Wednesday, 24 August 2016

When will they learn that apps cannot replace animateurs?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

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From the Blog On An Overgrown Path.....

The recondite MusiCB3 blog about the music collections at Cambridge University has a contribution from Margaret Jones about the the University Library's resources documenting children’s responses to classical music. Unsurprisingly David Munrow features prominently in Margaret's article which includes the photo above of the Pied Piper with his wife Gill and their instrument collection*. Just before reading the article I had listened to the newly released CD Oregon Live in New Orleans, which is a transcription of an NPR broadcast of a gig Oregon played in February 1978. Readers will know of my admiration for the work of both David Munrow, and of the innovative ensemble Oregon and their predecessor Codona. David Munrow died in 1976 and two years later Oregon's visionary multi-percussionist and sitarist Collin Walcott - seen below - was killed in a car crash while the band was on tour in East Germany. Today David Munrow is remembered as a an early music specialist, and Collin Walcott is remembered as a world music/jazz fusion pioneer. But forcing their huge talents into neat little genre boxes belittles their genius, because both led large audiences on to new musical discoveries. Margaret Jones' thoughtful essay on the importance of exposing young people to great music is titled 'In a child's mind'. The young and not so young are waiting to be led. But where are today's Pied Pipers? When will classical music's multitudinous experts learn that apps cannot replace animateurs?

* This photo is new to me and the caption says the following: Photographer unknown, please contact if you have further information. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). No comps used in this post. Also on Facebook and Twitter.

From On An Overgrown Path.....

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Early musician who could have become a great conductor

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Hopefully at least a little of the content from eleven years of On An Overgrown Path transcends the virtual noise that is the staple fare of online music journalism today. For me the most rewarding projects have been the Philippa Schuyler and Master Musician of Jajouka doubleheaders, the profile of Guyanese conductor Rudolph Dunbar, the exploration of contemporary modal music, and interviews with Jonathan Harvey, Jordi Savall, Ali Keeler, and with David Munrow's recording producer Christopher Bishop. Although the latter interview has been available as a sound file it has not to date been transcribed as text. So while tidying up loose ends I have transcribed the interview below. (The photo at the foot of the article was taken during the radio interview and shows me with Christopher Bishop).

Although David Munrow is best known as an early music authority the interview ranges widely. Christopher Bishop mentored both Riccardo Muti and Andre Previn early in their careers, and his view that had David Munrow not died tragically young, he could have become a great conductor is intriguing. Also interesting is the discussion about Munrow's use of improvisation and jazzy rhythms. This chimes with the view expressed by Western classically trained Sufi musician Ali Keeler in my recent interview that improvisation could play an important role in broadening the appeal of Western classical music. Auspicious convergence of cultural paths has always been a feature here, and that convergence is evidenced in the music of the troubadors championed by David Munrow. The troubadors' music, which helped shape the Western classical tradition, was probably influenced by itinerant Sufi musicians from Andalusia, which is where Ali Keeler is based. Another meme On An Overgrown Path has been disdain for musical anniversaries. But I hope that making this interview available will be a worthwhile contribution to the anniversary next year of David Munrow's untimely death in May 1976. Ironically, next year is also the anniversary of the death of American early music pioneer Noah Greenberg, who died too young in January 1966.

Bob Shingleton: In the early 1970s the scores for the BBC TV series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elisabeth R brought David Munrow’s music to millions. His Pied Piper radio programme was broadcast four times a week for five years, he presented a successful TV series, and wrote music for several major feature films including Ken Russell's The Devils - together with Peter Maxwell Davies - and Henry VIII & his Six Wives directed by Waris Hussein. David Munrow's interest in early music started when he taught in Peru before going up to Cambridge. He combined reading English at Pembroke College with independent studies of Renaissance and medieval music, and went on to form his famous Early Music Consort of London. Under his leadership the Early Music Consort became best-selling recording artists, and David Munrow’s records were considered so important that copies of them were sent to Saturn on board two NASA spacecraft in 1976.

