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Links to interviews or other material published about Howard Blake.

DIVERSIONS

Diversions Interpreters: Benedict Kloeckner (Violoncello), Howard Blake (Piano) Label: Genuin GEN 15346 Type: CD Published in: Das Orchester November 2015, page 85 On this CD ‘Diversions’ the composer Howard Blake (1938) joins up with Benedict Kloeckner (1989) the rising star of the cello world to present a programme of his own compositions. When Kloeckner won the New Talent Competition of the European Broadcasting Union in 2010 with Blake’s suite ‘Diversions’, the composer presented him with the Cello Sonata and the opportunity of being first to perform it. This led to the two musicians joining up in a close working relationship which has produced a wonderful-sounding album in which the rhythmic finesse of film music and elements of jazz combine to delight the ear. The British pianist, conductor and composer Howard Blake has written soundtracks for famous films as well as numerous concert works and is thus able to exhibit an extensive and multi-faceted oeuvre. One of his most famous pieces is the song ‘Walking in the Air’ from the film ‘The Snowman’, which is to be heard on this CD. Another famous credit is his soundtrack for the science-fiction film ‘Flash Gordon’ on which he worked together with the British rock band ‘Queen’. Throughout the album one can hear that Howard Blake is at home in the film metier in his compositions. They are colourfully laid out and tell stories. Striking melodies, rhythmic complexity, virtuosically-constructed passages and strongly-expressive harmonies determine their character. Some of the pieces heard on the CD were originally written for other combinations and therefore it is as transcriptions that they should be credited as world first performances. The work providing the album-title, ‘Diversions’, is an eight-movement suite which plays with contrasts. It takes historical forms such as the Prelude or the Sarabande, but dresses them up them in contemporary clothes, using jazzy and rhythmically-pointed musical elements. During the variation-work ‘Pennillion’ its longing, cantabile melody is allowed to shine in ever-changing new lights, the Cello Sonata is most unusual in its voicings. At last we come to the programme-piec ‘The Enchantment of Venus’, for whose story Blake is served by Greek myth. The farewell exhibits two short melodic pieces, ‘Walking in the Air’ and ‘Archangel’s Lullaby’ that was originally written for three cellos. Howard Blake and Benedict Kloeckner convince on this high-quality album by their clearly-heard joy in the music. The outstanding quality and the beauty of sound is maintained throughout the works and their very different characters. Blake’s compositions with their catchy melodies must surely appeal not only to film-music buffs but to anyone who opens their ears! Anna Catharina Nimczik
Arranged by DAS ORCHESTER NOVEMBER 2015
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Renaissance Man

HOWARD BLAKE MUSIC RENAISSANCE MAN/ THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE. FILM PREMIERE EDINBURGH 4th and 5th NOVEMBER Filed under: THE JOHN WILLIAMS FILES. by jonman492000 — November 11, 2015 5b56af68a1660a9308ab711a79e3c01c To say that Howard Blake has been taking things easy in the last few years, would be a total travesty. He seems busy as ever, with Concertos, Piano Music and various projects which seem to take him all over the Globe, but specifically I would suggest Europe and Far East. His latest CD has him teamed up with cellist Benedict Kloeckner called DIVERSIONS. Up and coming is a ballet he is currently working on, but certainly his work in the media has been noticeably absent in the last few years. That is till now THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE is a song cycle based on Poems by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894). For me who grew up in the Fifties minus can you believe Television, his adventures were the stuff of young boy’s fantasies, KIDNAPPED, TREASURE ISLAND and a personal favourite THE BLACK ARROW. But for some reason his collection of poems A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES missed me completely by. The Counterpane in case you were wondering is a patchwork quilt into which each square contained a different story, and the young Robert breathed life into these patchwork squares by in later years writing a collection of poems All this is fertile ground for a composer of Howard Blake’s imagination, for what he has done over a very long period of time is to write music to selected verses and whilst the classic THE SNOWMAN had only one song – and what a song- this has songs spread through the entire 26 minute film – This I feel very canny for if sold to a commercial network, time to fit in the dreaded adverts. HB Piano Angle Having since the film only the once, I feel this is very much a review in progress, for as I write this I would really like to see it again, for like a lot of films, sometime you cannot appreciate all that is going on it a single viewing and I personally feel that with repeated showings ,it could come a very worthy successor to THE SNOWMAN , which sadly THE BEAR did not become, though I must admit, to be quite fond of that as well. The animation is very cleverly accomplished for as we see the young Robert in his sick bed it is very much black and white, whereas once we are enveloped into his fantasies, the screen becomes a blaze of colour. Anyone who warmed to THE SNOWMAN will certainly like this, The Choir is from the Pupils of Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh, recorded now and in 2007 at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Not a professional choir at all, they still bring a freshness and youthful vigour to the singing which is most commendable and enjoyable. I defy anyone not to enjoy the choral work on offer here To be reading this you must have an interest in film music and those that appreciated Howard’s earlier scores like RIDDLE OF THE SANDS and THE DUELLISTS will find the same degree of understanding of what music in film and animation can inspire to. The narrator as Robert Louis Stevenson is David Rintoul and the music is played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Howard Blake. The Epilogue spoken by Rintoul is a very emotional moment ,looking back into his life to find the boy that he was , no longer there. and for me, and I suspect for many, a highlight of the film. images (14) I sincerely hope that this in time will prove a worthwhile successor to THE SNOWMAN but in it’s own right. I should also mention that the illustrations by Mark Reeve and Animation by Emmett Elvin are first rate, and one can see, that this has been a labour of love for all concerned. Whilst there seems to be no film assignment on the horizon , we can be grateful for the outstanding scores he has produced for film ‘s of such varying quality. Some classics as the aforementioned THE DUELLISTS and RIDDLE OF THE SANDS, and some like S.O.S. TITANIC which I would have loved to hear in the full longer film, certainly the one currently available is lamentably short. Then of course there are THE AVENGERS , scores for the some of the latter Linda Thorson epsodioes which show show imagination and even those early days, class I often think that whilst there is no comparison as such background wise, he has a marked affinity with Andre Previn, both stated out working on films and pianist , arranger before going on to provide scores , highly regarded by their peers, and aficionados alike. Both felt, I suspect that the they both felt that need to write music that didn’t have someone talking over. Both have accomplished that to a very high level for both composers can appeal emotionally to listener, for what else is music if you cannot get emotionally involved I still hope one day Howard will find a feature film that will utilise his undeniable talents for he has a keen dramatic instinct .Till then THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE will do quite nicely. Yes indeed. John Williams (Back to Top)

