Roger Quintana as the golfing virgin Fidel Castro in rehearsal

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Tastes Change

Thurday 8th September
The Proms has been waiting for an evening like this. The audience was so awestruck by the beauty of the Philadelphia Orchestra's sound that they quite forgot their coughing. A spellbound silence attended Janine Jensen's rendition of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Meanwhile the Prommers had raised a total of £77,000 during the summer as they proudly announced at the interval tonight. That's more than £1000 a concert and there are still two to go. What a shame then to have to spend so much of it on the Musicians' Benevolent Fund commission from composer Peter Maxwell Davies at the Last Night of the Proms. He hasn't waived his fee, although he has said he will donate the royalties from subsequent performances to charity which is less  generous than it sounds as second performances of Sir Peter's works are quite rare. When I rang the Musicians' Benevolent Fund during the summer to find out whether they were paying for the commission, there was no one there to answer the phone as they'd all gone off to Glastonbury on your donations, folks. So much for helping impoverished musicians. There's a scandal waiting to happen in the charity world.

Monday 5th September
The recording of the national anthem as played for the long-distance runner Mo Farah in Korea yesterday (and for the Welsh hurdler Dai Greene on Thursday) is rather slow and stately and quite different from the way it was originally played in the eighteenth century,  according to Richard Burnett at Finchcocks, the Musical Museum in Kent. He has a barrel organ there which plays Arne's famous tune at a jolly one-in-a-bar speed when the handle is turned at the correct rate. I have now transcribed the interview I did with him and his colleagues and look forward to writing it as soon as I have finished reading and then reviewing Peter Fiennes' biography of his grandfather, a Church of England chaplain who lost his faith in the First World War. He mentions the hymns at his grandfather's wedding in 1914.  Two are familiar, but one I've never heard of - O perfect love, all human thought transcending. I look it up and discover it's No320 in the Marriage section of the English hymnal, predictably. It even has alternativer tunes, but I'm sure I've never sung it. Tastes change. I offered this idea to the Tablet magazine, as a celebratory feature for the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of Songs of Praise, but they didn't buy it. Apparently the Pope prefers Catholics to sing plainsong hymns these days. 

Sunday 4th September
I have been thinking about the Mendelssohn Tree at the Barbican on the high level walkway above Barbican tube station. It comes from Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, an estate once owned by Mendelssohn's friends Mr and Mrs George Grote with whom he often stayed. The tree has a hollow in it, large enough for a small composer to sit in. Near Burnham Beeches is the town of Taplow whose newly formed youth choir won a Radio 3 singing competition and performed Mendelssohn's Elijah last Sunday. The connection is tenuous and I wonder if the choir members themselves are even aware of it. It's such an obsucre place to have a prize-winning choir.