Monday, November 23, 2009

Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton

On 19 November 2009, the Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy was appointed the first permanent President of the European Council, also referred to as “President of the European Union (EU)”. From 1 January 2010 onwards, he will take on this job for the next 2,5 years at the least. The function of President of the European Council was created by the Treaty of Lisbon, which will enter into force on 1 December 2009 after the Czech Republic ratified it as last member state of the EU on 13 November 2009. Until now, the function of President of the European Council rotated between the 27 member states of the EU every six months.

The reactions on Van Rompuy’s nomination were divided. For some people, Van Rompuy was the ideal person for the job, others were more sceptical. In particular the British press, who pushed their former Prime Minister Tony Blair forward as a candidate, were rather negative and sometimes even hostile. “Britain ruled by a Belgian? You must be joking” was the headline on the front-page of the Daily Express on 18 November 2009.

In exercising his function, Herman Van Rompuy will be assisted by the British Catherine Ashton, who was designated High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR). This appointment is a compensation towards the British for the non-nomination of Tony Blair. Indeed, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown supported the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy on condition that the position of HR was given to a Briton.

Catherine Ashton was born on 20 March 1956 in Upholland, Lancashire. Being a member of the British Labour Party, she became a life peer in 1999, taking the title Baroness Ashton of Upholland. She took on ministerial positions in the Department for Education and Skills and in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Ministry of Justice. On 28 June 2007, the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed her Leader of the House of Lords. Her main achievement in this capacity was the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon through the House of Lords. In October 2008, she became Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission, where she replaced Peter Mandelson.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A music that cannot leave you cold as a witch's caress !

Who would expect to see a lutenist wearing a kilt in the Arsenal ? Or a crowd of students dancing around the tables and a giant playing “We will rock you” on bag-pipes ? No, you are not dreaming. The Arsenal turned into a 16th century Elizabethan tavern for the occasion!

On Thursday 15th October, the Festival de Wallonie invaded the FUNDP. Students were invited to attend two lectures about the relationship between writing or playing music and running a business. During the evening, the atmosphere was livened up by the “Witches”, a band playing Irish and Elizabethan music. The spectators discovered the jigs, ballads and other pieces that were played in pubs in the old days. Nicolas Sansarlat played the violin, Claire Michon flitted from the flute to the drums, Sylvie Moquet hid behind her viola de gamba while Miguel Henry was tenderly plucking his lute's or his theorbo's cords and Freddy Eichelberger accompanying them with his harpsichord and his cither. But the most impressive musician of all was Mickaël Cozien, who played the bag-pipes with a speed and a precision that would make you lose your mind.

It was a real time-travel across the tunes of England. Moreover, this travel was rewarding in many respects. First of all, the audience discovered instruments they had never heard of: the cither, a stringed instrument of the guitar family, which dates back to the Renaissance ; an imposing viola de gamba, also a stringed instrument used in the Renaissance and Baroque periods ; and the theorbo, a kind of long-necked lute dating back to the 16th century. Each in a row, the musicians took care to present their instruments and explain their main features. But the audience also learned about the styles of music which were played in 16th century pubs as well as about the main composers of the time: Orlande de Lassus, John Dowland, O'Neil and so many others. Moreover, the musicians explained that the Irish traditional music is a direct heir of the Elizabethan music. Icing on the cake, the Witches also introduced the public to an old type of dance: as a result, more than thirty pairs of feet stamped on the floor of the Arsenal while the musicians were playing a furious jig. The evening was too short, but everyone left with a smile on the face.

Hopefully, it is far from being the only concert of the “Witches”. The band has been on stage since 1999. The five original musicians are Claire Michon, Freddy Eichelberger, Odile Edouard, Pascale Boquet and Sylvie Moquet. But the composition of the group changes from concert to concert, sometimes including special guests such as Miguel Henry and Mickaël Cozien. They also have a huge and diversified repertoire, ranging from jigs to psalms, from hornpipes to Flemish songs and from ballads to masques. If you want to discover their music, nothing is simpler. Three CDs have already come out and a few concerts are planned in November. Do not hesitate to plunge into the enchanted universe of the “Witches”, you will not regret it !

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rolf Harris

Rolf Harris is an Australian-British painter, musician and television personality. He was born on 30 March 1930 in Bassendean, an Australian suburb near Perth. Desirous to become a painter, he gave up his studies in Australia at the age of 22 and moved to England, where he went to the “City and Guilds Arts School” in London.

Besides being a brilliant painter, Harris was a great musician. His first song Tie me kangaroo down, Sport was recorded in 1960. In order to imitate the sound of a leaping kangaroo, he used a wobble board as a musical instrument. Harris invented this instrument accidentally, when he dried a fresh painting by shaking a hard-board, thus discovering the peculiar sound it produced.

In 1989, Rolf Harris made a remarkable cover version of Led Zeppelin’s song Stairway to Heaven. In the style of his Tie me Kangaroo down, Sport, including his famous wobble board, he performed it for the first time during his appearance on the Australian comedy / talk-show The Money or the Gun.

Nevertheless, Rolf Harris is especially known as a TV-figure. He made his debut on BBC television in 1953 and was the presenter of several animal-based and Arts programmes. The most famous animal-based programme he hosted is Animal Hospital, which showed the everyday life of a British veterinary practice. It got rave reviews and was no less than five times awarded Most Popular Factual Entertainment Show at the National TV Awards.

In this video, a vet tries to get a blood sample of a cat. However, this goes not without a hitch...

Between 2001 and 2007, Rolf Harris recorded 28 episodes of his Arts programme Rolf On Art, focussing on the life and art style of a number of notable artists from history, including the Impressionists (e.g.: Claude Monet), the Post-Impressionist (e.g.: Henri Rousseau) or the 20th Century Masters (e.g.: Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso). On 1 January 2006, a special episode was broadcast, when the BBC commissioned Rolf Harris to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, on the occasion of her 80th birthday.

After its immense success, Rolf on Art was followed by a new Arts programme, Star Portraits. In it, three artists painted a portrait of a celebrity, who could then pick out one portrait at the end of the episode.

Joris De Ruysscher
Marc Sonn

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A review on Macbeth

The 22nd September 2009 the English department invited its students to see the performance of Macbeth, a production of stage director Declan Donnelan, at the theatre in Namur. Here is my review of this play.
Let us start with the costumes. Every character, except one, was dressed in black. It was quite hard to distinguish one from another and so hard to understand who was who. As a Renaissance play, I expected Macbeth to be more colorful and the characters to wear period costumes. This would have made got a better understanding of the importance of each character as well as the play and even encourage spectators to watch it.
Secondly, I would like to talk about the décor. The latter was very rudimentary and dark: only a simple façade of what seemed to be a castle with kind of wooden columns and some stools. Once again, it was difficult to understand the settings and the sequence of events. Furthermore, Macbeth being dark was not enjoyable to look at.
Thirdly, the language of the play should be discussed. It was a formal language full of metaphors and images: the 17th Shakespearean language. It was quite hard to follow the dialogues and the course of the events even with the French supertitles and very soon I was lost. Let us finish by the positive aspect of the play. What was pleasant was that it was performed in English.
As a conclusion, despite a very positive review from journalists, I didn’t like this play because it was too difficult to understand and follow.