DIVERSIONS ON GENUIN

Diversions Works by Howard Blake 01–08 Diversions for Cello & Piano, Op. 337a* (23'15) 09 Pennillion for Cello & Piano, Op. 525a* (08'49) 10–12 Cello Sonata, Op. 619* (23'31) 13 The Enchantment of Venus, Op. 566a* (08'07) 14 Walking in the Air (from “The Snowman”, Op. 620a*) (03'54) 15 Archangel’s Lullaby, Op. 436a (02'01) * World premiere recordings of these arrangements Benedict Kloeckner – Cello Howard Blake – Piano Diversions Premiere recordings by Howard Blake for cello and piano The English composer Howard Blake is a living legend with soundtracks like "With Umbrella, Charm and Bowler" or the Academy Award nominated "The Snowman". That such a musician invites someone to make music is probably quite unlikely. That he then also places a new work on the music stand for a premiere recording is almost a miracle. Benedict Kloeckner proves that he is worthy of such an honor: the rising star of the cello scene literally merges together with the grand master himself at the piano to become one on this new GENUIN CD: the whole variety of Blake’s oeuvre, his rhythmic finesse and his humor lights up in thousands of colors. A must for chamber music and film music fans! Genuin GEN15346 (Back to Top)

Snowman stage show - sheer genius

"It may seem perverse to put the words 'snowman' and 'genius' into the same sentence, but the inspired range of delights in this dance adaptation of Raymond Briggs's book deserves no less an accolade"
Arranged by TIME OUT
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Diversions beyond the Snowman

uesday, 19 November 2013 Diversions beyond the Snowman - an encounter with Howard Blake Labels: feature article, interview Howard Blake The name of Howard Blake is immediately synonymous with the music written for the film The Snowman, beyond this his name might recall the scores for films such as Ridley Scott's The Duellists. But Blake has also had a parallel career writing concert music with works ranging from his piano concerto commissioned for the Princess of Wales's 30th birthday, through his oratorio Benedictus to his Diversions for cello and piano which he is recording next year with the young German cellist Benedict Kloeckner. I recently heard Benedict Kloeckner and Howard Blake playing a programme of Howard's music for cello and piano as a celebration of the composer's 75th birthday. At the concert Howard talked of his working on the cello part of the Diversions with the great French cellist Maurice Gendron. Subsequent to this I found I could find no record of Gendron having played the work (Howard's website is admirably comprehensive). So when I met up with Howard Blake to talk about his music and his career it seemed natural to start off our conversation by asking about Diversions. We met in his studio, a former artist's studio on a top floor in Kensington, double-height, top lit, with both a computer and a piano, walls lined with books, pictures and CDs, a record of a long working life; a lovely room in which to work. In person Howard Blake is charming and seemingly possessed of almost total recall, able to talk with ease about events in the past. He uses his website to store all the details of his various performances and during our conversations occasionally pauses to check a detail on his pc. Diversions history is an example of how Howard's concert works seem to go through multiple version, responding to need. Howard is a very practical composer, who sees his role as a craftsman and more than once in our discussions he talked about the composer's role and the need to respond in practical fashion. On his website Howard includes a couple of phrases which seem to sum up both the man and his music, describing himself as 'a composer working as a craftsman, responding to the requirements of the day', and referring to his music as being 'hopefully inspirational and non-elitist'. Howard's Diversions started as a piece for cello and piano in 1973, though he admits that the work was not as honed as it is now. Ten years later, Howard was in contact with the French cellist Maurice Gendron who suggested that the work might be developed into a concerto and Howard travelled to Gendron's home in Grez-sur-Loing to work with him. Gendron's home was just up the river from Delius's house and Howard was able to row from Gendron's house to Delius's along the river which inspired such works as Summer Night on the River. Gendron announce that the finale was boring; to Howard's comment that it was intended to be a major version of the main theme, Gendron responded that he had heard the theme once and never wanted to hear it again. Also, Gendron wanted Howard to make the Sarabande more virtuosic. Though Gendron was in his mid-sixties at the time, he was a superb player and under his encouragement Howard made the work more virtuosic, adding a new Cadenza and Finale. Gendron showed Howard how to take advantage of the extreme possibilities of the cello Once completed, it was planned to premiere the work at the Brighton Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Gendron as soloist. Near to the concert date the head of Radio 3 informed Howard that it was felt that Gendron was 'past it' and that he was being dropped. (Howard disagreed with this assessment of Gendron, having played works such as Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with Gendron whilst staying with him). Another soloist was not offered, and the BBC simply dropped Howard's work from the concert. The work was subsequently premiered with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Steven Isserlis as the soloist in the Fairfield Halls, Croydon with Sir Charles Groves conducting, in 1989. Though the location did mean that the work did not make as much impression as it might have. As a result of a record contract with Sony, which came about because of the success of The Snowman, Howard was able to record the concerto alongside his Piano Concerto on a new disc. Steven Isserlis declined to record the work so the part was recorded by Robert Cohen. Howard feels that this splitting of the solo role rather dissipated the potential of the work at its premiere performances; though Isserlis performed it subsequently, the recording was by a different cellist. Isserlis performed the work in 1991 at the Three Choirs Festival with the RLPO and Vernon Handley. Robert Cohen performed it in 1989 at the Royal Festival Hall, with the Bach Choir performing Howard's Benedictus, though Howard admits that it didn't fill the hall. Cohen performed the work again in 2000 with the Brighton Philharmonic under Barry Wordsworth. And that appeared to be that. Then in 2010 Howard got an email from a young German cellist, Benedict Kloeckner. One of Kloeckner's teachers was Martin Rummel. Howard and Martin Rummel had played the Diversions, in the version for cello and piano at the British Music Information Centre. When Kloeckner asked Rummel to recommend a contemporary work for cello and piano he suggested the Diversions. Having learned it, Kloeckner wanted some coaching and he and his pianist came over to Howard's studio. My meeting with Howard is in his studio and at this point in our discussion he walks over to the piano to demonstrate how the young players had got some of the speeds wrong, and he plays a passage twice; once gently and then again, this time rather burning up the keyboard. Impressed with Kloeckner's playing, Howard found himself demonstrating a lot to them. After two hours, Howard assumed that was that. Then Howard got an email from Benedict to say that he had entered the work for the European Broadcasting Union Young Artists Competition, and had come in the last seven (out of 32 countries), and that the finals were in Bratislava when he would be playing Diversions again. Howard went out to Bratislava and heard Benedict playing Diversions and he came in the final three. Next day the three finalists played a concerto, and Benedict played the Elgar and came first. Howard described it as a big event, champagne was drunk and bold plaques delivered. Before leaving for Bratislava Howard had realised that, if Benedict did win he would need a present. He thought of his violin sonata and, as with Sibelius it was relatively straightforward to transpose the work for cello. Benedict was pleased with his present and, some time later invited Howard to do a recital with him. With Diversions, the new/old Cello Sonata and two existing works for cello and piano Penillion and Jazz Dances, they had a complete programme. The first time that Howard played with Benedict Kloeckner he felt that they had a rapport. Their first concert together was at the Historiche Cafehalle in Schlangenbad, a suburb of Mainz in 2011. The concert was a success and they have gone on to do further concerts together and will be recording the programme for SWDR in early 2014. But the long journey of Diversions wasn't finished. Benedict had been playing with the Berlin Kammerorchester, performing a string version of Schumann's Cello Concerto in 2011 which Howard heard. So Howard created a new version of Diversions for string orchestra, which Benedict played at the Berlin Konzerthaus this year. And there are possibilities of further performances in the UK next year Benedict Kloeckner and the Berlin Kammerorchester conductor Jordi Bernacer in Howard Blake's Diversions for Cello and String Orchestra Howard Blake had started life as a pianist, getting a piano scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Whilst at the Academy he formed a duo with the violinist Miles Baster and learned the whole of the violin/piano repertoire, performing recitals in music clubs. In 1960 they performed in Edinburgh. It was a great success and Baster was offered a job of founding the Edinburgh String quartet. Thus bringing an end to their duo partnership. Howard's time at the Academy wasn't entirely happy. His composition teacher, Howard Ferguson, retired after a year and Howard found himself out of sympathy with the prevailing style of serialism and modernism on composition. Whilst at the Academy he virtually stopped composing and stopped playing the piano. Afterwards he started to work in films eventually working as a session player and conducting. He also learned to play jazz as it was only way to get work, eventually becoming in house pianist for the Abbey Road studios, playing everything from classical to jazz and rock, even playing cabaret on television. This led to work on films with people like Bernard Hermann and it was through Hermann that he took over writing music for The Avengers (Howard wrote music for 10 episodes). Later in our conversations Howard talked about having to write music for a weekly show like the The Avengers stopped him worrying about the Academy's obsession with making every bar of music original. This was being a craftsman, writing music responding to need. Life became so busy, with conducting, composing and being musical director at Elstree Studios, that Howard stopped playing the piano entirely. The busy-ness finally got to him, and he found he had no time for writing music, he wanted to write chamber music again. So in 1972 he dropped out and moved to Sussex. He admits that he was lucky, he had enough money in royalties to make him independent. Asked to write a series for Thames TV he said he'd do it if he could write for a chamber group, a piano trio with himself piano. He enjoyed it and they started playing Schubert Trios in concerts. They suggested he write his own music for their concerts, the original version of Diversions and the Violin Sonata both arose in this manner, plus a Piano Quartet written for a concert in 1975. All three works come from a period of intense action, and the Piano Quartet remains one of Howard's absolute favourite works. Inevitably, with all this activity, Howard's returned to his piano playing. Then Ridley Scott asked him to write the music for his first film, Ridley Scott's film The Duellists was an enormous hit and Howard was aked to do big films. There was a ballet for the Queen's Jubilee, plus some big orchestra pieces, he was busy writing again, too busy to play the piano. In 1989, David Welton of the Philharmonia contacted him. The Princess of Wales was the President of the orchestra and they wanted Howard to write a piano concerto for a concert for the princess's 30th birthday. Howard described it as a most glorious commission and Evgeny Kissin was to play the piano part. Nearer the time, Kissin announced that he did not have enough time to lean the piece. The premiere was in May 1991 and by Autumn 1990 there was no pianist. David Welton phoned Howard and said that 'the boys day that you can play it'. Howard linked the performance to a recording, deciding that the only way he could do the performance was to use a recording to check that he could indeed play it. The recording was done on a Fazioli piano, amazingly the first modern piano concerto to be played on a Fazioli. He had to practice for three months to get it back doing scales and Cramer studies. And indeed it all did come back, he recorded the concerto from memory. But in the dressing room at the Royal Festival Hall just before the concert, he found that he could not remember. He had never played a concerto in his life before, and it was too late to do anything to remedy the situation. He went out and realised he had to play is as if he was in the studio. The recording was issued on CD with the Diversions for Cello and Orchestra and Toccata, and Sony re-issued the disc five years ago to celebrate Howard's 70th birthday. A new disc of concertos, The Barber of Neville has just been issued on the Pentatone classics label, with Sir Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in Howard's Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon concertos, plus the Serenade for Wind Octet. Howard and Benedict Kloeckner will be recording their cello and piano programme for SWDR in January and performing the programme at Schwetzingen in 2014 Further information from Howard Blake's website.
Arranged by robert hugill
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Brighton Philharmonic Summer Season

