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:
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!
It 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.’
Those 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!
After a very long week I could do little more than lay around in Huntington Park on Nob Hill today but tonight I caught the F Train to Davies Symphony Hall to see Michael Tilson Thomas conduct the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in an all Brahms concert. Lief Ove Andsnes played the Second Piano Concerto and the second half was Brahms’s Fourth Symphony.
It was a great concert, despite sitting next to a head nodder and occasional hummer (!) who had an odour that suggested he had just had the Forty Clove Garlic Chicken at the Stinking Rose. MTT conducted the symphony without the score which allowed him the freedom for some truly balletic gestures; sometimes it looked like he was fencing with the violas.
Basically, it’s a music search engine and flash-based player. Apparently they don’t believe there are any copyright issues as they don’t host the tracks themselves but just link to them.
It works really well.
For example, I really like the music on this cool Sprint ad, so I loaded up seeqpod and did a search for “architecture in helsinki”. Sure enough, this was one of the ninety-four results that came back:
They even have links to the video (which is very cool.)
I’ve decided to put on another Austral Sinfonietta concert. A break of nearly five years must be long enough to dull the memory of the stress and expense these things cause.
The concert is on September 6 and I’m at that scary stage where things have been booked, money has been paid but I’m still not 100% sure I’ll even have a full orchestra on the day.
All the previous concerts I’ve done have been at St Paul’s Covent Garden, mainly because they were so much cheaper than anywhere else in central London. Some time in the last few years they must have realised this and they have put their prices up. So the concert is going to be at St James’s on Piccadilly instead.
Actually, so far it seems to be a bit less stressful than before. Maybe this is because I’m older and wiser.
Or maybe it’s because Kathryn is doing most of the organising.
I decided to treat myself for going to the dentist today, so I bought some music from Bleep.
This is a really great and unique music download site with lots of interesting music that is totally DRM free. That’s right, according to their FAQ: “We believe that most people like to be treated as customers and not potential criminals – DRM is easily circumvented and just puts obstacles in the way of enjoying music.”
I bought an album by Ulrich Schnauss but they have high quality VBR MP3’s of artists from Autechre and the Arctic Monkeys to Bjork and Boards of Canada. Of course, because they are MP3s they work on any operating system.
It was a great concert with a full audience. The programme was:
Mozart: Magic Flute Overture
Elgar: Cello Concerto
Beethoven: Symphony No 5
Richard Jenkinson performed the Elgar and we played the overture from Marriage of Figaro as an encore
The concert was earlier than usual so we could go to the BAFTA building next to St James’s for a post concert party that was organised almost single-handedly by Kathryn. Everyone seemed to have a good time.