27 September 2022

An open letter to our new culture secretary from a lighting designer

THE STAGE ‘OPINION’, 27 SEPTEMBER 2022, BY ROB HALLIDAY

culture secretary michelle donelan


Dear Ms Donelan,

Please allow me, through these pages, to welcome you to your new job of secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

Many people have filled your role; you’re the 14th since 2007. In that period there have been just seven chancellors, five prime ministers and, until the other sad day, one monarch. The average time in your job is just over a year. There are individual shows that take longer than that to get on to the stage; it doesn’t feel long enough to figure out what everyone’s doing, let alone start making meaningful decisions. 

Ask it, and your own civil service will tell you that the sectors you oversee account for 13% of the UK economy, with the creative industries among the fastest growing. Despite what your government often seems to believe, this is a massively important area.

Narrow down the focus a bit to my world, the production side – the work of delivering live shows, events, television productions and films – and you’ll find a highly skilled, talented and serious workforce delivering big, complex projects bang on schedule. When was the last time you went to see a show and it wasn’t there ready for you? While you were there, did you wonder about the complexity of the scenery, costumes, props, lighting and sound in front of you – to say nothing of the tonnes of equipment hanging safely above you?

This is no longer the clichéd world of roadies pushing boxes. This is a world of high-level design, engineering and technology, often advancing the limits of what technology allows. Practitioners and suppliers from this country are in demand everywhere, their work acclaimed around the world. Just one example: four of the five nominees for best sound design for a musical in this year’s Tony Awards were British.

All these talents deserve the fullest support and encouragement from government, not to be ignored, dismissed and, in the worst case, told they should retrain. They need practical help with today’s challenges, including the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, the complications from Brexit and the looming catastrophe of energy prices and inflation. In that perfect storm, a number of long-established British suppliers in this field have been taken over by foreign companies. Has anyone in your department noticed that? Do you even know how many of these skilled individuals work in this field you now oversee?

It feels like you should.

Without culture, the UK would be an entirely different country, and a much less appealing one. But culture is not really a thing in itself, it’s the result of the people and organisations who make it.

Please, be bold on our behalf. Long-term bold, not just the sound-bites of electioneering. We need commitment. We need support. We need, as we used to have back in times when those leading the arts loved the arts and stuck around, an ally.


From Private Eye, 1582, 23 September - 6 October

 

I tried reading this to my wife but was so convulsed I couldn’t make it to the end!



02 September 2022

Scottish violinist Daphne Godson has died aged 90

The musician and teacher performed in several ensembles and taught at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music

The Strad, 2 September 2022


One of Scotland’s most accomplished violinists, Daphne Godson has died aged 90. Over her long playing career she was associated with ensembles such as the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, the Berenicia Ensemble, the Pegasus Trio, Merlyn Trio and the Scottish Early Music Consort.

Born in 1932 in Edinburgh, Godson attended George Watson’s Ladies’ College and the Waddell School of Music. One of her earliest notices appeared in The Scotsman in March 1950 when she was only 18, following a Saltire Society recital at Gladstone’s Land in Edinburgh. The concert also featured the counter-tenor George Rizza (later prominent in the world of music publishing). The reviewer noted that Godson ‘had, besides her beautiful tone, a confidence and a maturity about her playing that was quite exceptional’. A solo piece by Kreisler was ‘a tour de force, but it was her grasp of the implications of [Dowland’s] “Go, nightly cares” which was the more remarkable’. On the same page of the same issue a review of the Waddell Junior Orchestra remarks that Daphne Godson, among others, ‘revealed more than latent musicianship’.

She attended the Royal Academy of Music in London and, after being awarded a Belgian State Scholarship in 1954, went on to study at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels with the Hungarian-born violinist André Gertler (who also taught André Rieu). In 1957 she won first prize in the international violin competition held during the Darmstadt Festival of Contemporary Music.

The following year, 1958, she won a consolation prize of 2,000 Zloty in the third International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznań, Poland, one of five candidates representing Britain. Among the judges were David Oistrakh, Max Rostal and Gioconda de Vito.

Returning to Scotland she was active as a solo violinist and as a member of Edinburgh Barock, the Merlyn Trio, the Pegasus Trio and the Bernicia Ensemble, recording Rameau’s Pièces de Clavecin en Concert for Saga in 1966 and contributing to the 18th-century volume (‘Baroque and Classical Scotland’) of the LP series A History of Scottish Music (Scottish Records, 1972) with fellow violinist Leonard Friedman. There were also performances and recordings with the Scottish Baroque Ensemble – directed by Friedman – and with the Scottish Early Music Consort (Mary's Music: Songs and Dances from the Time of Mary, Queen of Scots; Chandos, 1984). In 1997 she was violinist and leader on the CD The Big Birl (Lismore Recordings), original compositions by Robert Mathieson, Pipe Major of the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band.

After a recital in Glasgow with her pianist partner Audrey Innes in April 1962, Anthony Hedges commented in the Musical Times that they, ‘both as a team and as individuals, deserve to be widely heard outside Scotland. Each couples a great sense of artistry with admirable technical accomplishment; each has an ardent musical personality that communicates enthusiasm and enjoyment to the listener.’ In May 1962 she appeared at London’s Wigmore Hall in one of the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ Young Artists’ Recitals.

Daphne Godson was also principal of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (1974–76) and leader of the Edinburgh Bach Players, and appeared as a soloist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish National Orchestra and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.  From 1964 she also taught at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and at the Broughton High School Special Music Unit.

