I just got back from a screening of a couple of Leonard Bernstein’s films in the Purcell Room. As part of the season-long Bernstein festival (which the CCO is playing in), the Southbank Centre is showing films Bernstein made for the American Omnibus TV series in the 1950s. Apparently this is the first time they have been screened in fifty years.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the first film where Bernstein talks about the role of the conductor.

After explaining how simple the basic physical act of conducting is (the first beat is always down, the last beat is always up) he goes on to show how the conductor must be able to indicate an infinite variety of moods with just his right hand:

Once the character of beat is decided, the conductor must then choose the tempo:

The film ends with Bernstein rehearsing the orchestra in the last movement of Brahms’s 4th Symphony:

What a communicator.

The other day I was thinking about music teachers and the idea occurred to me that you could trace your musical history like you could your family history.

If you were to follow your teachers’ teachers back through time you would end up with something like a family tree, except it would be a musical tree.

With that in mind, it didn’t take long to trace (one branch of) my musical tree back through the centuries where names like Artur Nikisch and Louis Spohr turned up. It turns out I can trace a direct musical line from me to Albrechtsberger and Salieri — these guys knew Mozart and Beethoven!

Musical Tree

Igor Stravinsky by Richard AvedonIt is said that one morning in London he was with a friend in a taxi when, just as they came to Ludgate Hill, the bells of St. Paul’s began to ring.

He leaned forward to listen and tapped on the window for the driver to stop.  Then he turned to his friend and said:

‘That is really the ideal way to make music.  A man pulls a rope; but what happens at the other end is of no importance to him.  He cannot make the bells ring more softly or more loudly; he cannot alter their rhythm, nor increase nor diminish their tone.  He has nothing to do, except pull the rope the bells do all the rest.  The music is not in him; it lives in the bells. The man at the rope is the prototype of the ideal conductor.’

From Stravinsky A Critical Survey by Eric Walter White.

Austral Sinfonietta 18 September 2009Those of you who read my other blog will have noticed a total lack of new posts recently. This is only partly because of the four week break in Grands Prix. It is mostly because all my spare time is taken up with getting ready for another Austral Sinfonietta concert in September.

We will be playing Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite as well as symphonies by Haydn and Mozart — I’ve just realised that every Austral concert has had at least one piece by Mozart in it.

Studying the scores has brought back memories of Alan. Back in 2001, he encouraged me to stage my own concerts in London and gave me the many kicks up the backside needed to see that I actually did it. God, those first couple of concerts were stressful!

It makes me sad that he is going to miss this one and I wish I could talk to him about the music or ask his advice on things but I will be using his old stick and as most of the band are CCO, I suppose he will be there in spirit if not body.

Anyway, if you are free on Friday the 18th of September and can make it to St James’s Church on Piccadilly for 7.30 pm, I’d love to see you there.

It’s not a long programme so there will be plenty of time for a few in Walkers after the concert!