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Weedon’s Wanderings: 22nd August 2019

John Wilson

My PROM-inent High Point

OK, the Proms aren’t over yet, but I doubt anything will exceed my personal high (and low) points of this season. I’m sure we all have different favourites, but if you’ve not seen The John Wilson Orchestra and Chorus performing Korngold’s ‘Tomorrow’, please give it a look/listen. There are few pieces that give me shivers and prompt tears of wonder, but this is one of them!

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was born and educated in Austria, where his classical works were marking him out as a worthy successor to Mahler. Indeed, the 12-year old Erich performed for Mahler himself in 1909, and the great composer said he should go for private lessons with a top professor, as his skills were already so great that no conservatoire could teach him anything - a view echoed by Richard Strauss. However, when Nazi Germany was on the rise in the 1930s, Korngold fled to America and swapped his serious composer’s hat for writing music for the movies. And what music! Every time I’ve unknowingly heard a Korngold score, I’ve said ‘Who wrote that? I must hear it again!’

If you have access to BBC iPlayer, you can catch John Wilson’s powerful rendition at 1 hour 54 minutes into his prom. Or type ‘Tomorrow Korngold John Wilson Orchestra ‘ in Google search and click on the BBC iPlayer link that comes up. The mezzo soprano, Kate Lindsey, has an astonishing voice, and the icing on the cake is JW’s use of the thundering Albert Hall organ at the end. (If you can’t get onto iPlayer, this is a suitably emotional version on YouTube). 

My low point? The prom which shall remain nameless where the fine instrumentalists downed their fine instruments and rubbed paper bags with sandpaper as part of a new, specially commissioned work...

If you fancy hearing the whole prom, here is an appetite whetter, and the programme for your delectation. Tony particular recommends the two songs with Matt Ford just before Tomorrow: If Ever I Would Leave You and The Days of Wine and Roses:

Korngold The Sea Hawk – Overture
Warren We’re in the Money
Romberg The Desert Song 
Steiner The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 
Tiomkin The Old Man and the Sea
Willson Seventy-Six Trombones 
Arlen Blues in the Night 
Kaper Auntie Mame – M. T.
Judy Garland tribute: various artists Born in a Trunk (sequence)

Interval

Loewe My Fair Lady – Overture 
Steiner Now, Voyager – Suite
Doris Day tribute: Fain The Deadwood Stage (from Calamity Jane) 
Styne It’s Magic 
North A Streetcar Named Desire 
Loewe If Ever I Would Leave You (from Camelot)
Mancini The Days of Wine and Roses 
Korngold Tomorrow

Loewe My Fair Lady – I Could Have Danced All Night
Williams Harry Potter Suite – Harry’s Wondrous World

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 11th July 2019

Snare drum

FASCINATING RHYTHM!

We’re probably all familiar with the sight of dozens of feet tapping in time to a march or dance number at a concert. But is rhythm the fundamental aspect of music? Music could be said to consist of pitch (how high or low a note sounds), beat (the steady pulse that ticks away in the background, like a metronome), rhythm (the varying pattern of a tune which we can copy by clapping it), harmony (the combination of notes sounded together with pleasing - or less pleasing - results) and timbre (recognisable differences in sound such as volume, different instruments, acoustics etc). Which one is the foremost?

It’s worth considering this: if I play you a tune with all the rhythm removed - in other words, all the pitches there but otherwise a long string of regular notes - you are unlikely to recognise it. But if I tap the rhythm of a well-known tune without any pitch you are more likely to get it. You can check that by clicking here.

We can discount the other elements - beat, harmony and timbre - as the key to recognising a piece. A metronome beat sounds like a metronome ticking, nothing more and nothing less. And a sequence of chords without a tune is unlikely to be instantly recognisable. And hearing an oboe or a french horn, a loud, quiet or echoing sound is unlikely to spark recognition either. 

So the fascinating conclusion is that rhythm is the fundamental aspect of music, a fact rather backed up by these videos of a cockatoo and a baby feeling the groove! This is pure instinct at work. And instinct is implanted at birth. Which makes us then wonder: where does the universal love of music stem from? Nothing this complex could just arrive from nowhere...

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 28th June 2019

Bee

COME FLY WITH ME...

There’s been quite a buzz in the air today, with insects in profusion in our summer garden. It occurred to me how many pieces of music have been inspired by such winged creatures - from Butterflies in the Rain (here on piano roll) to The Grasshopper’s Dance (played by the lovely Ensemble Tiffany).

For musicians aiming to impress with their virtuosity, Rimsky Korsakof’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’ can be hard to beat. I’ve found three extraordinary examples of this particular work. The first is pianist Sunny Li performing it on two grand pianos simultaneously.

In July 2011, Canadian violinist Eric Speed (and I’m not making his name up) set a new world record when he played the same piece in 53 seconds.  But his record fell again to speed violinist Ben Lee, in April 2014. Watch Lee here, and you may puzzle (as I did) that his violin has not 4 but 5 strings.

If you prefer your bumble bees in the bass, then you’ll enjoy the astonishing Carol Williams putting her best feet forward, playing the piece on organ pedals! And note where she’s playing it too (see my blog of 11th June 2019).

Phew! Time for a change of species, I think. Vaughan Williams produces an excellent zzzZZZzzz sound in his Wasps Overture, beautifully realised by Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra. 

But my personal favourite, and a piece I’ve adored since I was knee-high to a Gad-fly (cue Nicola Benedetto playing Shostakovich) is Strauss’s Dragonfly, here captured beautifully by K&K Philharmoniker and Ballet.  

Time for me to buzz off now. How time flies!

Photo: Wikipedia

 

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