An interest in early music (she was also an accomplished rebec player) did not preclude composers of other periods, including Hans Gál, whose Concertino for violin and strings she played at Gateshead in 1963 (‘in which she showed technical mastery, beauty of tone, and maturity of interpretation’, according to the composer Arthur Milner, who reviewed it in the Newcastle Journal), Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (with the Bernicia Ensemble, Aberdeen, 1968), and Kenneth Leighton, at whose memorial concert she played in 1989 – the penultimate of 18 appearances she made at the Edinburgh University Reid Concerts series between 1959 and 1999. She also played in the University of Glasgow’s McEwen Memorial Concerts of Scottish Chamber Music.

There were more than 25 radio broadcasts between 1959 and 2004, including music by Hans Gál, Kenneth Leighton, Robin Orr and John Casken; and she was the violinist in a broadcast of David Greig’s play, Dr Korczak’s Example, first broadcast in 2004 and repeated as recently as this year on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Among her avocations were hillwalking, reading and dressmaking. She could have had an international career, but said she was ‘perfectly happy in Scotland’.

© GARRY HUMPHREYS, 2022

Edith Muriel Daphne Godson, violinist and teacher; born Edinburgh, 16 March 1932; died Edinburgh 15 August 2022

18 August 2022

MARTIN HOW

This obituary was originally written as an ‘advance’ for The Independent before it became wholly digital and with a different policy for obituaries. So it was never published and is presented here in the format adopted by The Independent at the time.



Martin How was a brilliant organist and inspirational choir trainer who spent the greater part of his career in the service of the Royal School of Church Music, as headquarters choirmaster at Addington Palace and as initiator of the Chorister Training Scheme, now adopted in various forms throughout the world. He inaugurated the RSCM Cathedral Singers, which sang at Canterbury Cathedral and elsewhere and frequently broadcast on the BBC’s Choral Evensong, and was an RSCM Commissioner, travelling widely at home and abroad to conduct courses, deliver lectures and adjudicate at competitions.

He was born in Liverpool in 1931, the son of John How, a clergyman who, when Martin was six, and after a period in Brighton, became primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, moving to Glasgow, where How spent most of his childhood. A music scholar at Repton School, then organ scholar of Clare College, Cambridge, he ran the college’s chapel choir of boys and adults, read music and theology and only narrowly missed being awarded a Blue for cross-country running, an activity he kept up well into his time at Addington.

After university he spent one term as a student at the RSCM when it was still at Canterbury, prior to a National Service commission in the Royal Army Service Corps for two years, where he claims that the experience was invaluable in his future career! In January 1955 he returned to the RSCM – now at Addington Palace near Croydon, former summer residence of the archbishops of Canterbury – intent on resuming his studies, but on 28 April the RSCM’s records state: “Mr M. J. R. How appointed H.Q. choirmaster”, a post he took up the following September in succession to Hubert Crook. From 1961-4 he was organist of Grimsby parish church – at the time the only parish church in England to have its own choir school – together with teaching and other musical activities, but soon returned to his former RSCM post and as Headquarters Commissioner. From 1971 until 1992 he was Commissioner for the South, then worked part-time as a Special Adviser, finally retiring in April 1994, but continuing to live in South Croydon and maintaining links with the music of Croydon Minster as Organist Laureate.

In the 1993 New Year’s Honours List he was appointed MBE “for services to church music”, and his many admirers might have felt that this was a somewhat paltry reflection of the impact and influence he had on the thousands from Britain and abroad who met him and worked with him. Perhaps his innate modesty worked against him in an age of celebrity overreaction, even in 1993.

Martin How’s natural charm and seemingly inexhaustible cheerfulness inspired his choristers as much as musical ability. At a reunion at Addington in 2013, Peter Hood, head chorister in 1963 when the college was still residential, recalled: “Martin’s secret was that he could instil discipline and we all had the greatest respect for him but he made it all such fun. I don’t think we necessarily appreciated what a wonderful thing it was that we were involved in; we just knew that we loved it and we enjoyed it. Addington Palace became our spiritual home and Mr How became our father figure and he constructed an enormous family for us.”

Martin How’s name is also familiar beyond Addington because so much of the music he composed and edited, which therefore bears his name, has a worldwide appeal – and worldwide sales. As a practising musician his aim as a composer had always been to provide practical music, appropriate to circumstances, but challenging for performers to achieve just that little bit more than perhaps they thought they could. So much of it reflects his own personal charm and modesty, but can express strong views and feelings too. As well as anthems and service settings, he wrote solo organ music, including an Elegy in memory of Dr Gerald Knight – director of the RSCM during much of How’s time there – and four sets of Pieces for Organ. Ever mindful that the RSCM’s membership includes choirs of all shapes, sizes and abilities, he also gave special attention to producing good music for limited choral resources.

A skilled accompanist, he was accompanist to the (then) Choirboy of the Year competition organized by the RSCM (sponsored by Rediffusion television) from the first competition in 1975 until 1989; in 1992 it combined with the BBC Choirgirl of the Year competition that had run concurrently since 1986, though from 1989 the RSCM competition had also included girls.

