180!!!

More local cultural knowledge:

One morning in Maida Vale studios, as the great Pierre Boulez was rehearsing the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he stopped and said suavely,

“Please, we play again from measure* 180.”

Brilliant cockney percussionist Gary Kettel, from the back of the orchestra, punched the air gleefully and screamed out,

“ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTYYY!!!”

Since Boulez’s broad erudition didn’t stretch to the world of UK darts, he was somewhat nonplussed [‘Ow you say in French?] by Gary’s recondite allusion to the fabled score of three triple 20s. Still, he and Gary always had the utmost respect for each other’s musicianship.

 

*Boulez always used the French word for “bar”. Endearingly, he called the cor anglais “ze English ‘orn”.

Interpreting religious symbols

Alan Bennett’s 2011 diaries begin with typically drôle observations:

6 January. The alterations we have been having done are now pretty much finished, thanks to Max, a young Latvian who’s unsmiling but an excellent carpenter and Eugene, much jollier and from New Zealand who has supervised it all. Walking around the job this evening R. is shocked to discover in the bathroom above the bath a crudely made wooden cross. He takes this to be the work of Max who, scarcely out of his teens, already has two children and is, I imagine, Catholic. R., whose feelings about religion are more uncompromising than mine, finds the cross disturbing and is determined to ask Eugene to tell Max to take it down. I’m less exercised by it, seeing it as some sort of dedication, the sort of thing (though more crude) that a medieval workman would have put up at the completion of a job. We are both of us wrong as when Eugene is approached he explains it is not a cross at all but a makeshift coat hanger he has rigged up over the bath in order to dry his anorak.

And more comments on the behaviour of WAM musos:

 14 January. George Fenton tells me of a memorial service he’s been to at St Marylebone Parish Church for Maurice Murphy, the principal trumpet of the LSO, who did the opening solo in the music for Star Wars. The service due to kick off at eleven thirty, George arrives with ten minutes to spare only to find the church already full, the congregation seated, silent and expectant. It beings promptly at eleven thirty with everyone behaving impeccably and not a cough or a rustle throughout. And he realizes that it’s because they are all musicians and orchestral players for whom this is like any other concert and where the same rules apply.

Useful ideas for Christmas

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The time of year is rapidly approaching when you’re desperately racking your brains for a present for that difficult uncle who’s got everything—even Dame Kiri Sings the Sex Pistols’ Greatest Hits by Candlelight.

Well, look no further—my three former Ashgate books (two with DVDs) are out in paperback! (See also my Amazon list).

And to go with my film (a welcome change from Bambi), don’t forget Daoist priests of the Li family.

To cite The Messiah:

Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men

Giving Handel and his librettist Jennens** the benefit of the doubt for sexist language, don’t forget the brilliant T-shirt of female composers—”Breaks the ice at parties”, in the words of Monty Python (who did rather let themselves down* on gender equality).

Such seasonal gifts will make a welcome change from socks and after-shave, and can be enjoyed over a sherry in a party hat while blowing a paper horn—a relative of the vuvuzela, perhaps? Laurence Picken could have enlightened us. You can play the party game of identifying festive toy instruments under the Sachs-Hornbostel system (or play Spot the Difference with Daoist ritual paintings, like the Judgment Officers here). The paper horn also evokes the conch in Daoist ritual—indeed, it would make a suitable companion to these early Daoist instruments of the Li family.

* “Let themselves down”: apart from the Proust sketch (from 2.14, notably the voiceover comment “golf’s not very popular round here”), there’s also the classic headmaster’s speech joke (available on request).

** Good to see Jennens slagging off Handel’s music, at least:

“I shall show you a collection I gave Handel, called Messiah, which I value highly. He has made a fine entertainment of it, though not near so good as he might and ought to have done. I have with great difficulty made him correct some of the grossest faults in the composition; but he retained his overture obstinately, in which there are some passages far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the Messiah.

