A Quick Shout-Out to Bob Rafaelson, Carole Eastman, The Monkees, Chopin’s Fantasy in F minor, and Five Easy Pieces (Columbia, 1970)

When you dine at a fancy dinner party, a common practice is to “cleanse the palate” between courses with a simple satisfying sweet, like lemon sherbet. Well, that’s what the music of Bob Rafaelson’s creation, The Monkees, is to my sessions of listening+studying music at the table of my beloved English conductor John Wilson: lemon sherbet between John’s more complex courses of Tchaikovsky or Ravel. My personal jukebox:

NOTES: 1) Now isn’t this THE quintessential Laurel Canyon Sound? 2) Music and lyrics by Boyce & Hart (“Last Train to Clarksville”); Carole King & Gerry Goffin (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”); Neil Diamond (“A Little Bit Me”, “Love to Love”); Mann & Weil (“Shades of Gray”); Carole Bayer Sager & Neil Sedaka(!) (“When Love Comes Knocking”); Ben Gibbard (“Me and Magdalena”); Mickey Dolenz (“Randy Scouse Git”) and Mike Nesmith (“Circle Sky”). 3) “Circle Sky” is from Head, that trippy 1968 Monkees movie produced by Bob Rafaelson, written and directed by Jack Nicholson(!!!) and available on YT. 4) As you can read from the above titles, I never got over my special crushy (though surprisingly nonsexual) affection for Davy Jones (“A Little Bit Me”, Love to Love”, “When Love Comes Knocking”).

Five Easy PiecesStalled just outside of Bakersfield, California, on a tinny old upright Bobby DuPea breaks into a polished rendition of Frederic Chopin’s Fantasy in F minor. Above Bobby: Arthur Rubenstein plays the complete Fantasy.

Which brings us to the Bob Rafaelson-Carole Eastman classic, Five Easy Pieces, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in September. If you want to talk about The Alienation of The Artist, this film is the perfect jumping-off place. Solid, solid script, one of the best to come out of 70s Hollywood. And then of course Jack Nicholson. A good geeky essay by filmmaker Kent Jones on Five Easy Pieces exists at Criterion.

I know I’m dawdling over that review of Fanfares. Will get to it by the end of the week, lovers of brass ensembles and my bonny John Wilson.


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“In Truth”, A Piano Concerto by Lucas Richman; UK Arts Funding Cuts in the 80s; Felix Slatkin and the Hollywood Sound; and My Beloved John Wilson’s Interview with CBSO Conductor Michael Seal

There is a real-world connection here so let’s get this out of the way first. Lucas Richman is a FB friend I share with Michael Seal because Richman’s brother Orien produced my old friend Steve Gyllenhaal’s last directorial effort, but also because I heard “In Truth”. If you love the kind of music my beloved John is famous for conducting, you will loooove this sensually and emotionally satisfying concerto.

“In Truth”
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
1. To One’s Self
2. To One’s World
3. To One’s Spirit
Jeffrey Biegel, soloist
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Lucas Richman, conductor

Lucas Richman Conducting Amadeus

NOTE: Got to run out to pick up my heart pills so I’ll finish my train of thought about John’s musical upbringing in the 80s a little later. Meanwhile here’s my posting, from 2018, about the very thing Andrew Haveron introduced John to: “The Hollywood String Quartet and the Hollywood Sound“.

And here’s his interview with conductor Seal:

John interviewed by conductor Michael Seal
for limited podcast Mic on the Podium
April, 2020


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Easter Greetings 2020 to My Beloved English Conductor John Wilson and All the Souls of the World; English Harpsichordist Matthew Halls Plays Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Just had an interesting daydream of my beloved John Wilsonnow shag-headed and fully bearded (he grows it fast)—conducting a chamber orchestra on Zoom. Hmm… Wonder if he might actually be planning something like that right now…

Meanwhile, those of us who are still earthbound can treat our heads and ears to Oxford-trained harpsichordist Matthew Halls’s rendition of the complete Goldberg Variations of Johann Sebastian Bach (for which exists a cute story why it’s called that I won’t get into right now, although if you know/like the Variations you probably know it anyway).

