This is a Journal entry by h5ringer
h5ringer Started conversation Aug 21, 2008
For the benefit of those readers of these words who have not, or are not able to see it, the BBC at present broadcasting a TV programme called “Maestro”. The basic idea is to take 8 reasonably well-known talented people (note I did not say celebrities), and pit them against each other in a competition to see who can make the best job of conducting the BBC’s Concert Orchestra; none of them has attempted to do so before. As the series progresses, one of the 8 is eliminated at each round. There is a jury panel of music professionals who, by one means or another, select two of the contestants for elimination, but the final decision is made by the orchestra themselves, who vote to keep one or other of the two drop-zone candidates. The ultimate winner of the competition will take part, as a conductor in front of 30,000 people, at the ‘Proms in the Park’ event in London on 14 September. One-time lawyer and some-time humorist Clive Anderson is the show’s host.
Jane Asher: actress, writer and cake-maker
Katie Derham: newsreader and radio presenter
Goldie: electronic music artist and DJ
Alex James: bass player with the band Blur, journalist and radio presenter
Sue Perkins: comedienne, comedy writer and presenter
Peter Snow: veteran TV political journalist
David Soul: singer and actor (Starsky and Hutch)
Bradley Walsh: comedian and TV soap actor
Zoë Martlew: cellist and composer
Roger Norrington: chief conductor of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart; will be the conductor at this year’s Last Night of the Proms
Dominic Seldis: principal double-bass of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Simone Young: conductor and music director of the Hamburg State Opera
As might be expected, we, the viewers, were introduced to the contestants and to the jury. We learned that the contestants had each been assigned a 'mentor', whose role is to assist them technically, musically, psychologically and generally in any other way that they can. During the course of this episode, we also learned a few perhaps relevant facts about the contestants: Goldie cannot read a note of music, Sue Perkins learned the piano to Grade 8 standard and Katie Derham also plays the piano. It was clear right from the outset that poor Peter Snow was not blessed with so much as a gram of a natural sense of rhythm. An exercise that caused a lot of difficulty for a number of people was attempted to draw simultaneously, over and over again (on a whiteboard), a square with one hand and a triangle with the other hand. Goldie may not be able to read a score, but he is a consummate musician and finds ways to circumvent that fact, making it far less of a problem. Having found ways, he then works hard. The problem they all found was that when the orchestra followed (or rather tried to follow) their beat, the music was v-e-r-y s-l-o-w. One contestant asked "How do I make you go faster?" A wise voice from the orchestra was heard to say, "Try moving your hands quicker". Peter Snow and Alex James came bottom of the table; Peter did not make the cut.
In marked contrast to the previous episode, this one was broadcast live, and the format changed (in my opinion for the worse) to one of "Tonight Clive, I'm going to be…". The pieces performed sounded better, but sadly this was due to what all orchestras do when faced with a conductor who is not competent, they moved into auto-pilot mode. As a result, the conductors were at best following the orchestra, instead of directing it. The one hour time slot meant that Clive Anderson was constantly pushing the jury for quick answers. The contestants were marked as they went, rather than at the end, as in the Eurovision Song Contest. Perhaps in future episodes, with less contestants, the one hour format will work better. Certainly in this one, we saw almost nothing of the work done in preparing their pieces prior to the broadcast. The jury voted resulted in David Soul and Bradley Walsh facing the vote-off, with David Soul departing. Why Bradley scored as low as he did relative to the others is a mystery to me; his 3 in a bar beat was crystal clear, but he lives to fight another round. Jane Asher danced her piece rather than conducted it and looks to me to be in danger next time. Katie Derham cannot go much further (at least in this programme) on the basis of a sweet smile and a wiggling bottom. Both Bradley and Sue seem self-conscious and try to cover it with comedy, a natural fallback position for them. They are both able but need to focus.
More after next week's episode
aka Bel - A87832164 Posted Aug 21, 2008
This sounds fascinating. Hope you don't mind if I subscribe to this journal and watch out for your future summaries.
The conductor of our choir once tried to brief us in how to conduct a choir - that's already difficult - but a whole orchestra.
