In January 1972, Tony Bennett and Robert Farnon began recording a series of television programmes from London’s ‘Talk Of The Town’ in Leicester Square. A few Robert Farnon Society members were able to attend the rehearsals and the actual recordings, and their reports were published in the May 1972 issue (No. 36) of ‘Journal Into Melody’. The following feature (with some minor editing) is based on those impressions of some memorable Sundays almost forty years ago.
TONY BENNETT AND ROBERT FARNON AT ‘THE TALK OF THE TOWN’
DAVID ADES REPORTS ON THE TV RECORDING SESSIONS
Everyone seems happy with the finished result of the Tony Bennett / Robert Farnon Television Shows recorded at London’s "Talk Of The Town" during the first three months of this year.
Tony Bennett is certainly very happy!
For the first time he is doing exactly what he wants to do on television, and virtually the whole free world will be seeing the result. Even before all the programmes were recorded he was making plans for doing a further 13 shows in London later this year. And, of course, Robert Farnon will be with him. Tony told us that having someone like Bob in charge of the orchestra is a wonderful help and comfort to him. "You know that everything will be all right. There’s no doubt that Robert Farnon will be famous within a year — and rightly so".
Robert Farnon must be happy with the superb 38-piece orchestra assembled under his baton for each of the 13 shows. Just consider these star names:
Kenny Baker and Stan Roderick (trumpets); Don Lusher and Bobby Lamb (trombones); Kenny Clare (drums); Eric Allen (percussion) and Marie Goossens (harp). The orchestra leader is Lionel Bentley.
Judging by the enthusiastic response from the audience each time, there is no doubt that they are happy with the entertainment provided on that particular Sunday evening when they have been lucky enough to he present. And finally, we in the RFAS should be happy — and delighted — that Robert Farnon is at last going to get world-wide publicity for his talents.
Each show includes a film sequence showing Tony Bennett in various parts of the country. These are accompanied by a different Farnon composition and full credit is given on the screen. The following have been included:
Melody Fair, En Route, Strolling Home, Blue Theme, Journey Into Melody, Gateway To The West, Portrait Of A Flirt, A Summer Love, A Star Is Born, To A Young Lady, Little Miss Molly, Down Home, Proud Canvas and State Occasion.
To fit in with the length of each film (and to allow a brief appearance of the orchestra at the end of each number) a few alterations had to be made to some of these pieces. Melody Fair is played in the original version (never recorded) which has a longer ending; at Chappell’s request this was shortened - unfortunately! Both En Route and Journey Into Melody have main themes extended and repeated - but the biggest ‘change’ of all is for A Summer Love. This is played when Tony Bennett wanders among the Spring flowers near Bob’s home in Guernsey; for the TV show it has been retitled A Promise Of Spring! The problem now is what to call the real A Promise of Spring if they wish to use it in the next TV series. Perhaps A Summer Love?![Editor: sadly the hoped-for second series did not happen. This had a familiar echo: while Farnon was recording with Sinatra in June 1962 they talked about a second LP, but it turned out to be just talk.]
The same setting is used for each show. The orchestra are at the back of the stage, with Tony and his guest stars performing in front of them. Members who have visited The Talk Of The Town (or who have seen other TV shows from there) will know that the stage extends into the theatre so that the audience is seated on three sides of it. It is certainly one of the most popular places in London for ‘outside’ TV shows. The predominant colour is gold, and most programmes use a large dark backcloth covered in stars.[Editor: ‘The Talk Of The Town’ began life as The London Hippodrome which was originally designed as a circus when it opened on 15 January 1900. In 1909 it was redeveloped as a theatre which could also screen films, and its location in Leicester Square, at the heart of London’s theatreland, meant that it would stage many top shows over the next fifty years. In 1958 it became a theatre restaurant as "The Talk Of The Town" which thrived for 25 years. In 1983 it was transformed into a nightclub, which brought its share of problems, eventually leading to its closure. There are plans to reopen it as a Casino in 2010.]
All the shows - except two (when Sacha Distell failed to turn up!) - have guest stars in the second half, and the famous names include: Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Matt Monro, Annie Ross, Tommy Leonetti and Cleo Laine.
During the run of this series, Bob has been working to a very busy schedule. This has given him barely 48 hours at home each week. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are taken up with arranging and doing vocal rehearsals with Tony and the guest stars. 10:00 am on Sunday morning sees the start of the band rehearsals which break at noon. At 2:00 pm begins a complete run-through of each show (two were video-taped each week, except the first) and finally at around 6:00 or 6:30 there is a final break until the audience arrives and the first programme starts at around 7:45.
At the start of the show there is a short film sequence showing a newspaper van driving past and a bundle of papers thrown out. Newspaper headlines proclaim that Tony Bennett is in London at The Talk Of The Town, and the lights of the theatre then announce the show. At the same time the orchestra is playing an up-tempo version of Robert Farnon’s A Star Is Born. This reaches a climax ... there is a drum roll, and Bob’s voice (on tape) announces "Ladies end Gentlemen, from London — meet Mr. Tony Bennett!" To great applause, Tony steps down from a revolving door and rushes down the steps on to the main stage to start the show!
Now let’s have some reports from several members who have been along to the recordings.
‘Cab’ Smith went on 23 January - the first show to he taped:
On entering the showplace of the stars we were shown to our table for six, which was near the stage. Awaiting us were two bottles of ‘champagne’, as for the grade, I couldn’t tell you, but by the time the show ended we found it most enjoyable - and free at that! It was kindly supplied by Thames Television who were recording the first of their thirteen half-hourly shows in colour of their TV spectacular of Tony Bennett, with Robert Farnon and his Orchestra, John Bunch ah the piano, and Tony’s special guest star Tommy Leonetti.
While we waited for the show to start, we gazed around to see the Who’s Who in Show Business, and quite a few familiar faces could be seen near-by. On stage appeared the session men, among them Kenny Baker and Don Lusher. Then the ‘Guv’ appeared which made the group complete. About 7:40 the show got under way with Bob’s up-tempo arrangement of A Star Is Born, then on came Tony Bennett in his amicable style, singing What The World Needs Now, followed by a couple at other numbers.
After this he announced his first special guest star — Tommy Leonetti, who sang most pleasantly. Tony joined him in a duet with a second helping of What The World Needs Now, which ended the first half.
During the interval a few more familiar faces appeared, among them Tony Bennett’s wife Sandie, and Sheila Southern who were sitting at a table a few feet from us.
Part two commenced with Bob’s composition and fine arrangement of Strolling Home, which was a treat to hear and watch. Thanks, Bob.
Tony’s San Francisco had to be sung in the first show. This he sang in his superb way, followed by I Want To Be Happy with John Bunch giving out some grand chords on the 88s.
By this time the show was at an end and Tony came forward, smiling in his usual way and still full of bounce and zest to thank everybody present for being such a grand audience and to say "Goodnight folks".
I must say he puts a lot of feeling and ‘go’ into his numbers, just like he did at the Royal Albert Hall in the early part of last year with Bob. The time went so quickly, but what we saw and heard made a memorable evening, so our thanks to Thames TV for the invitation.
Three RFS members reported for JIM on the 6th February shows. First here are Margaret Foreman’s jottings:
We found our visit to The Talk Of The Town one at the most exciting nights we can remember. The evening was divided into two halves - each half representing one half-hour show when it is televised in Britain later this year. Tony Bennett’s performance was, as usual, faultless, and I feel that he and Mr. Farnon deserve each other.
Each half had its own guest star, the first was Cleo Laine and the second Annie Ross, surely two of Britain’s best singers. They each sang two songs solo and shared a third with Tony Bennett. A short piece of film was also included in each show - familiar London scenes, the Changing Of The Guard and a boat trip along the Thames. As these were shown on the monitors around the theatre they were accompanied by a Bob Farnon composition, although regrettably no mention was made to the audience of the composer or the title.
The orchestra was superb especially the rhythm section - the same group, I believe, that augmented the London Philharmonic Orchestra that Robert Farnon conducted at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1971.
The final pleasure came at the end when it was announced that a technical fault had been discovered and some of the second show had to he repeated thus giving us another chance to hear Tony Bennett and Annie Ross sing, and Mr. Farnon accompanying the Changing Of The Guard with State Occasion.
If Robert Farnon’s association with Tony Bennett means that we see and hear more of this kind of music presented, long may it continue. I, for one, will not complain!
Jimmy Gibbs was also present on 6 February:
I really enjoyed the shows … they were superb! The highlight for Farnon fans was the orchestra playing Gateway To The West to a film of Tony sailing up the river admiring all the landmarks. Cleo swung through On A Clear Day and a duet with Tony.
In the second show the highlight was Bob Farnon’s State Occasion which we were lucky enough to hear twice, as the first recording had been faulty. As Tony said: "We can listen to it again and again – I don’t mind, and I don’t suppose you do." We certainly didn’t!
All through this we sipped ‘champagne’ – on the house, of course! I liked Bob’s smooth casual approach to it all, and his parting remark to the orchestra "same time next week!" shows what a friendly get-together of superb musicians this was. How Kenny Clare enjoyed those drums! And what a laugh there was when the orchestra was recalled for the retake and one of the violinists (a big man) came puffing back with his violin already packed in its case!
It all seemed so informal. Everyone stood around chatting while the tape was checked. Yes, it was superb!
Finally a few more comments on the same show from George Fraser:
We were seated downstairs about thirty feet from the stage and were able to see and hear everything with the maximum of comfort. The orchestra was, of course, superb – as regards the guests this, of course, is a matter of personal preference. I realise that Cleo Laine is very highly regarded in the music profession as a very accomplished singer and stylist. She sang two songs, On A Clear Day and a modern pop song Making It With You but, quite frankly, she didn’t make it with me!
On the other hand I really did enjoy the singing of Annie Ross. No vocal gymnastics, she sang two good tunes – both very much with a jazz flavouring – and as luck would have it they had to be repeated.
I could have sat there all night listening to the orchestra and the two singers; it was a great experience.
David Ades reported on the 13 February shows:
Billy Eckstine guested on both these shows, looking quite different from his usual public image, but with the great voice still there. However the duet with Tony – My Favourite Things – caused as much trouble in the evening as it had during the afternoon rehearsals!
Bob’s compositions in the two filmed spots were Down Home (with added strings) and the ever-beautiful Melody Fair. Two particularly nice Bennett songs were Summer of 42 and Street Of Dreams, the latter with a splendid Bob Farnon arrangement. Also watch out for a long and unusual performance of It Had To Be You – quite a tour de force by Tony Bennett with lovely piano playing by John Bunch.
Barbara Bunfield was present on 27 February:
The orchestra straggled spasmodically on to the stage, as do orchestras all over the world; the chandeliers dimmed and the big arc lights over the stage blazed. The conductor walked on to the stage, picked up his baton and an expectant hush fell over the waiting audience. This is the sort of scene that happens nightly all over London, but, to us, this evening held a particular interest ... it was not just any conductor, this was Robert Farnon and this television recording at The Talk Of The Town was giving us an all too rare opportunity to see (and indeed hear) the master in action.
The strains of San Francisco announced the appearance of Tony Bennett, the star of the show, who gave his own particular magic to such differing songs as Wave, Get Happy and The Shadow Of Your Smile, not forgetting Bob Farnon’ s own hauntingly beautiful composition How Beautiful Is Night (With You). The guest artist was Matt Monro, who I think must be rated as the best British singer of recent years, particularly since he seems to have picked up some of the suavity and polish of American performers whilst visiting those shores.
