The idea of putting down a list of my favourite music / composers / bands has been in my head for a while …. so here goes, in no particular order!
STEVIE WONDER – the utter brilliance of the man to write such iconic music in so many different styles is truly remarkable. Many happy childhood memories involve playing his albums as cassettes. Favourite album? Probably Original Musiquarium 1. Favourite Stevie track? Difficult – a toss-up between Superstition, Another Star and As If You Read My Mind. His newer version of As If played in his 2008 tour is brilliant with an amazing tenor sax solo by Ryan Kilgore.
IGOR STRAVINSKY – I see Stravinsky and Stevie Wonder in a very similar way, utterly brilliant in the way they embraced and wrote in so many different ways. Stravinky’s early works are my favourite as they are intrinsically linked to the heady Parisian times with Diaghilev, Nijinsky and The Ballets Russes, so The Rite of Spring (I was in the audience in Paris for this 2013 centenary performance!) and Firebird are up there at the top, though I do have a soft spot for The Soldier’s Tale, as I danced it at Birmingham, and Symphony of Psalms, 2nd movement, as it reminds me of when I conducted it in at The Downs School in 1996. I had a letter of complaint afterwards that ‘… the brass were so loud you couldn’t hear the voices’ to which I replied, ‘Dear Madam, that is exactly how I intended it!’)
BILL WITHERS – I just love the laid-back funk/soul sound of Bill and his band as seen in his live session of 1973. It wasn’t so much the well-known song Lovely Day and Lean On Me that grabbed me, but tracks such as Grandma’s Hands and the music from Lonely Town, Lonely Street. In fact, I think I saw this ‘ballet’ televised many years ago and that’s what started me. (One of our friends was also a dancer in Ballet Rambert who staged it and this helped too.) Oh, and the Sax solo in Just The Two Of Us is phenomenal too!
EDWARD ELGAR – Having lived near Elgar’s Birthplace and cycling there many times, I grew up with his music in the blood, felt especially keenly when walking on the top of The Malverns. Although I love it, you may be surprised that his Enigma Variations are not my top choices but maybe his lesser-known pieces, such as his Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Chanson de Nuit and his emotionally-charged and remarkable Sospiri. (The video link here is that of Charles Dance reading Sassoon’s Aftermath at the Somme 100 commemorations with Sospiri in the background.) I must also mention the brilliant short film on the life of Elgar by Ken Russell which was filmed in the Malverns.
MAURICE RAVEL – My love of Ravel’s music is linked to my student days when I studied (and fell in love with) his String Quartet for A-Level and learned of his connections with Debussy and Diaghilev. (The photo I have used is of Ravel playing Piano duets with Nijinsky.) The unexpected beauty of the sounds and harmonies Ravel creates transports me to another place! Favourite pieces include his gorgeous Introduction and Allegro and sublime Pavane Pour Une Enfante Defunte
HANS ZIMMER – Music and the moving image is really important to me and I realise that a lot of my choices have some connection to film or the moving image. Watching The Lion King when it first came out was very moving experience, especially The Stampede and Simba finding the body of Mufasa in the gorge. The Prince of Egypt has a wonderful soundtrack by Hans and the Cello solo when Pharoah holds his dead son has so many resonances of Mufasa in the gorge. Finally, the music for Gladiator stands on its own as a brilliant composition, especially The Battle (like the LK’s Stampede?) and searingly painful Patricide.
FREDERICK DELIUS – I’m still struck how someone can basically isolate themselves in a secluded French farmhouse get write such incredible music – incredible harmonies, never-ending climaxes and almost-Impressionistic blends of instruments and tone-colours. For me, On Hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring sums up what Delius’ music is like, as with The Walk in the Paradise Garden. Chorally, the first of Two Songs to be Sung of a Summer Night on the Water is truly sublime and I included this in my English-Russian concert at The Downs, Malvern, in 1996. My love of music and film is reinforced once more as I love Ken Russell’s moving bio-pic on Delius, Song of Summer.
WILLIAM LLOYD-WEBBER – The unassuming composer-father of Andrew and Julian, only now recognised as a wonderful craftsman of melody and harmonies, mainly for Strings. His Serenade for Strings is totally gorgeous and emotionally charged, especially movement 1 (Barcarolle) and movement 2 (Romance). There is an interesting programme recently recorded by Julian all about his father and his music.
WILLIAM WALTON – Seen by some as the next Elgar, Walton’s music is just so stirring with wonderfully soaring melodies and even more gorgeous counter-melodies. I can’t help conducting to his Crown Imperial and his Spitfire Prelude and Fugue, written for the 1942 war film The First of the Few. One of Walton’s most tender melodies is his Touch her soft lips and part, written for the film Henry V, that I used at my wedding for a dancer to dance to while the books were being signed! I also remember most vividly accompanying Lady Walton into the concert hall at The Downs where she co-narrated Walton’s Facade with The London Sinfonietta and Richard Baker.