GARRY HUMPHREYS

Martin John Richard How, church musician: born Liverpool 3 April 1931; educated at Repton School, Clare College Cambridge (organ scholar), Trinity College London and the Royal School of Church Music; At RSCM: Headquarters Choirmaster 1955-1961 and 1968-70, Headquarters Commissioner 1964-7 and 1970-1, Commissioner for the South 1971-92, Special Adviser 1992-4; organist of Grimsby Parish Church 1961-4; Organist Laureate of Croydon Minster 1994-[year of death]; MBE 1993; died 25 July 2022.

15 August 2022

Old African Proverb

 ‘When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.’

DAVID MICHELL, 1929-2022

 


David and I were very close at one time – we became friends originally as fellow members of the Hampstead Choral Society which I joined within a week of coming to London for library school (North-Western Polytechnic) in January 1967. I think it was at my second rehearsal that he chatted to me, after which we did so many things together: outings (the destination usually to include a cathedral and a second-hand bookshop), joining the Elgar Society London Branch on its formation, joining the Southwark Cathedral Choir. I remember a visit to Rochester where the discovery of a shop with a large collection of 78s took precedence over Evensong in the cathedral – one of the objects of the visit – which he missed and I attended alone.

David was best man at my first wedding. And, of course, it was through David that I met Robert Tucker. (David was quite alarmed to discover that everyone he met seemed to be a librarian!) I'm afraid that we eventually drifted apart and I always felt guilty about it (Robert kept in touch with him), but I felt I had outgrown the friendship, though we still exchanged Christmas cards. I hope he made appropriate arrangements for the disposal of his wonderful collection of recordings and other memorabilia, which could be claimed as of national importance. I once met his brother, who was at St Thomas’s Hospital when I visited David, who was a patient there in the 1970s.

Robert says that, despite his infirmities, David sounded quite unchanged on the telephone, and I can imagine his frustration at having his freedom curtailed so irrevocably. I could have provided the stimulating conversation Andrew Neill says David craved – which makes me feel even more guilty – but the trouble was that David didn’t want anything to change, and was very put out when I (and I think Robert too) got married and, of course, made changes to our lives. He wasn’t a misogynist or (so far as I am aware) homosexual, but just felt that women were a bit of an irrelevance in his life.

I loved his dry sense of humour, though this could sometimes be hurtful or embarrassing: I remember we were in a cafe near Southwark Cathedral, probably when we both sang in the Cathedral choir, and a poor old down-and-out came up to him saying ‘Can you help me, sir?’ to which he replied, rather sharply: ‘No! No one can.’ I remember Ron Taylor complaining that once when David visited him he started picking up and reading letters that were lying around. There was one occasion when, on Christmas Day, he missed the only bus to Southwark (when there were buses on Christmas Day!) for the cathedral services (and presumably taxis were completely booked up or unaffordable) and so, unexpectedly, had to spend the day at home, probably lunching on beans on toast (lunch would have been provided at Southwark, where the choir was also required for Evensong); on hearing this I invited him to Kennington (where I then lived – by then I had moved on from Southwark to St George’s Hanover Square) on Boxing Day for a repeat Christmas lunch when he also had the challenge of entertaining my mother, who had come from Nottingham for the occasion. As my best man (at St George’s), he was a bundle of nerves and, the day before, had to be sent home by my prospective mother-in-law to prevent him driving everyone mad! As I think we said at the time, anyone would have thought that he was the one getting married! Everything was fine on the day, but Janet did not help by telling him (teasingly) that if the groom fails to turn up the best man has to marry the bride!

He had a great love of names: in the musical world Graupner (composer) and Bronsgeest (singer) amused him; it was David who named Wulstan Atkins (with his utter devotion to Elgar) as ‘the Thirteenth Apostle’ (also, ‘Woolsack’). Other Elgarians earned similar epithets (no names no pack drill). We once visited (I think on a dull November day, having travelled by train, including an excellent lunch on board – those were the days! – and walking from Worcester to Lower Broadheath) the Elgar Birthplace, met by Alan Webb and – sworn to secrecy – CAKE provided by Mrs Webb! And there was that instantly recognizable cough that punctuated many a London Branch talk. He was a great friend (and fellow Cornishman) of Bill Harris (William Lewarne Harris), composer, whom I also got to know, the baritone Donald Francke, and of course Inglis Gundry. We were also frequent visitors to William Reeves, near him in south London, for second-hand books and music and I remember hesitating to spend the then considerable sum of £3. 10s. on the two volumes of Percy Scholes’s The Mirror of Music (I succumbed. They sell for up to £90 the pair now!). I remember my first wife Janet commenting on how his flat was surprisingly (for a bachelor!) comfortable and ‘chintzy’. There was also the Block instrument, indicating ‘train on line’ when the doorbell was rung. Did you ever notice that, though tall, he had very small feet?

The Hampstead Choral Society often sang in Promenade Concerts, usually as part of a vast composite choir: we sang in the Beethoven Choral Symphony conducted by Boult in place of Malcolm Sargent who was mortally ill. We thought how slow the scherzo was, until we heard the broadcast repeat and realized it was spot-on, the more particular pointing of the rhythm giving far more impetus than mere speed; another year we sang in Belshazzar’s Feast (David loved the alternative German title that then appeared in the vocal score: Belsazers Gastmahl!), conducted by John Pritchard with a choir of thousands; so many in fact that we planned, when they all shouted ‘Slain!’, to shout ‘Shit!’, but I can’t remember whether we did. David later joined the London Philharmonic Choir.