Our president led the orchestra in his own inimitable compositions Portrait Of A Flirt and To A Young Lady and here we come to my one criticism of the presentation: both of these pieces were played as background to some extremely appealing film of Tony Bennett and his small daughter shown on the monitor screens. Now this was explained to us, but what was not mentioned was that recording of the music was still taking place and therefore most of the audience seemed to look upon this as a diversion staged for their benefit and seized the opportunity to chat amongst themselves, which, as you can imagine, annoyed Peter and myself intensely.
The high spot of the evening was, for me, a Farnon arrangement of Georgia On My Mind sung by Matt Monro; this took me back nostalgically to my youth and my love of Dixieland jazz when this was a favourite piece, but nostalgia didn’t feature at all in this arrangement - a more swinging big band sound would he hard to imagine coming right down to the romantic strings that only Mr. Farnon is complete master of. I bet Matt Monro could hardly believe his luck. I know I couldn’t!
May I digress here to mention the outstanding acoustical properties at The Talk Of The Town ... I only hope the quality comes over on the television so that we can all enjoy it together.
David Ades reported on the 5 March shows:
Blue Theme and a lengthened En Route were the Farnon specials for this Sunday’s recordings. Also a lovely Farnon arrangement of Here’s That Rainy Day. During the afternoon rehearsals I told Tony Bennett that the chattering of the audience during the film sequences was most annoying, and I said that I hoped that the microphones were not picking it up. The following week, as soon as I arrived at the theatre, Tony came straight up to me to say that he had taken my ‘complaint’ seriously, and checked some of the shows already recorded. I’m pleased to report that everything sounds fine, with no noticeable chatter on the soundtrack.
The final two shows were recorded on 12 March, and David Ades completed his impressions of a memorable series:
The last two programmes to be recorded merely featured Tony Bennett and the Robert Farnon Orchestra. As far as I was concerned they were the best of all. Not that Tony can’t face up to competition from guest stars - he most certainly can, but after all it is his TV series, and each show only lasts 24½ minutes in total. I understand that guest spots in the next series may feature instrumentalists, rather than singers. [Editor: as already mentioned, this series did not happen.]
Bob’s pieces in these final shows were Journey Into Melody and A Summer Love (retitled A Promise Of Spring on screen). Journey had the main theme repeated to increase its length; it had been hoped to use the original Chappell version, but the scores were so badly spoilt (in the Chappell fire several years previously) that they could not be rewritten in time.
We could go on forever praising these TV shows, but this article must end somewhere! May I thank all the members who have shared their ‘evening out’ with us. One point needs emphasising - the order in which the shows were recorded will not necessarily be the order of their transmission.[Editor: the shows were eventually broadcast on ITV in Britain, but not in all parts of the country and occasionally at different times. In those days the UK’s only commercial TV broadcaster was split into many regional companies who often ‘opted out’ of the programmes being screened elsewhere. The shows were also shown overseas, and at the start of each programme a separate opening sequence was recorded especially for the USA.]
Under the headline "FARNON: THE GUV’NOR" the prestigious British weekly music newspaper Melody Maker printed the following article on 11 March 1972.
American musicians of the calibre of Quincy Jones and Nelson Riddle call him "the guv’nor."
That, of course, in Stateside parlance is the ultimate accolade. "Not," says Robert Farnon, with a self deprecatory smile "as it means here - the boss, in the usual context of the word."
Yes, in one sense, Bob Farnon is the "boss man" when it comes to the specialised job of conducting a 38-piece orchestra for Tony Bennett.
The fact that Bennett chose Farnon to front and conduct his accompanying orchestra is itself enough testimony to his qualities. Yet, to the public at large, he remains a somewhat shadowy figure less well-known to those who listen to Tony Bennett on TV and concerts than some fairly lightweight talents who bounce into the spotlight via the album or singles charts.
Farnon is no dyed-in-the-wool reactionary who dismisses rock/pop with contempt. He pays tribute, in fact, to predecessors who’ve done much to break down the ‘snob’ barriers between the ‘legit’ and pop idioms.
"We owe a lot to people like Andre Previn and Leonard Bernstein for bridging the gap," he says.
America, of course, was always more flexible in its musical attitudes than Britain.
"But I think the gap started to close when Tutti Camarata (once a trumpeter with Benny Goodman) came to Britain and formed an orchestra of our top symphonic men and jazz musicians for the ‘London Town’ movie."
The gulf between the American and British ‘feeling’ for jazz is still closing.
That had a lot to do with Ted Heath’s tours of America in exchange for the Stan Kenton Band, which came here. This presented British musicians with an opportunity to see and hear American musicians at first hand.
"American musicians were not such good readers as the British musicians, but they phrased the music better, and in the case of pop and jazz music, they made a nice sound on their horns."
In his 38-piece orchestra accompanying Tony Bennett on his TV series, Robert Farnon now includes such jazz talents as Don Lusher and Bobby Lamb (trombones), Kenny Baker and Stan Roderick (trumpets), Kenny Clare (drums) and Arthur Watts (bass).
Robert arranged for Ted Heath, Geraldo and recorded on Decca, accompanying such topliners as Vera Lynn. He moved into film work, and has some 40 films to his credit.
"I first met Tony Bennett 20 years ago" he recalls. "We decided then we’d get together one day to do an album and some concert work."
Farnon has now done three Bennett albums: ‘Snowfall’, an album of the TV show with the London Philharmonic at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and Tony Bennett With Love’. - LAURIE HENSHAW.[The Melody Maker article was reprinted in ‘Journal Into Melody’ by kind permission of the Editor.]
ROBERT FARNON’S BASSOON CONCERTO RECEIVES ITS WORLD PREMIERE IN MALVERN
Romancing the Phoenix (Robert Farnon) : World Premiere
DANIEL SMITH, Bassoon
CHANDOS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Conducted by MICHAEL LLOYD
Sunday 13 September 2009
When an amateur orchestra in a provincial town is offered the opportunity to perform the world premiere of a new work it is bound to create a certain degree of excitement. And when the composer happens to be someone that many people regard as the world’s finest light music master of the second half of the 20th century – and the soloist is also recognised as a world leader on his chosen instrument, the musical establishment starts to sit up and take notice. And rightly so.
The venue was the Forum Theatre in historic Malvern, an idyllic town famous not only for its mineral water, but also because of its association with Sir Edward Elgar. The Malvern Hills, often quoted as the inspiration for much of Elgar’s magnificent music, are an overwhelming presence - but comforting, rather than threatening. One could almost imagine the great composer nodding in approval as the fine orchestra dealt competently with a wide ranging selection of music aptly described in the concert’s title "The Lighter Side of Classical".
As expected the local press recognised the importance of the event. In the Birmingham Post on 7 September Peter Bacon alerted his readers to a "Rare outing for exotic bassoon":
Bassoons – you wait years for one to come down the jazz road and then two come at once! ….it’s getting a real prestige outing at Malvern. As a composer and arranger, the Canadian-born English resident Robert Farnon worked with Frank Sinatra, was admired by Andre Previn and influenced Quincy Jones. The last work he wrote before he died in 2005 was a concerto for bassoon and jazz trio, but it has never been performed - until now.
The piece, called "Romancing The Phoenix", is in the programme being performed by bassoonist Daniel Smith (its dedicatee) and the Chandos Symphony Orchestra at the Forum Theatre in Malvern on Sunday.
Daniel says of Romancing The Phoenix, "Robert Farnon’s bassoon concerto was not bound by any commissions, deadlines, financial obligations, or anything else; just written to fully express himself as a composer.
"I was honoured that he dedicated the piece to me and he told me it was the best piece of music he’d ever written. As the only piece of music written by Robert Farnon which has never been performed in public, this concerto premiere will be a fitting tribute to the memory of one of the 20th century’s greatest composer/arrangers."
Daniel is a leading pioneer of the bassoon with a repertoire from Baroque concerti to jazz, ragtime and crossover. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Wigmore Hall and the Lincoln Center.
On 10 September, under a heading "Robert Farnon’s ‘light music’ not to be sniffed at", Christopher Morley wrote a second pre-concert piece in the Birmingham Post:
A recent depressing correspondence in the Radio Times spluttered that MGM film music had no place at the BBC Proms, where it was allocated a concert this year, and that Henry Wood and Malcolm Sargent would be spinning in their graves. To be honest, I don’t care if they do. MGM had the services of some of the world’s most expert composers and arrangers (many of them refugees from the Nazis), and the scores they created remain classy examples of the film-composer’s art.
I wonder how many of our "respectable" composers would be capable of instantly providing an extra 13 seconds of music to complement a take where the actors had gone on too long? And I don’t think John Wilson, the gifted young conductor who has devoted so much time and energy into reassembling these film scores, and who this season conducts concerts of both film music and "proper classical music" with the CBSO, would have any truck with such musical fascism.
Michael Lloyd, conductor at both English National Opera and in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s publicity-grabbing production of The Sound of Music at the London Palladium, is obviously of a like mind. On Sunday he programmes an entire concert of light music with the Chandos Symphony Orchestra in Malvern’s Forum Theatre, a venue which more frequently resonates with all the sounds of Elgarland.Selections of music by the great film composer Ron Goodwin (how CBSO players who performed under his baton revere him) and the brilliant Leroy Anderson are included, as well as the whimsical Symphony 5½ by Don Gillis, subtitled A Symphony for Fun. Possibly the most serious part of the evening comes with Malcolm Arnold’s Four Cornish Dances, but the undoubted curiosity is the world premiere of the bassoon concerto Romancing the Phoenix by the elegant Canadian light-music composer Robert Farnon, with American bassoon virtuoso Daniel Smith as soloist.
Smith is a versatile player whose repertoire ranges from the baroque – he has recorded all 37 of Vivaldi’s concertos for his instrument for the ASV label – to jazz, where his playing has prompted comparisons with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. His discography includes music by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and many other jazz notables. He also gave the American West Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and crossover pioneer Gunther Schuller’s Concerto for Contrabassoon and Orchestra, one of only a handful of concertos written for the contra.
Farnon’s concerto is heavily influenced by jazz, incorporating passages of free improvisation. The bassoon has to be amplified, Smith points out, to be heard above the rhythm section, let alone the rest of the instruments. "In the score you can see passages where the bassoon plays the role of a lead saxophone, with three bassoons underneath in the scoring, just as in a saxophone section," says Smith. "There is also a lot of percussion used and in many sections, the winds act as a sort of wind band within the full orchestra – Farnon described this as ‘a big band within a full symphony orchestra’."
In the final movement there is a section where both orchestra and "big band" sit back and the soloist is left to improvise on an up-tempo blues with a rhythm-section of piano, bass and drums. This passage is open-ended, and at the soloist’s moment of choosing the conductor brings the orchestra back in, beginning with the percussion. After several more passages involving improvisation, the concerto culminates in what Smith describes as "a really startling ending which simply flies all over the place and ends on a bang."
Farnon did not live to hear the piece played in public, and Daniel Smith reveals that the composer declined the chance to have it previewed. "He had the opportunity for one movement to be premiered with the BBC Concert Orchestra but turned it down because they would have used their own bassoonist (he would have had to write out any improvised solos of course), and he would not allow this to happen until I did the actual premiere. Which was very kind of him."
There was a pre-concert conversation between Daniel Smith and Michael Lloyd, chaired by Birmingham Post music critic David Hart. Daniel explained how he had become involved with Robert Farnon, and he made it clear that there had been detailed discussions during the final stages of composition to ensure that the work was right for the instrument. Michael Lloyd spoke about his wide career in music, most recently in London’s West End, and his love of light music. He was especially pleased to be conducting Don Gillis’s Symphony No. 5½.