This is a sparkling 2011 recording done by Linn Records of Glasgow, who also recorded that great jazz album by vocalist Claire Martin I mentioned in an earlier posting.

Matthew Halls ConductorMatthew Halls guest conducting the Kansas City Symphony back in February, his last public appearance to date.


Aria IVariation 1 / Variation 2 / Variation 3 First Canon / Variation 4 / Variation 5 / Variation 6 Second Canon / Variation 7 al Tempo di Giga / Variation 8 / Variation 9 Third Canon / Variation 10 Fuguetta / Variation 11Variation 12 Fourth Canon / Variation 13 / Variation 14 / Variation 15 Fifth Canon / Variation 16 Overture / Variation 17 / Variation 18 Sixth Canon / Variation 19 / Variation 20 / Variation 21 Seventh Canon / Variation 22 / Variation 23 / Variation 24 Eighth Canon / Variation 25 / Variation 26 / Variation 27 Ninth Canon / Variation 28 / Variation 29 / Variation 30 Quodilibet / Aria II



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Letter to Leonard Bernstein from Felicia Montealegre, Late 1951

An extremely private but deeply moving letter, published in a collection by Yale U Press in 2013. This was written around the time she had just married Bernstein and was still acting in television (watch Felicia as Mildred in Of Human Bondage on Studio One on my YT channel here):

Lenny and FeliciaAbove the newlyweds: Bernstein’s early piano composition, “Four Anniversaries: 1. For Felicia”

Darling,

If I seemed sad as you drove away today it was not because I felt in any way deserted but because I was left alone to face myself and this whole bloody mess which is our “connubial” life. I’ve done a lot of thinking and have decided that it’s not such a mess after all.

First: we are not committed to a life sentence—nothing is really irrevocable, not even marriage (though I used to think so).

Second: you are a homosexual and may never change—you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?

Third: I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr or sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar. (I happen to love you very much—this may be a disease and if it is what better cure?) It may be difficult but no more so than the “status quo” which exists now—at the moment you are not yourself and this produces painful barriers and tensions for both of us—let’s try and see what happens if you are free to do as you like, but without guilt and confession, please!

As for me—once you are rid of tensions I’m sure my own will disappear. A companionship will grow which probably no one else may be able to offer you. The feelings you have for me will be clearer and easier to express—our marriage is not based on passion but on tenderness and mutual respect. Why not have them?

I know now too that I need to work. It is a very important part of me and I feel incomplete without it. I may want to do something about it soon. I am used to an active life, and then there is that old ego problem.

We may have gotten married too soon and yet we needed to get married and we’ve not made a mistake. It is good for us even if we suffer now and make each other miserable—we will both grow up some day and be strong and unafraid either together or apart—after all we are both more important as individuals than a “marriage” is.

In any case my dearest darling ape, let’s give it a whirl. There’ll be crisis (?) from time to time but that doesn’t scare me any more. And let’s relax in the knowledge that neither of us is perfect and forget about being HUSBAND AND WIFE in such strained capital letters, it’s not that awful!

There’s a lot else I’ve got to say but the pill has overpowered me. I’ll write again soon. My wish for the week is that you come back guiltless and happy.

F

from The Leonard Bernstein Letters
edited by Nigel Simeone
Yale University Press, 2013


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Oscar Levant Plays Gershwin’s Concerto in F, 3rd Movement, Conducted by Oscar Levant, with an Orchestra of Oscar Levants

Author Nora Johnson’s object of teenage lust. From An American in Paris (MGM, 1951). I wonder if he’s shouty scary at rehearsals.

Oscar LevantAbove Oscar: Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Yuja Wang in Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F.


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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. 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 Classic 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 (Abbado with the LSO + full score here on YT) 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.”


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