Published by Latest
Brighton Philharmonic Summer Season – Howard Blake Posted in Classical Reviews, Latest 7, Music Reviews, Reviews, Under Review, Under Review The new season began brilliantly! Peter Adams, the Philharmonic’s popular principal cello, was the virtuoso backbone of four chamber works covering the entire span of Brighton-bred Blake’s distinguished career. From the re-worked teenage Fantasy-trio of 1956 to last year’s ‘Elegia Stravagante’, each work was full of glorious melody and rhythmic complexity. The composer’s amiable introductions and helpful programme notes illuminated these delightful works even more. Blake is still recovering from a broken wrist so the piano part was played, at just a few days’ notice, by the excellent Sacha Grynyuk. Daniel Bhattacharya (violin) and Bruce White (viola) completed the ensemble. Unitarian Church, 21 June 2015 Rating: ★★★★★ Andrew Connal
Arranged by Andrew Connall
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CHAMBER MUSIC OF HOWARD BLAKE

Published by Planet Hugill
Chamber music of Howard Blake; Madeleine Mitchell,violin; Rivka Golani,viola; Benedict Kloeckner,cello; Sasha Grynyuk,piano. Reviewed by Robert Hugill on April 17th 2015. The concert at Milton Court Concert Hall on Friday 17 April 2015 was a showcase for the chamber music of Howard Blake. The group of musicians consisted of the young German cellist Benedict Kloeckner, who has developed something of a name for himself playing Howard Blake's music, with violinist Madeleine Mitchell, viola player Rivka Golani, and pianist Sasha Grynyuk. The pianist was intended to be Howard Blake himself, but in the event a broken arm prevented his playing, and we were lucky enough to get Sasha Grynyuk, who learned the taxing programme specially. The musicians came together in various combinations, with the Prelude for solo viola, Diversions and The Enchantment of Venus both for cello and piano, Piano Trio No. 3 Elegia Stravagante and Piano Quartet. The concert opened with Howard Blake's Piano Trio No. 3, Elegia Stravagante which was written in 2014 and premiered by Howard Blake and Benedict Kloeckner, with Linus Roth, in Koblenz in September 2014. In seven movements, the work is based on a melody which is first stated in the opening Andante (rapsodico) movement. It is a wistful, elegant and rather thoughtful melody, by turns dramatic and elegiac, which Howard Blake subjected to a variety of treatments including elements of jazz/blues, and a big solo moment for the cello. Despite the romantic textures of the work there was a clarity and elegance to the performance. Benedict Kloeckner won the 2010 European Broadcasting Union competition playing Howard Blake's Diversions for cello and piano, and he and the composer have played it on subsequent occasions and recorded it. The work was originally written in 1983 and Howard Blake developed the cello part in conjunction with the French cellist Maurice Gendron, so it is a bravura and challenging work. It is an eight-movement suite which starts with a Prelude with a long-breathed and elegant melody which was given an intense, sung performance from Benedict Kloeckner, who played the piece from memory. A jazz-like, skittering Scherzo followed, then a darkly dramatic March with a big tragic cello tune. The Waltz had jazz-like hints too, and despite the technical challenges it was clear that Benedict Kloeckner was enjoying himself. The slow moving, elegiac Aria was followed by a rhythmically catchy Serenade which circled round endlessly, followed by a Cadenza which was full of brilliant details, and thoughtful moments. The Finale was very up tempo with fast and furious passage-work. Benedict Kloeckner played with concentration, depth and intensity, and a remarkable maturity, giving a performance which was deeply felt. He was finely supported by pianist Sasha Grynuk, in a piano part which was perhaps less bravura than the cello part, but no less challenging. After the interval the distinguished viola player, Rivka Golani, played Prelude for Solo Viola, which was written by Howard Blake as a prelude to his oratorio Benedictus in 1980 and it was prepared as a solo concert piece in 1989 by the viola player Frederick Riddle. It was a rhapsodic, rather darkly lyrical work using lots of strenuous string crossing and double stopping. Not an easy piece by any means, and it got remarkably violent at times. The Enchantment of Venus was originally written in 2006 for basset clarinet and piano, for Colin Lawson. The version for cello and piano was premiered in Germany by Benedict Kloeckner and Howard Blake in 2014. The work has a mythological narrative, which Howard Blake bases around a lyrical, melancholic melody which he subjects to some strenuous dramatic development and turmoil, before finishing with beautifully simple, elegant melody. As before Benedict Kloeckner played from memory and gave a deeply felt performance, singing the final melody with great beauty. The last work in the programme was the earliest, the Piano Quartet (for piano, violin, viola, cello) which was written in 1974 and premiered in 1975. The opening Allegro con anima was a long, complex and highly structured movement which felt very impulsively romantic and based round an animated, long-breathed melody. The whole movement had the feeling of being inspired by Dvorak's piano-based chamber music, and this carried over into the second movement, Presto (Scherzo). This was fast and furious, with fragments of melody being passed between the instruments. There were a pair of trios, the first lyrical relaxed, the second quieter and darker and more off-beat. The third movement, Lento espressivo, had long intertwining lines for the strings over repeated piano chords, with a magical ending. The finale, Allegro robusto, started out robust and carefree, with a jig-like rhythm, but then the composer moved us rapidly through a variety of moods, by turns darkly dramatic and slow, before a conclusion which seemed to evoke material from the opening. The four performers, combing together in various combinations throughout the evening, all played with a strong commitment and feel for Howard Blake's music, often with some quite challenging writing. And throughout, there was a lovely feeling of chamber interaction and collegiality. In style the music was varied, but always complex and full of interest; Howard Blake's music might be tonal, but it is never simple. And as a treat at the end, the four performers came together to play and arrangement of the composer's best known tune. Howard Blake and Benedict Kloekner's new disc is now available from Genuin and the disc was featured on Deutschlandfunk radio in Berlin last night. (Back to Top)

DAILY MAIL - FLYING THROUGH THE AIR

Published by Daily Mail
HOWARD BLAKE, com­poser of the global hit walk­ing In the air, found him­self fly­ing through the air in soho af­ter trip­ping over road­works out­side the Grou­cho Club. Blake, 76, broke his right arm. ‘I can’t play at all,’ he says. ‘I have missed three ma­jor con­certs.’ where is the snow­man when you need him?
Arranged by Jenny Tonge
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Avant-garde BBC leaves melody high and dry

Published by Sunday Times
