the motivations and machinations of literary greats, and champions award-winning, contemporary poetry and prose.

Five minutes with Roxane Gay

Celebrated cultural critic and novelist Roxane Gay came to the Southbank Centre in December 2018, to take to our Royal Festival Hall stage for her first ever UK in conversation event.

An associate professor of English at Purdue University, and a contributing writer for The New York Times, Gay released Bad Feminist in 2014, a collection of essays which merged pop culture with her own experience to explore the complexities of being a feminist in modern America.

Gay has become renowned for her humour, honesty and sensitivity; all of which are in evidence in her latest book, the New York Times best-seller Hunger (2017).  Drawing on her own experience once again, with startling intimacy, Gay looks at sensitivity about food and bodies to explore our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance and health.

Back in 2018 we grabbed five minutes with the best-selling writer and essayist to discuss finding her place in feminism, intersectionality and grappling with pop culture.

One of the things I like about The Bad Feminist, is your acknowledgment of a position on a spectrum of feminism. Is this a position you consciously sought to place yourself, or is it more a case of realising and embracing your place, rather than trying to force yourself to meet an expectation?

It's both, really. We have to make space for ourselves in the movements that matter most to us. But I was able to make space for myself within feminism by recognizing and embracing the ways in which I live my feminist ideals and the ways in which I fall short.

You’ve previously suggested too many women are afraid to be labelled as feminists; do you think this still the case? Or has it perhaps been lessened by prominent social movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp?

This is absolutely still the case. There are so many women who are reluctant or afraid or unwilling to be labeled as feminists, for a range of reasons. But mostly, they shy away from the label because they know there is a social cost, despite the prominence of MeToo or TimesUp.

 

So many women shy away from the label of feminist, because they know there is a social cost, despite the prominence of MeToo or TimesUp
Roxane Gay

Your forthcoming book, Not That Bad looks at rape culture. Do you think it is time that we shifted the language and focus on this, and begin calling it ‘rapist culture’?

‘Rape culture’ is an appropriate name for what rape culture is and it includes looking at rapist culture, but to only call it rapist culture leaves out some critical issues regarding rape culture, how people are conditioned to see sexual violence, how popular culture reinforces certain ideas about sexual violence, etc.

I’ve seen you described as a representative of intersectional feminism - how far do you think we still have to go before intersectionality ceases to be seen as an offshoot of feminism?

We're still defining what intersectional means, which is a pretty damning measure of how far we have to go. I do hope for a day when feminism simply stands for intersectional feminism, as it should, but first people have to understand that women inhabit multiple identities that must be considered when discussing matters of equity and equality.

Lastly, is it still possible for someone to be a feminist, and yet crank up the volume on rap tracks featuring misogynistic and degrading lyrics?

I wrote a whole book about this. Yes, it is possible to be a feminist and listen to misogynistic music. That said, at some point we have to hold ourselves accountable for the pop culture we consume. The more we demand such music, the less incentive musicians have to change what they supply.

 


 

 

The show must go on(line)

Sadly, for everyone’s safety, our venues are currently closed. But you can still get your Southbank Centre fix online. We will continue to share inspiring and thought-provoking arts stories through our website and social channels.

follow us on Twitter
follow us on Facebook
follow us on Instagram

As a charity, we rely on ticket sales for a huge chunk of our income. But now they’ve stopped. And it's a huge worry to us, and the people we work with. In difficult times, we all need the escape of art and culture; it can inspire and unite us. So please – if you can afford to – consider a donation to the Southbank Centre today, to help us be there for you in the future.

Podcast: An Evening with Sally Field

An Evening with Sally Field by Southbank Centre's Book Podcast

One of the most highly anticipated events at the 2018 London Literature Festival was an appearance by the beloved actress Sally Field.

In a conversation with Elizabeth Day to mark the release of her memoir In Pieces, Field talked about her life, career and becoming herself. The audience were in awe of her honesty and openness, tweeting about how emotional and inspiring the event was. Now you can hear highlights of the evening in our podcast.


 

Southbank Centre is the home of literature and spoken word events in the UK, and the venue for London Literature Festival and Poetry International. Throughout the year we host talks, discussions, readings and more featuring bestselling authors, award-winning poets and inspirational writers.

discover upcoming events

My Mixtape: Insecure Men

Insecure Men – the pop duo comprising Saul Ademczewski, previously of the Fat White Band, and Ben Romans-Hopcraft of Childhood – are famous for their eclectic influences. So when we asked them for a list of music they are listening to at the moment we were thrilled to discover that it was as unpredictable as you might have predicted.

From the jangliest 60s garage to the most laidback pedal steel guitar via some vintage 1990s Prince, this is a Mixtape that is going to bork your Spotify algorithm. You have been warned!


 

Insecure Men performed at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 6 November.

Every year Southbank Centre presents live contemporary music gigs and performances that blur genre boundaries and showcase the best new sounds from across the globe.

upcoming gigs

Who is Inon Barnatan?

Israeli-American pianist Inon Barnatan has seen his career take him all over the world, performing in its most famous concert halls. His repertoire includes everything from Beethoven to contemporary composers like Alan Fletcher, Thomas Adès and Nico Muhly, and he has released six records to date. Having made his BBC Proms debut in 2017, we were thrilled to have him appear at Southbank Centre in 2018 in his very first International Piano Series concert, where he performed music by Ravel and Mussorgsky.

Ahead of his performance, we spoke to Inon to find out more about his life and career (and his dog, Jasper).