Daniel Smith is widely regarded as the leading pioneer of the bassoon with his many critically acclaimed award-winning recordings and live performances. As the most recorded bassoon soloist in the world, his repertoire spans music ranging from Baroque concerti to contemporary music including jazz, ragtime and crossover. He is the only bassoonist performing and recording in both the jazz and classical fields. Daniel Smith's unique career has been profiled in Gramophone, the New York Times, Fanfare, Classical Music, Musical Heritage Review, American Record Guide, Classic CD and many leading European publications including The Times in England. In the USA, his career was highlighted on PBS's "All Things Considered'. In the UK, one of his recordings was the 'signature tune' for BBC radio 3 while BBC radio 4 recently showcased his career.
Daniel Smith's performances include jazz with his quartet 'Bassoon and Beyond', classical recitals with piano, concertos with orchestra, and highly popular programs divided between classical and jazz, with music ranging from Vivaldi, Elgar, Mozart and Verdi to Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie. Described as a 'phenomenon', he has been called the 'Gerry Mulligan of the Bassoon' in the world of jazz and the 'Galway' and 'Rampal of the Bassoon' in the world of classical music, bringing his unique sound and style to concert series, festivals and jazz clubs.
His historic and unprecedented 6 CD set on ASVof the complete 37 Vivaldi bassoon concertos was chosen as 'Best Concerto Recording of the Year' by the Music Industry Association and awarded the Penguin Guide's coveted *** rosette rating as well as inclusion in Fanfare's annual 'Want List'. These concertos, recorded with The English Chamber Orchestra and I Solisti di Zagreb, firmly established Daniel Smith as a leading soloist on his instrument. His recordings with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Caravaggio Ensemble for the ASVWhite Line label produced innovative crossover albums, with unique renditions of ragtime pieces, opera excerpts, and popular standards. In the world of jazz, his albums on the Zah Zah label, 'BEBOP BASSOON' and 'THE SWINGING BASSOON' showcase the music of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and many other legendary jazz artists. Other recordings of Daniel Smith are available on Vox, MHS, KemDisc, Pearl, Spectrum, Cambria, Regis, Crystal and Forum labels.
His performances have included many firsts: The American West Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gunther Schuller's 'Concerto for Contrabassoon and Orchestra'; the world premiere of Steve Gray's 'Jazz Suite For Bassoon' with the Welsh Chamber Orchestra; solo concerts at New York's Lincoln Center and the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, and also five appearances at London's 'Pizza On The Park' with his jazz quartet. Other major venues where he has performed include New York's Carnegie Recital Hall (two appearances) and the Merkin Concert Hall. In London, the Wigmore Hall (three times), St.John's Smith Square, and the BBC Concert Hall. His many recordings are heard throughout the world on classical and jazz radio stations, National Public Radio in the USA, major airlines for in-flight listening, and featured with leading book and record clubs as well as the Muzak network. In 2003, Daniel Smith was designated as 'Ambassador for the Bassoon' by Youth Music in the UK.
In 2008 the International Jazz Journalists Association voted him as finalist for 'player of the year' in their category of "Instruments rare in jazz'. Starting at the end of 2009 and thereafter, his new jazz album 'Blue Bassoon', will be heard world-wide on leading jazz radio stations.
Warner Chappell recently published the score and parts of "Romancing The Phoenix" with Robert Farnon's dedication to 'The American virtuoso Daniel Smith' on the title page.
The conductor Michael Lloyd, BA, ARCM, also has an impressive cv: read music at the University of East Anglia; postgraduate studies at RCM. Career includes: Scottish Ballet (company pianist and professional conducting debut); Staatstheater Kassel where he switched from ballet to opera, Württembergisches Staatstheater, Stuttgart; ENO 1985-2003, conducting new productions, revivals and performances in a wide range of repertoire (in 1989 appointed Assistant Music Director, in 1998 Senior Resident Conductor). Conducted frequently in New Zealand (opera, concerts and ballet), in Japan, Korea, Singapore and Macau. Regular conductor with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and English National Ballet and made his debut with the Ulster Orchestra and with Opera Holland Park in 2005. Has returned regularly to ENO since 2003. Music Director of the Chandos Symphony Orchestra, Malvern and the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra.
David Hart’s report on the concert was printed in the Birmingham Post on 15 September. He began:
Although conductor Michael Lloyd is not a complete stranger to ‘light’ music, for the Chandos Symphony Orchestra this concert was a new experience, and one I’m sure they will want to repeat.
In addition to introducing these part-time players, who for tonal quality and precision could easily be mistaken for full-time professionals, to the delights of miniature classics by Leroy Anderson, Ron Goodwin and Don Gillis (and on a more elevated level Malcolm Arnold’s Four Cornish Dances), it also gave us the world premiere of Robert Farnon’s bassoon concerto "Romancing the Phoenix".
Completed just before Farnon’s death in 2005, the work was written for the American bassoonist Daniel Smith, a multi-talented performer equally adept in classical music, jazz and crossover. And it’s these qualities which shape and inform the concerto, by integrating and contrasting the bassoon with full orchestra and a jazz trio.
At times it seems an uneasy combination. Smith’s note-bending, although elegiac in its way, on Sunday sounded rather at odds with the lyrical opulence and lush string writing of the opening Andante Moderato; but when it lifted off into brass-led big band territory with jazz bass and drums, everything fell into place.
The slow movement also started reflectively, though less purposefully, again reserving its big moment – with the amplified soloist pitted against full brass – until the end.
As did the finale, although there were jazzy excitements along the way, including a very punchy improvised cadenza. The best moment, however, came in the concluding bars, with a flying scamper of bassoon and orchestral woodwind culminating in a glorious Mahlerian tam-tam clang. If only there had been more of that sort of thing earlier.
As many RFS members will no doubt agree, Robert Farnon’s serious works become considerably more enjoyable when heard several times. His writing is often so complex, and his harmonies frequently unexpected, that a first encounter does not always reveal a new work in its full splendour. An audience accustomed to the works of Beethoven, Wagner and Mozart must have found the experience in Malvern that Sunday evening something of a cultural shock, although the applause at the end indicated that many people present were very glad to be there.
Daniel Smith certainly rose to the occasion magnificently. His mastery of the bassoon is beyond question, and his careful preparation for the premiere was evident. The work is based on the "Saxophone Tipartite" from 1971, but Farnon has added some nice touches, including a sensitive introduction lasting around two minutes before the full, rich orchestral sound fills the concert hall so dramatically.
The climax of the work finds the bassoon supported by a jazz trio – Sean Whittle on keyboard, Russell Swift bass and Steve Smith who was outstanding on drums. The audience clearly wanted to hear more from this impressive quartet, and Daniel obliged with three titles from his latest CD "Blue Bassoon", ending with the Mercer Ellington classic "Things Ain’t What They Used To Be".
Amazingly some members of the orchestra (particularly the strings) managed to sit through this jazz session without any sign of the rhythms reaching their bodies. How they could sit there without even the slightest movement of even a gently tapping foot was astonishing. Of course, the brass, woodwinds, percussion and notably the french horns were certainly caught up in the excitement of the occasion – as was the audience!
Our president David Farnon was present to witness the premiere, and it was good to meet several other RFS members as well, including John Bladon, David Corbett and Eric Smith.
Thanks to Daniel Smith’s persistence, the concert was previewed in the magazine Classical Music on 29 August, and it made the Bassoon Concerto its ‘Premiere of the Fortnight’ with a report covering two-thirds of the page and photos of both Daniel Smith and Robert Farnon. Chris Elcombe’s report went into some detail about the meetings between performer and composer:
The timing of Farnon’s death helps to explain the premiere’s delay until 2009 as Smith explains: "When he died unexpectedly early in 2005 it fell on my shoulders to follow up and try to get premieres and performances lined up, which was not an easy task starting from scratch". Fortunately though, there had been enough time for composer and soloist to discuss the piece together in the final weeks of Farnon’s life. "When I first flew to Guernsey he showed me a work in progress and I offered input and ideas. Within a very short time he had it all finished. I had the opportunity to fly again to Guernsey (this time to meet him at the hospital where he was recovering from surgery) and I played the entire piece for him. He gave me a good idea of how the piece was to be performed. Within a month or so of this meeting he died in his sleep, and this was the only opportunity to find out what he had in mind in regard to his concept of the concerto".
Daniel Smith is now concentrating on getting more performances of this work, both in Europe and his native USA. He also hopes that other UK orchestras will follow the lead of the Chandos Orchestra and include it in future programmes.th gave an exclusive interview to ‘Journal Into Melody’ about his meeting with Robert Farnon – published in issue 165, September 2005.
JOHN WILSON CELEBRATES THE GLORIOUS MGM MUSICALS AT THE PROMS
For over 2 hours the Royal Albert Hall became the MGM Concert Hall in Culver City where John Wilson and his incredible hand picked 92 piece orchestra took us through all those wonderful arrangements of Conrad Salinger, LLoyd 'Skip' Martin, Adolph Deustch, Lennie Hayton etc, from the classic MGM Musicals.
The hall was packed and the atmosphere was 'electric' and when John gave the down beat for the MGM Jubilee Overture we all knew we were in for a very special evening. The Orchestra sounded out of this world with marvellous string playing, wonderful swinging brass and reeds and they really did produce that unique 'MGM Sound'. It really felt the musicians on stage were enjoying themselves as much as the audience and to be able to be part of this orchestra, to play these classic arrangements , so painstakingly reconstructed by John, was indeed an honour.
The handpicked soloists - Kim Criswell, Sarah Fox, Sir Thomas Allen, Curtis Stigers and Seth MacFarlane and the Maida Vale Singers really pulled the stops out in their numbers and just could not believe their luck in having such a marvellous orchestra backing them . It was indeed Technicolor for the Ears!
The Prom was carried 'live ' on BBC Radio 3, BBC 2 and the BBC HD Channel. Unfortunately the BBC 2 television transmission had Clive Anderson as compere with Debbie Wiseman and neither acquitted themselves very well I am afraid. They had not researched the subject thoroughly and they got many of their facts wrong. It really should have been done by Edward Seckerson who used to present the much lamented 'Stage and Screen' on Radio 3. The Radio 3 introductions were handled better by Petroc Trelawny.
The BBC TV transmission had an audience of over 2 million - exactly double the Proms Opening Night. It is interesting to read the concert reviews on the BBC Proms Website. Most Proms have 5 or 6 comments - the MGM Prom had 69 with over 95% asking "why can't we have more of this type of music programme?" A lot of correspondents wanted to know when it was going to be repeated and also if it was coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray.
I think the BBC may have opened a 'Pandora's Box' with this Prom after so many years completely ignoring Film and Light Music. I feel sure we will be seeing much more of the John Wilson Orchestra in the future after the outstanding success of this Prom, and he is to be congratulated for all his hard work in reconstructing theses scores that have been now enjoyed by millions.
MGM Jubilee Overture (Singin’ In The Rain, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Broadway Melody, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Temptation, Be My Love, The Trolley Song, On The Atchison Topeka And The Santa Fe, The Donkey Serenade and Over The Rainbow)
The Trolley Song (from "Meet Me In St Louis")
Over The Rainbow ("The Wizard of Oz")
Steppin’ Out With My Baby ("Easter Parade")
The Heather On The Hill ("Brigadoon")
Wonderful. Wonderful Day & Barn Dance ("Seven Brides For Seven Brothers")
Stranger In Paradise ("Kismet")
More Than You Know ("Hit The Deck")
I Got Rhythm ("Girl Crazy")
Main Title & Love Is Here To Stay ("An American In Paris")
Get Happy ("Summer Stock" – in UK "If You Feel Like Singing")
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, You’re Sensational & Well Did You Evah ("High Society")
Title Song ("Gigi")
One Kiss & Lover Come Back To Me ("Deep In My Heart")
I Like Myself ("It’s Always Fair Weather")
Singin’ In The Rain & Broadway Melody Ballet ("Singin’ In The Rain")
That’s Entertainment ("The Band Wagon")
Boy What Love Has Done To Me ("Girl Crazy")(heard on Radio-3 but not included in television broadcast)
John Wilson’s glorious MGM Musicals Promenade Concert on 1 August generated the biggest postbag ‘Journal Into Melody’ has received for many years. The following is an edited representative sample of the comments: apologies if your message is missing, simply because it repeats what others have written.