Today David Munrow is remembered by the records he made for EMI that started in 1971 with the LP Two Renaissance Dance Bands. He was brought to EMI by their double Grammy winning recording producer Christopher Bishop who produced Munrow's first records for the famous dog and trumpet label. Christopher who also worked with Carlo Maria Giulini, Charles Mackerras, André Previn, Yehudi Menuhin, Riccardo Muti, Sir Adrian Boult and many other great musicians, and I am delighted to welcome him to the Overgrown Path today. Welcome Christopher, and can you start by telling us how you first met David Munrow?

CB: It was rather strange, it wasn't as obvious or direct as you might think. I used to conduct a madrigal group. We'd done lots of different broadcasts of straightforward madrigals, and the producer Basil Lam said to me it would be very interesting to try doing some madrigals with instruments, and I thought oh... He suggested viols and other stringed instruments, and also recorders. And I thought "oh no" - I used to be a school master, and the word recorder has a horrifying significance for me. So I asked "must we?", and Basil Lam said there is this young man called David Munrow who is an incredibly good player - come and hear him. So I went along to a concert he was doing, and, of course, it was fantastic; so I said that would be great. So the first time I met David Munrow was at the BBC recording sessions. We did some madrigals with viols, and some without any instruments, and we got on very welll indeed. He mucked about all the time; - he was great fun - and he also mucked about musically. One of the madrigals we did was 'Hark All Ye Lovely Saints' by Weelkes, where the choir sings the verse and fah lahs at the end - which are really instrumental in a way - were played by David and his group. We let him do that, and in the second verse he really goes to town and decorates it in a way that I am quite sure no singer would ever have done.

That BBC session was a very important occasion both for me and in a way for David, because he asked for a lift afterwards to the station. We were chatting about his programme and I said how much I enjoyed his playing. I think I took him about a mile and a half, and in that very short distance he managed to convince me that it would be a very good idea if EMI, where I was then a producer, made a record of his group, and I agreed. He had another record he had already made - I can't remember if it was released commercially - and I took that record around the company and persuaded people that it would be a good idea to use him. A year later we did actually make the first record; he was tremendous fun to work with, and, surprisingly, the record became extremely popular.

BS: At that time there wasn't a great market for early music; in fact there was hardly a market at all. What convinced you to record what at that time must have been a very minority market?

CB: I think it was just that it was so very jolly and clever, and full of life. You know, it just had it; in a way I suppose we looked at in a way that pop producers do. They don't ask 'is there a market for this?'; they say 'that's good, so we'll do it', and then the market is made. I don't suppose anyone thought there was a market for the Beatles when they first started; they just thought this is a great band and it took off. In a way David was like that: he was his own advertiser he did these broadcasts called Pied Piper that you mentioned, and he also went round performing all the time. He was never not working, and that sort of energy committed itself.

BS: That level of risk taking is something that is really disappearing now from the classical music scene. There is virtually no backing of hunched and those golden days of risk taking have gone presumably.

CB: Yes, that was the late 1960s and early 70s when we did that. It was a very different world indeed, and people don't dare do anything like that now, particularly in the large companies. I think all the adventurousness now tends to be in the smaller companies, but EMI in those days was a very adventurous company indeed. It made the first recording of the Elgar oratorios and that sort of thing, which, of course, have also been recorded by other companies since then. It was a very, very great company.

BS: Did you have a job of selling the concept of David Munrow to the powers that be at EMI? It was EMI UK that recorded him for presumably?

CB: Yes, it was the British company, a man called John Whittle who was a tremendous enthusiast. It was quite easy to make John enthuse; if you enthused to him he would pick it up, as would another chap called Douglas Pudney who worked very hard in the same way. I just played the record to him and he said "wow!" The record I played had on it the first piece we did for the 'Two Renaissance Dance Bands' album. It was called La Mourisque; it's a very noisy piece and I always think of David red faced and puffing away when I hear it

BS: Christopher, in the studio you had been dealing with the conventional symphony orchestra and conventional chamber music and suddenly you were confronted with these extraordinary instruments that David Munrow suddenly introduced. Wasn't this all a bit of a culture shock?