He often played recordings down the telephone when talking to me: I remember in particular the Eugene Goossens recording of the 1920 revision of the Vaughan Williams London Symphony and comparing it with the published score. He recalled, as a very young man, meeting Vaughan Williams (I think in Cornwall) and discussing a piece for which not all instruments were available locally (unfortunately I can’t now remember what the piece was) and RVW suggesting ‘You could try saxophones’, of which there was no shortage in the dance bands of the local seaside hotels at the time! David also recalled as a child witnessing the Crystal Palace fire (1936), which could be seen from the road where they lived.

This has been mostly about music, but David's interest in railways was significant too (I think he was in ‘planning’ at Waterloo when I first knew him) and he relished a recording of steam locomotives tackling the Lickey Incline. He was also a Territorial and, in our early days, was occasionally called for periodic training sessions; I think he may have been awarded the TD (Territorial Decoration).

As for the pronunciation of his name, it was definitely ‘Mitchell’, despite the actor Keith Michell pronouncing it ‘Meeshell’. I remember Robert Tong ringing me up about a concert at Queen Mary College that he was conducting and in which David was interested and Tong asking if my friend Michelle was coming – my first reaction was that I didn’t know any girl called Michelle!

Finally, as David tended to collect friends who were younger than himself, I always used to refer to him, teasingly, but quite truthfully, as ‘my oldest friend in London in both senses of the word’. (Actually John Bishop and Betty Roe probably also qualified but it was a pity to spoil the joke!) David was quite sensitive about his age (compared with us) though he would only have been in his 30s/40s at the time.

13 July 2022

Wise words from Roger Wright

‘In an age which seems to value surface knowledge and instantaneous gratification, we are in danger of missing the importance of deeper engagement, not least in classical music which demands time and careful consideration. We are also at risk of losing our sense of curiosity in a world in which there is more available to us than ever and in which there is more and more communication but apparently less and less to communicate.’ – Roger Wright.

07 July 2022

In a nutshell

 

‘Russian foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova told reporters Mr Johnson had been “hit by a boomerang launched by himself”’ - BBC News website.

30 June 2022

From this week’s Private Eye

 


Axing TV arts is a disgrace

 

RADIO TIMES, 2-8 JULY 2022, p. 7

Viewpoint: Waldemar Januszczak

BACK IN THE 1990s, I used to be head of arts at Channel 4. I put Glastonbury on television. I put the Turner Prize on television. We did Glyndebourne. We did the Edinburgh Festival. Dennis Potter talked to us in a famous interview that lasted 104 minutes. We showed the whole thing uncut.

My boss Michael Grade [chief executive of Channel 4 1988-97] believed in the arts. On top of all the specials and live broadcasts, he gave me 30 primetime slots a year: 9pm on Tuesdays, one hour long. J’accuse – Citizen Kane won a Bafta. We won Emmys. The music department did The Three Tenors. It was a heyday.

And not just at Channel 4. Omnibus on BBC1 was producing excellent arts coverage. BBC2 was largely and brilliantly an arts channel and Arena was scooping award after award for its supremely creative approach. Even ITV was showing The South Bank Show at regular and viewable times. British television, you felt, was doing right by the arts.

Compare that with now. The announcement that BBC4 is to be scrapped as a terrestrial channel, while the ‘yoof’ channel, BBC3, is restored, means that the only channel dedicated to the arts left on British television is the heroic Sky Arts. It’s a national disgrace. When people talk to me about diversity and choice on British TV, I laugh in their faces.

Channel 4 began backing out of its ambitious arts coverage pretty much as soon as Michael Grade left. These things are always down to who arrives next. Set up with public money, charged with a public-service remit, Channel 4 should not have been allowed to run down its arts coverage and replace it with freak shows, creepy voyeurism, extreme this and that. It’s why I have no sympathy whatsoever with the current fight to ‘save’ Channel 4 from privatisation. In television, as elsewhere, ou reap what you sow.

A worse crime, though, is what has happened to the arts on the BBC. BBC4 was set up specifically to cater for an arts-loving audience. But for years, the BBC has been starving it of resources in order to make even more expensive dramas.

BBC2, meanwhile, gave up pretending it was interested in the arts decades ago. It’s self-evidently a lifestyle channel, as pointless and disposable as a Sunday newspaper pull-out. I’ve met all the recent controllers of BBC2 and not one of them has shown a tangible interest in the arts. What they were all tangibly interested in was cooking, property, driving, travel, more cooking, ballroom dancing and quizzes.

 

NONE OF THESE lunkheads appears to have realised that the best way to prove you’re fulfilling a public-service remit on the BBC is to put public-service programmes on the BBC – catering for those who aren’t otherwise being catered for.

Everyone knows the ‘yoof’ audience doesn’t need BBC3. It doesn’t watch terrestrial TV, it watches stuff on its phone in the bedroom. By chasing after them like an old grandpa who’s bought himself purple flares because purple flares are ‘dope’, the BBC is embarrassing itself. Worse still, it’s chasing after the same demographic as everyone else, and that isn’t the public-service broadcasting we’re paying for.

Meanwhile, there’s another audience out there that really does need more arts on television. Perhaps some of them are so old that they don’t know how to watch stuff on their phone. But so what? When did growing old become a crime?

Bravo then to Sky Arts for continuing to supply public-service television even though they’re not legally obliged to do so.

