School orchestras were not responsible for the international banking crisis !

lines_spaces_coverIn February 2013, the Cardiff City Council cut funding to the arts by 100%. Councils all over Britain are cutting arts funding and music tuition and youth orchestra provision was to be severely damaged. The financial difficulties in American intensified. The orchestra in Minnesota had been “locked out” for more than three months

 

 

 

 

Dear Dave,

I get news every day via the Internet of cuts to arts funding. The great benefits of Facebook, such as news of events and renewed contact with old friends bring bad news too and in these difficult times it seems as if there is no end to it. The American orchestras are falling into serious financial problems with great frequency now. Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minnesota, the list lengthens. I wonder if we are witnessing the end of the profession, as we know it. Can we recommend it to our children?

I feel a greater discomfort within, that I am partly responsible for this impending catastrophe or at least guilty in some way. Maybe this is why I find it difficult to answer a child that asks my advice or approval for a career as an instrumentalist, and while common decency compels me to be frank about the fragile condition of it all.

God! This is depressing!

I don’t want to be a politician or a “disgruntled correspondent. Apathy is what ails me if I’m not careful: along with a lot of other people it seems.

But it wasn’t always like this. We did fight like hell for the RPO all those years ago, and it was worth all the press vitriol and all those “end of the month” financial meetings and negative balance sheets.

That’s it of course – It’s always been the same.

The establishment and the press criticized us for performing with “Deep Purple” and Frank Zappa. One paper called our concerts “humiliating” at one stage.

 

Playing music, or doing anything for small amounts of money is often considered demeaning nowadays, while the receipt of enormous fees for concerts is some sort of qualification of excellence for the conductors that have kept us close to bankruptcy for decades.

We did far more humiliating things in fact which were done as “media” damage limitation, such as an invitation that was made to the critic of the “Gramophone” magazine to accompany us on an American tour, which was to be for him, an all expenses paid holiday, touring California and the west coast of America and staying at the best hotels.

In return of course, we did expect favorable reviews to be sent home that would perhaps influence public opinion and help in some way to stabilize our perilous domestic position with the Arts council. The man in question had no real experience or understanding of music, beyond the academic. He was much more interested in his own self-aggrandisement, and reserved his professional obsequiousness for the maestro and the great and good of California. He hardly ever spoke to the players nor took any interest in their lives or their perpetual problems and it soon became obvious to us that we could gain nothing whatever from his presence on the tour beyond an increase in our financial deficit.

 

At the halfway point of the tour, or thereabouts, he became very obviously bored with the concerts, which were by and large repeat performances in different towns and cities, which is of course the normal and necessary practice of touring orchestras.

Anyway the result was that he stopped attending performances altogether outside the major cities, and one night he was standing in the wings of a theatre in Sacramento as we came off the stage, and I heard him make a derisory remark, to those within earshot, about the evening’s performance, which he could only have heard in part and from the wings of the stage at which point, my friend Pat O’Brian lifted him off his feet by the lapels of his jacket and informed him, through clenched, teeth that “like it or not,” our shoddy performances were paying for his California holiday and after a derisory reference to the “Gramophone” magazine and its unsuitability for certain lavatory usage, he let him go.

 

The act summed up the communal contempt that had grown for this unwelcome guest among the players since our departure from London, and Pat’s reprimand from the board of directors was delivered later in the bar of the hotel, accompanied by gentle cocktail piano music and stifled laughter, with a mutual realization that we had all (even the unfortunate critic, who was still trembling and drinking by himself in a dark corner of the room) made a serious mistake with this experiment. It was suggested that Pat apologized to him as a vain attempt to salvage something from it all. A grudging apology was given, and after receiving an equally reticent acceptance, we paid up resolutely for all his bills and expenses, increasing our deficit accordingly!

Yes! It has always been the same.

Young people entering the profession have no idea that they are at the beginning of a lifelong battle. I certainly didn’t. It’s as well for me that I didn’t mind a good fight, I always maintained a good sense of humour, and deep down, I felt that the joy of it all was worth much more than the problems it presented, but I was fortunate to have grown up in better times!

 

I can’t come to the protest day in Cardiff, but I have written to the relevant councillors etc. I’m certain that public opinion will prevail in all this. Wales has always shown the way in musical education.