One of Britain's most succesful composers has accused the BBC and the Arts Council of promoting 'avant-garde' artists while ignoring those who want to write 'tunes that do not grate on the ear'. Howard Blake, who wrote the music for the 1982 Oscar-nominated film The Snowman, said the two organisations displayed an 'extraordinary snobbery' towards 'music with tunes', including film scores. In an interview with The Sunday Times, he said that instead they promote 'atonal work that no one beyond an elite circle can bear to hear'. Blake, 76, criticised the 'British Establishment' for supporting experimental composers such as Pierre Boulez and John Cage while ignoring music with melody. 'There is the view that tonal music has all been done by the great composers and one should therefore be looking for new expression. Nobody would disagree with that. But that does not mean excluding music with melody', he said. The Establishment was driving audiences away from concert halls by refusing to accept that most atonal music has had its day, he added. Blake has composed more than 650 works for stage, screen and concert hall in a career spanning more than 50 years. The West End stage show of The Snowman has just sold its millionth ticket. A concert of his music including four London premieres, will take place on Friday at Milton Court, the new concert hall of the Guildhall School of Music next the Barbican. DALYA ALBERGE
Arranged by Dalya Alberge
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THE BARBER OF NEVILLE ON PENTATONE

Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) The Barber of Neville Concerto for flute and string orchestra, Op. 493a (1996) [17:57] Concerto for clarinet and chamber orchestra, Op. 329a (1984/2010) [21:31] Concerto for bassoon and string orchestra, Op. 607 (1971/2009) [12:35] Serenade for Wind Octet, Op. 419 (1990) Jaime Martin (flute); Andrew Marriner (clarinet); Gustavo Núñez (bassoon) Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner rec. September, 2012, St. John’s Smith Square, London. DDD PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC 5186 506 SACD [68:24] This disc is a delight from start to finish. The three wind concertos by Howard Blake all make for highly enjoyable listening while the Serenade for Wind Octet is equally attractive and no mere ‘filler’. The Concerto for bassoon and string orchestra is the only one of the works that I’ve previously heard. There’s a story behind this work. Some years ago Dr Len Mullenger proposed that MusicWeb International would commission the work for the young bassoonist, Karen Geoghegan, then at the start of her career, to perform and record. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside the control of either Len or Howard Blake it wasn’t possible to bring that project to fruition but Blake wrote the concerto anyway and here it’s played by Gustavo Núñez, the principal bassoonist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The concerto, which plays for some 12 minutes, is cast in three short movements and it exploits the various facets of the bassoon very effectively. The music is thoroughly attractive. The first movement is fluent and makes full use of the instrument’s compass. In the pensive little slow movement the bassoon’s singing qualities are brought out while the finale is perky and sprightly. Núñez is an excellent soloist. The Clarinet Concerto was written for Thea King who gave its first performance and recorded it. Sadly, however, she never returned to the work for reasons that are explained in the booklet. Blake made some revisions to the first movement and it’s that revised version that’s presented for the first time on disc in this recording. If you have Thea King’s Hyperion disc containing this concerto and works by Lutoslawski and Mátyás Seiber that will be her recording of the original version of the Blake concerto (CDA66215). The Clarinet Concerto strikes a slightly more serious tone than the other works on this disc. The first movement has a somewhat mysterious air to it. I particularly like the second movement, which follows without a break. Here the music is mellow and songful; it’s gently expressive and is expressively played There are ample opportunities for display in the lively finale. This concerto also benefits from the advocacy of an expert soloist in the person of Andrew Marriner. The Flute Concerto is simply captivating. The first movement is dominated by a lovely, airy melody which is sung by the flute right at the outset. As the movement unfolds and the string orchestra gets involved with the melody the flute decorations are most attractive. The second movement sparkles, living up fully to the fact that the term con Spirito is included in the tempo indication; there’s also a more relaxed central section, which is very pleasing. The slow movement consists of a beguiling theme which is then subject to variation, followed by a cadenza. The finale is, for the most part, vivacious and high spirited. Just before the close there’s a welcome reminiscence of the melody with which the concerto began. This concerto is zestful and delightfully fresh. Jaime Martin does it full justice. The wind Serenade is cast in three movements. The first is urbane and civilised and one notices at once how expertly the music has been laid out for the eight instruments. All parts contribute to the discussion and all the individual lines are clearly heard and well balanced: that latter point is a tribute to the players also. I can only agree with the composer’s comment that this movement contains ‘a profusion of melody and rhythm and a sense of life bubbling over.’ The second movement strikes a more serious tone but the finale is, in Blake’s words, ‘capricious, light and breathless.’ Infectiously gay rhythms impart a real spring to the music. All the music on this disc is splendidly performed both by the soloists and by The Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Incidentally, Sir Neville Marriner will celebrate his 90th birthday in April 2014 so the timing of the release of this new disc is highly appropriate. He would have been 88 at the time these recordings were made but I defy any listener to deduce that: the spirited performances could be the work of a man half his age. The recorded sound is excellent. My one very minor caveat is a suspicion that the clarinet was just a shade too close to the microphone; occasionally one detects a little bit of extraneous noise from the instrument but not to any disruptive degree. Otherwise the soloists are expertly balanced against the accompaniment and the overall sound is clear and pleasing. I listened to this hybrid SACD as a conventional CD. The notes are brief but tell you all you need to know about the music. “What about the title of the disc?”, I hear you ask. Apparently, Sir Neville, his son, Andrew and Howard Blake all patronised the same hairdressing salon in Knightsbridge, London. At first they weren’t aware that each of them was a client of Jean-Marie but through him they met in due course and planned this recording. Hence the witty album title which, for me, sets the seal on a collection of expertly crafted, very melodious and highly entertaining music. Since the music is so immaculately performed as well I can only conclude by saying ‘suits you, sir.’ John Quinn (Back to Top)

