John Wilson (and Others) On “Spatial Headphone Mixes”, Courtesy of BBC Radio

A quick riffling through the radio-on-demand lineup on the Beeb brought me to this page promising “specially-made binaural mixes of selected performances from the 2018 season of the BBC Proms… It’s the closest aural experience to being at the Royal Albert Hall in person.”

Driven to Drink by John Wilson

And you know, it does sound pretty damn good. There’s the entire 9th Beethoven (George Solti and the World Orchestra for Peace); Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 3; and Mahler’s 3rd (Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony) etc; but I’m sure you’re here for more significant offerings from the 2018 Proms:

So if you plan on missing the re-streaming window (which ends Tuesday for both) this so-called “Spatial Headphone Mix” page is your best bet to catch either show again if you’re keen to do so. I make no judgement.

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Andre Rieu and The Johann Strauss Orchestra Come Home to Maastricht, 2018

This is what I’ve been waiting for since last summer: a vidcomp of the complete annual summer concert of the greatest festival orchestra in the world, The Johann Strauss Orchestra, led by Andre Rieu, in the town square called Vrijthof in their home town of Maastricht, The Netherlands, 7 July 2018.

Maastricht Andre Rieu JSO.jpg

From their rousing entrance to the tune of “76 Trombones” by Meredith Willson (that’s two l’s, thank you) to their invariable sign-off pieces: the Maastricht city anthem; Strauss Sr’s “Radetsky March”; “An der schönen blauen Donau” op. 314 (of course!); Shostakovich’s Jazz Waltz No. 2; “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (from “Plaisir d’amour” by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, 1784); Austrian composer Robert Stoltz’s “Adieu, mein kleiner gardeoffizier”; and the Rocco Granata standard “Marina” (which I used to hear every year at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, NYC), there’s two hours here of sheer delight, drinking and dancing. It’s always a special afternoon when I get to play the entire Maastricht concerts for me and Mister Grumble, I open a bottle and dance around the room and he just grins and drinks. Will write down the whole playlist one of these days.

“Warsaw Concerto” by Richard Addinsell, Played by Valentina Lisitsa with the BBC Concert Orchestra Conducted by Keith Lockhart, BBC Proms 2013

Warsaw Concerto Lisitsa Lockhart 2013
I love watching how Lockhart, official Guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, scrupulously keeps in sync with not just his orchestra but with his soloist. Also, it’s a delight to watch at the beginning of the clip Lisitsa curtsying almost shyly to leader Cynthia Fleming.

Valentina Lisitsa, who started out as a YouTube sensation 12 years ago and is now counted as one of the foremost keyboard interpreters of the Eastern European Romantics, gives an intensely satisfying performance here of Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto”. The Concerto was written for the movies—for, specifically, the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight, in which Polish concert pianist Anton Walbrook becomes a fighter pilot for the RAF, falls in love, gets amnesia, and composes some music. The movie, although a success from a propaganda viewpoint, was considered a potboiler by critics, and even the astute Anthony Burgess, who was an army sergeant and nascent composer himself at the time, looked down on the “Warsaw Concerto” as a cheap imitation of Rachmaninoff. Intellectual snobs have derided the piece, but it’s lingered in the memory for lo these many years, and is only now taking its permanent place in the classical repertoire.

For that we have to thank composer/film music restorer Philip Lane. It was to Lane that the musical estate of Richard Addinsell was entrusted and, like composer/orchestrator William David Brohn (for Prokoviev’s Alexander Nevsky) and my beloved John Wilson, Lane took on the task of reconstructing by ear written scores for film music whose manuscripts had been destroyed through carelessness or war. Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto” was one of them. As Lane writes:

“The process of reconstruction does not get easier, but some films are more difficult than others. The biggest enemy is the combination of dialogue and sound effects over the music, and occasionally there are seconds of complete inaudibility when guesswork has to replace authenticity. The greater the composer, the more difficult the work, on the whole, since the melodic and harmonic language tends to be more adventurous. In the case of recent scores there are usually soundtrack CDs devoid of extraneous sounds to work from, but despite the change in status of film music, present day composers still mislay their scores. I have reconstructed music by Jerry Goldsmith, Randy Edelman and James Horner in the last year alone. If the composers are still alive I obviously encourage them to do the reconstruction themselves. So far, they have declined for various reasons.”

Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez in the Film Brassed Off, Starring Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald (1996)

brassed off

As I remarked earlier, I will go almost anywhere my beloved leads me, and it was a remark of John’s that led me to this movie, which in 1995 was released to much acclaim in England but neglected and devalued in the States when it was shown here a year later. When asked by The Telegraph about his early musical influences, said John Wilson, “Brass bands. Coming from a working-class background, the tradition of amateur music-making was important to me…”

In this scene Tara Fitzgerald is showing the lads her superior proficiency on the flugelhorn, which inspires their conductor—played by Lancashire-born Peter Postlethwaite—to consider taking the band on a competition tour and win some desperately needed prize money for their out-of-work members. There were a spate of British films in the 90s that dealt with the mass unemployment in Britain that created a crisis in the culture of the north of the country a decade earlier, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot being two of the better known. Brassed Off is well written, well acted, has lots of very listenable music, and well deserves a larger audience.

Matthew Halls Still Fired From Oregon Bach Festival

NPR’s music critic Tom Manoff had a few choice observations in this week’s Oregon Arts Watch having to do with the firing one year ago of respected English conductor Matthew Halls : “Oregon Bach Festival: Lacking a Coherent Artistic Vision, Venerable Festival Flounders“. I think the title of this piece says it all.

See my blog posting from 25 September 2017.

Matthew Halls

I can’t sufficiently convey to you how miserable that hippie graveyard (Eugene, Oregon) is for musicians—in fact for artists of all types. I came up from California to run a cabaret show there several years ago and the arts infrastructure was non-existent then as it is now—not to mention they still lack an acoustically decent concert hall. And the pretension! And the hypocrisy! And the narrow-mindedness! And—gasp—the racism! (Yes, there’s still plenty of it there. Don’t get me started. Two stores refused to serve me because of my race.) I am never, never bringing a show to that city again.

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Conducted by Leonard Bernstein, BBC1 22 January 1967

Performed at the 1800-seat Fairfield Halls in Croydon. If you look fast you’ll notice 2nd violins leader Sir Neville Marriner (at the time former professor at the Royal College of Music, recent founder of the chamber orchestra St Martin in the Fields, and to-be music director of the Minnesota Orchestra). Note that touching moment at the end when the members of the LSO refuse to rise, at Bernstein’s insistence, for the applause of the audience, instead remaining seated and applauding Bernstein themselves. Now that’s respect.

Bernstein Stravinsky

Just a passing insight, but as I watched this clip again recently it struck me that this history-making performance may quite likely represent the ultimate secret aspiration of my bonny, my darling, my beloved John Wilson. Oh laddie. You’ll get there.

Schelomo by Ernst Bloch, Played by George Neikrug and the Symphony of the Air, Conducted by Leopold Stokowski

Counted among one of the greatest cellists in the Golden Age of String Players, George Neikrug is still with us at 99(!), teaching and playing—all the more remarkable for the fact that two years ago he was completely bedridden due to compression fractures in his back. Wonderfully his students, past and present, have rallied around him with financial help and words of encouragement, gratitude and praise. A student himself and chief proponent of the revolutionary string methods of DC Dounis, Neikrug’s students consider him to be the Einstein of string teachers.

Neikrug

Here he is performing “Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque”, the final work in Swiss composer Ernest Bloch’s 1916 Jewish Cycle. Stokowski recorded it with him and called Neikrug’s work “unforgettable”. (Part 2 here.)

Thanks to old friend, violist Vivi Erickson, for remembering her former Boston University teacher for me.