 

Shortly before British forces invaded Iraq, I saw a man interviewed in the street by the BBC in Baghdad. The man was going to the mosque with his two sons.

 

Asked why he didn’t want the Americans in his country, he said,

“I don’t want my children to grow up with hamburgers and drugs!”

 

I don’t want my grandchildren to grow up in a country where musical education is only for the privileged and better off.

 

Our children are everything. They are the future. There is no future without them and they are our responsibility!

We have burdened them with the debt of disgraceful and illegal wars. We poison their food and then we blame them for the disorder in society. We refuse to pay for their education and berate them for their ignorance and naivety. We complain when they take no interest in politics while the politicians entrusted with their future and security are prosecuted for dishonesty and duplicity.

 

Maybe this acrimony and unrest is all for the best in some mysterious way, but we can’t accept this. Something must be done.

I’ll write to you soon about more pleasant matters

Yours ever

Terry

CONAN DOYLE – “THE SIGN OF THE FOUR”

In October 2012, The Conan Doyle Institute in Edinburgh presented a concert to celebrate its first Anniversary. It was given by the Alastair Savage string quartet who were playing on instruments crafted from a tree that grew in the garden of Conan Doyle’s family house in Edinburgh. The programme included a piece that I wrote especially for the occasion, based on the novel, “The Sign of the Four.”

 

 

 

Dear Pat,

I write to you, while imagining that Dublin courtyard, filled with the aroma of cedarwood, warm walnut oil, and the sound of violins, and to tell you that, at last I can claim a violin experience of my own!

I composed my first string quartet for Alastair Savage’s group at the request of the Conan Doyle Centre in Edinburgh for their first anniversary. When I hear people perform my music like this, it always brings such a rich mixture of feelings. I feel a great and unfamiliar humility when players take such pains to achieve a genuine reproduction, which is strange terminology but may be as near the truth as it is possible to get with regard to written music.

The two violins, viola and cello that Alastair and the quartet played on Tuesday were made here in Edinburgh by Steve Burnett, from an old sycamore that stood in the garden of Conan Doyle’s childhood home on the outskirts of the city.

Searching through the Sherlock Holmes stories I thought the “ Sign of the Four” would be an appropriate one for a quartet and I set to work. Finally, the piece arranged itself into a reading of a synopsis of the story with incidental music.

I read from the book, as the audience enjoyed the brilliant playing and the atmospheric language of Conan Doyle, on a dark, late autumn evening in an elegant Georgian drawing room overlooking the cathedral grounds.

Thirty-five people make a perfect audience for Chamber music, and Steve’s  instruments, having lain asleep in the workshop for more than a year, filled the room with their song: a glorious gratitude to their craftsman and the quartet, and for the joy of having an audience. Afterwards I felt a warm satisfaction inside, redolent of my early days performing. No critics were there, no conductor or agent. No fee or potential recording contract. Only applause and smiling faces.

“As it was in the beginning”

After the concert, as I walked to the car, a fox loped across the broad elegant expanse of Melville Street with a grace and urbanity that matched her surroundings, as if she had been born in the city. I stood watching her, surveying the silent Georgian streetscape, and felt suddenly harassed by a memory of the summer from that very spot, when an open topped car, growling impatiently in the festival traffic spewed out noxious petrol fumes and the voltage and vitriol of electric guitars, carrying the insult of their “sound” around the city, like a violent mental patient on day-release.

“These planks of wood impaled with their diabolical devices and variations of torture and torment, contemn patience, dedication, craftsmanship and fineness of feeling, and glorify vulgarity, deadly voltage and sexual distortion. The hellish sound of this ‘instrument’ disturbs the Almighty Himself, and the evidence of His discomfort surrounds us!”

That is what you wrote in your letter to me after one of your reluctant Dublin rock and roll ‘experiences’, and I agree entirely, though I could never summon such faith or effective language to use as a vehicle for my own feelings.

The concert and the relief and sanity that it brought, having rearranged and restored my molecules, follicles and corpuscles to “factory settings”, I sat down to write this morning, reflecting on our forty years of friendship, our many exchanges about music, and of you, across the sea in Dublin among melomanic Irishmen and  centuries of craftsmanship.

“The flames of hell give forth no light” it has been said! Nor does an electric shock generate music any more than it gave relief from their torments to the mental patients of old.