CB: It was indeed; it was such a culture shock that at one stage in the game I said wouldn't it be a good idea if you did a record (in due course it turned out to be two) with samples of all these peculiar instruments - things like nakers for example which are a percussion instrument, and various kinds of string instruments, and regals and crumhorns. I knew what a crumhorn was, but before working with David I had never seen one actually being played. One got quite used to all these things, and I used to say I can't quite hear the second crumhorn, can you just play it a little louder or move the mic and that sort of thing. It became a completely different world and eventually David did do a wonderful box set called Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, which is a very po-faced title. I wanted to call it 'A Young Person's Guide to Old Instruments' but they thought that a little too populist. Nowadays I am sure they would have used that title; but remember, this was a long time ago when we were much more po-faced really. It was terrfific fun working with David, you can tell from the enthusiasm you can hear on his recordings.

BS: What was David Munrow like in the studio? Did you have to restrain him? - I always get the impression of someone running away with all these weird and wild instruments and wanting to do extraordinary things. Did you give him his head in the recording studio, and what was the chemistry like?

CB: No, he wasn't like that at all in the studio. He was full of enthusiasm and so on, but he was so professional - he could never have done all he did if he hadn't been absolutely disciplined. He used to do ridiculous things like staying up all night writing out parts, and he wouldn't really trust anyone else to do his work for him. He did all the copying; think of nowadays what you can do so easily with Sibelius (the music writing software), he used to do all that by hand, there were no mechanical aids at all. Nothing was printed; it was all written out by him and it really was an amazing experience working with him because he was so full of energy. It was terrifying, he used to put the music stands out, he'd appear early and put out all the music and the music stands, and he'd suddenly think he had got them in the wrong place and rush out and move them all again. Then we might ask him if he wouldn't mind moving a seat because, you know, we wanted to get nearer to a certain instrument which might be quiet, and he'd have to go out and reorganise it himself.

BS: Listening to your recordings of the Early Music Consort I am struck by the freshness and spontaneity of it all. They sound almost improvised in fact. Did David Munrow come into the studio with a clear plan for the record? Did you know what he was going to record?

CB: Oh, absolutely. Everything was completely organised - totally. But what you say about improvisation is actually true, because in some pieces he used to decorate. He and John Turner (the second recorder player), they used to fiddle around and decorate in the most delightful way. Whether they rehearsed the basic idea, or whether it was second nature to them I just don't know really, but it was extremely free. Some of the improvisation was very jazzy, I can't really believe some of the improvised rhythms were used in the 16th century. His music was improvised, because if you did two takes the second would be different to the first. Now that posed slight problems for us sometimes if we tried to edit between them, and it wasn't always easy. But as all the pieces were very short, if it went wrong he did it again.

BS: So there was very little editing. We hear so many stories today about very short takes and it all been spliced together - was there very much editing required after those David Munrow sessions?

CB: No there wasn't - very little indeed. Because we really didn't need to: because they were so good and you could redo the whole piece if it only lasted two or three minutes. It's not like a symphony where you have to slice in a chunk.

BS: There is this stereotype of David Munrow as being an early music specialist. But in fact this is not true at all. He was involved in modern music and he was involved in film scores. He was a much broader musician than this early music category wasn't he?

CB: He started with early music and moved on from there. In the same way I suppose that Neville Marriner started with 18th century music and moved on from there, and Raymond Leppard the same. But the fact that he was able to change his interest and his concept was fascinating.

BS: How important were the film scores?

CB: Well, the only one that I had anything to do with was Henry VIII. That consisted almost entirely of old music except for one piece, which is the music for the joust where Henry VIII is sitting there looking jealous; there is sort of tortured music, he is sitting there looking at Anne Boleyn flirting with young courtiers. Then, eventually, that music is used on his deathbed. It is very effective; he says that it is aleatoric, which means it has been done by the throw of the dice. But I don't believe that is true at all: I don't believe he made it up, I believe he wrote it - but it is extremely effective.

BS: That is very interesting. I hadn't heard he claimed it was aleatoric music; obviously there are connections there with John Cage and other contemporary composers like Alvin Curran, whose Inner Cities piano cycle I broadcast on Future Radio recently. It's amazing how all these threads come together; we are not talking here just about early and medieval music, it's much broader than that.

