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Rehearsals in full swing for Violin at the Movies

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Since I wrote my last blog, Gavin Sutherland and I have had two rehearsals for our concert The Violin at the Movies, one at his home near Oxford, the other yesterday at my home near Manchester.

In the intervening week, I was performing with the Northern Ballet Sinfonia in the pit of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London for the Company’s final week this season of The Great Gatsby. As the arranger of several of the jazzier numbers of that ballet score, Gavin finally managed to attend one of the shows to hear his work! We have both thoroughly enjoyed our rehearsal sessions, partly since we have never before performed together any of the items on the programme – bar one, Estrellita. There is even one number which nobody has ever performed in the exact arrangement which we will use. This is Michel Legrand’s I Will Wait For You from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in a version by Angela Morley.

Angela (1924 - 2009) was one of the finest composers and arrangers of light music and film music in the world, and – we should be proud – was born in Leeds, as Wally Stott. Some readers may recall that name on the credits for BBC TV’s (and Radio’s) Hancock’s Half Hour many years ago. That tuba theme, still familiar to many, was one of Angela’s creations. But she also wrote music for many films including Watership Down, The Slipper and the Rose, When Eight Bells Toll and Madame X. Latterly she lived in Arizona, and Gavin and I were both privileged to know her in her later years. In fact both of us were honoured by having a composition by her dedicated to us. However, I Will Wait For You was originally arranged by Angela for the celebrated violinist Itzhak Perlman to play on an album called Cinema Serenade. This version for violin and piano has been made by Gavin from Angela’s own pencil score which she gave to him.

Excerpts from two violin concertos are included in our programme, those of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklos Rozsa. Korngold, a Viennese and a child prodigy of astonishing gifts, became one of the giants amongst film composers. In fact, he could almost be said to have created the Hollywood sound. His catalogue of film credits includes many of the most notable Warner Bros. productions of the golden era, especially for stars such as Errol Flynn and Bette Davis. In writing his Violin Concerto, he drew on themes he had composed for some of these soundtracks, perhaps feeling that some of them were too good to leave to their supporting role in the cinema. Miklos Rozsa, Hungarian composer, was another European who made his home, and career, in Hollywood with great success. His Violin Concerto was composed for Jascha Heifetz, but in a case of reverse engineering, achieved its cinematic role when director Billy Wilder heard the recording of the piece. According to Rozsa, Wilder wore through several copies of the disc, he was so captivated by it. It became the core of the score for Wilder’s 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. We perform the haunting and atmospheric slow movement, rather than the Finale which inspired Wilder to include the Loch Ness Monster in his movie! Some tasks are beyond a mere violin and piano. However, I always feel that Gavin through his vast experience as arranger, conductor and pianist, comes closer than most to realising these lush cinematic scores at the keyboard. And whilst mentioning Gavin, our audience will have a treat when he gives me a break by playing a medley of music from the Hollywood Musicals! Of the remaining pieces, Heinz Provost’s Intermezzo comes from the 1939 movie of the same name, starring Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman. Howard portrays a concert violinist, and this charming work is heard frequently, perhaps representing the emotional bond between the two main characters. Schindler’s List will be familiar to many through Itzhak Perlman’s evocative performance on the soundtrack of Steven Spielberg’s film.

The views expressed in blogs are those of the author and not necessarily of Northern Ballet.