Indeed, these are bleak times for classical music and orchestras worldwide. The age of austerity has hit the arts in general very hard. There are horror stories of orchestras in the USA going on strike and going bankrupt; even Germany has disbanded about eight orchestras recently and the cuts to orchestra funding in The Netherlands have been horrendous. In Britain, one orchestra has gone, an opera house has put it’s formerly full time orchestra on part time earnings, the Arts Council of England has been forced to introduce swingeing cuts to it’s funding allowances year on year and local authorities have reduced and are continuing to reduce, funding for the Arts. Many orchestras are finding themselves increasingly under threat; one is said to be going from symphony proportions to chamber, despite averaging around 80% houses. The BBC is also said to be looking to introduce cuts to their ensembles including probable reductions in playing staff. ‘Auntie Beeb’ has also cut it’s £100K a year grant for a professional orchestra in Northern Ireland. Things have never been more grim!
Therefore, it is a relief to get to the Xmas element of the season in one piece, as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra enters a season of immense enjoyment and seasonal merriment. It has been hard work, as the orchestra, various associated choirs, soloists and presenters have been undertaking a schedule of three gruelling programmes a day, recording work too; it’s not finished yet, as there are the Viennese programme, a Frank Sinatra tribute night and a big band/strings New years’ eve extravaganza.
Amongst all the chaos of the RLPO Xmas scheduling, Vasily Petrenko and the strings of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra have found time to participate in an event which has cause for great celebration. They have hit the dizzy heights, playing on this year’s Xmas no.1, in the UK Pop Charts. Playing alongside international mega stars such as Sir paul McCartney and Robbie Williams, Dave McCabe and many others, the RLPO, as members of the Justice Collective (‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’) have beaten off stiff competition from other pop artists, to rise to the top in order to provide the families of the 96 Hillsborough victims the funding they require to help pay their legal bills.
It all culminates on the 5th January with the annual performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’. By that time we will have played to completely packed audiences, during the Xmas run-in, post Xmas week, New year’s Eve and Messiah, totalling about 50,000 people! …but what fun! It is a much needed opportunity for the RLPO to let it’s hair down.
This year, our festive frolics began in Halewood Centre for the Performing Arts. This annual event takes place in the neighbouring Borough of Knowsley. The orchestra performs a concert of light classics, carols and Xmas music to the politicians of the borough and the parents of the school children involved. There are three substantial choirs; primary age, secondary school age and an adult community choir. This event is always a success and it is encouraging to see the choirs in Knowsley expanding and improving as each year passes. Having ‘performed’ two trumpet horse winnies this season already, on the charity single of Sleigh Ride by the Caledonia, it would be unfair to say this would be my first occasion to play a horse noise this Xmas, but it’s certainly my first live one. The gig was great, but the appalling windy rain storm made the long cycle ride home in the dark a bit unappealing!
Next on the agenda, as already documented in earlier blogs, was the beginning of two weeks intense recording with the world famous coloratura soprano Diva, Diana Damrau, for EMI’s prestigious subsidiary, Virgin Classics. The RLPO, conducted by David Charles Abell, were recording a disk of songs from films, musicals and arias from oprettas. This work is probably scheduled for release for next year’s Xmas market.
Carl Davis has been a stalwart of our Xmas scheduling for years now. Carl & The RLPO would be presenting Xmas shows under the theme of ‘Wonderful Christmastime’. The two very exciting soloists for these events would be Earl ‘The Phantom’ Carpenter and Welsh soprano Katy Treharne.
Earl Carpenter is a consumate performer of West End leading roles, of some twenty years experience. He has become an unmitigated success story. He has appeared in Evita, We Will Rock You and Les Miserables, amongst others, but is for The Phantom of the Opera that Earl has become most associated, and sang the title song at the Royal Variety performance last year. He is the founder of the successful production company, Ginger Boy Productions, also. Added to all that, Earl is the conceptual founder of online media giant Reelkandi.tv.
Katy Traherne also has other West End experience but wowed London in The Phantom of the Opera, singing the role of Christine for two years, including performing the role in the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate Phantom’s 25th anniversary.
The programme was to feature the soloists performing a wide range of West End material from shows such as Phantom, Les Miserables and Beauty & The Beast. There would be more horse winneying from me in Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, too! A 12 days of Christmas & White Christmas, also in the programme, both arranged by Ron Goodwin.
Carl had also included Prokofiev’s Troika from Lieutenant Kije. Also on the menu were Xmas favourites Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, Mel Torme’s ‘The Christmas Song’ & ‘A Swinging Christmas’ medley, Sir Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, Santa Baby, White Christmas, Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, finishing with the traditional ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas.
The encore made me chuckle. We played ‘Merry Christmas Everbody’ by the UK rock group Slade. As you can see from the photo above, Neville Holder is credited as composer and lyricist. I suppose Neville is as good a name as any but I suspect that only ‘Noddy’s’ mother calls calls him that! The talented keyboard player and arranger, Brian Gascoigne, is the brother of ‘brainy’ television presenter and author Bamber Gascoigne, most famous for so many years in charge of ‘University Challenge’.