CB: Well I think it would have been. I think it had only just started, I'm not sure how much he would have known about John Cage in those days to be quite fair. But I think he had begun to develop into a different kind of musician from just the recorder player. Because he was so intelligent and had such a lot of energy, and the Pied Piper programmes were amazingly broad - he was quite happy to talk about Mahler and Wagner and so on - he was by no means narrow. Was he frantic to deal with?

BS: Tell us about more about working with him in the recording studio. We get the impression of someone who was incredibly driven: you say he was working all night, he was working across radio and television and cinema, he was recording LPs, and, of course, performing in the concert hall. That was very unusual in the 1970s, he was a true multi-media artist.

CB: Well he was pretty terrifying to deal with, because he got himself into a pretty high-pressured state - I think his blood pressure must have been horrendous. But his face - partly because he played a wind instrument and of course he was puffing all the time - his face was usually a sort of red colour. He was very, very driven, that is a very good word for him. He was totally driven; he spent all his time working at music. I don't know what he did to relax; one never saw him relax; but then I only saw him in the studio and doing concerts

BS: Some of the music David Munrow composed is quite extraordinary. If you played a piece like his music for the jousting scene from Henry VIII that we talked about earlier to someone without telling them who the composer was, I suspect they would never suggest it was by him.

CB: Well you are used to David Munrow the performer, and, of course, he wouldn't have performed that sort of music in his early music concerts. I produced the music for the film and I think the music was composed - by chance or otherwise - for the film and not the BBC programme, although I can't quite recall. I can remember the film appearing on the screen in the recording studio as it does, and you see little bits the wrong way round and think who on earth is that? - it is someone who has come in at the beginning and you hardly see again. It all had to be done in that highly complicated way, but he was completely on the ball about it and knew exactly what he was doing.

BS: We are starting to move away from David Munrow as an early music performer. One of the interesting things is that he worked with such a wide range of musicians. He worked for instance with Sir Adrian Boult - David Munrow and Sir Adrian Boult is not a combination you would expect. How did that come about?

CB: Well it came about through me I suppose. Because Adrian Boult was one of my artists and I thought what a wonderful thing it would be for him and John Turner to do the Brandenburg Concerto recorder parts - because they are really recorder parts and not flute - and I suggested it to Sir Adrian. I think I must have played a record to him and he said 'this is fantastic'. When David and John Turner came into the studio Sir Adrian was wonderful with them; he treated them perfectly normally, as if they were great artists, which of course they were. There was no patronisation at all, and John Turner said he was always terribly amused by the fact that Boult always said to him [imitates Sir Adrian] "Well, we will try that again and I am sure it will be even better", and the result is a wonderful performance.

BS: The classical music scene today is divided very sharply between period and modern instrument performances. It must seem surprising to the younger generation that David Munrow, who in some ways was a pioneer of period instruments, performed Bach with a modern symphony orchestra. Were there any obstacles to that?

CB: No, it is strange now, but I think the thing was Boult was doing a set of Brandenburg Concertos, and therefore we had to have a recorder or flautist for numbers 2 and 4. I think that Boult was amazingly adventurous to accept the idea of doing it. But he immediately said 'that's a wonderful idea'. I think these days it would have been recorded by a tiny 'Bachy' type orchestra with Harnoncourt or someone. In those days symphony orchestras did still play Bach, and jolly well too.

BS: Tragically David Munrow took his own life in May 1976. Presumably this came as a terrible shock to his fiends and colleagues.

CB: It did; but in a way, when you think about it afterwards, he drove himself so terribly that any emotional problem would have had a much greater impact on him than for someone who was on a more even keel. We were all absolutely devastated by it, particularly the peformers he worked with who saw him as a life force, and if a life force dies or kills himself it is simply terrible - it couldn't be worse. I know that it knocked some of them - the countertenor James Bowman for instance - absolutely for six. He couldn't sing for quite a long time afterwards; he was absolutely devastated by it, and i am not surprised.

BS: And the news of his death came totally out of the blue.

CB: Completely, one day I had a phone call from John Willan who had taken over producing his recordings towards the end of his time, and John said: "You will never guess what has happened, the little blighter has killed himself" and I knew exactly who he meant. I said "you mean David" and he said "yes". It was really absolutely frightful.

BS: He was just thirty-three when he died. If that tragedy hadn't happened what do you think he would have gone on to do?

