I’ve got a confession to make. Star Wars was the piece of music that first alerted me to the spectacular sound of the London Symphony Orchestra when I was a kid. The fact that I play in that orchestra and played in the soundtrack for the last two films still brings makes me smile.
That’s not my confession.
The orchestra that first stopped me in my tracks when I was a child was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece that got me hooked was the final movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. I know a lot of people love the famous slow movement, but it was those powerful brass melodies from the finale that made we want to listen to more - that and the disco drumbeat of course…
Yep. The first time I heard the ninth symphony (at least before it segued seamlessly into Tchaik 6) was on a Hooked on Classics album. For what it’s worth, my earliest exposure to the foundations of the Baroque flute repertoire was from Hooked on Bach.
I watched Tom Service’s documentary, The Joy of Mozart the night before I flew to Vienna. In it he explored the making of the Mozart myth and the fetishization of the composer; from the little statuettes in the shops in Salzburg which bear no resemblance to contemporary descriptions of the man, to the Mozart Chocolate balls, a weird concoction of marzipan and chocolate. No doubt the Austrian Ambassador spoils his guests with them instead of Ferrero Rocher…
The Mozart ®© that is peddled in the streets of Salzburg and Vienna seems so far removed from the reality of the man (as far as we know) that the actual music and the personality cult industry have become detached. You want to listen to Mozart in Vienna? You’ll be wanting to buy tickets from a man in a cloak, arrive by horse drawn carriage and enjoy it only in the light of flickering candles then…
Sure enough, the second I board my Austrian Airline flight from Heathrow, the loudspeakers are blasting the most unsubtle version of Eine Kleine nachmusik I’ve ever heard. Just as I think it can’t get any worse, The Blue Danube rears its saccharine head and I can’t wait for the roar of the engines to drown out the aural destruction of the music heritage business. I, unlike many, cannot claim to know what Mozart would have made of it all, but a man who could write such extraordinary music encompassing the depth of human emotion would most probably be surprised to see the way his legacy has been airbrushed and sweetened for public consumption in the 21st century.
I’ve lost count of the the number of times I’ve heard a pop song on the radio followed by listeners saying, “Is that it? I could have written that!” The simplicity of the form (that’s why it’s so catchy!) can sometimes make it sound obvious, almost like you’ve heard it before. I heard a story once about Sir Paul McCartney who when he first wrote the famous song, Yesterday, thought the melody so familiar that someone must have already written it. It’s not just music either. Without a doubt, every time I visit the Rothko paintings at the Tate Modern in London, the audience is split. One group will be standing in quite contemplation, staring deep beyond the picture, awaiting the vibrant red canvas to give up its secrets. The other half will walk past and say something along the lines of, “Well...it’s just a red square isn’t it? I mean...I could have done that!”
But they didn’t. Lets be honest, thinking of a great idea immediately after you’ve seen the same idea which had been previously thought up by someone else...well, it’s not a hard won skill is it? The wheel? Well, I coulda thought of that...
This week has been one of those times where a complex idea was deemed to be easy, and something which looked so simple on paper was probably the most challenging moment of my week. If we don’t include concentrating on the music whilst the extraordinary Barbara Hannigan sang and danced a few feet away from me…
Many of you have been asking about lessons, and also about excerpts from the orchestral repertoire. I suddenly seem very popular when a flute job is advertised...
Anyway, I've recorded a video for the good people over at Principal Chairs. It will be online soon where you can hear my thoughts on Daphnis, Mahler 9, l'apres midi and Brahms 1. Until then you can see a preview by clicking here
Audition...One of the most powerful words in the music business. On one side of the table sit the panel, silent, critical, pencils sharpened ready to puncture the fragile bubble of competence and self belief you’ve carefully constructed for yourself. To them, auditions are a testing ground for talent where they are in an all powerful position. For the panel, auditions give them the power to decide the direction your career is going to take with the stroke of their pen. And you? The very mention of an audition gets your palms sweaty, your heart-rate increases like Starbucks have opened an outlet in your chest and any self confidence you had has disappeared down the toilet that you seem inexplicably drawn to…
Read the rest at Musical Orbit
El Sistema this, El Sistema that...there have been times over the last few years when I’ve grown sick and tired of hearing about the music education method famous for producing Gustavo Dudamel from within the ranks of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Every time they appear in Britain, the press go into a frenzy. The jackets! The twirling instruments! The dancing! Of course, celebrating young musicians is wonderful and I’m delighted that it receives coverage in the mainstream media, and for the record, I happen to think that they are brilliant!. I just wish the coverage didn’t often have the subtext of I wish we had stuff like this in Britain. Of course, it’s not just the media, music students can be just as bad. I can guarantee that when regular visiting orchestras come to London, students are fighting to get hold of a ticket, but when they can get a £5 ticket using the excellent Student Pulse App for a London based orchestra, suddenly that essay that had been meaning to get around to writing demands to be written. It seems to be a feature of being British. That self deprecating humour that we’re famous for and foreigners find endearing (so I’m told) often also manifests itself in being unable or unwilling to celebrate our own home grown talent. In short,(look away UKIP) if it’s from overseas, it must be better.
Having briefly moaned about music education and the future lack of practitioners in my last/first blog post, here's some good news. The picture above is of the offstage brass of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain giving it some during rehearsals. I should declare some self interest here - my son is one of them! They are giving concerts in Leeds tomorrow and at the home of the LSO, the Barbican on Sunday night. Back to school for most of them on Monday. I know it's often said that a picture can paint a thousand words. Well, if you want to know what the young upstarts thought of rehearsing with John Wilson, you can read what NYO harpist Hannah Allaway thought about it in her blog
This is my personal blog. All views are my own and are not endorsed by any of the organisations I work for.