26 June 2022

Music: Into the Light by Paul Carr (Bury St Edmunds)

CHURCH TIMES, 17 JUNE 2022

Garry Humphreys was at Bury St Edmunds for a special concert

BURY ST EDMUNDS in Suffolk is currently celebrating — two years late, owing to Covid — the 1000th anniversary of the founding by King Canute of the Abbey of St Edmund, whose ruins stand next to the present cathedral. From April until October, there is a programme of events ranging from anniversary tours, sculpture, and art exhibitions, displays of manuscripts from the Abbey’s scriptorium, lectures, and pilgrimages, as well as concerts, one of which featured the first performance of Into the Light, commissioned for this anniversary from the composer Paul Carr.

This was heard on 28 May at a concert given by the English Arts Chorale, the Eye Bach Choir, and the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leslie Olive. It began with superlative playing in Benjamin Britten’s Fanfare for St Edmundsbury, written in 1959 for the Pageant of Magna Carta and scored for three trumpets, placed, as the composer wished, “as far apart as possible”. Next came Parry’s “I was glad” and Vaughan Williams’s Folk Song Suite, then Carr’s new piece, and ending with Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations.

Into the Light is a large-scale work, lasting about 25 minutes, scored for tenor soloist (the excellent James Gilchrist), four-part mixed chorus and orchestra, including harp, organ, and an extensive percussion section, but without timpani. The Abbey of St Edmund was a Benedictine foundation and Carr’s text incorporates quotes from The Rule of St Benedict, woven through verses from three psalms (84, 129, followed by an extract from Anima Christi, and 61).

Musically, the opening movement is inspired by Handel’s Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713) — a recent discovery of the composer’s, which he heard for the first time the night before receiving this commission. Although a secular cantata, it seems, in Paul Carr’s view, “to embrace, and even enhance the splendour of devout belief”. On lower strings, ppp, the music begins, and grows, the chorus joining with the words “Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God”, a phrase repeated several times with growing intensity and a climax on the word “God”, and repeated at the close of the whole work. The “dramatic core” (composer’s description) of the piece is the second movement, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord”, with movements of praise to the glory of God on either side.

Paul Carr’s music is evolutionary rather than revolutionary — there are no surprises, or anything likely to frighten the horses — and yet the result is music of great beauty and originality, with a structure rooted in melody and (in particular) harmony, which Carr believes can furnish the soul with an “emotional embrace”. He wants everyone to feel love, and, while the music grows like life, it ends positively.

This is achieved not only through his setting of the words (which, incidentally, the choir really seemed to enjoy singing, and sang well), but through his handling of this large-scale score: there is an elegiac quality to the woodwind writing — oboes, cor anglais and clarinets in particular — and (again) trumpet, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the second movement of Vaughan Williams’s Pastoral Symphony.

The words from the Rule of St Benedict were sung with characteristic fervour and intensity by the tenor James Gilchrist, though not always audibly or clearly over the orchestra in the cathedral acoustic.

When it came to the “Enigma” Variations, in addition to instruments previously mentioned, there were fine viola and cello solos in variations VI and XII. I felt the opening too slow and the finale rather laboured, but, otherwise, this was a hugely enjoyable performance by a first-class orchestra. The near-capacity audience was long and loud in its grateful applause for all the pieces.

13 June 2022

Signs of the times at Jubilee thanksgiving

CHURCH TIMES, 10 JUNE 2022

Letters to the Editor

From Mr Garry Humphreys

Sir, — How revealing – and telling – was the television coverage of the Jubilee service at St Paul’s: in the many shots of the congregation, the great and the good were clearly ill at ease. Unfamiliarity with the hymns and signs of incomprehension – perhaps even boredom – were apparent, with conversation during the anthems, as if it were background music.

There were exceptions, of course; but the general impression was that the traditions with which those of us of a certain age were brought up, and which are deeply rooted in our psyche, are now alien to a significant segment of our society.

GARRY HUMPHREYS


01 May 2022

The wisdom of Pat Ashworth

 ‘DIARY’, CHURCH TIMES, 22 APRIL 2022

‘Friendship is terribly underrated in a world that thinks everything is about love.’

30 April 2022

Margolyes on Dorries (spot on!)

I’m no fan of Miriam Margolyes, but in a Radio Times interview (23-29 April 2022, p. 9), she is spot on:

‘Right now, she is outraged by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’s treatment of the BBC and Channel 4. “It’s inconceivable to me that a woman of limited intelligence can be given such a vital role. She doesn’t know anything about anything.”’


12 March 2022

 

Music: Parry’s De Profundis (St Albans Cathedral)

CHURCH TIMES, 11 MARCH 2022

Garry Humphreys hears an acclaimed but rarely given work by Parry

THE particular interest of the concert by the Hertfordshire Chorus, with the London Orchestra da Camera, in St Albans Cathedral last month was a performance — supposedly the first since 1921 (but see below) — of Psalm 130, De Profundis, written for the 1891 Hereford Festival by Hubert Parry.

On that occasion, the composer conducted “a production of very remarkable merit” which “will assuredly come to be received as a masterpiece . . . [and] remembered as one of the chief events of the Festival”, to quote a contemporary review. And, indeed, it did receive further performances, beginning with one at the following year’s Leeds Festival. It was heard again at the Three Choirs Festival in 1905, and Hugh Allen conducted it at Oxford in 1922.

But, after the First World War — and Parry’s death in October 1918 — his music was decidedly out of favour, apart from JerusalemBlest Pair of Sirens, and I was glad. In the latter part of the 20th century, there was a welcome revival, concentrating more on the symphonies, chamber music, and solo songs — now widely available on record — and in 2019 a performance of the oratorio Judith — followed by a recording — was given at the Royal Festival Hall, conducted by William Vann.