To call this painful noise  “music”, and the as the media now does, is an obfuscation that will be penetrated in time.

I fear that in our urban lives, we are being steered by increasingly excessive and almost inescapable noise towards some sort of collective neurological malfunction, the early stages of which is at present masquerading as euphoria.

Did Mary Shelley herself not describe her chimera as “handsome” and ‘beautiful” and did not the creators of the gleaming war machine swell with pride in 1914.

Please forgive my self-indulgence. I seem to have found a little revolutionary spirit under some old delusions and complacency. Only thoughts of you and old Ireland bring me comfort and peace.

After Christmas we’ll come visiting and shopping and we shall buy some Donegal tweed, against the winter blast, and Waterford crystal, to bring gentle music to the dinner table.

When midnight mass is over and the children are asleep there will be silence in Melville street so we can listen to the trees grow and the fox’s velvet footfall.

Yours Ever

Drac

THE ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF THE BRITISH HORN SOCIETY 2012

In November 2012, I was invited to the annual festival of the British Horn Society that took place, this year at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. Now that I have a claim to being an elder statesman of the horn fraternity, I was asked to take part in an interview with Tony Catterick, the Society’s historian and archivist, in front of an audience of mostly younger players.

 

Dear Roger,

I awoke on this lovely morning, enjoying an unusual calm and composure that allowed me to lie for a while in the warm bed, and to summon gratitude for not being in a hotel or guesthouse with the breakfast prospect of budget sausages and instant coffee. These memories come less frequently to me now, and are not nearly as troubling, as they used to be. Though it has taken a long time, for the spectre of the eternal solo to leave me in peace.

We have all trudged the streets of an unfamiliar town, aware and weary of this ominous presence, like some distant relative you had come across unexpectedly and were not too sure about. Frightened to take him anywhere lest he embarrass you, but anxious to keep him entertained in case he were to spoil the party in the evening. He doesn’t follow me any more. I’m almost sorry for that. I feel as if we would perhaps be on better terms now. I feel a certain pity for him too, when I think of his habitual loitering at stage doors or lurking in a hotel lobby as you arrive after a long journey, but I feel at the same time, a huge gratitude that his dubious attentions have been directed elsewhere.

My old friend Pat Vermont, a West Indian violist, who enriched the lives of all who knew him, and was blessed with a glorious, glamorous, androgyny, would often entertain the LSO on its world travels with his pre-concert monologues, referring theatrically to our labours and peregrinations as — “all this”.

“When ‘all this’ is over”, he would declare to the little band-room theatre,”I’m going back to Jamaica to live with my auntie!”

 

It is ‘all over’ for me now, that is to say my days of playing the horn for money and touring are behind me, and the chicanery of management, mendacity of critics and the shameless public and pecuniary auto- eroticism of conductors are all but distant memories.

Tony’s thoughtful interview was a world away from any of those irritations, and was an unique experience, conducted in such a calm and collected way, enabled I suspect, by years of practice, and bolstered by the comforting fact of our more than forty years of friendship

The memories of past events returned with ease, but although of course familiar, they seemed in these circumstances, to assume a mysterious separation from reality.

I thought later, that the interview had resembled one of those “out of body” experiences one reads about, that is to say, it seemed to be completely detached from any worldly feelings of anxiety or sense of time, seen from a neutral place of safety, and bathed in ethereal white light, rather than stumbling over electric cables in a dingy theatre pit.

My only moment of discomfort in an otherwise perfect day, came from the sudden thought that “The Catterick Interview,” is of course reserved only for the few, and it was that unfamiliar and disquieting circumstance that provoked a strong and unfamiliar feeling of seriousness inside me, that seemed quite inappropriate when in the company of a room full of horn players!

When I released my honorary membership of the British Horn Society from its purple ribbon, not in Cardiff where it was ‘conferred,’ but here beside the waters of the Forth, I saw that it made reference to “The world of horn playing”, to which I felt my own contribution had been made the more insignificant and humbling by the profusion and greatness of its distinguished population. Have there been so many unsung heroes in other ‘worlds?’

