Not to be put down as a “youth orchestra”, this is an orchestra, one of the best I’ve ever heard, and their Daphnis et Chloe is ravishing.
Ravel began work on this score for ballet in 1909 after a commission from Sergei Diaghilev. It was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris by his Ballets Russes on 8 June 1912. The music, some of the composer’s most passionate, is widely regarded as some of Ravel’s best, with extraordinarily lush harmonies typical of the impressionist movement in music. Even during the composer’s lifetime, contemporary commentators described this ballet as his masterpiece for orchestra.
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. It’s also 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. (Some suggest that the “Warsaw Concerto” was entirely the work of Addinsell’s orchestrator, Roy Douglas, who died in 2015 at the age of 107.) Addinsell’s—or Douglas’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.”
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 Vrijthof in their home town of Maastricht, The Netherlands, 7 July 2018.
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 playlist one of these days.
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 in the 80s 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Anyroad, like a good Dr Watson I have compiled a list:
JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS
Knowledge of/affinity for/talent with:
- English Light Music – Affinity natural; knowledge vast; repopularized Angela Morley, Malcolm Arnold, Arnold Bax, Edward Elgar, Edward German, Eric Coates, Robert Farnum, Hubert Parry, etc etc etc; recorded over a dozen albums of English light music with Naxos, Chandos etc; wrote arrangement of Fantasia on British Sea Songs for Last Night At the Proms, 2003
- English Light Music, Gilbert & Sullivan Division – Creditably conducted Yeoman of the Guard in 2009 and Ruddigore in 2010 (my favorite G&S, as “Basingstoke” was the safeword my boyfriend and I used during bondage games); slated to conduct Trial by Jury spring 2019
- Classical Repertoire – Special affinity for Rachmaninoff. Has recorded so far 3 albums in a set of Copland, which doesn’t interest me. Creditably conducted Beethoven’s Pastoral as well as Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the RTE Orchestra in Dublin. But Mahler. Yeh, I’d like John to eventually work up to Mahler’s 2nd (which TONALLY is up his alley). Only by the time he does get to it years and years from now I’ll probably be dead…
- Classical Repertoire, English Romantics Division – Creditably conducted Walton, Delius, Britten; deep affinity for Ralph Vaughan Williams (it’s that Sehnsucht, baby)
- Opera – Creditably conducted Madame Butterfly for the 2016 Glyndebourne tour; creditably conducted Porgy and Bess fall 2018 at the English National Opera; slated to conduct Massenet’s La Cendrillon at Glyndebourne 8 June – 2 August, 2019
- Film Music – Creditably conducted “British Film Music” for the 2007 Proms; transcribed by ear complete MGM “lost” movie musical scores including The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St Louis and Singin’ In the Rain, resulting in 350+ (John’s count) pieces of programmable material (for the Proms, for example)—many of which are now of course part of The John Wilson Orchestra repertoire—while the complete scores are now available to orchestras worldwide for symphonic and live-to-screen concerts
- Big Band/Big Swing – In his early 20s John cut his teeth on this type of music, starting with his stints conducting his Royal College/Royal Academy colleagues in the afternoon tea dance at London’s famed-for-its-tea-dances hotels, the Grosvenor House and Royal Park (Times music critic Clive Davis gave the young students a “golden”—John’s word—review) plus The Boatyard, a trendy restaurant in Essex; recorded 8 dance/swing albums for Vocalion; nominated for Grammy 2005 for the soundtrack of the biopic Beyond the Sea (which is really the first time I heard The JWO but didn’t know it)
- Jazz – John has absolutely no idea what jazz is, yet recorded a thoroughly awful and dishonest album entitled Orchestral Jazz
- Broadway and the Great American Songbook – DON’T get me started here. I’m blogging about this below.
All the rest is just Cantara trying to sort out where bonny John fits into her inner life. Which as it turns out is in every nook, every cranny…
Part One here.