The choir on that occasion was the Crouch End Festival Chorus, prepared by its regular conductor, David Temple, whose interest was sufficiently stirred to investigate other neglected works by Parry and to programme De Profundis with his “other” choir, the Hertfordshire Chorus, for this concert in St Albans on 26 February.

Scored for solo soprano (Sarah Fox), 12-part choir in various combinations (three four-part choirs, two six-part, and one 12-part) and orchestra, De Profundis is not a work to be undertaken lightly, owing to its scale. But it is relatively short (about 25 minutes), allowing Parry to express himself concisely, avoiding the long-windedness to which several of his oratorios (including Judith) can easily succumb.

When the BBC celebrated Parry’s centenary in 1948, Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote to Sir Adrian Boult: “It seems to me a scandal that during the Parry celebrations his finest work, De Profundis, should not be done. I wrote to Atkins of Worcester about it. He says it is beyond them. Obviously it is a job for the BBC. Please insist on its being done, and soon.”

Boult did conduct it, in April 1949, on the Third Programme, with the Sale and District Musical Society and the BBC Northern Orchestra. It had previously been broadcast in the BBC Midland Region from Birmingham in February 1939, conducted by Walter Stanton; and Boult conducted it again, this time with the Sheffield Philharmonic Choir, on air in July 1960. But past hearings have been rare enough to make this revival more than welcome.

Is it Parry’s finest work? It may with confidence be claimed to be his finest extended choral work: it comprises three choruses separated by two soprano arias (with the soloist joining the chorus at the end). Parry’s mastery of this large canvas is in no doubt: 12 real parts and an independent orchestral accompaniment (not merely a mirror of the voices). But the musical imagination is remarkable, with at times startling modulations, challenging rhythms, and effective instrumentation; even the obligatory fugue in the last movement manages to sound refreshingly unacademic.

If the reverberant Abbey acoustic tended to obscure the words and cause the orchestra to overwhelm the singers, this was no fault of the performers. The Hertfordshire Chorus is a versatile and highly experienced choir, which can fill a cathedral with sound or produce the most delicate pianissimos; and one could not have imagined a better soprano than Sarah Fox, from her navigating of the melismata in “A custodia matutina” to the stunning B flats (and one B natural) soaring above the choir near the end.

The concert began with The Black Knight, Elgar’s early “symphony for chorus and orchestra”, written between 1889 and 1893, and ended with the ubiquitous I was glad, set by Parry for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 and resplendent in the acoustic of St Albans Abbey.

 

Another excellent article by Ian Pace, in London Review of Books, 10 March 2022:

Why cancel Tchaikovsky?

Ian Pace

The conductor Valery Gergiev, a known ally of Vladimir Putin who appeared in one of his election campaign videos, has had concerts and contracts cancelled with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Vienna and Munich Philharmonic Orchestras, La Scala Opera House in Milan, the Edinburgh Festival, the Verbier Festival and more. The soprano Anna Netrebko, facing the prospect of similar prohibitions, has cancelled all performances until further notice. She has spoken admiringly of Putin and posed with the flag of pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists.

The Royal Opera House and the Met have cancelled appearances from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Ballets. Piano competitions in Dublin and Calgary have refused to accept Russian competitors. The amateur Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra has withdrawn a Tchaikovsky concert including the 1812 Overture. The Swiss Théâtre Orchestre of Bienne Soleure has cancelled its remaining performances of Tchaikovsky’s opera Mazeppa.

Some Russian musicians, including the pianists Evgeny Kissin and Alexander Melnikov, the conductors Vasily Petrenko and Semyon Bychkov, and the soprano Natalia Pschenitschnikova, have spoken out against the war. They do not face cancellations. At the same time there have been efforts to lionise music and musicians who can be categorised as Ukrainian rather than Russian, difficult though it may be in some cases to make a clear distinction.

There’s nothing new about the enlisting of music and musicians to political causes. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, the centenary of Beethoven’s birth, his music was presented in Germany as embodying purity, health, strength and moral soundness, in contrast with the alleged moral decline, debilitated health and decadence of French culture.

From the other side, following the outbreak of the First World War, Debussy wrote to a pupil that ‘we are going to pay dearly for the right to dislike the music of Richard Strauss and Schoenberg’ and ‘French art needs to take revenge quite as seriously as the French army does!’ He began to call himself musicien français and developed a new musical idiom rooted in ideals of antiquity and classicism, further away from Germanic music (especially that of Wagner) than previously.

During the Second World War, by contrast, the British pianist Myra Hess gave regular concerts at the National Gallery in London, even at the height of the Blitz, often playing Austro-German music, including Beethoven.

At the end of the war, however, the situation became more complicated again. German composers, conductors and performers including Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Eugene Jochum, Walter Gieseking and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf found themselves under intense suspicion and their ability to perform limited. Denazification was applied inconsistently: Gieseking for a while could perform in the French Zone but not the British or American ones; Carl Orff found himself unable to work in Munich, but permitted in Stuttgart, where one of the local theatre and music officers was one of his former students – both cities were under US administration.