ASHKENAZY DISK REVIEW

Review by Blair Sanderson British composer Howard Blake seems to lead two careers, writing music for films and for the concert hall, yet this division is somewhat arbitrary because so much of his work has crossover appeal. The music for the 1982 film The Snowman, for example, has become one of Blake's most recognizable scores, and its signature song, Walking in the Air, has become a genuine hit, covered by pop and even heavy metal artists. Blake has also written evocative music for the films The Duellists and The Changeling, and their themes are included in this 2014 Decca release by pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. In many instances, Blake composes in a relaxed contemporary classical style, as in the series of 24 piano pieces in Lifecycle, of which 10 are presented here, including the keyboard version of Walking in the Air. Blake is an unabashed tonalist with a pleasing lyrical gift that makes his music instantly accessible, though its mild harmonies and simple melodies are rarely challenging. However, the Dances for 2 pianos and the Sonata for 2 pianos show more rhythmically active music infused with jazz harmonies, and Ashkenazy's performances with his son, Vovka Ashkenazy, are easily the most entertaining selections of this disc. (Back to Top)

Academy premiere

Published by Classical Source
World premiere of Howard Blake’s The Snowman Fantasia – Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner Tuesday, November 25, 2014 St Martin-in-the-Fields, London Reviewed by Robert Matthew-Walker Sir Neville Marriner. Photograph: www.icartists.co.uk Composers who wish to be taken seriously, whose music is almost exclusively tonal and who write concertos which are called concertos, rather than pieces tagged with titles taken from last week’s headlines or a phrase from last year’s No.1 hit record, and who also have had a considerable success in what might be termed the ‘crossover’ market, have a hard time of it in today’s critical climate. In the UK Howard Blake (born 1938) might be considered to be the prime example of such a composer, for his million-selling hit song ‘Walking in the Air’ has become a perennial Christmas favourite, and the show from which it comes – itself based upon a wonderful television film of 30 years ago, in which Blake’s music was first heard – is now firmly established as a Christmas ‘must-see’ (in London, at the Peacock Theatre) for children, quite literally, of all ages. The song itself was a genuine inspiration for Blake, coming to him whilst walking his dog over Hampstead Heath, and it is one which has formed the basis for a series of subsequent works from his pen, transcribed and reworked many times, but always to new and expressive effect. Howard Blake The genre of English composers writing for string orchestra is a long and distinguished one, perhaps more often encountered in the music of the last hundred years or so, and the suggestion by Sir Neville Marriner that Blake should write a work based on the stage show was the impetus for this latest incarnation of the composer’s ongoing fascination with that Hampstead Heath inspiration. Blake is no stranger to writing well and idiomatically for strings: his Violin Concerto and Cello Concerto, especially, attest to that gift, as do his recent String Quartets and other works, and in The Snowman Fantasia he has taken the musical ideas a stage further, although it appears there is one further stage to go. Originally, the idea was that there would be no speech, or singing, in this Fantasia: here would be an opportunity to listen to the music – after a creative period of over 30 years – by itself, “recollected in tranquillity” as Wordsworth has it. Although that may have been the initial idea, on this occasion we did have a narrator – Blake himself – sitting to one side of Marriner, telling us of the salient points in the story against the orchestral background. I am not entirely sure that this worked in practice: certainly, pieces such as Peter and the Wolf and Babar the Elephant successfully combine narrative with music, but so fascinating was Blake’s succession of quasi-symphonic variations on his unforgettable theme, and his excellent treatment of the material in orchestral guise that I found myself listening more to the musical background-foreground than to the occasional spoken text. The result was faintly disappointing, for I am convinced that a performance of the continuous half-hour score alone would demonstrate the composer’s mastery of his craft and of his material – especially one as well-played as this was. The ASMF strings were simply superb, and Marriner’s conducting was as dapper and sprightly as ever – did he truly celebrate his 90th-birthday earlier this year, and has he really just returned from a tour of China and Hong Kong? It seemed incredible – but he did, and he has. The new Fantasia was followed by the four-movement Flute Concerto from 1996, in which the brilliant and sensitive soloist was Michael Cox. This work is essentially a group of studies in lighter vein – not ‘light music’ as such, but perfectly capturing the sylvan nature of the instrument. It must be immensely rewarding to play, and the performance itself was exceptional in every regard, as was that of the rather deeper three-movement Clarinet Concerto which was given in the revised version of 2011. Readers may know Thea King’s Hyperion recording of the original version (1984, the Concerto was originally written for her), but this revision deserves serious attention. It is a more probing work than the Concerto for Flute, having chamber orchestral accompaniment, the emotional expression more intense yet never angst-ridden. James Burke gave a superlative account of the very impressive score. In between these two Concertos came Blake’s splendid Serenade for Wind Octet (1990), a subtly impressive score. Its three movements are quite beautifully laid out for the instruments. Germs of melodies are used and re-used in successive movements, giving the Serenade an organic unity that is notable in itself and which suits the nature of the music excellently. The piece is a beautiful and attractive addition to a repertoire that is in serious danger of dying out. The performance, given without a conductor, was delightfully engrossing. One doesn’t hear orchestral and instrumental playing of this calibre every night of the week. (Back to Top)