I wish to offer my congratulations on the concert given by John Wilson and his Orchestra, and singers. Over the years my wife and I have enjoyed many Promenade concerts, but we cannot recall any one which gave us more sheer pleasure. In our younger days Light Orchestral music formed a prominent and much appreciated part of the BBC’s output. It was a rare day indeed when, for instance, some composition by Eric Coates was not played over the air. Even into the television era such programmes as Robert Farnon’s Sunday afternoon concerts, and Roger Moffat introducing The BBC Northern Dance Orchestra (with Sheila Buxton) were highlights of the television week. The MGM Musicals Prom reaffirmed that such music, performed with enthusiasm by musicians who really appreciated the works, provides superb entertainment. It is music which deserves to be lifted out of the pit of neglect into which it has been consigned. Although most of the Corporation’s house orchestras have long gone, in The BBC Concert Orchestra there is still a magnificent interpreter of such music. (It is ironic that the Concert Orchestra’s recently released CDs of the orchestral works of Leroy Anderson carry the Radio 3 logo, when Radio 3 never broadcasts anything by Anderson!) The success of John Wilson’s concert suggests that it might be time to incorporate more Light Music into the Prom’s schedule, or even, in the weeks preceding the Proms, revive the Light Music Festivals which for so many summers brought delight to the airwaves. Some influential people seem to believe that the genre of beautifully crafted Light Music which flourished during the middle decades of the Twentieth Century has appeal only to those of us who are were contemporary with it. Even if that belief were true, it would not in itself be reason for our tastes to be ignored. But it is manifestly not true; the youthful enthusiasm of John Wilson, and the exuberance of his musicians, demonstrates that. HORACE BENNETT, England.
Great Prom, although I thought there were too many vocals in the second half. What a fantastic orchestra - pity about presenter Clive Anderson! ALAN BUNTING, Scotland.
I wish to thank all concerned for the magnificent Prom concert on Saturday devoted to Hollywood musicals. This was the kind of enterprise that only the BBC could afford to mount, and it was worth every penny. The conductor John Wilson deserves a knighthood! His orchestra appeared to enjoy playing the wonderful arrangements as much as the audience enjoyed hearing them without the distraction of visuals. It was a chance to pay tribute to the skills of those MGM orchestrators rather than the actual composers of the melodies. I loved it and only wish I had been in the Albert Hall.
ANTHONY WILLS, England.
Hope all RFS members caught the John Wilson Prom - wasn't it magical?! JEFF HALL, England.
We're still reeling from that superb John Wilson Prom on Saturday evening. Yes some of the singers were a bit naff and as for Clive Anderson - yuck!!! It seems to have gone down very well; on a late night phone-in on London's LBC on Saturday evening the first caller was waxing lyrical about it, and even Paul Barnes thought it top-class. I would like to know the programme viewing figures. ALBERT KILLMAN, England.
Let me still tell you how excited I was to listen on the first day of August via internet radio to the fantastic BBC Proms Concert with John Wilson conducting the reconstructed MGM musical scores! Probably the greatest concert I have ever heard. My deepest respect to this young highly talented conductor and his incredible and excellent job. Let us hope one day this big event will be available on DVD. This concert was also broadcast last week (5 September) on the German radio channel Bayern 4 Klassik from Munich. As far I know the reaction of many listeners was enthusiastic! ALEXANDER SCHATTE, Berlin, Germany.
I enjoyed the latest magazine which arrived yesterday, especially the little bit about John Wilson. What a terrific conductor. I speak for many when I say his MGM Prom was just brilliant and I love his new CD of John Ireland's Music also! MARTIN MILLER, England.
Predictably the musical snobs could not resist complaining about ‘their’ Proms being taken over by something likely to appeal to a far greater audience. One woman wrote to the Radio Times saying that Sir Henry Wood and Sir Malcolm Sargent would be turning in their graves. Clearly she was ignorant of the history of the Proms. Sir Henry Wood envisaged an annual music festival that would appeal to the masses, and the music performed in its early years did just that. It is only in recent decades that the BBC has turned it into an elitist event, with its new commissions clearly intended to foster admiration from non-musical souls who wouldn’t recognise a melody if it jumped up and bit them.
Happily other correspondents to Radio Times put that stupid woman firmly in her place. As well as reminding her of Sir Henry’s original vision, one gentleman who knew Sir Malcolm Sargent, stated categorically that he would have loved the MGM Prom.
Sir Michael Parkinson also contributed a wonderful article to Radio Times. Under the headline "Cloth-eared zealots who complain are to be pitied", Sir Michael wrote:
The Proms, which I often presented, are one of the great cultural achievements of the BBC. The Prom concert featuring music from 75 years of MGM musicals (1 August BBC2, Radio 3) made me feel, for the first time in a long while, that all was well with the world. John Wilson, the conductor, not only reconstructed the scores of the original orchestral parts destroyed when MGM’s library was demolished, but assembled a big, big band to create a sound that can only be described as glorious. Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper and Les Dawson were regularly on telly the last time I felt as happy watching the box.
There have been sniffy comments from the usual cloth-eared zealots who complain about "dumbing down". They are to be pitied if they don’t understand that the music from the Great American Songbook will last as long as any in the classical canon; and if people extol the genius of Alfred Brendel while dismissing Oscar Peterson, then they know nothing.
It was best illustrated many years ago on Parkinson when we brought together Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli. Menuhin was fascinated by the other man’s talent for improvisation, Grappelli in awe of the other’s reputation. "He is a maestro, I am a fiddle player," he said. They rehearsed for the first time and afterwards Grappelli’s face was creased in a joyous grin. "Good rehearsal?" we asked. "Three minutes into Lady Be Good, tell me, who is the maestro?" he said. It was the start of a working relationship that produced a few records and a long friendship between two men from different worlds, but who shared a genius for making music.
There have been other Prom concerts featuring film music, but why not make a celebration of an incomparable 20th-century art form — which is what the Great American Songbook is — a regular part of the season? It’s too important to be ignored, as it is nowadays, by all of TV and most of radio, including those BBC stations that ought to know better. I speak, of course, of Radio 2, which should be the guardian and promoter of the golden treasury that John Wilson unforgettably presented to us at the Proms. I have a better idea: make John Wilson head of music at Radio 2.
This feature appeared in the December 2009 edition of ‘Journal Into Melody’.
TOM WALSH – FOLLOWING IN GRANDPA’S FOOTSTEPS!
Robert Farnon began his professional musical career as a trumpeter, and his grandson Thomas Walsh seems to be following in his footsteps. His proud mother Judith keeps us informed of his progress, and we recently received the following newspaper report from the Suffolk Evening Star (26 October 2007) by Stephen Foster of BBC Radio Suffolk:
"This Sunday the ever-popular Horn Factory make their fourth appearance at the lpswich Jazz Club. Led by Gill Burgoyne from the saxophone section, this 17 piece outfit were formed nearly a decade ago to give local musicians the chance to play in a big band setting.
Among the current members is highly-rated trumpet player Tom Walsh from Manningtree. Tom’s 16 and now plays regularly with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Earlier this week he told me how he came to join NYJO: ‘I look back on it now and think its quite embarrassing. I was busking in Colchester and the well known jazz bass player Eddie Johnson heard me and suggested I get in touch with NYJO who I’d never heard of before. It’s great because you don’t hare to audition. You just go along and if you can play well you’re in!’
Tom started playing with the orchestra two years ago but has only been gigging regularly with them since the summer. It was at around the same time that Tom linked up with Horn Factory and won Young Musician Of The Year at the Bures Music Festival.
Tom’s short term goal is to secure a place at the Royal Academy of Music. Believe me this young man is going places."
At another concert with the NYJO Tom was featured on Harry South’s portrait of Dizzy Gillespie, appropriately called "Dizzy". He used a trumpet with an almost vertically pointing bell, in true Gillespie style. He coped with all the high notes easily, and it is reported that he created some memorable music in so doing.
This report appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2008
A Great Leroy Anderson Composition
Analysed by Robert Walton
The period immediately following World War 2 and beyond was particularly creative for light music on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact in many ways it could be said to be the rebirth of the genre. Inspired by David Rose it produced a dazzling array of original material from the likes of Edward White, Clive Richardson, Sidney Torch, Trevor Duncan, Angela Morley and of course Robert Farnon. Just as the big bands had dominated the music scene a few years before, now it was the turn of light orchestras to have their day. With the rise of the singer, almost overnight light orchestras came into their own providing a valuable contribution to the extraordinary variety of popular music on offer. And the vocalists weren’t slow in taking advantage of the expertise of the new breed of arrangers for their backings.
In America it was an arranger for the then Boston Promenade Orchestra who emerged into the limelight as the country’s most important composer in this specialised field - Leroy Anderson. He might not have been as progressive as some of the others but he certainly had a commercial flare with numbers like Blue Tango, Syncopated Clock, Sleigh Ride, Forgotten Dreams, The Typewriter and Sandpaper Ballet.
One of his earliest compositions written in 1947 was the perpetually mobile Fiddle Faddle. It may have seemed a million miles away from its prototype Holiday for Strings but it’s closer than you think. Essentially the format was much the same with its quick fire opening and broad sweeping middle tune. In Fiddle Faddle the method of performance is in reverse order. Bowed strings first, pizzicato second. The main difference is the start of the bridge with its welcome pizzicato relief from the bustling non-stop opening section and then the strings returning to arco, divide. The lower ones play the tune while the upper ones provide the icing (an idea later borrowed by Ray Martin).
But let’s take a closer look at this woodwindless string feature Fiddle Faddle. According to the dictionary fiddle faddle is silly talk or an unimportant piece of trivia. Perhaps not a very flattering description of the Anderson standard but at the same time a clever play on words. Like Holiday for Strings all this constant activity keeps the orchestra very much on its toes rather like an exercise.
The intro has all the hallmarks of the lead-in to a Sousa march. The first phrase is identical to Three Blind Mice but because the violins are doing a double act playing the melody and embellishments at the same time, the tune is somewhat disguised. This is followed by a scale-like descending passage. As the piece progresses there is a definite feeling of a square dance trying to get out especially with the extreme syncopation and the decoration in the middle section.
Shortly after the first chorus the music briefly comes to a halt answered by a lower syncopated note followed by another a few bars later a little higher. I can’t help speculating what Robert Farnon or Malcolm Arnold might have done with those. They would have certainly been more daring and ‘wrong’. But Leroy Anderson was one of the old school and wouldn’t have gone down that road. However it must be said he was far more advanced than he’s generally given credit for. What about the beautiful harmonies of Serenata? His work had a freshness about it with some highly original concepts and titles and his sense of humour was never far away. If anything his compositions are more closely allied to classical music. For starters try his excellent piano concerto. Fiddle Faddle in particular may well have its roots in the music of the Swedish composer Hugo Alfven. Coincidentally Anderson himself is of Swedish descent!
David Rose was by no means the only American orchestra to influence British composers. Many of them fell under the spell of Anderson’s melodic magic which ironically had quite a bit of Englishness about it. From a little acorn called Fiddle Faddle, grew dozens of Anderson gems into a giant musical oak tree of unprecedented fertility.
Gone with the Wind
Reg Otter remembers the Great Days of Hollywood Film Music
Many years ago (68 to be precise!) I was talking to a friend about the wonderful film music to which this article is dedicated. Both of us were 14, both of us had just left school; both of us had saved, diligently, to amass the outrageously high entrance fee of 3/6d for a seat at the Ritz Cinema, Leicester Square, to see what was then promoted as the greatest picture ever made, and as we emerged from the massive 3 hours 44 minutes showing I enquired of my pal…."What did you think of the music?"