Where would Beethoven, Strauss, Wagner, Mahler and John Williams have been without the likes of us? Would Siegfried, Robin Hood, Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker have lived so vividly in the human imagination without such noble accompaniment to their exploits? And where would our British orchestral life be today without the real life heroes from our ranks such as Barry Tuckwell, Keith Whitmore, Jim Brown, Nick Busch and John Bimson who chaired the boards, and steered the London orchestras through their never ending difficulties, while peering at times into the abyss of bankruptcy and annihilation, but always leading the cavalry charge on the concert platform against the critics, who at that time almost to a man, supported the Arts Council view that there were too many orchestras in London.

“The world of horn playing” has given a great many gifts to a lot of people and for my own part it has given me a rich and meaningful life that has been endowed with countless good companions and many lifelong friends, the labours and achievements of whom, amplify this honour beyond measure to me.

Thank you all

Yours Ever

Drac

Scientists say that there will be a serious power shortage in the future. Music and power are linked in more ways than one!

At the Edinburgh festival in August 2012, the London Philharmonic’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s ‘The Bells” was cancelled due to a power cut at the Usher Hall. Before the concert, I went to meet my old friend Tony Chidell who was in the orchestra. We had not seen one another for more than twenty years

Dear Tony

Do you know it has been more than twenty years since the Maastricht treaty was signed, Bill Clinton was elected, and we were last together in London? The cancellation of the concert meant very little to me of course, except to say that had the announcement been made sooner we could have spent some more time together.
“Power failure at the Usher Hall”, the Scottish news said last night. It’s difficult to get to the truth through such imprecise language. There is a forest of nebulous, platitudinous, multi-purpose vocabulary that is used by critics, radio presenters and third rate conductors everywhere, to bewilder and amuse their audience and fuel their own self delusion.
Surely there must be some who suffer a nightmarish dread of an era to come, where it will, be required of “experts in the field” to provide some proof that they have some real knowledge of their subject or even some practical experience of it, beyond the operation of a CD player in a radio studio, or dramatic corporeal gesticulation on a rostrum, which activities are at best incidental to the genius of the great composers, and the sounds of the finest orchestral players in the world.
We will never know, unless we turn to the critics, who seem to know everything, and I half expected to see a review of the concert the next day. It certainly would not have been the first time that a review had been published, of a concert that never took place nor is it the first time a concert has been interrupted by darkness.
Years ago the lights went out towards the end of a concert during one of our RPO Welsh tours during the finale of the seventh symphony of Beethoven which was steered calmly to its conclusion by the composure and silver haired experience of the then ostracized and destitute Royal Philharmonic, (though my own youth and meagre ability produced little or no contribution to the proceedings). The conductor was still faintly visible, by moon and street light to those who were interested but he had appeared to have lost his place in the score long before the power cut had intervened to sharpen our concentration.
His consequent histrionic and desperate attempts to simulate control and acuity had been made the more frantic by the sudden darkness, and when the heroic rescue of the symphony was acknowledged at the end with thunderous applause, he very obviously thought it was all for him, and having spotted a little pool of light that had fallen onto the stage from a streetlamp, he jumped into it to take his triumphal bow!
It was a joy to see you again, still laughing and performing in such distinguished Philharmonic company, though that sticky sandwich bar and the malodorous dressing room revived the anxiety and dyspepsia of touring days for me, and I freely admit to feeling a glorious feeling of relief when I took to the street at last and headed for home.

In Wales all those years ago the maestro narrowly escaped the horror of anonymity that they all seem to fear so much, by drawing on the power of people who knew their trade, and I can still remember the look of relief on his face, though for myself, having been restored to sanity by a couple of years of normal, non orchestral life I cannot imagine any greater anonymity for any musician than to appear in an orchestral concert without an instrument!
The real power of music lies in the hands of those who compose or perform it and last night the electrical ineptitude of the Edinburgh city council deprived the maestro of a platform for his conjuring trick, but it is the power of money and the media that perpetuates the maestro’s deception and protects his five figure fee and it is that power that in these times is failing us all who want simply to perform and to afford regular meals.
I’ll be in London in January for a recording, assuming all is well with the National Grid.
Yours ever,
Drac

ALDEBURGH 1969 – THE MALTINGS FIRE !

The Manchester Pullman was a main line luxury train with first class coaches and a steward service. It was withdrawn from service in 1985.