Hugill on the Academy concert

Wednesday, 26 November 2014 Academy of St Martin in the Fields plays Howard Blake Labels: concert review ASMF at St Martin in the Fields Howard Blake Snowman Fantasia, Flute Concerto, Clarinet Concerto, Serenade for Wind Octet; Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner; St Martin in the Fields Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 25 2014 Star rating: 4.0 Two wind concertos at the centre of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields concert of Howard Blake's music Having recorded a disc of Howard Blake's more recent music (see my review) in 2013, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields gave a concert of Howard Blake's music at the church of St Martin in the Fields on Tuesday 25 November 2014. The orchestra's principal flautist, Michael Cox, was the soloist in Blake's Flute Concerto op.493a, and the orchestra's principal clarinettist, James Burke, was the soloist in Blake's Clarinet Concerto op.329a, the wind players from the orchestra played Blake's Serenade for Wind Octet op.419 and the concert opened with Blake's new arrangement of his most popular piece - The Snowman. Here the Snowman Fantasia op.532 was played by the strings of the orchestra, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner with Blake himself narrating. The Snowman is one of those pieces that we think we all remember, but how much do we really? The music is inextricably linked to the song, Walking in the Air which was sung by Aled Jones, except of course that in the original film it was sung by Peter Auty (now a distinguished operatic tenor) and when Blake originally sketched out the score there was no song, just a melody. In fact Blake wrote the music first, based on an initial animators' idea and Raymond Briggs book. The animation was done to Blake's piano score and it was this version to which he returned for the new string arrangement. Originally intended to stand alone, without either images or narration, Blake had been persuaded by Sir Neville Marriner to include the spoken story and the result created rather a striking melodrama. Blake's wit and sense of enjoyment of the story came over strongly, not just in his narrative but in the music itself now shorn of visual images. The rich detailing of the string writing played dividends, especially in the strong yet disciplined performance it received from the strings of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. I was particularly struck by how the big tune, in its various appearances sung by the strings, was given in a poised and evocative manner without any attempt to milk it. Blake's writing for strings often echoed that of his predecessors and I caught rather nice hints at such pieces as Trevor Duncan's Little Suite. Howard Blake's Flute Concerto dates from 1996 and is written for flute and strings. It starts with the flute, which has a solo over tremolando strings. This lovely melody is the basis for variations which the flute works over the strings. Cox not only brought a nice fluency to the decoration but played with a lovely warm tone, complemented by the strings' flexible yet firm sense of line. The second movement, marked Scherzo con spirito was rather perky with a characterful interplay between flute and strings. the Andante expressive was slow and elegant, with some fabulous passagework from Cox in the variations and a rather touching cadenza. The final Marcia Grazioso was perky again, with a lovely element of humour. There was a something of neo-baroque feel to the concerto, in the way that Blake wrote for his soloist and strings, but the sound world is very much 20th century. The soloist, Michael Cox, not only showed that he had the technique to play all of Blake's notes, but brought a thoughtful warmth and real emotional depth to the piece. It was a performance which really made me view the work in a different light, particularly the way Cox played the lovely opening theme when it returns at the end of the concerto. Blake's Serenade for Wind Octet was written in 1990, it was played by the wind players from the orchestra without a conductor. The work is very much modern harmoniemusik with Blake revelling in the sound that two oboes, two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons can make when playing together. That said, the textures were very much led by the principal oboe, played by Christopher Cowie, and principal clarinet, played by James Burke. The opening Grazioso con moto was full of infectious rhythm and layers of melodic detail. The players gave the unashamedly romantic music a lovely warm sound. The Serioso come una marcia lente started with a lovely melancholy melody on the oboe, with a rocking accompaniment, and these two elements were developed throughout the movement with the melody passed between oboe and clarinet, creating some intensely passionate melodic moments. The finale, Molto vivace capriccioso had a slightly jazzy edge to the rhythms and was an infectious delight, with a lovely interplay between the instruments. The players gave the piece a lovely romantic warmth and depth of sound, and the work seemed to develop a greater emotional richness than on the recording. The concert concluded with Blake's Clarinet Concerto. Written originally for Thea King, the work has a slightly complex history (see my review of the CD for more details), but in James Burke's performance came over as highly passionate, melancholy piece. It opens with a short rhapsodic moment for solo clarinet which leads into the opening movement, Moderato molto deciso. Though the clarinet plays a lyrical melody over a syncopated rhythmic accompaniement in the strings, the sense of melancholy English rhapsody is never far away in the work. Quite impressively Burke never allowed the number of notes in the solo part to overwhelm him, and they were all subsumed into a lovely sense of lyrical rhapsody. Another lyrical recitative links into the Lento serioso again a solo line beautifully sung yet suffused with a very particular sort of English melancholy. The finale, Round Dance: Vivace quite simply combines lots of notes with some infectiously jazzy rhythms. The number of notes seemed to bother Burke not a whit, and his passagework was both spectacular and expressive, finishing with an incredible bravura finish. Blake's writing for clarinet in the work has always struck me as evoking Gerald Finzi's clarinet concerto, and this reveals layers of historical background and influence. The first soloist in the concerto, Thea King, was married to Frederick Thurston who premiered Finzi's concerto. And Blake's teacher at the Royal Academy was Howard Ferguson, who had been taught by RO Morris and RVW and who was a great friend of Gerald Finzi. Cox brought out these influences, but made the work his own and gave it a real emotional kick. Throughout he was well supported by Marriner and the orchestra. It was lovely to hear a whole concert of Howard Blake's music and gratifying to see such a good audience for the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields brave enterprise. In addition to the Academy's support for Blake's music, perhaps what was most impressive was the way that two orchestral principals took the solo roles in a pair of virtuoso conccertos. I do hope that we get to hear more of Howard Blake's music in concert, there is plenty worth hearinIng and he has reached opus number 666!
Arranged by Robert Hugill
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CONCERT OF CHAMBER MUSIC BY HOWARD BLAKE DECEMBER 4th 2014

Gloucester Music Society, St Mary de Lode Church. Madeleine Mitchell violin, Rosalind Ventris viola, Peter Adams cello, Howard Blake piano. Gloucester Music Society's final concert of 2014 was something really rather special: an entire concert of chamber music written by Howard Blake, better known as a composer for stage and screen - most notably for Raymond Briggs' animated tale of 'The Snowman.' But any thoughts that we might be in for an evening of lightweight easy listening were quickly put to bed by the opening piece: the UK première of his Piano Trio No 2 Elegia Stravagante, a terse but ultimately amiable discourse for piano and strings in one continuous movement of seven interlinked sections. It also set out Blake's territory, clearly and unambiguously: resolutely diatonic, rhythmically vital and lyrical beyond belief. Howard Blake's gift for melody is second to none, and was evident in each piece in tonight's concert. Pennillion for cello and piano, a set of variations upon an imaginary Welsh song, was a case in point. But there's much more to Blake's music than a 'good tune' or two. The Violin Sonata of 2007 is a study in virtuosity, even in the central Lento which has an air of requiem about it, and was played with aplomb by Madeleine Mitchell. And the Prelude for Solo Viola, adapted from a large- scale choral work Benedictus, has already found its way into the curriculum for music academies. It is easy to see why as it is a test of any violist's sensitivity as well as technique – and Rosalind Ventris was equal to it tonight. Howard himself was in the spotlight for the Impromptu piano solo of 1975, during which he displayed his formidable technique as well as compositional facility. But the piece de resistance was the Piano Quartet of 1974: a work of intellectual and emotional rigour that left one aghast at its composers' staggering level of invention. This four-movement piece encapsulates the essence of Howard Blake's craft – sensibility and logic within an accessible medium. It is a winning formula without ever being – or sounding – formulaic. The four musicians then rounded off the evening with an arrangement of Walking In The Air for piano quartet, the first time the piece had been performed for this particular combination of instruments. It was a wonderfully seasonal way to end what had been a truly magical evening of stunning music. Such a pity there weren't a few more Gloucesterians there to savour it. ©2014 Julia Price
Arranged by Julia Price
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Walking in the Air: VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY PLAYS THE PIANO MUSIC OF HOWARD BLAKE

