Movie directors still seem undaunted by the perils of trying to evoke orchestral life. The movie Tár has prompted a range of reactions, while recognising Cate Blanchett’s outstanding characterisation. 
Putting weightier matters to one side, while Inspector Morse was very fine (I always giggle at Alan Partridge’s suave dictum: “Think about it—no-one had heard of Oxford before Inspector Morse”). The prequel Endeavour (written by Russell Lewis), now on its ninth series, has been received with just as much enthusiasm.
In the first episode of the latest series, Prelude, evoking orchestral life in 1972, after the principal violinist’s rosin is doctored with nuts, prompting a fatal anaphylactic reaction, a murky world of intrigue is revealed. Now, contretemps were not unknown within our orchestral world, but I’m not aware of anyone doctoring our rosin with nuts, or indeed our nuts with rosin (someone else, perhaps inspired by Nicolas Magriel’s work on the sarangi, might do a cross-cultural study of rosin for fiddle bows).
To follow his review of Philharmonia, Stuart Heritage welcomes the new episode; as he observes,
everybody, not just the violinists, is highly strung, has a silly name, and expresses themselves with rococo hubris or self-contempt.
The musical clichés are well-worn—like the ill-fated leader flaunting her superiority over the blokey men and frumpy women of the rank-and-file, and the supercilious, domineering conductor, complete with beard and cravat:
“Must I remind you, the lives of such as we are defined by sacrifice?”
Glam protégée soloist: “Other girls had friends, parties, fun—I had a rehearsal room.”
For all my musical cavils, the script and the acting are Jolly Good. Just as Early Music gets later all the time, Endeavour is part of a rich seam of period pieces evoking life only a few decades ago. It’s not just about clothes, of course—cars, kitchens, you name it. Cf. Molvania:
The episode is based on the City of Oxford Orchestra, founded in 1965. This was just the kind of milieu that I grew up in, taking part in amateur and semi-professional orchestras. But while I have a few images of what we Chinese students at Cambridge were wearing in the early 1970s, and of course there are plenty of photos for London professional orchestras (in both performance and rehearsal), it made me realise that even in 1972 Cambridge, I have only a hazy idea of what we musos actually looked like. How many of us even had a camera? Even for us nerds, taking photos was still rather nerdy. Besides, it was a bit of a faff: it might take months to use up a whole roll of film, and then you had to take it down to the chemists to be developed…
So I have no photos of my amateur youth orchestral life in the 60s. On the National Youth Orchestra website we can find an occasional image of a concert or rehearsal, but there’s a dearth of less formal photos of our summer courses, or the visits with Boulez to the Edinburgh Festival and the Proms (cf. this article, and The shock of the new)—a far cry from the embarras de richesse on social media today.
Before a concert at the St Austell festival, Cornwall, c1973.
Me (FWIW) in middle row, 7th from right.
As a reminder that not everyone was dressing like Jimi Hendrix (we weren’t such an exotic 60s’ tribe), Endeavour lovingly recreates the range of sartorial choices at the time—Posh People, poseurs, hippies, jobsworths, and so on.
Good exchange between Morse and PC Plod:
Plod: “So, how was the West then matey? All pasties and scrumpy?”
Morse [studiously]: “I was mostly following in Hardy’s footsteps.”
Plod [confidently]: “Were you? There’s another fine mess eh!”
For more period crime drama from post-war Britain, I enjoyed Grantchester, both the TV series and the novels—again gently probing the tensions within a changing society, of which I was largely unaware at the time…
For more orchestral cliches, click here; cf. clichés of Chinese music.