Only hours before the 1969 Aldeburgh festival was due to begin, the old brewery ‘Maltings’ at Snape caught fire and the building was almost completely destroyed, but the scheduled concerts were re-located and went ahead as planned. The morning broadcast concert was my first appearance with the “Barry Tuckwell Quartet”.

My old friend Ben Thomas was a viola player from Morriston in Wales. Ben died in London in 1978.

Manchester Pullman

September 1969

Dear Ben

This train is full of muttering businessmen going north. It’s an odd feeling to be travelling with the general public and all this grumbling reluctance!! I was captured by fog with the RPO at Dublin airport yesterday for five hours. The brass just had a party in the bar!!

You’ll be wondering what happened to me at Aldeburgh!  I arrived at the ‘Plough & Sail’ about a half hour after you’d left and spent some time talking to some English Chamber Orchestra Players, mainly about the fire of course, which by then had been all over the news. It had, they said, almost completely destroyed the Maltings, Ben Britten’s piano and a great deal of music.

The Tuckwell horn quartet was forced to give its morning broadcast recital from the old church at Snape, which despite it being mid summer, was as cold as the grave.

My trembling, which I managed to bring under control in time for the broadcast, was a combination of anxiety, excitement and hypothermia, the journey from London to Snape in Barry’s car having done nothing to help my condition. This was my first experience of his driving, and after a few terrifying encounters with tractors and farm animals, I felt sure it would be my last!

When we arrived finally at the church with fifteen minutes to spare before our ‘live’ broadcast at eleven o’clock, the beleaguered BBC producer who had been working since dawn to set up the equipment for the broadcast, (the fire having destroyed everything at the Maltings), was desperate for a few minutes to check the sound of the horns, so we did what we could and Barry played a few bars of the Beethoven Sonata with the piano.

The end of the concert was an immense relief to all of us, and we were driven to Ben Britten’s house for a reception, where Peter Pears greeted us at the door, along with a very likeable lady, whom I later discovered to have been Imogen Holst, was serving sherry and canapés to everyone. She seemed to be fascinated, which was a surprise to me, by my valleys accent, and I think the sight of me swallowing those absurd canapés three at a time, alarmed her somewhat. So she took me to the kitchen and gave me a proper sandwich with a good slice of strong, salty cheese and a bottle of Guinness to wash it down.

Barry’s promise of “breakfast on the way” had of course never materialized, so even before the concert started, I had been delirious with hunger.

Fortified by my sandwich and beer, I managed to mingle a bit and spoke to Britten for a while.  He seemed fatalistic about the fire, hardly mentioning it at all. He was far more interested in the broadcast, saying how much he’d enjoyed the Tippet, and the sound of the horns in the church. Barry had insisted on a lot of rehearsal, and his own playing of course, is inspirational to everyone, so it was all a great success finally.  Although as we left, I spotted the BBC producer sitting alone in the corner next to a table covered with empty plates and chicken bones, looking as if he’d seen the gates of hell!

When I got to the Plough & Sail, the landlord gave me your note saying you would be at Television Centre on the 25th.  I’ll be there too!  I’m told it’s going to be large orchestra for an hour-long show with Jack Jones, who’s a really great singer so I’m looking forward to that. This is all to be conducted by Harry Betts who’s very able and sociable, having been a trombone player in the Stan Kenton band. So we can all go to the Irish pub at Shepherd’s bush green, for boiled bacon and cabbage and Guinness.

The train is on the move now.   Breakfast is served and the rain has started. I have a few pals in the Hallé to steer me around Manchester after the concert

Good luck

Drac

P.S. No one ever asked me to play with the English Chamber Orchestra.   You must tell me all about it when we meet. The strings always sound superb to me on the broadcasts I’ve heard, and I imagine it must be marvellous to play in those Britten premiers.

LETTER TO BOB JONES 1969

27 Watermill Close

Ham

Richmond

Surrey

18th September 1969

Robert Jones

34 Park Terrace

Aberdare

Glamorgan

Dear Bob

I’m writing to your Aberdare address as you can see.   I was in Paris in the summer and an entirely impromptu visit to the address that I had for you there was unsuccessful.   A shrugging Frenchman weighed down with groceries told me that if you were the person he thought I was enquiring after that you wouldn’t be back in Paris until September.   I could hear the sound of a piano coming from the top of the building but I was certain it wasn’t you playing it because it wasn’t very good at all and it wasn’t jazz either.   I was really disappointed to have missed you, hoping that we could have visited a club or two.   I can tell you that no one in the London Mozart Players has the slightest interest in jazz or would consider going out after midnight and although the music was terrific, at the end of the tour I found myself in various states of depression, delusion, psychosis and eventually despair.   I was greatly relieved to get back to London.