CB: Now that is a very interesting question. I think he would have become a very, very distinguished educator,and also conducting full-size orchestras. It is almost impossible to imagine, but his agent and I agreed always, if about nothing else, about the fact that he had definitely got the potential to be something more even than someone like André Previn. Previn was a great populariser and I think Munrow would have gone slightly deeper than that. I am not sure what repertoire he would have done, certainly opera and things like that, he would have loved anything that could have broadened his musical outlook.

BS: We can only speculate, but as a conductor, do you think he would have had a career across all categories and across all ages of repertoire. Would he have moved out of the early music and baroque category?

CB: Yes, I think he probably would. You think of Daniel Barenboim, but his career followed a fairly straightforward path: he started off as a pianist - a great Beethoven and Mozart pianist - and he then went on to conduct - a not unusual course. But Munrow's world was absolutely different; I don't think I have ever come across anyone like that. Neville Marriner is a sort of parallel, someone who in early music, although obviously he was an orchestral player who played everything when he was at the London Symphony Orchestra; Neville's conducting career began with early music and gradually went into the modern era. I think David Munrow would have become a very great conductor and also a great populariser.

BS: Christopher, we've heard how David Munrow was an extraordinary talent and extraordinary person to work with. How would you like to remember this extraordinary talent? What would be your abiding memory and the piece of music to remember him by?

CB: Well my abiding memory really is, of course, of him in the studio. I can remember him so well coming rushing in to listen to takes, and on one occasion something wasn't very good. I said to him "David that's not really up to standard", and he said [angry voice]: "What do you mean, what do you mean not up to standard. What standard is it not up to, EMI's?" And I said: "No, it isn't actually. It's not up to your standard either". He said "Oh balls!" and went back into the studio and immediately played the whole thing perfectly.To rile him and to get him angry was a pretty sure way of getting him to perform perfectly. He was so proud; he was a very, very proud person oddly enough of his ability and of his standards. The music which makes me remember him most was La Mourisque from 'Two Renaissance Dance bands". I can see his red face puffing away at the crumhorn or recorder - I can't remember which - and that music captures him perfectly.

This article is a transcription of my 2007 Future Radio interview with Christopher Bishop. However, the text has been judiciously edited to enable it to work in a text format; the original audio interview is available at the time of writing on Soundcloud. All text is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2015. Header photo credit DavidMunrow dot org. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Instrument Donations from Hogwood.....and John Willan

Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal (Blog)- Posted on 12.05.2016 RAM

I’ve just read an illuminating blog about David Munrow by Margaret Jones at Cambridge University, where a new display has opened to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Munrow’s untimely death on 15th May 1976.
The Academy’s Library is fortunate to house the David Munrow Archive – a performance-centred archive, primarily of sheet music from performances given by Munrow’s Early Music Consort of London. I remember being part of the ‘purchasing team’ from the Academy when this went to auction in the early 1990s. Jeremy Summerly and I couldn’t believe our eyes – and, actually, Iaan Wilson (one of Munrow’s playing colleagues) was there too, picking out his parts from seminal recordings and shows. The archive also contains scores and arrangements for television and film productions, and some radio scripts. You can browse an online catalogue of the materials in the National Archives. The Academy’s Museum collections also contain percussion instruments used by the Consort, donated by the late Christopher Hogwood, who was an undergraduate with Munrow at Cambridge. Another very recent addition to our collections is a crumhorn owned by Munrow, donated by current Governor John Willan, who was his record producer.
We should be grateful that so many of Munrow’s work was in radio and television – there is surely no other musician whose professional activities, more than a generation ago and in total spanning less than a decade, are so well documented. His BBC Radio 3 show ‘Pied Piper’ was aptly named, given his ability to infect others with his enthusiasms and fascinations. His innovative work in education – including as a recorder professor and class teacher in Medieval and Renaissance music at the Academy – remains an inspiration.
‘He probably did more than any other single person to popularise early music and to move period performance into the mainstream’, says the Cambridge University blog, and I know that many at the Academy would agree.


