Saturday 31st August 2019 – a Pilgrim in Lewes and Lapwings at Cuckmere Haven.

Mrs. MAE and I headed to Lewes to view an exhibition of photographs at the estimable Martyrs’ Gallery of the endangered Feibusch mural in the crypt of St. Elizabeth’s Church, Eastbourne which is soon to be demolished. For those who know Eastbourne, St. Elizabeth’s is the large red brick church (built in 1938) on the brow of the hill on Victoria Drive, Old Town. Hans Feibusch was a German Jewish artist who came to England in 1933 following Hitler’s rise to power. He is particularly known for his church murals many of which are in the diocese of Chichester. The subject of the Eastbourne murals is Pilgrim’s Progress, which to some extent also tells the story of Feibusch’s own flight from Nazi Germany. They were begun in 1944 and, as well as being a fine work of art, they are also a registered war memorial. With the approaching demolition of the church a campaign is underway to save the murals. Enough money has already been raised to lift the paint layer from the surface of the walls and remove them to storage. Following that, funds are needed for a conservator to repair damage and restore the mural. It will then be placed on lightweight panels and hopefully moved to a new site where they can be fully appreciated. Donations can be made online at www.savethemural.org/support-us .

We then moved on to Cuckmere Haven, where on a grass covered hill overlooking the Coastguard Cottages, a marquee plays host to one of Britain’s most extraordinary music festivals. The views of the Cuckmere estuary with its meandering river made famous by artists, most notably Eric Ravillious, and the stunning white cliffs of the Seven Sisters must be among the finest of any music venue anywhere. The Lapwing Festival is in its fourth year, though this is the first time the MAEs have attended. The programme of events this year was varied and imaginative and included a vibraphonist and an oud player. We were there to hear a string duo, Fran and Flora (Francesca Ter-Berg, ‘cello, and Flora Curzon, violin). To declare an interest, my cricket chum Pious Bob alerted me to this concert as Flora is a family friend, and he enthused about a similar concert he heard in Maidenhead. The concert was introduced by Anthony Albrecht, the Festival director (and ‘cellist) and the concerts are held in support of Cuckmere Haven SOS (www.cuckmerehavensos.org) which works to preserve the unique natural and built environment of the valley and the Downs.

Fran and Flora have travelled extensively in Eastern Europe and the Middle-East in search of endangered folk music. They sat on a small wooden dais with their backs to the view. They set the mood with two pieces learned from wax cylinder recordings: the traditional Doina i a Romanian folk tune. I noted that it had a Middle-Eastern feel “straight from the Casbah”. Thinking “that shows how much I know”, I was pleased to discover that, according to Wikipedia, the doina possibly has Middle- Eastern roots. This segued into lilting Romanian Fantasies by Joseph Solinski, also learned from a wax cylinder. We were then given Strannik (“traveller” or “wanderer”) which has a vigorous dance rhythm and La Obreja, a song of unrequited love from the Romanian part of Banat (a region split with Hungary and Serbia) with Flora singing a capella. This segued into Geamporales, another Romanian piece with long ‘cello lines being joined by violin in a fast dance tune in 7/8 time. Most effective. To show the breadth of F & F’s researches we then had Nubar Nubar, an Armenian tune learned in Crete. Beshli Romni and Crow Doina (both Romanian) which we were taught to enliven by clapping in series. Other highlights were Oy Vey Mame, a Yiddish song about heartache and Talking Trees a traditional Thracian tune, and Mayn Rue Platz, another Yiddish song, this one written in the early 20th Century in response to a terrible factory fire in New York. Both had fine vocals by Fran.

This was a concert that took Your Man outside of his comfort zone and it was certainly a fascinating place to be. Exotic rhythms from the eastern Mediterranean in a quintessentially English landscape. Thanks to the pious one for the recommendation, the Lapwing Festival for such imaginative programming and Fran and Flora for their highly laudable researches, exciting and vigorous playing and wonderful voices. (****) Now we know about the festival we look forward to seeing what is on offer next year.

If you would like to hear Fran and Flora they are playing at the Deepdale Festival on 28th September, Milton Keynes Gallery on 9th November and the Lighthouse in Deal on 24th November. See their website for details of these and other upcoming concerts: www.franandflora.com . Their acclaimed first album entitled unfurl has many of the above pieces with additional electronic and piano accompaniment .

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