He looked at me a trifle puzzled and replied nonchalantly "Not bad, I suppose, but it was the excitement of the battle scenes and the fire of Atlanta that impressed me."
Personally youthful as I was, I sensed that I had been present an historical moment of the cinema. I had witnessed the birth of a genre of classical music that made an impact at the time, but has been largely ignored ever since, and with the massive, overwhelming hypes of so-called ‘rock ‘n roll’ rap, funk and all the other tuneless drivel that has ruled (and pierced!) our eardrums since the ‘liberating’ (from what? melody?) days of the 1960’s, I fell head over heels in love with the gorgeous, dramatic, rapturous music of master melody makers such as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman, Victor Young, Hugo Friedhofer and Ernest Gold to name but a few.
Max was the unique composer of the symphonic-like score for this unforgettable Hollywood epic and he became the creator of just over 350, yes 350 wonderful film-music movies in an age when melody, beauty, drama, adventure, imagination and innovation was appreciated by the public, that is from the early 1930’s to the 1970’s…. "the Golden Age".
I suppose he will always be remembered for the awesome spine-chilling yet majestic music he composed for "King Kong" seventy one years ago but just three years later in 1936, this Master of Harmony, this genius of dramatic, atmospheric sound, joined Warner Brothers Studios where he made an everlasting and colossal impact, and became without doubt the greatest film music composer of all time.
It seemed that the combination of Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, George Brent, Henry Fonda and Miriam Hopkins was a gut-edge winning formula for millions of dollars and the scintillating, imaginative beautiful scores which poured from the creative brain of Max Steiner are much too long to be listed here, but here are a few for contemplation - "Dark Victory" (the tragic finale music is a masterpiece), "Jezebel" (a waltz to rival Strauss!), "The Great Lie" (Max reaches the realms of Tchaikovsky), "In this our Life" (a superbly melodious theme), "Casablanca" (you must remember this!), "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" (such sweetness, counter-pointing a story of racial bigotry), "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (a terrific unique tale so cleverly accompanied to appropriately dramatic music), "Now Voyager" (Oh, movie fans, let’s not ask for the Moon…we have Max Steiner!), "The Letter" (Maugham, Bette Davis Herbert Marshall and Max…who could ask for anything more?) "Since You Went Away" (such a beautiful score had one wondering how Max was so talented) "Adventures of Don Juan", "Dodge City", "Charge of the Light Brigade", and "Dawn Patrol" (Erroland Max …what a combination)….just a few of the films which had us tendering our hard earned ninepences with enthusiasm to sink into our seats after having queued outside and inside the temple of dreams. Max Steiner died at the great age of 83 in 1971.
I suppose if there had to be a worthy rival for the crown of the king of film music, which rightly belonged to Max, it would have to be one of his three contemporaries, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman or Victor Young.
Curiously enough, due to the shortness of his career - a mere twelve years and only 18 scores, Korngold, my own personal choice, would be that rival. Six films with music by this sublimely melodic composer stand out as masterly achievements in originality, atmosphere, dramatic capability and celestial orchestration and they are "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" (1939) "The Sea Hawk" (1940), (can there be a more stirring overture?) "King’s Row" (1942) a Korngold Classic. "Devotion" (1946) and "Deception" (1946). The very fact that so few words could command the attention and admiration of discerning cinema-goers proves that Korngold was somewhat of a genius.
Film fan enthusiasts of the late 1930’s would have failed to leave the cinema without whistling or humming the haunting Cathy theme from "Wuthering Heights" which was composed by another Steiner contemporary, Alfred Newman. He was one of ten children born in a working-class family in Newhaven, Connecticut. He became a prolific and much honoured (9 Oscars!) composer and arranger, responsible for the world-renowned 20th Century-Fox "Signature" logo and his Street Scene theme from "Sentimental Rhapsody" became not only popular but a happy perennial of the world of film music, in fact I’ll wager everyone reading this would instantly recall the "Manhattany" tuneful, memorable notes once they heard them. And who will forget the dynamic suspense-filled, nerve jangling thrill of Airport, the majesty and tragedy of "The Robe" and the beauty and scenic happiness of "Love is a Many Splendoured Thing"? All contributed by Alfred Newman!
But maybe my final contender for Max Steiner’s exalted crown would be one of my own personal favourites; he was with us for just over half a century, being a mere 56 when he died, after a life of excessive drinking and smoking, yet composing some of the most beautiful, descriptive film music ever conceived - Victor Young. One has only to mention "Love Letters", "Golden Earrings". "My Foolish Heart", "Stella by Starlight", and "Around the World in Eighty Days" to realise that here was a man, who, although resembling a prize-fighting boxer physically, was a renowned sentimental genius of a musician capable of creating happiness, contentment, love and peace to millions of people whom he had never even met.
Almost all of the music I have written about is now just a pleasant memory. All of the composers are dead and the eras only captured on video and audio tape. The primary object of this small essay is to recall and rejoice in what to me was, and still is, the greatest films ever made; to honour the marvellous composers of film music which has largely been ignored by the general public, and to regret the demise of a part of life which was happy, colourful and oh! so satisfying, despite the rigours of war and insecurity.
There was a place of Directors, Producers, Film Stars and Composers called Hollywood. Here in this fascinating world the Land of Make-Believe took its last bow as ‘Reality’ ‘Rock’n’Roll’, ‘Raunchiness’ and ‘Sex’ took hold. Here was the last ever to be seen of glamour, enchantment and spell-binding charm. Look for it only in books for it is no more than a dream remembered - a way of life…. "Gone with the Wind".
ANDRE KOSTELANETZ, THE MAN WHO STARTED IT ALL By Enrique Renard
In one of the countless catalogues I receive that peddle music and movies from the 40s and 50s, I found advertised a George Melachrino Orchestra CD. In fact there are many ads that include The George Melachrino Orchestra in those magazines, except that in the brief text accompanying the one I saw there I read: "If you have ever wondered who’s responsible for starting Easy Listening music, here’s the guy: George Melachrino". And then the text went on to describe the reasons why we should buy the record.( "Easy Listening" is the classification that has been given in the USA as of the 70s, to what in Britain and Europe is known, way more appropriately I think, as "Light Orchestral Music"). Inaccuracies are continually found in the music industry when someone is trying to sell something. Sometimes is just ignorance; others, a selling gimmick.
It’s quite difficult to pinpoint a name that may have started the genre in Britain, or when. Here in the United States, however, the matter is indisputable: the man was Andre Kostelanetz. Vituperated as of the mid-sixties by so called "critics", his work was labeled "elevator music" and consistently disparaged by ignorant rock-and-roll age commentators or by effete snobs who wished to sound "advanced" and who abhorred sentiment and romance as something ludicrous. But history will show, probably much to their displeasure, that Kostelanetz was instrumental in awaking dormant American ears to popular music properly executed. The problem is that that happened by the mid 30s, when these "advanced" critics hadn’t even been born. By the 1970s the disdain and even contempt for Kostelanetz reached its peak when in a mediocre film, Goodbye Columbus, the script calls one of the actors that play a superficial idiot to say: "Oh, yeah…I’m crazy about the semi-classics. I got a whole collection of Andre Kostelanetz records…" After which he slaps his interlocutor buttocks in the typical fashion of a dumb American. The producers of the film had it so clear about the disparaging intention of the remark, that they called Kostelanetz and asked him whether he would object to it. Its not that they cared, but they were afraid of the possibility of a lawsuit. But Kosty, in typical fashion also, smiled and told them "go ahead".
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1901, to an affluent Jewish family, Andre showed a remarkable musical inclination since childhood. His biographer, Gloria Hammond, has written a very affectionate prose in her book Echoes: Memories of André Kostelanetz, where, surprisingly, very little is said about his music and recording career. The book is full of references aboutKostelanetz personal trips and adventures, but it tells very little of what we, those who followed his music for decades, would really want to know. Still, there are pieces and small narratives from other sources, liner notes, and other bits of information that hopefully will help these lines.
Kostelanetz divided his life in two periods: the first one from the day he was born up to age 21. The second from that age up to his transition at age 79. Why? Simply because he was a happy Russian kid surrounded by the gentle, refined ambiance radiated by his family, which provided for him the opportunity to study and learn music with the best professors available. As a child, his mother took him to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and he was placed under the training of Madame Koskova, who had been a pupil of its founder, Anton Rubinstein. A few years later, when Kostelanetz was 16, the Bolshevik Revolution started with all the concomitant brutalities and persecutions. And in a city essentially anti-Semitic as the St. Petersburg of those days was, the family saw the need to migrate. His mother and sisters went first to the Caucasus. His father went to Helsinki. But due to several reasons Andre stayed in St. Petersburg. He intended to join his mother, and his sisters later on with a view to finally migrate to the USA. Things didn’t work out as easily though. The family managed to get to the USA but he couldn’t do it until 1922, when he was 21. Those four years starting 1917 in Russia were difficult and dangerous for him, but they contributed to shape the man when faced with the adversities he had to endure.
His family having been pretty fond of opera had him continually exposed to the sound of the operatic human voice, which gave him a good ear for opera singers. Hence he earned his living as a voice coach in his first years in the USA. His ability was soon noticed and it was discovered he could conduct quite effectively. He then became a fixture as opera conductor en New York, and there are no clear indications as to when did he move into symphonic orchestra conducting. In all likelihood it was a gradual thing. But then Kosty eventually became aware of something few had bothered to notice before in the music scene: that classical music was for the very few only, especially in the United States, a relatively new country with none of the European charm and cultural refinement at massive level, music included.
By the mid 30s, technological advances in sound were beginning to appear, and jazz was moving from small brothels in New Orleans into the main stream. Big Bands were starting to appear everywhere, and swing entered the musical consciousness of a nation which, up to that moment, knew very little concerning music beyond country folk tunes. Kosty felt that he could perhaps contribute to somehow raise the musical consciousness of the people of his country of adoption by presenting them popular songs, mainly Tin Pan Alley and Broadway shows numbers, in a symphonic orchestral setting. He had been participating in several radio programs, but mainly accompanying classical singers. Columbia Records somehow got a glimpse of what he could do, and placed him under contract.
At Columbia, the A & R people didn’t take well to Kosty’s idea of recording popular melodies with a symphonic outfit. The cost would be stratospheric, they assumed. But Kostelanetz had an ace in his sleeve. He had fallen in love with Jazz, a musical expression that gave birth to Swing. With bands such as those of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman invading radio waves and hitting unsurpassed levels of popularity, Kostelanetz started to incorporate elements of jazz, swing and blues in his arrangements for large orchestra. His best programs and recordings were done at Liederkrantz Hall, a remarkable studio with splendid acoustics, situated in 58th. Street, in New York City. With its rich wood paneling, the place provided a particularly natural sound. In 1931 he headed the radio Pontiac Radio Programs; in 1934, the Chesterfield Radio Programs, from the Hudson Theater, three times a week; and from 1938 to 1943, the Coca-Cola programs, from the Liederkrantz, all of them quite successful. In those days when sound technology and electronics were just beginning to emerge, to have a hall with appropriate acoustic resonance was essential, but not easy to find. Liederkrantz was ideal in that sense, and when years later Columbia turned it into a television studio, Kostelanetz was dismayed. In his biography he is quoted as saying he was "mystified" by the decision. Sound technology advances during the 50s somewhat compensated for the loss, but electronics can never replace the legitimate quality of the natural sounds obtained in a room with proper acoustics, hence Kosty’s displeasure.