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

To Celebrate, to Commemorate: David Munrow

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The following comes from a Blog  See link for details

David Munrow’s first professional concert took place in 1967, his last in May 1976. During those short eight and a half years, his star blazed across the musical sky. He probably did more than any other single person to popularise early music and to move period performance into the mainstream.
May 15th is the fortieth anniversary of David’s shockingly untimely death which shook the musical world. His work on the popular radio series Pied piper and his work on television endeared him to many who (formerly) knew little about music. David’s engaging manner captivated his listeners, and made them feel that he was a friend. One letter of condolence expresses this very clearly: “…I am only one of countless music lovers who have enormously enjoyed and been grateful for your husband’s tremendous contribution to the knowledge of early music…Just through radio alone he had become so familiar that I feel as though I had lost a friend”.

And yet, David never intended to be a musician, it all started in Cambridge…

David was born in 1942 in Birmingham, where his father lectured in Physical Education. As a child he learned to play the bassoon and piano, but the catalyst for his growing interest in “unusual” musical instruments was nothing to do with his earlier musical training, but was inspired by a gap year in Peru. While there he became fascinated by native instruments, most of which he’d never heard (or heard of) before.
Christopher Hogwood and David Munrow when undergrads.With kind permission of Gillian Munrow.
Christopher Hogwood and David Munrow when undergrads.
With kind permission of Gillian Munrow.
On his return, he read English at Pembroke. While at Cambridge he spotted a crumhorn on a wall in Thurston Dart‘s home, and begged to be allowed to play it. From that moment he was hooked on instruments of the medieval period. By chance he started to conduct a music group in Pembroke, where he met his future wife, Gill, who he was introduced to by a Cambridge friend with very similar musical tastes, Christopher Hogwood. Although both men were passionate about early music, they also had an extraordinarily wide knowledge of music, and an enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge and their music.
David Munrow took part in a production of Henry IV Pt I with the RSC in 1966.
David Munrow took part in a production of Henry IV Pt I with the RSC in 1966.
Following David’s graduation he moved back to Birmingham. A major turning point in his life came when he joined the band of musicians playing at Stratford for the Royal Shakespeare Company. The programmes in his archive from these RSC days provide a comprehensive list of the directors and actors who were to become the stars of British theatre over the next 40 years – Trevor Nunn, Terry Hands, and Peter Hall directed during the time he was there; Ian Holm played Romeo and Prince Hal, Diana Rigg (only a few years post-Avengers) played Viola in Twelfth Night, and a then unknown Helen Mirren was one among a throng of citizens in Coriolanus. 
Most important to David was Guy Woolfenden, the then director of music at the RSC. Woolfenden encouraged David in his love for period instruments. David and his wife had started giving workshops in schools demonstrating unusual instruments during their time in Cambridge. The children loved them, though not always for the music…”The biggest recorder when you played it you went all red because you had run out of breath” “I liked the recorder that squeaked”.
Thanks from schoolchildren after an early music workshop.
Thanks from schoolchildren after an early music workshop.
A huge run of concerts was to follow when David along with Christopher Hogwood formed the Early Music Consort of London in 1967. The two friends along with Oliver Brookes, James Tyler and James Bowman formed the core of the group while other musicians became regular guests. David also made over 50 recordings during his short professional career.
Television and radio were to make him a familiar face, voice and sound! As well as programmes on music themes, he was also responsible for the arrangements of period music used for the television series The six wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R, and music for Ken Russell’s film The Devils.
His suicide in May 1976 came as a huge shock to his friends and fans. Partly because he was so young, partly because of the genuine grief at the ending of such a talent, but also because David seems to have had a gift for friendship – his audience became his friends. Bernard Levin reflecting on Munrow’s life in The Times commented:
“Munrow was only 33, and looked far younger even than that; to judge by his appearance, indeed, one would have guessed he was about nine years old, and I used to wonder uneasily if he wasn’t breaking some GLC regulation by appearing at concerts, long past his bedtime. Most of his group…were much of an age with him, which further enhanced the feeling that they had come together to make music solely for the love of it, and were in consequence slightly surprised to find rows of people out in front listening.”

From May 10th programmes, photographs and other items recently presented to the Library by Gill Munrow, David’s widow, will be on display in the exhibition cases in the Anderson Room as a celebration of his life.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Forty Years Ago........