It was nice to see the new addition of a snow machine to end the programme. After this gig we featured it in every programme in the run up to Xmas!
We currently have a vacancy for Principal 2nd Trombone and for the festive period it was the turn of Maxine Chevrot to undertake his ‘trial’ in the position recently vacated by Blyth Lindsay, after 34 years in the role. As friendly a chap as anyone could hope to meet, Max is also a very fine trombone player. He hails from France, well Lyon to be precise, but is currently living in Geneva, where he is working towards his masters degree and working professionally with the likes of the Orchestre de Suisse Romande and The Verbier Festival Orchestra. He is pictured here having a laugh with the rest of the brass after work.
Alasdair Malloy has presented the children’s concert series, the family concerts and educational performances for more years than I have been in The Phil. I first met Alasdair was when he was wearing one of his many other hats, that of Principal Percussion of the BBC Concert Orchestra.
He is one of the busiest and one of the best percussionists in the UK. His skills of presentation and inventive devising of concerts at The Phil are also second to none. Alasdair composes all his own ‘scripts’, although he has so much material he rarely needs to keep to them exactly. He also composes and arranges almost all of his programme music. A very talented fellow and a hell of a nice guy.
Alasdair’s concerts are like no one else’s and are almost always packed out at Philharmonic Hall. This series, entitled ‘Frosty The Snowman & Friends was no exception. Every ticket for all five shows had been sold well in advance. Even I couldn’t get a single ticket. Fantastic! Alasdair was ably assisted by conductor James Lowe, who marshalled the RLPO with aplomb, despite feeling unwell throughout the series of shows.
The programme for these ever popular family concerts consisted of such titles as: ‘All I want for Xmas is a Hippopotamus’; A version of 12 days of Xmas that was about food items ‘My Darling fed to me.’ These included ‘Five Brusselles Sprouts, Six Xmas Puddings and a tur-key in gra-vy!’
Also included was a beautiful arrangement by Daniel Bishop of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ for the two excellent youth choirs, Frosty The Snowman, Let it Snow and a very stirring ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ to finish with. Not one of the shows ended without that last piece being played again!
The remaining strand of Christmas concerts to be talked about here is The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society’s traditional series entitled ‘The Spirit of Christmas’. These have become what Christmas is all about at The Phil. They have been conducted for more years than anyone can remember by Prof. Dr. Ian Tracey, Organist Titulaire at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir for over 25 years. Ian and I also play regularly as a concert duo with our popular Trumpet & Organ recitals.
These concerts have become so popular over the years that is difficult to get a ticket. We play five of these more traditional carol concerts in the week leading up to Xmas and apart from the RLPO, under Ian’s direction, the concerts feature the marvellous Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, the fabulous Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir (trained by Simon Emery), Graham Eccles on organ, Classic fm’s excellent John Suchet as presenter and a guest soloist each year, this time the sensational Mexican tenor Jesus Leon.
Jesus first sang with the RLPO under Carl davis last year and was sensationally received so has returned triumphantly again this year for these Xmas concerts. His lyric tenor style is ideally suited to the Lord’s Prayer, Ave Maria, The Three Kings and Stille Nacht. He also plays guitar in some items. The rest of the programme is a mix of traditional carols and arrangements for choir and orchestra, arrangements for solo youth choir and youth choir and orchestra, all tastefully and professionally held together by the thinking man’s presenter, John Suchet. His clear speaking voice, honest charming personality and humorous nature make him perfectly suited to this genre. He chose jokes, stories, reminiscences and readings which set the whole tone for the five atmospheric evening concerts.
Myself, and several other brass players got talking to John at a reception thrown for the orchestra by Diana Damrau, after the completion of her successful recordings for Virgin Classics earlier in the week. He is a brilliant raconteur and is also quite a useful amateur trombone player! We have persuaded him to take part in our Superorchestra day next June. This is when the RLPO invite all members of the amateur music community to sit beside and work for a day with the orchestra. For the reading, during the closing sequence of ‘The Sprit of Christmas’ this year, John chose one of my favourites, ‘A Christmas Landscape’ by Laurie Lee…
As you can see, it’s been a very busy Xmas period. Time for three days rest now before three concerts with John Wilson before New Year and the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah directly after New Year. Keep your eyes peeled here for news of those.
After the Messiah, I will be taking leave from the orchestra for two weeks whilst I play the WORLD PREMIERE OF A MAJOR NEW TRUMPET WORK. ‘The Consequences Of Falling’ by Ailis Ni Riain will be premiered at the Delia Derbyshire Convention before undertaking a tour of Northern Uk Cities with the piece, following the premiere.
As it’s Xmas I’ll leave you with some ‘characterful’ costumes donned by the RLPO For the ‘Frosty The Snowman & Friends’ Concerts…
These next two pictures are tinged with a little sadness, as both ladies will shortly be leaving the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Rachel Pankhurst (formerly Rachel Ager) will be taking up the Cor Anglais position with the CBSO in Birmingham and Kathryn Lacy will be leaving to take up the position of Bass Clarinet with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London.
Best of luck to you both!
MERRY XMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!