The Tippett Quartet Play Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho at Kings Place, London, 2011

Most people* seem to discount the idea that Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho is actually a near-perfect work for strings (given that it was written exclusively for strings anyway) and that, given the right setting, is a very listenable chamber piece that doesn’t need to reference the film. Here’s the Tippett Quartet performing this arrangement by Richard Birchall at Kings Place, 2011.

Tippett Quartet PsychoJohn Mills, Jeremy Isaac, Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, and Bozidar Vukotic: the London-based Tippett Quartet.

* Like Mister Grumble. This is the second-most heated debate** between us: whether or not movie music (for narrative films not musicals) can be considered truly concert-worthy.

** (The most heated debate between us is whether Oswald did it or not. This one gets us both really het up, as one of us has a slight connection with the actual case.)

The leader of the Tippitt Quartet (circa 2011), John Mills, is also the leader of The John Wilson Orchestra to date.

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A Brief Memory of John Wilson and Orchestra Doing Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Proms and the Coup d’Etat Attempt in Ecuador with Mister Grumble, 2010

I’m all right, Mister Grumble‘s all right. We’ve lived through an East Village tenement fire, an armed coup d’etat attempt in South America and the San Francisco Earthquake of ‘89, so this [fill in current disaster] is nothing.

BBC Proms Ruth Rogers.jpgThe John Wilson Orchestra string section warming up at the 2010 Proms.

Ah, the coup. The coup—actually the attempted coup—was part of the CIA’s plan to oust popular Ecuadorian leftist president Rafael Correa by inciting the federal police in Quito to violently demonstrate for a pay raise. Normal TV broadcasts suspended, the government broke in on a rerun of Las Zuquillo, damn; on the phone the American Embassy told us not to worry, if the borders closed they’d send a car to fetch us; and we (the downstairs neighbors—Cuban refugees—and I, Mister Grumble having entirely lost his sight by then) spent the rest of the day watching for tanks to come rolling down the Autopista Rumiñahui, a major road into the city, which got Mister Grumble all reminiscent of the time in ’68 when Soviet tanks rolled down the streets of Prague, resulting in Army Intelligence sending him into Czechoslavakia. (His mission—which turned out fatal for everyone but my sweet baby—was declassified so I guess I can tell the story, but not now.)

But listen: Some weeks before the coup, while Mister Grumble was going blind, I was desperately looking for some entertainment we could both enjoy and found online BBC Radio on Demand—this was back in the days when there was Radio 4, Radio 4 Extra and Radio 5…now all gone. It was on, I think, 23 August 2010 they advertised on their news feed a live broadcast that evening of an all-Rodgers & Hammerstein concert at the Royal Albert Hall, to be headed by a “brilliant young conductor” named John Wilson. “The music of Rodgers & Hammerstein as you’ve never heard it before!” promised the Beeb. And oh, I was hungry for a little bit of America, of home.

“Do you want to hear it?” I called to Mister Grumble across our atypically vast living room.

“Where’s it coming from?”

“England,” I told him.

“Are you kidding!?” he answered with a derisive laugh. And that was that.

A few years later I finally found the whole show on online. To my chagrin, I found it absolutely undistinguished—except for this fabulous number that almost completely redeems my beloved John.

Oh, the coup ended that night—troops loyal to Correa busted him out of the barracks where he was being held prisoner. It made great TV.

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The Equalizer Theme by Stewart Copeland

With the coolest theme on American TV, The Equalizer introduced Copeland’s stunningly unique sound to the mainstream audience. In keeping with the series’ mash-up concept of “tradition merged with New Age high tech,” Copeland’s musical accompaniment would, one: with the exception of hero Robert McCall himself, forego the Wagnerian structure of identifiable leitmotifs, and instead choose to score the city of New York itself as a primary character; and, two: fuse classical structure with the combo of  “percussion carrying melody and synthesized strings” attached to world rhythms. Copeland’s would be a coldly ethereal yet dense “urban ballet” sound inexorably linked to the modern cityscape. This sound would influence composers such as Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman.

The Equalizer.jpgThey used to shoot episodes in my old neighborhood the East Village, at great risk to star Woodward (two heart attacks and once he fell through a roof).

Copeland was born in 1952. The son of CIA officer Miles Copeland, Jr (who was portrayed in Norman Mailer’s lengthy novel Harlot’s Ghost), he took up the drums at 12, was raised internationally in Cairo, Beirut, the US and England; and throughout the 1970s alternately worked as road manager and backup drummer for various groups until founding in 1977, along with Sting and Henry Padovani (later replaced by Andy Summers), the progressive rock band The Police. After The Police went on extended hiatus in 1986, the drummer with a composer’s sensibilities dove headlong into scoring—to this day, one of his most notable works is as musical voice of The Equalizer, on which he composed 51 of 88 total episodes of the series.

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