Sighting #8

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) played the recorder!? I had no idea until my friend Frances sent me a link with this photo on it. Shame on me.

Benjamin Britten

And not only did he play recorder, having been persuaded to give it a shot by his friend and colleague Imogen Holst, but from 1958 to 1976 Benjamin Britten was the President of Britain’s Society of Recorder Players.

Britten wrote a few pieces for or involving the recorder: Scherzo (1954), for recorder quartet (SATB); Alpine Suite (1955), a diminutive trio for a friend who broke her leg skiing in Zermatt (SSA); and there are recorder parts in two operas: Noye’s Fludde [Noah’s Flood]  (1957); and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960).

Noye’s Fludde is based on one of the 15th-century Chester Mystery plays, and was designed to make use of many levels of musical skill – it’s a very community-oriented piece, a musical manifestation of ‘it takes a village…’  First presented in Britten’s home base of Aldeburgh (Suffolk) in 1958, it has had hundreds of performances around the world since then. Scored for a big cast – as many children extras as you can find for the animals of the ark! – it calls for adult solo singers, a children’s choir, and some younger soloists; a professional-level string quartet, recorder soloist, percussion, keyboard; and a student string orchestra, student recorder group, and so on – and a conductor, one with immense patience, unflagging enthusiasm, and no fear whatsoever. True, projects like this are a bit of a nightmare to organize, but they are completely worth the trouble. This kind of show provides the wonderful but fairly rare opportunity for younger musicians to work with professional singers and players over the whole production period; and it offers a dose of ‘get real’ for the pros, who may spend a lot of their working life in a more rarified concert atmosphere…Everyone’s horizons get broadened, and it’s brilliant.

I’ve been involved in two Noye’s Fluddes, with the Toronto Symphony under Andrew Davis and at the Guelph Spring Festival under Simon Streatfield. Both projects were inspiring, heartwarming, and worth every moment of the lengthy rehearsals required to get everything working. There was also a very high Cute Quotient once the smaller members of the cast got their costumes on.

You’ll get an idea of what I mean by those last two remarks if you take a look at this excerpt from a Canadian production of Noye’s Fludde, filmed by the CBC. Stay to the end and you’ll hear the solo recorder accompanying the dove, as she flies out from the ark and returns with an olive branch. The recorder player is Avery MacLean.

Sighting #6

Brian Jones recording for 'Ruby Tuesday'

Brian Jones recording for ‘Ruby Tuesday’

Remember him? Brian Jones, founder of the Rolling Stones. Talented, smart, savvy, and overtaken by substance abuse, he was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool a few short months after he’d been asked to leave the band. It was 1969 and he was 27.

I wasn’t much of a Stones fan but for some reason I liked Brian Jones. I could never understand all the hundreds of girls screaming at the sight of Mick Jagger;  I thought Brian was way cuter. ‘Ruby Tuesday’ was released in 1967, but I didn’t realize it was him playing the recorder bit until years later.

Sighting #5

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Yet another rock and roll shot. I’d forgotten all about this photo and just came across it this evening. Anyone remember Jefferson Airplane? I loved this band. I think I even had the LP which featured this photo on the cover. This was a really intriguing bunch of musicians, and the instruments in this picture made me feel almost cool, what with Grace Slick holding a recorder and Marty Balin with a flute. Whoa.

More writing on its way.

Sighting #4

Well, shame on me. It’s been a very busy few weeks so although I’ve had some intriguing musical work, it’s been very hard to find time for writing about it. But in the meantime, here’s something seriously worth a listen/look: Frans Brüggen as a young man, putting Telemann fantasias and the recorder on the map.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQatlvFvGdM

I ask you, where would we be without YouTube?

Sighting #3

Wow, a mid-20th-century hearthrob with a recorder. Talk about an unexpected prop. Judging from the hand position he didn’t really know how to play it; but I’m pretty sure that really didn’t matter…

Image

There are a variety of photos from this shoot to choose from. Wish I knew the photographer to credit.