Working to beat the band
THE ORCHESTRA: The Lives Behind the Music by Danny Danziger HarperColli ns £16.99
Sunday 16 April 1995
Making a hollow mockery of the city's boast to be "the musical capital of Europe", this is the price that London orchestral musicians pay for the Government's philistine parsimony. Forget the Arts Council-inspired nonsense about abolishing a couple of the existing ones and setting up a "super orchestra" to rival Berlin or Vienna. On a good day every one of the London orchestras can equal Berlin or Vienna; they regularly outplay them in terms of versatility and efficiency. The good days aren't all that frequent because the London orchestras are degradingly under-funded and have to over-work grossly in order to survive. Their members envy Vienna and Berlin not their salaries but the fact that they have time off - time, even, to practise.
A book needs to be written that will reveal the squalor of London orchestral life, and the extra-ordinary technical adroitness that squalor makes necessary (London orchestras can produce a competent concert, even a fine one, on fewer rehearsals than any of their rivals, and often enough they'll have fitted an afternoon recording session between morning rehearsal and evening concert). Alas, Danny Danziger has not written that book, and what he has produced is written badly. Neither he nor his publisher betray the slightest knowledge of music, nor any realisation that occasional reference to a dictionary might save embarrassment. Among the non-existent musicians mentioned are Sir Adrian Bolt, Wolfgang Cervalisch, Antonio Negro, Halfitz and Emil Gill; the musical howlers include an assertion that the viola is "tuned in fifths, so it goes down a lower range" and the mysterious "chromatic scale down from E natural" on the timpani in Strauss's Salome.
The book is based on a series of recklessly frank interviews with members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra; so frank that some of the extra- marital relationships that it chronicles so mercilessly (names are named) are unlikely to survive its publication. Nor, one imagines, will Sir Georg Solti be in a hurry to work with the LPO again: several of its members savage him ferociously. Others are not much keener on the LPO's musical director (he resigned while the book was in the press) Franz Welser-Most. The book will make a lot of people needlessly unhappy, and may have ended at least one career.
Some players, despite their marital or financial problems, their gloom at the orchestra's future, their feeling that it has too many old players (or too many young ones), nevertheless express joy in their music-making. But few talk about music itself with any insight ("I hate Bruckner. It bores me turgid. Great big Gothic turds"); some don't talk about it at all. If the book has a value it is in its crystal clear revelation that the LPO is a deeply unhappy orchestra, and an exhausted one. It only hints at why this is so; the question "what can be done about it?" is not asked.
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