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Yesterday, marked the passing of David Munrow. A brief programme on him, and most notably some of his music was heard on BBC Radio Three. It can be found at the end of a programme on Young Musicians

PS Just by chance I heard the it is not billed as a "separate" entry on the BBC Radio website.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Guy Woolfenden

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The Composer Who's Written Music for Every Shakespeare Play

John Robert Brown/University of Birmingham

(David Munrow worked for a time for GuyWoolfenden, and the latter "appears" in the Memorial programme of the former /RS)

Guy Woolfenden
Guy Woolfenden
Guy Woolfenden (1937-2016) was born in Ipswich in Suffolk. Appropriately, he names Benjamin Britten as his favourite composer. However, when Woolfenden started playing the horn as a fourteen-year-old, he was living in South Croydon.
"There was a Croydon Symphony Orchestra," he says, recalling that the Croydon orchestra had two conductors whom he rates as extraordinary. "One was Colin Davis. The other was Norman Del Mar, who was later head of conducting at the Guildhall. He taught using the old, best, way, which is where you have two pianos. You seat four of your conductors, two on each piano. You make them score read, while another of their colleagues conducts." Del Mar was also a horn player, eventually to become number two to Dennis Brain in the Philharmonia. "When I decided that I wanted to get on with this conducting lark, I thought I'd better go to someone I knew and trusted," says Woolfenden. After Cambridge, Woolfenden went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Woolfenden describes himself as largely self-taught, though he did come under the influence of several prominent composers. One was Mátyás Seiber. "I sang in his choir, the Dorian singers," Woolfenden remembers. The founder and musical director of the National Youth Orchestra, Ruth Railton, used to invite composers to National Youth Orchestra courses. "Benjamin Frankel, the film composer, was one," says Woolfenden. "At Cambridge, one of my tutors was Peter Tranchell, who wrote his opera The Mayor of Casterbridge for the Festival of Britain in 1951, which I conducted in 1959 with the Cambridge University Opera Group. Peter was helpful.
"I was a choirboy at Westminster Abbey. Many of us wrote anthems and chants. We had to sing them every day. I thought: 'I'd like to have a go at that!' When I joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford-upon-Avon, I went as a music director. I found that I could do something rather unusual, which was to turn up at rehearsals and watch the actors and directors at work on the productions. Sometimes I took my horn along. I busked a few fanfares, or suggested something from the old upright piano in the rehearsal room. They were delighted. I became a hands-on composer, which was different from the modus operandi of some of the earlier composers, who would write their scores and post them in without being invited to attend rehearsals at all! What I produced was relevant to the production. I became a theatre composer.
"To compose, I don't go straight on to Sibelius [software]. I'm still old fashioned enough to get a tune in my head, then work it out on the piano. I hack it around on Sibelius later.
"I'm a deadline person. I was at the RSC for 37 years. I haven't counted it totally accurately, but I wrote around 150 scores. In those circumstances you can't suddenly have a hissy fit, saying the music won't be ready. The director might get a bit worried! But unless I have a deadline, there ain't going to be anything. I find it difficult writing a symphony that's never been asked for, or has no performance date. I need to know that somebody wants my music.
Woolfenden claims to have a bottom drawer containing most of those 150 scores he has written, an impressive total. "That has been source material for a huge number of my works. The first wind band work I wrote was called Gallimaufry, which was based on the music I wrote for the opening of the Barbican Theatre in 1982. I had already written the music for RSC productions of Henry IV parts I and II several times before. When Trevor Nunn originally asked me if I would mind if, on this occasion, he asked Andrew Lloyd Webber - for whom he'd directed Cats and Starlight Express, to compose these scores, I was quite relaxed. But, in the end, Andrew had to hit another deadline. He dropped out. I was left writing 104 music cues in a short time. But, as always, Trevor described precisely exactly what he wanted to achieve with the music. I worked it all out thematically, rather in the style of the leitmotif in a Wagner opera.
"The plays were an enormous success. I remember bumping into Trevor as he went around the dressing rooms after the performance. He suggested that I took some time off to mould the music into a suite. I thought this was unlikely, that after the production was over the music would go into a drawer, never to be heard again."  A few days later Tim Reynish asked Woolfenden if he would like to write a piece for wind band. The piece is called Gallimaufry, the first commission for BASBWE.