Less suspicion fell on compromised citizens of other nations, such as the Romanian conductor George Georgescu or pianist Dinu Lipatti, who had undertaken concert tours of areas occupied by Nazi Germany, or the Japanese conductor Hidemaro Konoye, who regularly conducted the Berlin Philharmonic and even recorded the Horst-Wessel-Lied with them. Many key figures involved in the development of new music in Germany after 1945 were also presumed to belong to a realm apart from Nazism, such as Werner Meyer-Eppler, the phoneticist, physicist, proponent of electronic music and teacher of Stockhausen. But Meyer-Eppler had been a prominent figure in the National­sozialistische Fliegerkorps, and one of a group of elite scientists working on major military programmes during the last year of the war. The British occupiers forbade him from working at his university in Bonn. Only by reinventing himself as a different type of scholar, looking at phonetics and speech synthesis (without which the history of elektronische Musik might have been very different), could Meyer-Eppler return to a full university position.

Most of these musicians had been involved in activities that in some sense glorified or propagandised for a genocidal regime. Yet concerns quickly receded, denazification was relaxed, and German conducting in particular was dominated for decades after the war by men with tainted personal and political histories. The Cold War quickly became a much more charged arena. The propaganda value of music competitions had been apparent to the Central Committee of the Communist Party since Lev Oborin’s victory at the first International Frederyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1927. There was a shock when the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 was won by the Texan pianist Van Cliburn, who had studied with the Russian exile pianist Rosina Lhévinne at the Juilliard School in New York. Cliburn became a US national hero, receiving a ticker-tape parade for his triumphant return home. The Soviets paid increased attention to their strategy for selecting competitors. The competitions had become not only about the finest performers, but which political system was better for nurturing talent.

Soviet musicians’ international travel was carefully limited. Sviatoslav Richter, born in Ukraine, was not allowed to visit the West until 1960, at the age of 45, because his father, of German origin, had been arrested as a suspected spy in Odesa in 1941 and executed. Other pianists such as Maria Yudina, Vladimir Sofronitsky or Samuil Feinberg were rarely if ever allowed to travel, and became known to a few Westerners only through hard-to-obtain recordings made in the Soviet Union. Those who defected, including the pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, received intense attention as propaganda for the greater artistic freedom claimed by the West. When Soviet musicians did manage to travel, their concerts were often embroiled with politics. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 there were demonstrations outside a performance by the State Orchestra of the USSR at the Proms in London. A planned British tour by the violinist David Oistrakh in 1971 was cancelled following tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, journalists and academics by the UK and the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s, musical and ballet events by Soviet artists in San Francisco were met with protests as part of a campaign against the USSR’s policies preventing Jewish emigration to Israel.

The state control of music-making in Putin’s Russia is not on a level with Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. A musician does not automatically ‘represent’ the country or the regime, though the opportunities for those still in Russia to speak out against the government are already limited and likely to become more so. Putin’s nationalism differs in some respects from that of the 19th-century, when ‘Westernisers’ and ‘Slavophiles’ argued about the country’s musical future as well as its interactions with the West. But it cannot be wholly separated from those roots, which informed the musical language of Musorgsky, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov and to an extent Tchaikovsky, some aspects of which were perceived as specifically ‘Russian’, opposed in particular to what were thought to be Germanic norms.

During a time of war, it is inevitable and not necessarily inappropriate to limit some cultural interactions with an enemy nation, not least as part of a strategy of isolating an aggressor. If Russians cannot compete in international sporting events, should musical competitions be different? Is it any more unreasonable to want to postpone a performance of the bombastic and militaristic 1812 Overture than it was for the British conductor Mark Elder to express doubts about conducting the Last Night of the Proms following the outbreak of the 1991 Gulf War? (Elder was promptly replaced.)

Moral and aesthetic considerations cannot be assumed to mirror one another. Too little has been said about the roots of Geräusch-Musik (noise music) in the militaristic and misogynistic worldview of Fascist-aligned Italian futurists, in particular Luigi Russolo; this is a vital consideration, but I would not wish the whole genre to be dismissed as a result. Conversely, there is no reason to expect ‘good’ people to produce important art, or that works which explicitly align themselves to a worthy cause – as with countless 9/11 memorial pieces; no doubt more than one lachrymose ‘Lament for Ukraine’ for string orchestra is currently being composed – should automatically be thought to have any wider value.

In the hoped-for event of an ultimate ceasefire and Russian withdrawal, what happens to Russian music and musicians then? To ‘cancel’ them in the long term would be futile and culturally impoverishing; I hope that there will still be further chances to hear performances by Gergiev of music by Musorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev and others outside Russia. But we should not harbour the delusion that such music stands above politics in some transcendent realm.

With thanks to my doctoral student Sarah Innes for information relating to Soviet artists visiting the UK.

25 January 2022

 

NIGEL ROGERS (1935-2022)



Nigel Rogers the great baroque tenor died on 19 January, aged 86.

In the 1970s, when I first heard him, his command of the baroque coloratura was unique and absolutely stunning. Everyone can do it now - though no one does it quite as well as him - but in those days the audiences were literally on the edge of their seats in amazement. It’s still thrilling to hear and, mercifully, well preserved on record.

He was particularly inspired by the technique of the Indian classical singer Bhimsen Joshi, though he once told me he had never actually met him, contradicting the well-known story that Nigel had heard him singing and went up to him and asked ‘Tell me how you do that’! He was a superb linguist which made his performances in German, Italian and French (as well as English) so convincing.

