The Red Hedgehog

This afternoon I have had a treat. My first experience at The Red Hedgehog. Now it is hardly surprising that I would be excited by a venue by that name – but there is so much more to it than the name. Set up by Clare Fischer as an act of rebellious love (rebelling against cash flow mainly …) on Archway Road, just a few steps from Highgate Tube, The Red Hedgehog takes its name and inspiration from a famous 19th century coffee house in Vienna, Zum Roten Igel. This was the regular haunt of many famous musicians, including Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and especially Brahms (who stubbornly refused to eat or drink anywhere else.)

I wanted to get a little bit of red on my hedgehog tattoo as a link to Brahms, but they only had black ink.

So now I hope the Highgate incarnation becomes the regular haunt of musicians and music lovers – perhaps one day even to rival the reputation of Zum Roten Igel?

So, I get two of my great passions met under one roof!

The concert was surprisingly wonderful – and I say that by way of kicking myself. A dear friend had been telling me how I had to see and hear the daughter of an artist she models for (Josie Spencer). And I was reluctant … partly because I was not expecting much and partly because I was worried about having to treat that fine line between honesty and protecting feelings.

The reason why I am kicking myself? Because I have had chances to see Tamsin Waley-Cohen play on many occasions, and now I know what I was missing. She is only 23, but plays her rather elegant Stradivarius violin with a sublime maturity and poise. Her partner for this wonderful concert was cellist Gemma Rosefield who possesses an instrument of even finer heritage than Tamsin’s – being once a gift George IV from the King of Spain.

And both of them made these instruments, coming up to 300 years old, sing like angels. I was left wondering what the artists who created these instruments would make of the noises Tamsin and Gemma were coaxing from them? Even the Beethoven duet they began with might have been a bit racy for the craftsmen.

The piece was originally for bassoon and violin, but worked wonderfully in this new setting. But I was not won over – the performance was definitely good, but did not hit me.

That came next – a Ravel duet, an homage to Debussy, was striking, powerful, scary and beautiful. It would have shocked an 18th century musician.

After the interval came my shock. I was expecting some Handel – expecting something more in keeping with the age of the instruments … but found myself transported into world of passionate dances, mingling folk-themes with flourishes of virtuosity. At times there must have been at least another two people playing to make such a beautiful wall of noise. Afterwards it was explained to me that this was the Passacaglia, and while credited to Handel is as much the work of Johan Halversen, a Norwegian violinist who was composing at the beginning of the 20th century.

The two women finished with another piece of more modern, and demanding (on themselves) music, from Kodaly. They proved themselves far more than exceptional technicians, imbuing even the most complicated of passages with passion.

As an encore they treated us to a delicate contrast to the Kodaly – a duet by Gliere that was as light as a Spring walk.

These two young musicians made my day – and then I found that they had already performed to 20 children in the morning … I must try and get them up to Oxford.

So – keep an eye out for them. If they are playing near you, go.

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One Comment

  1. Stephen and Josie
    Posted 15 December 2009 at 00:06 | Permalink

    Dear Hugh,

    What a fabulous blog/review – we are both absolutely thrilled to read it.

    If you’d send me your proper e-mail address, I’d love to add you to my e-mailing list for Tamsin’s events (not only at the Red H)….

    It was so good to see you and to have the pleasure of a brief time with you in the car after we were just the 3 of us

    all the best

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  • Hugh Warwick holding a toad

  • Hugh Warwick is an ecologist and writer with a particular fondness for hedgehogs. His first book, A Prickly Affair, remains the only book to have accolades from both Jeanette Winterson and Ann Widdecombe on the cover. The Beauty in the Beast is published in May 2012 and takes him on a journey in search of other animals. And in November 2012 he returns to hedgehogs with a book about the iconography of the animal.

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