YAY!—I mean Hallelujah. Praise be to the Lord—and the Three Pure Ones, the Empress Houtu, Bob Marley, Mrs Cratchit and The Ten Kinds of Orphan Souls [can someone check this please?—Ed.] and the Thunder Lord of Three-Five Chariot of Fire—the latter (“Lingguan smoking a posh foreign cigarette on a train journey through his spiritual domain”) a fine read, though I say it myself.

Ronnie again

UPDATE: Cosmic Justice has at least temporarily proved itself amidst a troubled world—I wrote this in the early stages of the UK tournament, but now Ronnie’s won it yet again in another inspiring display!

With his natural grace, Ronnie O’Sullivan is often compared to Roger Federer, but he’s in a league of his own, transcending sport. If you haven’t watched his maximum break from 1997, then do—it’s not merely a world record that is likely to stand for all time, but a thing of exquisite fluent beauty, reminiscent of the nuanced touch of a great musician.

After the morose introspection of yesteryear, Ronnie has come through the early years of obsession and addiction (lessons here for the claustrophobic hothouse of WAM virtuosos), and he’s on great form these days, with a kind of earthy Daoist detachment:

It’s that man again

More from Alan Bennett’s diaries. I’m filing this 2009 entry under heritage:

23 August. […] I’m glad I’m not a theatregoer living in Elsinore. All they must ever get are productions of Hamlet, while what they’re probably longing for is Move Over, Mrs Markham or Run For Your Wife.

His keen eye for footballers’ physiognomy is in evidence again (2010):

7 April. The open mouth of Frank Lampard, having scored a goal, is also the howl on the face of the damned man in Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement.

This entry depends on a certain cultural knowledge that might challenge translators:

5th July. A child in Settle is said to have asked what the Mafia was and his grandfather said, “It’s like the Settle Rotary Club, only with guns.”

And he often shows his political involvement. When a speech in favour of the NHS from his early play Getting on is well received, he is encouraged to go on

25 July, Yorkshire. […] whereas nowadays the state is a dirty word, for my generation the state was a saviour, delivering us out of poverty and want (and provincial boredom) and putting us on the road to a better life; the state saved my father’s life, my mother’s sanity and my own life too. “So when I hear politicians taking about pushing back the boundaries of the state I think”—only I’ve forgotten what it is I think so I just say: “I think… bollocks.” This, too, goes down well, though I’d normally end a performance on a more elegiac note.

Sing…

As a corrective to all the glowing speeches from divas and the rapturous adulation of their fans, Bill Bailey (don’t miss his Love song!) recalls:

I was at a Whitney Houston gig, it was supposed to start at three—finally at four o’clock she comes on stage and says,
“I just wanna say, I love each and every one of you!”
and this big black guy next to me shouts,
“Sing, bitch!”

Barbed comments

My dubious encomium for Rowan’s CV (The Feuchtwang variations, n.3) reminds me:

The brilliant Roy Mowatt (see under comments here), a real bedrock of the early music orchestral scene, has long tolerated my violin playing in the section he led. I treasure a remark he made to me over a beer or three in a piazza in Parma after a Mozart opera (evoking Hugh Maguire’s comment to Pete Hanson—“Pete, even if your strings are out, you must play in tune! Just do it wit’ your fingers!”):

Thing about you, Steve, is that it doesn’t make any difference if your strings are in tune!

You can take that either way, and I think he meant it both ways. I was quite adaptable; yet my intonation wasn’t necessarily helped by tuning up… Cf. “It was in tune when I bought it”.

While I’m in confessional mood, here’s another comment I might add to my CV. Just around that time, a certain maestro took me aside and observed suavely,

Steve, I can’t help noticing that you have a somewhat low threshold of boredom…

JEG

Photo © Jim Four.

Like the review of the Berlin Phil’s response to Simon Rattle, it lacks a certain nuance.