If there was something that distinguished Kostelanetz sound was the strings. Sweeping, powerful, at times tender and subtle, no one, as far as this writer is concerned, has ever been able to duplicate them among the splendid orchestras that arose on both sides of the Atlantic later on. It was a sound in which he harmonized violins, violas and celli in several "voices" pretty much in the fashion of Ravel in his Daphnis & Chloe ballet music. It was a sound that gave you goose bumps, and which evidently reached the ears of the public-at-large, which was exactly what he had in mind. As his popularity rose and sales increased, Columbia gave him a free hand not only to pick the best musicians from the NY Philharmonic, but also any number of musicians he wanted, and his sound went from great to glorious.
Kostelanetz was instrumental in increasing the popularity of songs written by numerous composers of popular tunes in those days. The decades of the 20s and 30s saw the emergence of composers such as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Vincent Youmans, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, and others who, it must be said, composed at the behest and upon request of Broadway producers. When producers had a Musical Show in mind, they would call Cole Porter, for instance, describe the plot, and ask for, say, ten songs. Now most of those songs the composers had already in their desks, ready for use; but on other occasions they just had to invent them. Songs like Night & Day, Begin the Beguine, White Christmas, What’ll I Do, Poinciana, The Man I Love, Tea for Two, Long Ago & Far Away, became the source from where Kostelanetz drew to realize his dream of bringing symphonic sounds to the general public, and much to the delight of the composers proper, who saw tunes they had written for the stage turn into hits by themselves with the concomitant and unexpected economic windfall, popularity and prestige.
His output was prodigious. He was a dynamic, enthusiastic, charming man, with a great disposition for everyone. At the end of the 50s he had sold over 53 million records for Columbia, invariably using musicians from the NY Philharmonic, and rarely les that 60 or seventy of them. He recorded gorgeous, elegant arrangements that played close to the melody, but with varied colors, always original and sometimes right out spectacular. His arrangement of "Back Magic", the Arlen song, recorded in 1953, has never been topped. His "Night and Day" (both the first recording, Jan. 1942 and the second in the early 50s) became seminal pieces for arrangers of that type of music. The music had a sentimental tone (coma out) without being mushy, and, quite cleverly, in 90% of the cases with a dancing tempo. During the forties and fifties, if you had a small – or even a big – party at home, Kostelanetz records were a must because one could dance to them. There was a romantic content that made them quite desirable for those interested in the art of seducing… But above all, there was taste, exquisite taste and remarkable ability to use every available resource contained in a symphonic structure. His use of harmonized reeds, celesta and French horns for instance, was lovely, and there were some swing numbers too, magnificently executed. Very few musicians of the genre were able to make a symphonic outfit swing. Robert Farnon was one. Andre Kostelanetz and Morton Gould were the others. Any doubts on Kostelanetz ability to swing will be dispelled by listening to his version of "I Got Rhythm" (CD COL-CD-5886), the Gershwin tune, or "Johnny One Note" (Vocalion CDUS 3015), by Richard Rodgers, both digitally re-mastered from the original Columbia LP’s.
In the opinion of this Latin American writer, he was the only American musician of that time that could play Latin American melodies the way they should be played. His recording of "Adios" (Farewell) from Latin American composer Eric Madriguera, remains the best version ever of that song. No one played Lecuona like he did. He understood the soul of Latin American music, and it showed in his arrangements of many other tunes from south of the border. Kosty had no problems in that area. To him all men were his brothers, no matter where they came from. His being a victim of discrimination and persecution at one time never embittered him. Quite the contrary, it awoke in him a love for his fellow men that clearly shines through the love and sympathy that permeated his arrangements of songs from composers the world over.
It has sometimes been asked whether he wrote his own arrangements. At first he did, and brilliantly enough to set his own marvelous, particular sound, especially with strings. But then he was too busy, and needed assistance in that area. He once stated that his fantastic album of Cole Porter tunes, done in the early fifties, was arranged by Carroll Huxley. Van Cleave, Claude Thornhill, David Terry and George Bassman, have been also mentioned as his arrangers, but the fact that the sound was always unmistakably Kostelanetz, clearly attests that he never recorded an arrangement before checking it out carefully and introducing the elements that would conform to his well recognized style.
As to the impact his music had on the song writers, there are several stories. After listening to a broadcast featuring the first performance of his song "All the Things You Are", Jerome Kern, who was a close friend of his, wired Kostelanetz the following: "Your amazing work has been a constant source of inspiration to me, as well as to other younger and abler men. Tears of happiness and joy are in our eyes from your beautiful, tender and understanding performance". He was profoundly moved and remembered the experience as one of the greatest in his life. Cole Porter was another composer who was ecstatic when he heard the Kostelanetz interpretation of his songs. In his case it was perfectly fitting, because Kostelanetz had an elegant evening sound that went well with a party in a mansion with invitees in tuxedos and women in long gowns dancing on a terrace by moonlight. And Porter was precisely that: sophistication, elegance and romance that frequently bordered on the erotic. The Kostelanetz sound was tailor made for him. Both had excellent taste, and Porter never had a better orchestral interpreter.
His personal life was another story. When serving as an orchestra conductor for opera and opera singers, he met Lily Pons, splendid coloratura soprano. Lily was French, young and attractive, everything Andre wasn’t then, but the attraction was mutual and they eventually married. They did work together continually both in live presentations and recordings, but after years the marriage dissolved as she expressed a wish to retire, something he was very far from wanting. He remarried in 1960, again to a much younger woman, Sarah Gene. That union lasted 10 years, and suddenly one day she left him without any explanations. Upon reflection, trying to understand, he realized the difference in age had taken its toll, plus the strains that inevitably accompany the life of an artist and especially a traveling musician. Not everyone is suited for that.
As the thunderous avalanche of rock-and-roll and other similar atrocities started to invade the musical markets by the mid 50s, a shift in popular music tastes was inevitable, and like the Big Bands, the great orchestras started to ebb away. Columbia Records then came up with a gimmick. It was called "Wonderland of Sound", and it used, we were told, the latest in stereo technologies. The Kostelanetz orchestra was reduced to one third in order to keep up with the currents trends of the times and of course its commercial viability as well; arrangers were replaced by those who could write "for the young", and the beautiful, full sound that characterized his previous output disappeared completely replaced by something trivial and boring. Listening to his "Black Magic" recording of that period, will send a Kostelanetz fan right up the wall. There can be no comparison with his recording of the same song in 1953. There was no "Wonderland" in that new sound at all, and most certainly no stereo excellence of any kind. It was all just a publicity gimmick by Columbia, using Kosty’s name popularity, and some of the public got fooled into buying records with arrangements which were unrecognizable as Kostelanetz music. His sales plummeted but the series were continued until 1979. Up to this day, it remains puzzling that a man of his stature and financial position would go along with the wishes of a recording company which compromised the quality standards that made him famous and his sound unforgettable. In all probability it was a contractual situation from which he found it impossible to extricate himself.
But popular music was not Kostelanetz’s only concern despite his huge success with it. He was also a respected and talented conductor of classical music who had an almost permanent association with the New York Philharmonic. I had a chance to see him conduct some Ravel works at NY Lincoln Center around 1976 with that orchestra, and his performance was nothing short of superb.
In August 1979, after a very successful outdoor concert series in New York at Central Park, performances at the White House for President Carter and several other presentations, he decided to take a vacation in Haiti. It was probably one of the only spots in the planet he had never visited during his frequent travels. He went there in January 1980, and it was there that he suffered the heart attack that took his life.
He left behind a beautiful body of musical work expressed in unforgettable recordings. But his most significant and successful effort was to awaken American ears to symphonic sounds. It is indeed a pity that today’s generations should remain aloof from such a noble effort, but it is hardly something to be surprised about. Observing today’s trends in that which passes for popular music, no one with Kosty’s taste, refinement and musical elegance, can be successful. These are times of rap, hip-hop, harsh words and loudness. No doubt he is now in a world where his sensitivity, both musical and human, can be better appreciated.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2007
The Edinburgh Light Orchestra celebrates its 30th Anniversary Year!
Conductor James Beyer recalls 30 years of Light Music in the Capital
2007 marks the 30th Anniversary of The Edinburgh Light Orchestra. Performing for the past 28 years at The Queen’s Hall (in fact, they were one of the first amateur groups to play there), The Edinburgh Light Orchestra has come to affectionately regard the Queen’s Hall as its ‘home’.
"The Queen’s Hall is our ideal venue", says Orchestra Founder and Conductor James Beyer. "Not only is it the right size for our audiences, but it also has an intimate ‘homely’ atmosphere - and that’s just what our followers want. They come along to our Concerts because they want a good night out in the company of their favourite music. They’re there to be entertained and to enjoy themselves. Recently one of our regular supporters described our Concerts as having a ‘party atmosphere’ - and that is true. A large proportion of our audiences attend our Concerts regularly, and it’s just like meeting up with friends twice a year!"
During the past 30 years, along with a team of willing helpers, James has organised a grand total of 53 concerts. The end result of all this organisation not only gives him and his players much enjoyment in performing the music; but more importantly, it provides a great deal of pleasure to their loyal supporters. The Orchestra continues to play regularly to audiences in excess of 700 at The Queen’s Hall.
"Therefore it’s with no exaggeration that I refer to The Edinburgh Light Orchestra as ‘Edinburgh’s most popular orchestra’. And we are the only orchestra north of the Border specialising in light-music," adds Beyer. "The basic programme format over the years hasn’t really changed very much. The ‘tried and tested’ formula of light orchestral music, music from stage and screen, with a Leader’s solo item and two spots with a guest singer is still the format we prefer, and remains as popular as ever."
The initial concert on 7 October 1977 was a charity event, and it addressed the City’s need for an orchestra specialising in music of a lighter nature. Recognising this, Beyer set up the necessary organisation to achieve this goal and to build on the success of that opening night.
The triumph of that evening proved that there was indeed a need for this genre of music in Edinburgh. Increasing its forces to 26, the Orchestra’s second concert took place the following May - this time in the Reid Concert Hall (University of Edinburgh) with new leader Miles Baster, who was principally Leader of the internationally acclaimed Edinburgh Quartet and one of Scotland’s foremost violin soloists. He remained with The Edinburgh Light Orchestra for sixteen years, until his retirement in 1995. Following another concert in the Reid in 1979, the Edinburgh Light Orchestra once again broke new ground later that year by moving to the newly opened Queen’s Hall.
Since its inception, the Orchestra has expanded to a full-sized concert orchestra of between 50 and 60 players and over the years has attracted the attention and support of a number of internationally recognised composers and arrangers of light-music - notably, Robert Farnon, Ernest Tomlinson, Angela Morley, Arthur Blake, Clive Richardson and Iain Sutherland.
Beyer again: "They have all given me a great deal of encouragement, and have granted me the benefit of their vast experience and knowledge of the ‘light-music’ genre. But above all, I will always treasure my friendship and association with Robert Farnon - one of the greatest ever composers, arrangers and conductors of light-music."
During the Second World War, Toronto born Captain Robert Farnon came to Britain with the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and worked alongside Glenn Miller and George Melachrino, who conducted the American and British bands respectively. After the war, Farnon became aware of the genre of British Light-Music - in particular the works of Eric Coates, Haydn Wood and Charles Williams; and realised that his own composing talents lay in that direction. He decided to remain in Britain, and by the end of the forties his name had become well established in this country as an arranger and composer. Farnon wrote numerous pieces of ‘mood Music’ for the Chappell Recorded Music Library and arrangements and backings for many leading singers and stars of the day, such as Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, Donald Peers, Norman Wisdom, Ronnie Ronald, Anne Shelton, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. In all, Robert Farnon wrote over forty film scores – ‘Spring in Park Lane’, ‘Maytime in Mayfair’, ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower RN’ and ‘Shalako’ to name but a few. Television themes are also to be found in the Farnon repertoire, with fine examples as ‘Colditz’ and ‘The Secret Army’. In addition to lighter works, he turned to more serious compositions. Included in this genre are ‘Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra’, ‘A la claire fontaine’, ‘Lake of the Woods’ and his Symphony No 3 in F (‘Edinburgh’) which was performed posthumously on 14th May 2005 in The Usher Hall by The National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland under their conductor, Iain Sutherland.
