Last night I took part in a pair (high demand) of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in which the programme was exclusive of all but a single composer. Danny Elfman’s music has been used consistently by director Tim Burton in his films since the 1980s. Consequently there is a great canon of work from a quarter century of utterly unique filmmaking. The concerts presented excerpts from many of these scores with the London Concert Orchestra and the Maida Vale Singers (with whom I was singing) under the baton of John Mauceri. In addition, a remarkable – and unusually supple! – violinist, Sandy Cameron and the composer himself took to the stage, the latter making a hugely popular and thoroughly entertaining turn ‘as Jack Skellington’.
Last night I performed in the second of the run of shows with which ENO is making a triumphant end to its 2012-13 season. Terry Gilliam’s production of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini has gone down very well with the early audiences and critics alike, with the latter even finding space (in increasingly constricted columns) to mention the work of the chorus, of which I am an extra member.
The director has himself readily identified complexities and problems in bringing his unique vision of this idiosyncratic opera to the stage. In addition, my colleagues in the chorus were working on no fewer than three other productions simultaneously. The aggregated professionalism of all the performers, crew and assorted backstage staff has been of the essence in midwifing this project to its performance run. It has been a tremendous experience, opera in its literal, multifaceted sense. I’m looking forward to the cinema relay of the show on 17th June – not least as re-runs of this will give me the opportunity to see all the bits I simply haven’t had the opportunity to see for myself.
Last night, not for the first time, Philharmonia Voices joined the Philharmonia Orchestra for a performance of a score alongside the film for which it was written. Ivan The Terrible is a classic Eisenstein epic from 1944, commonly shown in two parts and boasting a most Russian sounding original score by Sergei Prokofiev. We gave a re-sized performance with the film projected onto a big screen above us… and by us, I mean Philharmonia Voices padded out with additional singers visiting from a number of good choirs from in and around London, and a Philharmonia Orchestra with extra players (not least in the percussion section, boasting at least 300% more tubular bell than usual!).
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A month ago I took part in a recording session for music to a Christmas advert for the supermarket chain Morrisons as part of the ensemble Heritage Voices. The ad is now published and features the Northumbrian double act Ant & Dec as the ‘guests’ of a singing gingerbread man acheter viagra en pharmacie. Though we didn’t know this crucial element of the ad’s aesthetics prior to recording the vocals, I think we’ve managed a winning soundtrack for this Christmas commerical.
I do some fairly unusual jobs in the course of my work but this project, staging a performance of Frank Zappa’s theatrical concert 200 Motels – the first full performance in the UK since it’s composition in 1971 – has been undeniably unique. Though tricky, the music that we were asked to perform is no more difficult than any other ‘avant garde’ score of the past half century; last year’s production of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht has comparable musical and vocal demands. Perhaps more challenging has been working with such a huge live ensemble, with so many individual voices amplified and the balance controlled at a central mixing desk. Equally, though no stranger to involving ourselves with the drama and show of a performance, it’s not at all often that one is asked to take photographs and wave sex toys on cue.
This performance was given as part of the The Rest Is Noise festival at the RFH. Jurjen Hempel was conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra and Southbank Sinfonia, and I was appearing as part of London Voices. The solo line-up included an assortment of singers, actors, former band members and Zappa’s daughter, Diva. Zappa’s widow Gail advised in rehearsal. The concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 for future broadcast.
In the past month I have been in and out of a handful of studios recording some soundtracks to Hollywood films. Film music is a fun alternative arm to the body of work in which I am usually involved and provides a pleasant sprinkling of glamour in a business which is always much less dazzling than that which one would like to believe! Of the recordings in which I participated James Newton Howard’s score for the The Hunger Games sequel and Mark Mothersbaugh’s for the second Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs will be heard in a fairly short time, I also took part in a session for recording new music by Michael Giacchino for a film yet to be produced.
Just before the weekend, while everyone else was being sucked into the black hole that is the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage, I took part in a concert celebrating the arrangements and compositions of Stanley Black. In this, my second concert as part of BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night Is Music Night, I was appearing with London Voices alongside the BBC Concert Orchestra to perform film and show music. The concert, presented by Ken Bruce, was recorded for broadcast later in the month.
Last month I spent a morning in a recording studio with the choral arm of the already-established Heritage Orchestra providing music for a new advertisement for IKEA. Since its release a couple of weeks ago, the clip has proved popular on social networking sites (if only as a self-promoted meme by the parent company). The advert involves vengeful gnomes resistant to the changes brought in by a couple sprucing up their back garden and features a classically-inclined cover of Motley Crue’s Time For Change.
This wasn’t the first time I’d felt little more than a bit-part player in this large, high-calibre vocal ensemble set back behind the full-strength Philharmonia on superb form. However, on this occasion one had to wrestle with the discovery that our performance of Prokofiev’s film score to Eisenstein’s 1938 Alexander Nevsky was going to have to follow what appears to have been a uniquely brilliant, virtuosic performance of Shostakovich’s first Violin Concerto. Dazed colleagues lucky (or sensible) enough to have watched the first half wandered the corridors between dressing room and stage muttering the name of Frank Peter Zimmerman and wondering what the point of anything subsequent might be.
Still, three days of typically compressed, vertical-rehearsing-curve preparation had its place. The suite (or cantata) Prokofiev distilled from his score to the film is a robust affair, finding all the belligerent tension of Romeo & Juliet before blooming in great melody – as well as providing timbral templates for later, more celebrated film scores (a tuba melody rising out of portentous string chugging in the fifth movement is unmistakably Jaws). The penultimate movement is for a solitary mezzo-soprano, for which serendipity – and an ‘international scheduling difficulty’ for the original artist – gave us Anna Stéphany, a former colleague of many in the chorus. It was a pleasure to hear this fine singer on a visit to London, and not least on the same evening as this year’s Guildhall Gold Medal competition, which she herself won in 2005.
The concert was conducted by Jakub Hrůša, whose considerable ability must not be overlooked in the surfeit of the stuff all over the stage.
Intermittently over the past six months I have been contributing ten-minute slots to a weekly evening show on a local radio station. Uckfield FM‘s 9-11pm Kevin Markwick Show is a mix of the presenter’s passion (indie music) and work (film – Kevin is the manager of the town’s much-loved Picturehouse). Last year we gave a series on the Bond film canon and this year on a series of film composers, including a pair of interviews. The show is broadcast on the local FM frequency and is also available online via www.uckfieldfm.co.uk.
Last night I went into the studio for the first time to do a live show with Kevin, dedicated to film music. I brought a list of a dozen films with notable scores and Kevin did the same. The show will be available as a podcast in due course. Highlights included: discussing Bruce Smeaton’s score to the (1985) film Plenty, a film and lovely music that I didn’t know; a tranche of Jerry Goldsmith extracts, such as Planet Of The Apes, Alien and The Russia House (and my botched attempt to play Goldsmith’s Universal Titles theme on a descant recorder, in tribute to the insert that Kevin has played all series); and getting the studio’s CD player to work to play some of the Giant suite from the London Symphony Orchestra’s Dimitri Tiomkin CD I had brought in. There was also time to listen to Stephen Barton’s score to Kevin’s own 2007 short Lullaby.
Though the catchment of the radio station is very difficult to determine – there has, thusfar, been little take-up on the various methods of interaction and feedback that the station advertises (email, text & social networking), so it’s difficult to assess the size and interest of the audience – the show is well-prepared, informative, energetic and fun. There’s plenty to enjoy for both the regular and casual listener and we are looking forward to the possibility of doing a further series later in the year.