He was something of a child prodigy

Born in Tel Aviv in 1979, Inon Barnatan got his start playing piano at a very early age.

‘Neither of my parents are musicians but my mother played piano when she was young and there was an upright piano in the house,’ says Inon.

‘Apparently around the age of three, I started gravitating towards it and correcting my mother from the other room if she played a wrong note, or identifying a note or picking out tunes. They found out that I have perfect pitch because I kept on playing from ear, from what I heard. So, they sent me to my first lesson when I was probably about three-and-a-half.’

 

Inon ended up in London accidentally – but he has no regrets

He first performed with an orchestra at the age of 11 and by 1997 he had moved to London, where he started studying with Maria Curcio at the Royal Academy of Music, along with Christopher Elton, who was head of the keyboard department (and had also been a student of Curcio’s).

‘I was planning to move to the States to study and then I met Maria Curcio,’ says Inon. ‘She was supposed to come to Israel for masterclasses and then she cancelled, but she invited me to come to London for a week and I fell in love with her teaching, with her musicianship. She was a great, great inspiration and I decided to move to London to study with her. So that’s how I ended up there – and I loved it.’

 

During his London years, Inon was a regular in the IPS audience

Although his 31 October concert is Inon’s International Piano Series debut, he is very familiar with the programme. ‘I lived in London for ten years and I was on a steady diet of Southbank Centre and Wigmore Hall, with the occasional Prom,’ he says.

‘It’s really very special for me to come back. I did my second Prom this year and I played Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra recently, and then Wigmore Hall I’ve been to regularly. So for me to also come and do this, to play in the International Piano Series, is very exciting – especially as I haven’t been to the new, improved Queen Elizabeth Hall yet.’

 

Inon has thought a lot about the purpose of live music...

‘For me actually one of the great powers of going to a concert, now especially, is that there are very few occasions in our lives now when we’re only doing one thing, when we’re concentrating on one thing. Even when we listen to music at home it’s very rare that we sit down and listen and just stare at the speaker and listen,’ he says.

‘I find that there’s so much more relevance and importance now to the ritual of sitting together and concentrating on one thing and giving it your attention and being transformed by it, than ever. I feel like more and more I see people of the younger generation rebelling against this distracted culture where you’re never doing something for more than a few seconds at a time. They’re looking for those experiences that allow them to slow down and concentrate and actually be. And I think music is one of those great, great things that we connect to and that if we allow ourselves the time. Then when something significant happens on stage it’s a very powerful feeling.’

 

...and as a performer it’s not just other musicians who can inspire him

‘I think Meryl Streep playing her character in the Devil Wears Prada is very different to Meryl Streep who plays Margaret Thatcher who’s very different from the Meryl Streep that plays another character,’ says Inon. ‘Some musicians are not like that but I feel like I’m a very different pianist when I play Ravel than I am to when I play Beethoven or when I play Shostakovich.’

 

Relatedly, Inon believes curiosity is essential

Inon has talked about how he tries to absorb as much local culture as he can when he’s on the road. But why?

‘Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I think if you look at the way that musicians were in the past there was so much cross pollination between music and other artforms and just life in general. And to me to be a musician is to absorb as much of the world around you – whatever informs you as a person informs your music making. I think there's nothing more important for a musician than curiosity,’ he says.

 

His acclaimed album Darknesse Visible is accompanied by a series of stunning visuals

Inon Barnatan - DARKNESSE VISIBLE: La Valse

Inon recorded Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and La valse on his 2012 record Darknesse Visible and then worked with videographer Tristan Cook to create incredible video art to go with the music.

‘I asked a friend of mine, Tristan Cook, who is a wonderful videographer, if we could create some little teasers, vignettes for these so that you get a sense, even if it’s not a literal sense, of the story behind the piece,’ Inon says.

‘In the case of La valse there’s a suspicion that Ravel was inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, which is the story of guests who come to these lavish parties thrown by a prince while the people are dying from the red plague outside the walls of the castle. They’re dancing until they realise that one of the guests at the ball is death itself and they dance themselves into doom, which is basically the sonic story of La Valse and its dancing-at-the-edge-of-a-volcano feeling.

‘Tristan found this incredible material that gets agitated by sound and starts dancing, basically. With this, he recreated exactly the feeling that I was imagining, this kind of strange, macabre dance. It was just a perfect, in some ways unconventional, visualisation of a feeling of a piece, rather than a literal translation of it, which I think is what Ravel achieved in the music.’

Darknesse Visible garnered rave reviews, with Gramophone magazine lavishing praise on Inon’s playing, saying it was ‘beautifully voiced piano, very well recorded’ and the New York Times awarding it a place on its coveted Best of 2012 list.

 

His dog Jasper’s indifference to music is a blessing

Inon’s dog is a seven-year-old whippet called Jasper.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“So? How was your trip? Tell me EVERYTHING”

A post shared by Inon Barnatan (@inonbarnatan) on

‘When we got him I was slightly concerned about his reaction to music and then I was slightly offended that he had absolutely no reaction to music. But then I grew to really, really appreciate the fact that I don’t have another critic in the house. He can sleep very soundly right under the piano even if I’m practising a great, modern loud piece,’ says Inon.

In fact, Inon says the only person Jasper ever reacted to was the soprano Renée Fleming, when she came over to rehearse. ‘I think it was because he hadn’t heard that sound before, that incredible voice – and then somehow he suddenly woke from his apathy.’



Inon Barnatan appears at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday 31 October.

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Interview by Mark Parker

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