I had no right to feel such hostility towards a whole group of people in this way; my feelings were simply a result of class difference I’m sure, so I told myself that the people from musical families and the “middle class” had no more influence on the circumstances of their birth than did I, and as soon as I got to London I headed for the West End to find somewhere to play.   I’m almost always welcome with a French horn.   It adds something unique to a group and I seem to be the only person in London who wants to play jazz on it.   Before I left for the tour I played with Tubby Hayes and Freddie Logan’s Afro Cuban Big Band at the Marquee Club; and I’ll be doing some BBC “Jazz in Britain” broadcasts with Kenny Wheeler and Graham Collier.   If I thought I could make any kind of living playing jazz I’d do it like a flash.   Jazz musicians are the very best of people and anything and everything in their lives is fuel for humour. I was in the Marquee the other day, with Harry Becket, Joe Harriot, and a few white guys, all laughing and joking about Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech. Bob there was no trace of anything in that room, but the ridiculous. No high horses or resentments. These guys just love one another; music and life are synonymous to them and there seems to be almost no rivalry but a great deal of warmth and companionship.   I’m sure that you will be playing a lot in Paris; the jazz scene there is vigorous isn’t it?   I hope you will write and tell me all about it. [Read More...]

LETTER TO BOB JONES 1984

Bob Jones

Churchill’s Club Cardiff

1st Sept 1984

Dear Bob,

How’s life underground? I have that picture of you behind the bar at Churchill’s in my mind’s eye- and the beguiling sound of the jazz spinning in my brain—that ride cymbal and bass, bumping along like an underground train. I’m sorry; I am a rotten bastard for not having written to you for so long.

Our tour seemed to last six months but it lasted, in fact only six weeks and, despite visits to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, I heard no jazz at all for the whole time we were away—only Mahler, Mozart and Bartok who’s sounds I could not evict from my head in between concerts and countries and who, joined forces, (mostly in the mornings) with unintelligible airport tannoys, muzak, and screaming jet engines to assault my senses, intensifying my homesickness, self pity, gratuitous racism, and xenophobia.

Homecoming was sweet but, there was very little respite before leaving again, and the two or three days I had set aside for writing were tied up in loose ends and repacked before you could say Edinburgh, with the consequence that my music for Burton’s memorial service on the 30th of august was nowhere near finished. So having written some of it on the train journey to Edinburgh, we gave a concert in the Usher hall on the previous night with Rafael Kubelik, after which Maurice Murphy and I took the midnight sleeper back to London, with only the six-hour journey within which to finish the job. Maurice took the top bunk, whilst my manuscript, and I occupied the lower one, and we got on with it.

I had been asked to make a choir and organ arrangement for the Rhos Cwmtawe choir and to compose a solo obbligato trumpet part for the last verse of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, that was to be the final hymn of the service as the actor had himself requested.

The arrangement was finished and the choral and organ parts copied and checked and only the trumpet solo remained to be done. Clattering through the night on the train, the piece began to take shape, and I passed the manuscript to Maurice in the bunk above for approval from time to time. [Read More...]

LETTER TO BARRY BOOTH 1980

Barry Booth                                                                                                                                        Mallinson Road , Clapham

28 April 1980

Dear Barry,

I’ve just played ten concerts in Japan with the L.S.O. and Celbidache and we’re en route for Korea. Thank you for your postcard I knew you would enjoy the Festival hall concert. I’m sorry we couldn’t have got together afterwards.

Rite of spring and Daphnis and Chloe on the same programme makes a hell of a concert doesn’t it? I wonder if it’s ever been done before, and I certainly don’t want to do it again for a while. The rehearsals were devastating, even though Mata is a perfect gentleman and makes everything as comfortable as possible.

Celibidache, by contrast conducts rehearsals in a way that is unique to him I think, taking a half-hour break every half hour and for at least six three hour sessions prior to every concert, which sounds exhausting when you put it like that, but is actually stimulating and exciting.