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker Howard Blake The Snowman – Walking in the Air, Op.489u The Changeling – Music Box, Op.489 The Duellists – Laura, Op.604 Prelude for Vova, Op.540 Speech After Long Silence, Op.610 Eight Character Pieces, Op.338 Dances for Two Pianos, Op.217a* Sonata for Two Pianos, Op.130* Piano Fantasy, Op.1 Three Easy Pieces, Op.1b Romanza, Op.489o Haiku for Yu-Che, Op.567 Parting, Op.650a Vladimir Ashkenazy & *Vovka Ashkenazy (pianos) Recorded March & June 2013 in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England CD Number DECCA CLASSICS 478 6300 Duration 81 minutes Review Date June 2014 Whence inspiration? The extraordinary, vital spark of artistic creativity – that which sets the artist off on a new journey of creation – from where does it come? Clearly, from within the mind (or so the interested observer will believe), but some aspect or combination of circumstances must surely exist at the moment an idea pops into the head as the composer might say. On walking down the road, we all might hum a tune to ourselves, and with little else to engage us perhaps our brain’s musical area might bring to mind a melody matching our mood and the tempo of our walking-pace: eighty years ago, Constant Lambert wrote of “the appalling popularity of music”, citing the sounds coming from the open windows of adjoining houses with their radios on, accompanying the town-dweller out for a stroll, each step on the paving stone coinciding with a bar of music. It’s probably as true today as it was then, although it’s more the mobile phone that carries the music to us (and others!), but without that outside stimulus Lambert’s notion of music accompanying our daily walk still holds good, even if we might wonder what tunes came unbidden into Karlheinz Stockhausen’s mind as he negotiated the winding Bergstrasse in Kürten, such a concept perhaps needing a greater leap of the imagination than most people possess. It’s probably truer to say that musical people from any cultural background (and we don’t have to define ‘musical’ people, do we? – for Hans Keller, such people are those who need to experience music frequently, as an important part of their lives, not those who take it or leave it) are those who probably are more prone to hum tunes to themselves, but if the comfort zones of today’s commuters, as exemplified through their personal earpieces, replace such spontaneous creative experiences with the reassurance of music they know already, then that creative area of the brain might wither and die through atrophy. Howard Blake. Photograph: Tim Motion After all, you cannot think of one tune if another is being fed into your brain. It may be possible, but it’s surely more difficult. So if you’re walking your dog in the park and, suddenly, unbidden, a tune comes into your conscious mind – one that you’ve never heard before and which catches your imagination – such an experience, surely, is a moment of inspiration. Tchaikovsky would enter his study each morning at 9 o’clock to begin writing music – composing, copying or revising an existing work, or orchestrating another, or whatever: keeping the brain’s channels of communication open for when his inspiration called. As he said: “My muse knows to contact me at that hour” (or something similar), but not every composer is as regular in those habits as was Tchaikovsky – although Britten, it seems, possessed a similar work ethic. Inspiration can strike at any time: Elgar asked his driver Dick for the Ordnance Survey map in the car to scribble down the opening of the Fifth Pomp and Circumstance March which had suddenly come to him when they were out for a drive, and Stravinsky is known to have used a restaurant menu for a similar purpose. The important thing, surely, is to capture that inspiration on paper, or at least in some permanent form, before it disappears; Turner carried a sketchpad for the same reason, and there must be very many instances of artists, in whichever medium, being desperately keen to capture that moment. Not all composers have permanent memories for such ideas, but Howard Blake has – and we may imagine he thanked his lucky stars one sunny day when, out walking his dog, a tune arrived in his mind. This was in the early 1970s, soon after Blake (born 1938) had resolved to abandon the constant pressures of composing commercial music to order, often at a few days’ notice, which had consumed his working life for a good many years. At first, he was not quite sure what to do with the tune, although he knew it was a good one. Years later, in 1982 in fact, he realised it ideally fitted a Channel 4 animated film of Raymond Briggs’s picture-book story, The Snowman. It soon became a hit, not only in countries where the film was shown; it has been televised every Christmas since; the CBS Masterworks album went platinum; the EMI single, sung by the young Aled Jones, reached the top of the singles chart, and the two-act ballet version has been staged by Sadler’s Wells in London for fifteen years running, becoming as much a part of Christmas as Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Seeing The Snowman at London’s Peacock Theatre over a dozen years ago, I described the ballet in Musical Opinion as a “masterpiece” – as a stage show, it certainly is, and remains so: the following year, I took my three-year-old granddaughter to see it, and she sat entranced. Vladimir Ashkenazy. Photograph: Keith Saunders ‘Walking in the air’ may have brought Howard Blake fame, and financial stability, but such is the nature of today’s compartmentalisation of what an artist can or cannot do, or what they ought or ought not to be doing, that society nowadays appears to have taken the view that, once tagged with a particular label (rightly or wrongly), a composer cannot be perceived to be just as good in another area, and if they venture to do so, a part of the critical fraternity has to put them in their place. Quite why this should be so may tell us more about the critics than about the artists involved. In recent decades we have seen a type of ‘cross-over’ from pop and rock to what might be broadly termed ‘classical’, yet perhaps it was always thus: ‘popularity’ does not – indeed, cannot – always equate with artistic inferiority, and ‘ivory-tower’ modern composers are not ‘better’ than popular ones simply because their music does not conform to the familiar or customary. It may take a while to remove such blinkered attitudes, for as Schoenberg said: “A Chinese philosopher speaks Chinese: the question is, ‘what is he saying?’”, and whilst we don’t necessarily have to agree with Leonard Bernstein’s statement that “I prefer great rock ‘n’ roll to bad Beethoven” (pity no-one asked him for chapter and verse), the fact that Sir William Glock gave Soft Machine the first-ever late-night BBC Prom in 1970, indicated a breadth of – at least – musical curiosity, if not acceptance, that we would do well to emulate. For Howard Blake, composition has been pretty much a compulsion for most of his life: “I had a local piano teacher, and I’d make up tunes for my family at Christmas and birthdays. Nobody told me to do it, I just wrote tunes, and when I was about eleven, I wrote a march and took it to my teacher who asked, ‘Where did this come from?’. “I wrote it”. At first he didn’t believe me. But he realised I was serious, and took me through all of Kitson’s harmony and counterpoint books. I loved it.” From then on, Blake knew he liked writing music more than anything, although his father “would not have entertained the idea that I could become a musician”. His mother was musical and played the piano and violin very well. “She encouraged me, and through her I started the piano. I worked hard ... getting Grade VIII with distinction. The Hastings Festival – the only Southern England festival offering a Royal Academy of Music scholarship – was the first time I entered any competition. I went in for the Bach Prize, the Beethoven Prize, the Chopin Prize and the Academy Scholarship Prize – and I won all four. Although I thought I might make a concert pianist, I still wrote music, but nobody encouraged me much. At the Academy I chose organ as a second subject, but during the interview the subject got round to harmony, and I was told to bring in some original work. I brought a four-movement orchestral suite, and they said, ‘Shouldn’t you be studying composition?’. It had never occurred to me!” And so Blake became a composition student of Howard Ferguson. There are few living composers who possess the combination of fluency, technical ability and melodic inspiration as Howard Blake does, so when such a greatly distinguished artist as Vladimir Ashkenazy makes a recording of his piano music, on which he has his son Vovka partner him in works for two pianos, we would do well to abandon any prejudices we might harbour and listen. The recital opens with ‘Walking in the air’; that simple tune, as a piano piece, continues to exert its haunting influence, and Ashkenazy’s phrasing raises it to the level of a minor masterpiece. This is followed by two other pieces, originally used as part of film scores: ‘Music Box’ from The Changeling (the 1980 horror movie, starring George C. Scott as a bereaved concert pianist), and ‘Laura’ from The Duellists (Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine), a score which won the Special Jury Prize at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival. These two short concert studies (for, divorced from the screen, that is what they are) are given with much refinement by Ashkenazy, as does the succeeding item, Prelude for Vova (Vladimir Ashkenazy himself). The unusually entitled Speech After a Long Silence was also requested by Ashkenazy, an eight-minute test piece written for the 2011 Hong Kong International Piano Competition, played by each competitor in round four of the competition. Blake has said that Ashkenazy’s performance is “finer than I could have dreamed of”. In structural terms, the one composer it brings to mind is Sibelius. The Eight Character Pieces were also suggested by Ashkenazy, in 1975, following what Blake describes as “an extraordinarily brilliant Scriabin recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall”. The work overall (22 minutes) is a late-20th-century Carnaval (the third – and longest – piece, ‘Impromptu’, is a truly fine example of Blake’s idiomatic writing, as well as being superbly expressive). The Character Pieces were eventually incorporated into Blake’s Lifecycle of 1995 (24 pieces, each in a different key), but the work in its original form makes a perfectly satisfying and coherent composition. Two very different pieces for two pianos follow: nine comparatively brief Dances, almost forming a collection of ‘encores’ in lighter style, succeeded by a major work by any standards, Sonata for Two Pianos (1971) in four movements, which in the finale demands (and gets here) considerable virtuosity from both players. Then comes a group of very early solo pieces: Fantasy, composed in 1955 at the age of sixteen (“rediscovered for this album”), a simple broad ABA structure, declares his natural compositional gifts in no uncertain manner, and Four Easy Pieces from the following year (written as a birthday present for a girlfriend, who apparently turned both composer and his music down), but delightful miniatures. Vladimir Ashkenazy reveals all there is to be found in these early pieces, and this excellently recorded recital continues with Romanza, inscribed to the pianist (and his wife), another extremely beautiful piece, based upon early material – a succinct morceau de fantasie, perhaps. The programme ends with two items, just 70 and 80 seconds in duration respectively, and perhaps the most personal of Blake’s piano pieces to appear in recent years. They form a fitting addendum to a recital of eminently worthwhile music by a composer whose more-serious works – in particular his concertos – manifestly deserve to be heard more frequently. It is a pity, though, that Decca’s presentation is poorly packaged, for nowhere on the front cover is the word “piano” given – Ashkenazy might be conducting Blake’s orchestral music; the layout is childishly feeble, and omitting Vovka’s name from the cover is a deplorable oversight. The opus number of the Eight Character Pieces is also omitted. It is worth mentioning that Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields are to give a concert devoted to Howard Blake’s music on November 25 at the eponymous London church, including the world premiere of a work for double string orchestra, the melodic inspiration of which will not be hard to seek. Decca Classics
Arranged by BY ROBERT MATTHEW-WALKER
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HOWARD BLAKE PIANO CONCERTO