"Following Robert Farnon’s death in April 2005, I was given the very great honour of being invited to speak at his Memorial Service, in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden."
The Edinburgh Light Orchestra continues to go from strength to strength, and to mark its 30th Anniversary, there will be a special Concert in The Queen’s Hall on Saturday 10th November. For further information readers should telephone 0131 334 3140.[This article has been adapted by the Editor from a prominent feature which appeared in the April issue of Southside & Newington Gazette.]
Footnote: James Beyer’s standing in Scottish orchestral circles was confirmed on 18 May when he was invited to conduct the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra at a special Pixar event at the National Museum of Scotland.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2007
Tony Clayden reports on a long overdue tribute to one of the last century’s greatest Light Music Composers
PLAQUE IS UNVEILED IN HONOUR OF HAYDN WOOD
The Lissenden Gardens Estate is situated at the foot of Highgate West Hill, North London and adjoins Parliament Hill Fields, which is an extension of Hampstead Heath. In May, the Lissenden Gardens Community Association held a celebration of "100 Years of Heritage".
The development comprises 25 blocks of mansion flats in the famous "Arts & Crafts" style and, over the years, a number of notable residents (including the family of John Betjeman) have made their homes there. The Association has in the past erected several commemorative plaques. Saturday May 12th saw three more inaugurated, including one for a certain composer by the name of Haydn Wood, who lived there with his wife from around 1908-1918. During this period he wrote his greatest hit – Roses of Picardy to words by Frederick Wetherley.
Earlier in the year, the organisers approached David Ades to take part in the unveiling ceremony; due to distance and family commitments he regretfully had to decline and asked me if I would stand-in, which I was delighted to do, on behalf of both the Robert Farnon Society and the Light Music Society. It was particularly appropriate because I grew up about a mile away in Highgate and attended school just around the corner from the Estate.
It was fortunate that Carys Blackburn, one of Haydn Wood’s great-nieces, was able to be present and after a few words from myself, she pulled the strings to unveil the plaque.
I was able to be of further assistance, firstly in the provision of a microphone system (of course!) and also took part in the Centenary Social and Cultural Event, which was held after luncheon for invited guests in a nearby school hall.
Tributes were paid to the three dedicatees and once again it fell to me to give a talk for about 15 minutes on Haydn Wood. I must acknowledge the help I received in this regard from Marjorie Cullerne, another of Haydn Wood’s great-nieces, who spent a long time during several phone calls from her home in Canada filling me in all sorts of details about the composer and his life.
A highlight of the afternoon was the performance of a couple of Haydn Wood’s best-loved songs by the Lissenden Centenary Singers – a rendition of Brown Bird Singing for solo soprano and piano, followed by Roses of Picardy sung by the ad hoc choir (including myself!) and the audience, which were led by RFS member Robert Habermann, who gallantly stepped in at the last minute due to the indisposition of the original lead singer.
To bring the afternoon to a fitting conclusion, there followed tea and cakes baked from old style recipes. Other RFS members attending included Ann Adams and Andre Leon, also Adam Bakker, the Leader of the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2007.
ROBERT FARNON ON "DESERT ISLAND DISCS" IN CANADA Researched by PAUL CLATWORTHY
We have all done it at some time: you make a list of your favourite tunes then return to it in later years and make alterations.
While Robert Farnon was in Canada in Spring 1983 conducting at the National Arts Centre, lan Alexander was in the Toronto CBC studio talking to Robert in the Ottawa studio about his choice of music and his career. The interview (broadcast on 12 August 1983) started with a short burst of "The Happy Gang".
IAN. Your name is not mentioned in that list but you spent some years working on that show for CBC.
BOB. Yes I was one of the beginners, we started around 1938 I stayed until joining the army in 1941. I was expecting to hear my voice there but didn’t hear it.
IAN. What was the experience like - live radio I guess.
BOB. Absolutely marvellous anything went, we could do absolutely anything we liked and sometimes did. It was just a joy five days a week going down there; it was a shame to take the money.
IAN. I get the feeling that work like that and a lot of the other work that you’ve done - studio work with people like Percy Faith, can we call it "commercial work", hones a musician’s craft.
BOB. Yes that’s quite true. I must confess I enjoyed doing "The Happy Gang" but was set on writing serious music and in those days no one could make a living writing classical music so I joined the Gang and earned my bread and butter. I really enjoyed it of course but in my spare time I wrote more serious music.
IAN. Now back before even the "Happy Gang" I believe you put in a stint with the orchestra I’ve just mentioned, Percy Faith, I remember back in the sixties I was working as music director of an "Easy Listening" station on the West coast and the Canadian content regulations had just come in. We did try for a while to justify Percy Faith’s music as Canadian but really he did leave this country in mid-career didn’t he?
BOB. He did, as a matter of fact I played with Percy on trumpet at the same period I was working with "The Happy Gang"; it all happened around the same period.
IAN. A hectic sort of schedule then.
BOB. Oh but great fun!
IAN. Now we are calling this a kind of "Desert Island Discs" with Robert Farnon; Bob has indicated some of the music he likes to listen to and he would like to share with our national radio audience this evening. Bob I am interested in your first choice because it’s one that I enjoy very much, a classic piece of music.
BOB. It most certainly is lan and there’s a little story attached to that, I was introduced to the song by Canadian soprano named Doreen Hume who became very famous in Britain and we worked together many times over there. Before she returned to Canada she presented me with this recording by Madeline Gray of "Bailero" from "Songs of the Auvergne"; this is my favourite tune and the most familiar.
IAN. Let’s listen now to "Bailero" by Joseph Cantaloube.
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IAN. The passage of time has not sullied the beauty of that performance, a recording made more than half a Century ago as you can hear from the surface noise in 1930. Bob you worked with a number of singers over the years and one in particular Tony Bennett.
BOB. Yes I have done a lot with Tony - radio, television and a few concerts; he’s an absolute delight to work with, beautiful chap!
IAN. He’s strikes me as a musicians’ musician impeccable in terms of everything being in its place, everything happening just right.
BOB. Yes that’s exactly what happens. He is wonderful in that way when rehearsing a new arrangement he listens to it and doesn’t interrupt in the wrong places. He sings the song and appreciates the arrangement, especially if it’s a good one, Sinatra is exactly the same.
IAN. You have not only conducted for these gentlemen you have also recorded with them and other singers, Cleo Laine for example.
BOB. Yes I have done albums with Sinatra, Lena Home, Sarah Vaughan and Tony, They have asked me to provide the arrangements.
IAN. We have an album here which was not on your list but I have put it on mine, I thought it would be fun to sample, It’s an album made in concert on the 100th anniversary of the Royal Albert Hall. Tony Bennett the featured vocalist, a picture on the back with you conducting a large symphonic orchestra.
BOB. Yes I remember that.
IAN. Quite an occasion that must have been, What was the year?
BOB. In the early seventies I think.
IAN. Just looking at the sleeve - 1971 in fact.
BOB. That’s right.
IAN. A decade ago, there’s a poster here, sold out of course I thought we might sample it, was there a favourite?
BOB. I wondered what you have chosen?
IAN. I like "Get Happy".
BOB. Yes super.
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IAN. The London Philharmonic Orchestra really swinging to the tasty baton of Robert Farnon. That really does swing and jump. Was it hard to make a symphony orchestra sound like a show band?
BOB. Normally it is but Tony adds that little extra magic; he’s the one who made it swing, one way or another.
IAN. Now your career took a turn to England during the war years, in fact it was the war that took you to England first.
BOB. Yes I went over with the Canadian Army in 1944.
IAN. You worked with the BBC as well as concerts.
BOB. Yes but mostly broadcasting. There were three AEF orchestras, Glenn Miller with the American band, George Melachrino with the British and myself with the Canadian. We shared concerts for the troops throughout the country and eventually on the Continent.
IAN. Bringing things up to date I know that in more recent times the BBC has found it uneconomical to have as many orchestras on the payroll as it has in the past, a situation that probably did not make you too happy.
BOB. Unfortunately they disbanded five or six orchestras just a couple of years ago. Fortunately for me light music is very popular on the Continent in Holland, Belgium, France, Scandinavia and that has replaced the loss of performances in Britain for me and other light music composers.
IAN. Of course listeners across the country will know we are happy that Robert Farnon is back with some regularity to conduct concerts with Canadian orchestras. You are in Ottawa with the N.A.C.O. and as I am a former Vancouverite I know you have been out to Vancouver to conduct the V.S.O. many times.
BOB. That’s right I have.
IAN. One of the Desert Island discs you picked is a recording by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
BOB. Yes I am very fond of Respighi’s music. This is quite a coincidence: coming over to Vancouver last May in-flight music was playing a record of "Pines of Rome". I thought what a beautiful performance that is, I looked up the in-flight magazine and lo and behold it was the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
IAN. Why don’t we listen to part of that performance now, it’s from a CBC recording, I wondered if it would be appropriate to play the showiest part.
BOB. Yes delightful.
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IAN The fourth and last section. Bob talking about great orchestras, you are very kind and generous about Canadian orchestras but certainly one of the lushest sounds of North American orchestras has to be that created by The Philadelphia Orchestra, honed over many years under Eugene Ormandy.
BOB, That’s quite true lan, I had the experience of providing a piece of music for them just before the beginning of the war, I had written my first Symphony and it had been played by The Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It was recommended to Eugene, he performed it in 1941.
IAN. I wonder that would not have been the complete programme, you were keeping some very good company.
BOB. Very good: one was Debussy a very good composer and I was very proud of my work; his "Afternoon of a Faun" was much better, which I would like to chose as my next selection.
IAN. A tender age to write a symphony.
BOB. It took me three years but I was so busy trying to make money to devote all my time to it. I finished it when I was about twenty two.
IAN. In terms of your musical taste you enjoy light music as well as what we call serious music.
BOB. Yes with the stress on romance, I am a romantic old trout.
IAN. That’s the thread that combines the two. We are also talking about the people you have worked with over the years. We heard from Tony Bennett, working with Frank Sinatra and many others and someone I think you got to know quite well, George Shearing - a great pianist.
BOB. Yes we first met when he was still in Britain working with Stephane Grappelli in a club in London.
IAN. Someone who went the opposite way to you across the Atlantic!
BOB. He went west and I went east to Britain. We did not meet again until two years ago when we made a recording with his trio and a large orchestra. My favourite is "A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square".
IAN. A wonderful tune; let’s hear it now. It comes from an album called "On Target".
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IAN. I am very interested in your next choice from the original cast recording of "Carousel"; how did it manage to slip in here?
BOB. Well I am a romantic and also a family man and they go together. The "Soliloquy" from "Carousel" is such a beautiful tale, first the girl and then the boy, very close to my heart, I have a tear or two each time I hear it.
IAN. John Raitt performing, one of the things one always thinks of with Rodgers and Hammerstein especially with the show that preceded "Oklahoma"; they created a seamless interwoven kind of musical theatre.
BOB. Yes they most certainly, my goodness all of their music is so delightful, I have arranged an awful lot of it.
IAN. When you talk about music for the Broadway stage the role of the arranger is a crucial one, maybe we could talk about that. A score comes from a team such as Rodgers and Hammerstein - it’s really the arranger who lifts it off the page and makes it work in the theatre.