This entire trip has been exciting, even the travelling, and because the mood amongst the players is relaxed with a feeling of unique achievement that usually eludes an orchestra on tour.

The Korean stewardesses, all in silk sarongs are fussing over the passengers in the cabin, and I can feel the huge latent power of the aeroplane. There’s a Japanese airliner up ahead of us. We’ll take to the runway after him, and be off again to yet another country.

My feelings about performing, how and why we do it, even about music itself have been completely rearranged by these concerts with Celibidache.

In the middle of “Iberia” last night, after taking the platform feeling less than on top form, I felt as if the music had pervaded all my senses at once and dispersed my headache, nausea and homesickness.

I sat with the great man on the outward flight from London for an hour or so, listening as he told me why he would not make studio recordings and why he insisted on so much “preparation” for concerts. The preparation is for us, not for the music, he told me.

Music, properly understood, is a “cosmic event”, he insists and the long preparation is needed to learn to perceive and perform it in a different way, to be free from negative influences and to realise the irrelevance of criticism. He is a fascinating man but at the same time I believe him when he says he is “no one special”. He has humility and humour, and he’s very interested in people; particularly if they are in his orchestra.

“Why do they call you Drac “, he asked me eventually and, and with a little anger in his voice, as if he were concerned in some way for my dignity. I explained the origin of the nickname, how it derived from my student days when I was seldom seen in the hours of daylight, only after dark and dressed in tails. As I entered the realms of vampirology he cut me off abruptly.” Don’t tell me about vampires “, he barked, “I was born in Transylvania!!”

I don’t find him to be in the least bit frightening, though I’m sure others do .The growling, I interpret as a kind of frustration with the mundane business of living in hotels and aeroplanes. He is at perfect ease with the players and the porters– it’s the users and sycophants that he is uncomfortable with and detects instantly. You would get on famously with him I’m sure.

How are the lovely family? How’s Rolf on Saturday? Have you heard anything officially from the B.B.C. about the dispute? I hope the B.B.C. don’t get what they want, it would be disaster for the profession but I’d certainly love to come and play in the band again when things settle down although it might be more difficult for me in future .The L.S.O. want me to join them permanently, and I have all but decided to accept. It’s too good to miss really so far as the music is concerned, my only objection being the large amount of touring on the schedule. I’ve hardly been out of London in the last ten years as you know and the children are still so young. I feel as if I should be at home as much as I can be but Karin understands “show business “ of course and she knows that the future certainly looks bleak for the studios and T.V.

We have two more concerts in Seoul to end the tour. We’ll play Tippet’s Dances from “Midsummer Marriage”. Debussy’s “Iberia”. Mussorgsky_”Pictures from an Exhibition.Kodaly “Dances from Galanta”. Ravel’s Mother Goose and the first symphony of Brahms.

Celibidache has rehearsed and conducted every note of this music, faultlessly and without the use of a score for any of it. The concerts have been momentous and some of the older men say they have not heard the L.S.O. sound like this for many years.

I’ve never seen or heard anything remotely like it and I never expect to again. We have some more concerts with him later in the year .I hope you will be able to come.

I’ll be going to Wales in a few days to visit my father who had his seventieth birthday yesterday. He always watches Rolf on Saturday with his nephew and nieces and often asks after you. He told me that he had never expected to live this long and that he only regrets having worried about anything. There’s a lesson for all of us!!

. We are cruising comfortably now, in the bright morning sky. Glasses are tinkling and the trombones are bellowing with laughter at the back of the cabin. Korea here we come!!

Willie Lang tells me that dog meat is delicious if it’s top quality and cooked with artistry. Non cave canem Arrivederci Fido

Good luck and regards to Rolf and the band.

Drac

LETTER TO THE DETROIT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Waterside

Edinburgh,

Scotland.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Detroit

Michigan.

Dear Friends,

We are nearly in the month of March and near the end of the long Scottish winter. The snow, wind and rain from the Forth estuary, have been growling and moaning outside my window for months. This morning, sunlight filled the room as I opened the door, and the breeze from the sea, gently lifted the curtains and my spirits. I don’t take part in the rough and tumble of orchestral life any more but your predicament is, of course, a familiar one that is becoming more widespread in these troubled times.