Two bits of trivia: he sings the role of Maintop in Britten’s Billy Budd, rather hauntingly, in the recording (and BBC Television relay, now on YouTube) with Pears, Shirley-Quirk, Peter Glossop, etc.; and is also in the choir as a choral scholar in the first television relay of the Service of Nine Lessons and carols from King’s College, Cambridge, in 1954 – also on YouTube. (He was also Mosbie, Alice Arden's lover, in the premiere of Alexander Goehr's Arden Must Die in 1974.) 

I was privileged to have some lessons with him in the 1970s, but never even remotely succeeded in approaching his vocal skills in the baroque repertoire (and in any case, he insisted I was really a tenor, not a baritone!). I know it’s a tired old cliché, but he really was unique!

20 January 2022

 

DR FRANCIS JACKSON


THE CHURCH TIMES, 21 JANUARY 2022

Garry Humphreys writes: DR FRANCIS JACKSON, who has died, aged 104, was for 37 years, from 1946 to 1982, Organist and Master of the Music at York Minster; but he was in fact associated with the Minster for most of his life. In 1929, aged 12, he became a chorister under the legendary Sir Edward Bairstow — “the rudest man in Yorkshire”, according to some — whose biography Jackson was to publish in 1996. He also recorded his complete organ works, despite Bairstow’s aversion to the gramophone.

Jackson was an accomplished writer with a delightful style and dry humour, and a keen observer of those around him, as he revealed in his autobiography, Music for a Long While (adapting the title of Purcell’s famous song), published in 2013, when he was 96. It might be criticised for going into too much detail, but it is this detail that makes it such an illuminating account of a world now largely lost.

He brings a more personal view of Bairstow than in his formal biography, and one of the highlights of the book is his charming description of a visit in August 1951 to the composer Ravel’s house at Montfort l’Amaury, during a holiday in France. Ravel’s housekeeper Madame Reveleau was still in residence. “It was a remarkable thing to meet her who had been in such close touch with him,” he wrote; “as remarkable as seeing the things he had had around him, exactly as he had left them.”

He had admired Ravel and Debussy from a very young age and, as an organist, had promoted in his recitals the music of Franck, Vierne, Widor, and Dupré.

Francis Alan Jackson was born at Malton, 18 miles north-east of York, in 1917. His mother was a Suddaby — he was second cousin to the soprano Elsie Suddaby, one of the original dedicatees of Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music — and Francis could not remember being unable to play the piano. The family were also enthusiastic listeners to gramophone records.

“I was born with a natural talent,” Jackson wrote; “and working at it and developing it was pretty well unalloyed pleasure.”

After singing in the choir of Malton Parish Church, he went at 12 to be a chorister at York Minster. Under Bairstow’s guidance, he recalled, “my horizons were widened and I learned that music was not just an exercise merely to be got through but rather a natural expression of one’s very being . . . Bairstow . . . made music alive and, above all, enjoyable and fulfilling . . . And music had to be beautiful.”

Jackson left school at 15, became organist of Malton at 16, and from 1933 was a full-time student with Bairstow; in 1937, he received the degree of Bachelor of Music from Durham University (his doctorate followed in 1957). He succeeded Bairstow at the Minster in 1946.

The transition was a smooth one, but Jackson’s sympathies were much wider than his predecessor’s; for, as a composer, he wrote not only church music, but a symphony, an organ concerto, chamber music, songs, and incidental music for plays. Among his more unusual compositions are two monodramas with narrator, Daniel in Babylon (1962, to celebrate the consecration of Coventry Ca­thedral) and A Time of Fire (1967, for the Norwich and Norfolk Triennial Festival). Both were written in collaboration with the actor-dramatist John Stuart Anderson.

Jackson regarded “Tree at my window” as his best song, setting the poem by Robert Frost. It was written during the Second World War when he was serving with the 9th Lancers in 1942 in the desert campaign near Tobruk. He remembered writing it “in my tent by the light of an oil lamp made from a cigarette tin. There is a bit where the wind blows in the song, and it was actually blowing quite a gale in the desert at the time. I know I kept wondering if the tent was going to fly off.”

Francis Jackson was an outstanding organist — one of the foremost recitalists of his generation — in demand throughout the world; he also acted as adviser to many churches and cathedrals considering organ rebuilds. He was responsible for the rehabilitation of the “Toccata” from Widor’s Fifth Symphony by using it instead of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Kent in York Minster in 1961, preferring a genuine composition for organ to a hackneyed arrangement of an orchestral piece. He served as President of the Royal College of Organists from 1972 to 1974.

As well as his widely used settings of the Canticles in G (“Me in G”, as he used to call them), he wrote a hymn tune called East Acklam, after the village where he lived, as an alternative to Ar Hyd y Nos for “God that madest earth and heaven” for an Old Choristers’ reunion in 1957. But it was not until the Methodist hymnwriter Fred Pratt Green wrote “For the fruits of his creation” for it in 1970, that it achieved great popularity and wide use as a harvest hymn of freshness and realism.

His colleague Simon Lindley, organist of Leeds Parish Church, sums him up: “The affection in which FJ is held by so many throughout the world stems not only from his professional distinction and musical brilliance but also from a disarmingly modest personality — always big-hearted and immensely caring of his fellow men.”

Francis Jackson never really retired, spending his latter years “composing and giving organ recitals” — clearly an effective recipe for longevity. He was appointed OBE for services to music in 1978; the CBE followed in 2007. He died peacefully on 10 January in a care home in York, surrounded by his family. He leaves three children, Alice, William, and Edward.