The contestants are very
There's a great entry, btw:
h5ringer Posted Aug 22, 2008
For up to date info, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/musictv/maestro/
Beatrice Posted Aug 22, 2008
Oooh, mind if I butt in too? I'm loving this programme! I once had the opportunity to conduct an orchestra (the Ulster Orchestra, doing the full set of Haydn symphonies for Children in Need about 20 years ago...) so I can empathise with the contestants.
Not sure that allowing the orchestra to have the final say is without its flaws - in my experience of professional musos they'll go for the one who buys a round in the pub and tells amusing stroies.
Lucky escape for Jane this week, but how brilliant is Sue!
h5ringer Posted Aug 22, 2008
h5ringer Posted Aug 27, 2008
Week 3, and things got a tad more complicated. The conductors had to cope with the orchestra AND the BBC Symphony Chorus, as we moved on to works for chorus and orchestra. The pieces given this week ranged from Handel's great coronation anthem, 'Zadok the Priest' and the 'Confutatis' from Mozart's Requiem, to more modern works: 'O Fortuna' from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and Sir Michael Tippett's 'Go Down Moses', from his oratorio, A Child of Our Time.
With six contestants left, there was a little more breathing space in the hour TV slot, but only just; we still needed to see more of the preparation work.
Given a new toy to play with, the contestants concentrated on communicating with the chorus, and left the orchestra to get on with it; this is largely true, but there were exceptions. The biggest change from last week? Attitude – they are now starting to take this very seriously.
First up was Alex James, who strode out like a man on a mission and launched into the four thumping G minor chords of the Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem; you just can't get the beat wrong with that introduction. Alex has come a long way since last week, and an unimaginable distance from where he was at the start of the series, but the non-baton hand is still living a life of its own. The sound impressed, but the jury were not, scoring him quite low.
Jane Asher was given Handel's 'Zadok The Priest'. Last week she danced her piece; this time she started the gentle orchestral introduction with her eyes shut. Herbert von Karajan might have done this, but only after many years with the same orchestra and countless hours of rehearsal. She firmly identified with the singers, but exaggeratedly mouthed every word to them, as though the chorus had inexplicably all left their vocal scores at home. Zoë Martlew observed that Jane's performance was 'lines perfectly learned and carefully rehearsed'; exactly the same each time, both in rehearsals (which we have only now learned the jury have access to) and in performance – the actress in her won through.
Sue Perkins got one of Borodin's Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor. As her mentor said, this is raw and unsophisticated Russian music, and needs to be played that way. Sue must have pushed all the right buttons, because she impressed the jury, scoring very highly indeed.
Bradley Walsh was given the spiritual 'Go Down Moses', from Tippett's oratorio. In my view, this was the most difficult of all the pieces and needs very tight control of the tempo to avoid it sagging. Bradley came on stage all beams and smiles and looked set to play the fool again. But as he stepped onto the dais, he put on his glasses to read his score (he used a marked-up score to make sure he kept himself on track) and like turning off a switch, the smile was gone. Finally we saw the true, serious figure that I suspect *is* Bradley Walsh, rather than the comic persona we usually see. We had just a glimpse of this in his preparation, when he was beginning to show signs of stress with his mentor. I thought his performance quite superb, given his technical short-comings, but the normally fairly unanimous jury were divided. Both the male jurors were very harsh – "Disaster…this is a simple piece" was Sir Roger Norrington's verdict – but the ladies were far more supportive. However with very low scores from Sir Roger and Dominic, the damage had been done.
Goldie gave us 'O Fortuna' from Carmina Burana (UK readers will remember the 1970s adverts for Old Spice aftershave), and oh boy, did he give us it. This was electrifying stuff, with wonderful contrast between the three sections. The praise and scoring from the jury (9-8-9-9) reflected that fact; Goldie must now be looking clear favourite to win this competition.