BOB. In most cases I think the arranger was Robert Russell Bennett who did a wonderful job of scoring for them.
IAN. What kinds of things are involved, what kind of challenges, for the arranger in this kind of music.
BOB. The worst thing Ian is we are the last ones to get at it. They have made all the changes then they throw it at us and say arrange it. We go ahead and sure enough at rehearsals one of the singers finds parts are a little too high for her. We go back to the drawing board, not a very pleasant task but usually rewarding in the end.
IAN. You arranged a symphonic version of "Porgy and Bess" at one point in your career.
BOB. Yes that was a recording with The London Philharmonic Orchestra.
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IAN. We want to move back to the more serious side of the repertoire for our next music and I am interested in your choice here. We are going to hear "Nimrod" from "The Enigma Variations" by Sir Edward Elgar. I am interested in the performance you have chosen, the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn. A couple of things strike me about this: one is that with Previn we have someone who very much straddles the "Pop" as well as the "Classical" world. I have also found a quote from Previn talking about you. He says you are the greatest string writer in the world.
BOB. Well that was an overstatement, very kind of him to say but that’s not the reason why I chose the record.
IAN. Interesting to hear Previn because his career has really gone into serious music but that’s not how he began.
BOB. No it is not; he has done an awful lot for both Light music and Classical in Britain. Changed the scene entirely in many ways, brought visual to shows on television and presented them so beautifully making it very interesting to look at an orchestra, even though there were a few bald heads in view. Beautiful to watch the way he managed it.
IAN. Why "Nimrod"?
BOB. I think it has a tune all of its own. After he wrote it he said "Have I got a tune?" Indeed he had.
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IAN. We are coming to a pair of twentieth century composers who I believe have had an influence on your own musical career.
BOB. Very much indeed, you are referring to Stravinsky and Bartok.
IAN. Let’s start with Bartok, a personal connection there as well as a musical one.
BOB. Well not truly a personal one but I had the opportunity of meeting him in New York very shortly before he died. He was doing a concert in the McDowell Hall in New York with his wife and one or two instrumentalists. During the interval I went back stage and met my idol. I must say I found his music very positive since first hearing it. He walked up to the stage - it was like God walking I was so impressed by him.
IAN. In what way was he an influence… how important to your own compositional style?
BOB. Not composition wise, I suppose it was in his colour variation and his daring from time to time. Although I went in other directions when writing daring music, he gave me the courage to experiment.
IAN. You have chosen "Divertimento for strings". Let’s hear it now from a 1970 recording, Neville Marriner conducting The Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
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IAN. I guess it must be wonderful to be in London and hear all those fine orchestras.
BOB. A pleasure and a joy. From time to time we have the pleasure of working with them as session players, they love to come and do a recording with a singer or an instrumentalist.
IAN. Interesting because did not The Academy first sort of grow up with people who had other principal jobs. Now The Academy has become their main occupying work.
BOB. As you say they are now fully employed.
IAN. Now Stravinsky.
BOB. Ever since the age of twelve I have loved his music especially his Ballet music. In fact he once inspired me to write a ballet. It was not very good. I put it under the piano.
IAN. Don’t slide over it that way - tell us more!
BOB. It was not completely lost; I used lots of themes from it in later works when I took up writing "Light" music. One of the pieces I called "Jumping Bean". That will give you some idea of its content.
IAN. I hope your biographer is listening and will use that information.
IAN. The score still exists.
BOB. It does.
IAN. Back to Stravinsky.
BOB. It concerns a broadcast he did on the BBC. He could not let the conductor alone, keen that it would be right he would appear on his hands and knees pointing out parts of the score… "No not that way, this way", glasses perched on his forehead, it was a lovely scene. After the session I was introduced to him.
IAN. What age was he then?
IAN. Still very active
BOB. Oh yes I saw him nearly ten years later conducting at The Royal Festival Hall.
IAN, Now for his "Firebird" - Stravinsky conducting The Columbia Symphony Orchestra.
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IAN. Going over this list your modesty has omitted a single piece of your own for us to play.
BOB. I do not enjoy listening to my music that much.
IAN. Can I impose on you and play a little anyway.
BOB. Oh yes of course.
IAN. You are a trumpet player yourself.
BOB. Yes, but I started on violin when very young, at the age of fifteen I switched to percussion. I joined my brother’s college orchestra, they were very short of brass so I decided to take up trumpet. It remained with me until I gave it up.
IAN. A kind of pragmatic choice then?
IAN. You say you did not like playing violin but you do enjoy writing for it.
BOB. I love the sound but found it too difficult to play.
IAN. I mentioned the trumpet because I want to play a piece of your own titled "Scherzando for Trumpet and Orchestra" played by the CBC Winnipeg Orchestra conducted by Eric Wilde. The soloist is Raymond Parcells.
BOB. I have not heard this performance. It was originally written for the trumpet player in The Chapel Royal Orchestra in Copenhagen, commissioned in 1953. He did not record it, just played it from time to time with various orchestras. Then it was taken up by Mel Broiles, first trumpet of the Metropolitan Orchestra who did record it.
IAN. Let’s hear it now.
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IAN. You had not heard that before.
BOB. No but a very good version.
IAN. You show no mercy on the soloist.
BOB. I believe some ended up with lips bleeding!
IAN. I wonder if you have done much work on a specific player… does it help to know who you are writing for?
BOB. Yes it does help a lot. I wrote a piece for trumpet player Mel Broiles who plays for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. I recently wrote a Concerto for him that he has played several times. It is in three movements that again is a tour de force, he said "Why do you do this to me, a fellow trumpet player?"
IAN. He thought you should have more sympathy.
BOB. He is such a fantastic player he had no trouble with it at all.
IAN. I know someone else you have written for is Harmonica virtuoso Tommy Reilly who, like yourself, is originally from Canada but now lives in England. Do you see much of him.
BOB. Yes we work quite a lot together, a lot of broadcasts on the Continent, television in Britain, and we made a recording of "Prelude and Dance" which I wrote for him many years ago.
IAN. I want to hear that because I believe while in a concentration camp he honed his skill as a harmonica player?
BOB. I think it was because he was originally a violin player. He said there were so many good violinists around he decided to take up harmonica instead, in 1935 or 36. He is now the world’s number one in the opinion of a lot of other people besides myself, a fine player.
I AN. He has made the harmonica a legitimate concert instrument.
BOB. I am sure he has; he is greatly respected and has had so many good composers write for him - Jacobs, Malcolm Arnold and others.
IAN. And yourself of course.
BOB. May I tell you a little fun joke regarding that. He was after me for years to write something as he is with other composers, providing he does not have to pay us. He was in Australia when I sent him a first draft, and when he got back to England he rang me and said the only difficult part is the last section, I will play a little over the phone. I said that’s absolutely perfect, but it goes twice as fast as that. He hung up.
IAN. Did you change it?
BOB. No I didn’t.
IAN. We will now hear that music, two men intimately involved in its construction.
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IAN. Next you have chosen the last part of Joseph Poulenc’s Concerto in "G" for organ and orchestra.
BOB. That choice came about because my son David studied organ about ten years ago coming to me with all sorts of material asking for my criticism. He brought the record to me and we both agreed that the last part was the most beautiful writing for the organ that we had ever heard. I said I would like that played at my funeral although I would not be able to hear it.
IAN. The soloist E. Power Biggs, the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Let’s hope that will not happen for very many years.
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BOB. Thank you Ian - you are going to end with that are you?
IAN. Certainly not - in fact I want to throw a few names at you because you have met with so interesting musicians in your long and distinguished career; perhaps if I mention a few of them you can say what they bring to mind.
IAN. Sarah Vaughan.
BOB. She was a joy to work with. On first hearing I did not like her voice, her vibrato was too wide, she shouted, very peculiar sound. When working with her rather than listening to recordings I fell in love with her singing. We did a record in Copenhagen that was an experience for both of us; she sang with a young Danish choir who sang better in English than most choirs in Britain, absolutely super. Sarah was a "doll" to work with - I have worked with her since on radio and television, we are great friends now, we smoke the same brand of cigarettes.
IAN. We won’t mention the brand, this is non-commercial radio. Now another great lady of popular song who has been back in the limelight lately due to her one woman show, did you catch it?
BOB. Lena Horne - no I did not, but I have the recording.
IAN. The great stories she told coupled with her sheer energy, well over two hours carrying the whole ball along.
BOB. Remarkable I saw a sort of junior version in person. Not just music, she talked about everything, a "sweety" to work with too.
IAN. Finally let’s talk about two other orchestra leaders, arrangers and people who you have associated with. One name springs to mind, Henry Mancini.
BOB. Oh yes, I have met him once or twice, I am a great admirer of his music; there’s a chap who knows how to write a tune, my goodness, I hate him.
IAN. Like yourself he has written much for the screen, big and small. We were talking earlier about the challenge as an arranger for Broadway I suppose there are many problems when you have to synchronise your score to the action.
BOB. It’s just a craft that you learn, not that difficult really. In musicals it’s even simpler because we record all the music before the film is shot. Sometimes we are the last to get at it - Henry would tell you they want everything yesterday - you have thirty or forty minutes of music to write, which can be a bit of a bind although enjoyable. It’s up on the screen not just a one-off and will last if it’s a good score.
IAN. You don’t feel compromised musically.
BOB. Not at all; when doing a dramatic film it can inspire you because you have a chance to see the product before writing. That’s a joy to have the inspiration.
IAN. Remind us of some of the scores you have written.
BOB. "Captain Horatio Hornblower" comes to mind, one of the swashbuckling sea stories I did. A case in point because they brought certain sections to have a look at so I could go home filled with ideas of what to write, so not difficult at all. I did the last Hope & Crosby film "The Road to Hong Kong" - I killed the series, but it was fun to do! I did "Gentlemen Marry Brunettes" where I sang in place of Scott Brady who did not have a voice; no one else was available so I was drafted in. They did not pay me.
IAN. Was that the start of a whole new career or a one-off?
BOB. No I sounded no better than in "Happy Gang".
IAN. One more classical choice: you talk about good tunes and enjoy the virtuoso show piece - this is Ravel’s "Daphnis and Chloe".
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IAN. It’s been great fun talking with you. Wonderful stories and anecdotes - a wonderful career and by no means over; what are working on at the moment?
BOB. I am writing a piece for The Canadian Brass, pushing the pencil as hard as I can. I wrote something about five years ago played here in Ottawa with a full orchestra but they wanted something for just the quintet.
IAN. Will this reflect the light hearted music you sometimes write?
BOB. No this is a serious piece.
IAN. When can we hear it.?
BOB. I have not finished writing. They are very kind… "whenever you can get around to it", not a good thing to tell a composer.
IAN. We look forward to hearing it, in the mean time my sincere thanks. I wish it had been face to face. We are glad you are back in Canada and hope to see much of you in the near future.
BOB. Thank you it has been an absolute pleasure.
Footnote from Paul Clatworthy : When this project was first mooted I had it in my mind that Farnon had earlier been featured on "Desert Island Discs" whilst living in England and it would be interesting comparing the selection. With the help of Vernon Anderson I received a list: "Soliloquy" John Raitt; "The Kid from Red Bank" (Hefti) Count Basie’s orchestra; "Music for strings Percussion and Celesta" (Bartok) The LPO; "Daphnis and Chloe suite No 2" (Ravel) French National Radio Orchestra; "My Man’s gone now" (Gershwin) sung by Anne Brown; "Iberia" (Images no 2) (Debussy) Paris Conservatoire Orchestra; "Thank heaven for little girls" (Lerner and Loewe) Andre Previn and pals; "Nimrod" (from Enigma variations) (Elgar) LPO. Bob made this selection on the first of June 1959.