"I first met Tim Reynish in the horn section of the National Youth Orchestra," says Woolfenden. "For three or four years we played together on every course. Ruth Railton felt that I needed a different teacher. She suggested I went to Aubrey Brain, father of Dennis, which was a wonderful idea. Tim and I then found that we'd got scholarships to Cambridge University. We went up there on the same day. We spent the next three years playing in every orchestra, pinching all the best horn parts. I also started conducting, which Tim resisted until later. One of our tutors, Raymond Leppard, was the Music Adviser to the RSC, which needed a Deputy Music Director. He thought I would fit the bill. Initially I turned the job down as I was expecting to be called up to do my National Service as soon as I finished my degree. Tim meanwhile continued his professional horn playing career. He moved to London, where he was principal horn in Sadler's Wells Opera Company (now English National Opera). When they needed a fourth horn doubling second, he suggested me. I was auditioned by Colin Davis, and got the job. Thanks to Tim I had a wonderful year playing under many fine conductors, including Charles Mackerras and Reginald Goodall.
"Then our ways parted. I went to Stratford-upon-Avon, where I was deputy Music Director, then Music Director, then Head of Music. Tim started conducting, and founded BASBWE. Later on I was Chairman for a while. What he's done for wind music in this country will never be forgotten. I take my hat off to him.
"The reason I took the job was that the theatre had a band the size of which may amaze you. We had two flutes, two oboes, one clarinet who doubled bass, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, percussion, and a harpist who played piano, all on a weekly salary. Alas, when I first started writing music there was a financial crisis. Economies had to be made, which included the music department. I wrote the music for Peter Hall’s epic production of the history plays, called The Wars of the Roses, which was one of the most extraordinary achievements in the RSC’s long history. The RSC Wind Band became simply brass and percussion, although gradually I was able to bring back the woodwind - necessary for the lighter plays. In Stratford-upon-Avon an experimental theatre, called The Other Place, was built. Then, in the eighties, the beautiful Swan Theatre was opened on the site of the original Shakespeare Theatre.
"On any one night, I'd had to provide musicians and music for three venues in Stratford-upon-Avon and two or three theatres in London. Peter Hall had first taken the company into London in 1961, where we played at the Aldwych Theatre. When the Barbican was built, the company occupied the Barbican Theatre and the experimental theatre, called The Pit. On top of that there was a season in Newcastle-upon-Tyne every year, and frequent world tours. It was a huge job.
"The reason I left in 1998 was not that I didn't love my job any more, but most of the directors I'd worked with had moved on. Both Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn went from the RSC to the National Theatre. Terry Hands, another wonderful RSC artistic director, with whom I had also worked at the Comédie Française in Paris, the Burgtheater in Vienna and at the National Theatre in Norway, was also off to pastures new.
"I'm possibly the only composer in the world who's written the music for every single Shakespeare play. Plays that Shakespeare collaborated on keep being discovered. But of the thirty-seven plays that we know he wrote, I've composed music for all of them - most of them twice, some three times. When I wrote the score for David Thacker’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which, in 1991, was the only play I had never done, the director decided to set it in the raving thirties, with a live dance band on stage. So my setting of the play’s famous song Who is Sylvia? avoided being haunted by Schubert’s famous setting."
Woolfenden has one composing ambition left: "My four wind concertos are totally separate from that huge archive of Shakespeare tunes. There's a pattern in them, in that I'm fond of the music of Carl Nielsen. Every woodwind and horn player has played Nielsen’s wonderful Wind Quintet. He knew all the players by name and by nature. He promised them all a concerto. The flute concerto is one of the great early twentieth-century flute concertos. The clarinet concerto is rather mad, because the clarinettist was obviously crazy. Then Nielsen died! I'm two ahead of him.
"I started off with an oboe concerto, dedicated to my wife, who has heard it many times but not yet performed it. I don't know what that says! I wrote the clarinet concerto for Jack Brymer's seventieth birthday. I wrote a horn concerto, then, a bassoon concerto for Meyrick Alexander, principal bassoon in the Philharmonia. It only remains for me to do the flute concerto."
First published in Winds magazine.