Finally, Katie Derham conducted the 'Confutatis' from Mozart's final masterpiece, the Requiem. Gone this week were the enchanting smile and the wiggle and the musician in her was let out. The look on her face as she waited for the orchestra to settle was sternness itself – 'I'm in charge and I want no mistakes'. A total score of 30 points put her in 3rd place, 5 points clear of Jane Asher, who managed to avoid the drop zone by just one point.
The scores left Bradley and Alex to face the orchestra vote (not the chorus we note), who elected to keep Alex, so after a second week facing the vote-off, by a substantial majority Bradley sadly departed the competition. My personal vote would have been the other way, keeping Bradley at the expense of Alex.
So, on to next week, when the remaining five have to conduct operatic arias with two soloists. The golden role for a conductor with soloists is that *they* have the lead and the conductor follows – a reversal of the usual roles. Also, next time we lose two contestants instead of one, leaving three for the final programme. Can anyone now catch Goldie, or is he away and gone? Conducting singers might perhaps be a different kettle of fish. We shall see in 7 days time (actually 6 if you're watching this series on TV).
Galaxy Babe - eclectic editor Posted Aug 27, 2008
Beatrice Posted Aug 28, 2008
Yes I managed to watch a recording of it late last night.
I was really sorry to see Bradley go - I thought he did a terrific job with the Tippett, and he was clearly including the orchestra as well as the choir.
That Jane Asher-bot cannot survive next week's double elimination surely!
And my money's still on Sue to win, but it'll be a great contest bewteen her and the very talented Mr Goldie.
h5ringer Posted Aug 28, 2008
Beatrice Posted Sep 3, 2008
I reckon that the problem was there being 4 people in the drop zone - out of 100 orchestra members I'm guessing that 90 of them picked Goldie. And only a handful for the others - something like Jane 4 votes, Katie 3, Alex 3. It would have been fairer to do the voting in 2 stages, or let each band member choose 2.
My loudest yelling at the screen, though, was for whoever was directing last night's show: it's supposed to be about the conductor, and yet in every solo we had close ups of the singer's earrings, no clue at all as to how the conductor was holding the orchestra, or bringing them back in. There was one tantalising glimpse from a "back row of the fiddles" cam - I'd love to have seen that angle used more.
h5ringer Posted Sep 5, 2008
You know how you get that comfortable feeling that the worst is behind you? Well that's the time to start *really* worrying, and not just in front of the camera.
This week our five remaining victims (sorry contestants) had to conduct one of a selection of popular operatic arias, sung by one or the other of the guest singers, a soprano and a tenor. At the end of the programme, two of the three lowest-scorers would have to be eliminated.
First up to the podium was Sue Perkins, who had been given Puccini's soprano aria 'O mia babbino caro' from Gianni Schicci. Wisely eschewing the baton, this was beautifully executed, Sue keeping contact with the soloist throughout (as far as we were able to tell) and was rewarded with a well-deserved 32 points from the jury.
Next it was the turn of Katy Derham to conduct the old warhorse Neapolitan song 'O sole mio'. In the backstage lead-in to the performance, we were shown Katy losing the plot big-time with her mentor Matthew Rowe, swearing and storming out of the rehearsal room; the pressure is really telling. Clearly the week had been a strain on Katy and the relationship was turning sour. Shw tried very hard (on her mentor's advice) to make it a sexy performance, in keeping with the tango rhythm of the song. However this advice did not go down well with judges Zoë, Simone and Dominic, the latter saying that he was outraged and he would be having words with Matthew after the show about his advice. Nonetheless, Katy picked up 29 points.
Superstar of last week, Goldie, drew Susanna's Act II aria 'Un moto di gioia', from Mozart's comic opera The Marriage of Figaro. He could not have not a worse choice. Mozart generally, and this piece is no exception, requires the lightest of touches. For a man with no real prior experience of Mozart, and a drum'n'bass exponent at that, this was the piece from hell. But being Goldie, he set about dealing with it at rehearsals with hard work. Things were going reasonably well at the start of the performance, but then, after the first rallentando, at the return to tempo, the wheels well and truly came off the bus. Poor Goldie never fully recovered from this and by the end his conducting was completely off the beat. It was doubly disappointing as we learned from judge Simone Young that at the afternoon rehearsal, he had been near perfect. However the scoring is for the performance on the night and for that Goldie scored only 27 points.
