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Brian Easdale at the Proms

The Royal Albert Hall - 14 July 2007

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Well that was a superb evening's entertainment. Not only the prelude from 49P but also the full ballet from TRS. They missed out the overture that everybody talks over in the film, but apart from that it was superb.

It was only at the beginning of June that the BBC realised that they didn't have the score so, with the help of the Easdale family, especially Will, we were able to get that to them. But they managed to get all the parts sorted out and the orchestra rehearsed, and to find an Ondes Martenot - and someone to play it!

I think that's probably the first time that the ballet music has been played in public, from the full score, complete with Ondes Martenot, for at least 50 years. They were making history tonight :)

The BBC did manage to stump up a couple of complimentary tickets, so Mrs Easdale and her daughter took those. The rest of us, Will, his wife Joanna and their two young children Beatrice & Thomas, and Will's boss, all went up in the circle. But at the Royal Albert Hall you get a good view wherever you are, and you're really there to hear the music more than see the action.

Ah, and what music it was. Starting with William Walton's music for Battle of Britain, the Battle in the Air. You could easily imagine those circling Spitfires and Hurricanes. They had a medium sized screen at either side of the stage where they showed mainly stills but a few clips from the appropriate film.

After that, Richard E. Grant came in and he introduced each piece with a bit about the composer and the film. The Battle of Britain was followed by Constant Lambert's suite from Anna Karenia and then Vaughan Williams' prelude from 49P.

Philip Achille came on as the harmonica soloist for a suite from Genevieve and that was followed by Maurice Jarre's theme from Lawrence of Arabia. It was probably about then that I noticed that they had a lot more percussion than most orchestras. Jarre does use quite a lot of timpani in that theme and they had two sets. There was also quite a lot of use of the gong in various pieces, and not just in the music from the Rank films :)

Then came the one we'd been waiting for, the full 15 (or so) minute ballet from TRS. The Ondes Martenot was played by Cynthia Millar who has studied it for some time. She has also composed quite a bit of film music herself. She has nothing to do for the first part as the girl jumps into the shoes, through the fairground and the first trip down the long corridor. Then, as she realises it's all going wrong the Ondes Martenot comes in with some almost sub-sonic bass notes that add a very worrying air to the piece and then, as she imagines that the shoemaker is Lermontov and then Julian, there's a lovely electronic glissando as the player runs her hand up the keyboard. But I was surprised to see that she then does quite a lot of work for the rest of the piece as well. I always wondered exactly what part it played in the music. I just knew it had to be in there. It's got a great range, much wider than a piano. The range and various other things are controlled with the left hand, the right hand playing on the keyboard.

As they then got to the part where the girl is back in the ballroom and splits into three to be lifted and become a bird and a flower, they showed a short clip of that part of the film, and they synchronised it just about perfectly. It was wonderful to witness, and to be there with the composer's widow and family made it even more special. By the end, thinking about how long it was since it had been played as it was meant to be, I was getting a bit choked up.

The march from The Bridge on the River Kwai took us into an interval. By then the children were getting tired so their Mum took them home. But it was great that they witnessed their grandfather's finest (or certainly his best known) creation.

After the interval we were treated to the march from The Overlanders (John Ireland). A bit of Australian Ealing. There were a lot of marches played, but there are a lot of marches in British film music. The Love Theme from Yanks by Richard Rodney Bennett led us into the fun spot for the evening with a medley of music from the Carry On films. Just in case anyone thought it was all getting too serious.

Then we had the overture from Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing (Patrick Doyle), the theme from Shakespeare in Love (Stephen Warbeck) and a suite from Wilde (Debbie Wiseman) followed by another light hearted piece, the Escape to Paradise from Chicken Run.

But then they pulled another surprise on us, it was in the programme but I hadn't read that in detail and it wasn't mentioned on the web site. The next two items were to be the theme from Shadowlands and the march (of XXX Corps) from A Bridge Too Far. What do they both have in common? Not just Anthony Hopkins, they were both directed by our friend Dickie Attenborough. He came on stage to thunderous applause and introduced both pieces.

They finished up with Harry's Wondrous World from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, shame the kids had gone home by then, and the march from The Dam Busters. I heard someone whistling that as I walked back to the tube :)

What a wonderful evening. When we got back outside and met up with Mrs Easdale, Will got a call from his wife to say she'd taken the children home, but she didn't have a key and they were stuck outside. So we had to abandon the plans for going to get something to eat and drink and have a longer chat and Will had to dash off in a cab to rescue the family. We said hurried goodbyes. I handed out badges to everyone, as family of an Archer they qualify for honorary membership, and we'll meet up again sometime soon to start making plans for getting a proper recording made of TRS. Will has been approached about it already, I've had people asking me about it for some years. If we can get a very good recording of TRS made from the original score then any money made from that, we don't expect it to make a fortune, could help in getting some of Brian's other music recorded and released.

Most of the film music Brian did was for P&P. As well as BN & TRS he did SBR, TEP, GTE, BoRP, Emeric's Miracle in Soho, Micky's The Queen's Guards and PT. Oh, and a bit of incidental music for Return to the Edge. But as well as all that, he also wrote 3 operas, most of which have only had a few performances, some chamber music and various other works.

Prom 2: Music from Great British Films

Time: 7.30pm - c9.45pm
Tickets 6-27.50 price code A or Prom for 5
Broadcast on BBC Two on 28 July 2007
Live on BBC Radio 3
Available as audio on demand for the week following the event

In the year of BAFTA's 60th anniversary and the month that BBC Two begins its Summer of British Film, a wide-ranging feast of some of the finest scores. John Wilson directs a celebration of the vivid musical colour that composers have brought to the silver screen through more than 60 years of British film-making.

Battle of Britain - 'Battle In The Air' (5 mins)
Anna Karenina - Suite (10 mins)
Vaughan Williams
49th Parallel - Prelude (2 mins)
Genevieve - Waltz (3 mins)
Maurice Jarre
Lawrence of Arabia - Theme (3.30 mins)
The Red Shoes - Suite (15 mins)
Bridge On The River Kwai - March (3 mins)


The Overlanders - March - Scorched Earth (4.30 mins)
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett
Love Theme From 'Yanks' (3.30 mins)
Eric Rogers
Carry On... Medley (7 mins)
Patrick Doyle
Much Ado About Nothing - Overture (4.20 mins)
Stephen Warbeck
Shakespeare In Love (5 mins)
Debbie Wiseman
Wilde - Suite (4.30 mins)
John Powell/Harry Gregson-Williams
Chicken Run (4 mins)
A Bridge Too Far (3.30 mins)
John Williams
Harry Potter - Harry's Wondrous World (4.30 mins)
The Dam Busters (3.45 mins)

Richard E. Grant narrator
Philip Achille Harmonica
Cynthia Millar Ondes Martenot
BBC Concert Orchestra
John Wilson conductor

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