When I was a young man, I travelled with a chamber group to give a concert in a village in one of the affluent southern counties of England. Having finished our afternoon rehearsal, we all went into the church hall for a pre-concert meal that was meant to have been organised by the local music club. The trestle tables were bare and the room was empty except for a dramatic scene that was being enacted in the corner, in which the central tragic character was a lady, in cashmere and pearls, and considerable distress, who was being attended to, and consoled by a small group of people. Eventually her sobbing incoherence, and anxiety to communicate the reasons for her distress, culminated in the loud anguished cry, “ But what sort of food do musicians eat!!!”

This hapless lady, sobbing and squeezing her sodden handkerchief in the heart of rural England, had been too frightened and bewildered to perform the relatively simple task of providing food for us, apparently because it would have involved some understanding of the mysterious and unknown dietary requirements of itinerant musicians. Distrust and anonymity have always been our travelling companions in our countless disputes with managers, critics and agents for many years here in Britain.

At one point in the sixties, the Royal Philharmonic orchestra officially did not exist, having been excluded from performing at the Royal Festival Hall and deprived of its Royal status. On the death of Sir Thomas Beecham the RPO’s players were informed that they were not entitled to any benefit from his musical legacy, and that the orchestra should disband. The British Arts Council, the Royal Philharmonic Society, the music critics of the London newspapers, the heads of the major record companies, and the international agents were by and large in agreement with that view.

That was the beginning of a long winter for us, and there were to be many more to come, and I was reminded yesterday of those unhappy times, whilst reading about your current and depressingly familiar travails. Our enemies did retreat eventually, but that did not happen without a protracted struggle accompanied by a torrent of libel, slander and antagonism that was directed at us as a penalty for daring to ask for some degree of control over our own lives.

During one newspaper exchange about players’ salaries, a retired army major from Cirencester was infuriated to discover that orchestral musicians got paid AT ALL! and somehow managed to connect the whole thing with the battle of El Alamein!  But embattled as we were then, that eminent orchestra is now still very much in existence, as you will know, and entertains the public of most countries of the World to this day, having control of its own affairs under the guidance of a board of directors, elected from and by the orchestral players themselves. This is of course, by no means a perfect system, but it offers the players SOME degree of autonomy. How else can music be made?

We are the music makers

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams; -

World losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world forever, it seems.

The doors and windows are wide open to the sea. The sun is shining at last, and the gulls are cheering you all on to your celebration concert.

Very best regards, huge admiration and good luck.

Terry Johns

P.S Every orchestra in Britain has at one time or another in its history been crippled by the excessive fees charged by conductors and management, and they have been threatened, cheated, misrepresented or lied to. Our thoughts are with you all.

LETTER TO PAT O’BRIAN 1974

8 Ash Close

New Malden,

Surrey, 18 Oct 1974

Theo Connelly

Fine Instruments,

Dublin.

Dear Pat,

Just returned with the downcast and destitute RPO from the upholstered opulence of Geneva where I had the duty and privilege of hearing Cecil James’s RPO swansong, which was beautiful bassoon playing of the highest order, that rendered everybody speechless and bewildered. An extraordinary event, considering that he’s been sacked, along with the leader, and two other eminent and brilliant players who I don’t think you know.

The grizzly end of their association with the RPO came at Abbey Road, during the orchestra’s brave attempt to record “Sheherazade”, which was interrupted constantly, and violently by acrimonious board meetings in the recording booth, and the Teutonic tantrums of great maestro Kempe, the most dramatic of which came when Cecil informed the Maestro that he couldn’t “ play the bloody piece “, and neither could his “Uncle Fred”. (Fred James was first bassoon at the Queen’s Hall with Henry Wood I think.) Anyway, the mere mention of “Uncle Fred” was for some reason, enough to send the Maestro into hyperventilation and mandibular paralysis, at which point, everyone, having been ordered out of the studio, went to the pub, including Cecil, who couldn’t “understand what all the fuss was about”. He and the others weren’t sacked until the next day when we all went back and had managed to salvage the recording.

All this mayhem happened because Kempe really detests recording, and the board, having spent months persuading him to do this Sheherazade for the good of the orchestra, are now having to sack their own colleagues, some of the finest players in the country, in order to placate him!!

Everyone’s blaming Uncle Fred of course, with typical RPO humour and resolve. [Read More...]

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