Jane Asher's piece was the very well known tenor aria 'E lucevan le stelle' from Puccini's Tosca. Her mentor was dismayed; "it's all rubato...it's all over the place". Unlike the rubato, Jane was not all over the place, kept peacefully still and made a very reasonable fist of it. The judges were not unanimous (9-7-6-7), but the total of 29 for a difficult piece, put her equal second with Katy Derham.
Finally we had Alex James, the survivor from the orchestra vote last week. His piece was Gershwin's 'Summertime' from Porgy and Bess, certainly a more fortunate draw than it might have been. If Goldie's was the worst draw, then Alex's was the best possible. The fact that he was there at all was quite an achievement, given that his wife had given birth during the week of rehearsals - congratulations to both he and his wife. Last week, Sir Roger Norrington criticised what he called Alex's left hand 'flipper'. Work on this was done during rehearsals and at the start of 'Summertime' it was up there working with the right one, but eventually it got bored and just hung around waiting to go home, until just at the very end. The judges all thought the performance was too laid back, and Alex's score was a bottom-placing 23 points.
At this point, activity in the control room must have been a tad frantic, as the tie between Katy and Jane meant that there was no clear bottom three for the vote-off. It was decided that four, ie all bar Sue, would have to face the orchestra, and the two lowest scoring would leave the show. The result of that vote was that Katy and Alex would not make the final. Goldie had escaped; despite his showing on the night, I feel it was the right decision to keep him, rather than either of the other two.
Like Beatrice, I found the production infuriating. The camera script was exactly what you would expect for a regular programme with two special guests. We saw long close-ups of them and kept missing the crucial moments where the conductor had to wait on their phrase. The primary characters of the show should have been the conductors, not the soloists - on this occasion.
I have also seen criticism elsewhere of the placement of the soloists relative to the conductors. I don't agree. The singers were exactly where they would be in a concert performance. Part of the test for our contestants was for them to have to partly turn to see their soloist, and at the same time keep working with the orchestra.
So next week is final week. Who will be conducting at the Proms in the Park the following Saturday? Will it be this week's supremo, Sue? Is Jane coming up strongly on the rails? Can Goldie rise again? We shall see on Tuesday. Whatever the final outcome, it will be an interesting evening's viewing.
Sorry that this journal is rather late, but RL has occupied me rather more than usual this past week. Hope it was worth the wait.
aka Bel - A87832164 Posted Sep 6, 2008
h5ringer Posted Sep 6, 2008
Bel, I can't be certain whether this works outside the UK, but here is a direct link to the video of last week's show (you can ignore the request to install the Adobe add-in; just use the 'Click to resume' button).
Hope it works for you
aka Bel - A87832164 Posted Sep 6, 2008
Key: Complain about this post
- 1: h5ringer (Aug 21, 2008)
- 2: aka Bel - A87832164 (Aug 21, 2008)
- 3: h5ringer (Aug 22, 2008)
- 4: Beatrice (Aug 22, 2008)
- 5: h5ringer (Aug 22, 2008)
- 6: aka Bel - A87832164 (Aug 22, 2008)
- 7: h5ringer (Aug 27, 2008)
- 8: Galaxy Babe - eclectic editor (Aug 27, 2008)
- 9: aka Bel - A87832164 (Aug 27, 2008)
- 10: Beatrice (Aug 28, 2008)
- 11: h5ringer (Aug 28, 2008)
- 12: Beatrice (Sep 3, 2008)
- 13: h5ringer (Sep 5, 2008)
- 14: Galaxy Babe - eclectic editor (Sep 6, 2008)
- 15: aka Bel - A87832164 (Sep 6, 2008)
- 16: h5ringer (Sep 6, 2008)
- 17: aka Bel - A87832164 (Sep 6, 2008)
- 18: h5ringer (Sep 6, 2008)
- 19: aka Bel - A87832164 (Sep 6, 2008)
- 20: Post Team (Sep 6, 2008)