Published by PLANET HUGILL
Sunday, 17 August 2014 Howard Blake piano concerto Labels: cd review by Robert Hugill Howard Blake - Piano COncerto Howard Blake's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1991 to celebrate the 30th birthday of Diana, Princess of Wales. It was given its premiere by the orchestra, conducted by David Willcocks, with the composer playing the piano part. The work had been recorded by Sony prior to this performance and this recording was reissued by Sony in 2008. It is a substantial work lasting over 26 minutes and cast, as you might expect from Blake, in traditional form. Blake's career as a composer has been spent mediating between the traditional and more contemporary elements in the 20th century classical style. The opening movement starts with an evocative and wistful Lento, a movement to which you might give the adjective filmic. Blake's concert music is fascinating for the way he does not turn his back on his film music but absorbs it and develops it. The music then gathers momentum, and the solo piano part become more strenuous as the Allegro bursts onto the scene. The writing is tonal, but complex and requires something from the listener. The piano writing is quite strenuous, but the soloist is rather part of the texture in the baroque or classical manner, rather then in combat with the orchestra in the Romantic tradition. A hushed orchestra introduces a slow, evocative piano in the Andante espressivo. The movement develops with piano running passages through the orchestra texture, which culminates into a rather wonderful, big romantic moment The final Vivace wonderfully perky with the busy piano part loudly interrupted by the orchestra, and some lovely jazzy moments. When I interviewed Howard Blake, he talked about how he had to re-learn his piano technique to play the piano part. The results are impressive and confidently fluent. It is piano writing which is probably difficult, but not always showy and Blake shows himself a sympathetic soloist, finely supported by Willcocks and the Philharmonia Orchestra. The companion works to the concerto are two more of Blake's large scale orchestral works. His Diversions for Cello and Orchestra were written in their final form in 1985, with the cello part edited by the cellist Maurice Gendron. It started out life as a set of pieces for cello and piano, but the involvement of Gendron led to a considerable expansion of the piece with a commensurate increase in the virtuoso bravura of the solo cello part. Blake has recently started playing this bravura version with cello and piano and plans to record it with cellist ???? This recording of the orchestral version was made with Blake conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, with cellist Robert Cohen as the soloist. The work is a sequence of relatively short movements which hark back to the suites of the past. The opening Prelude is melancholy, with the cello singing in the alto register at first unaccompanied and then with just high strings. A perkily busy not quite Scherzo leads to a melancholic, rather dramatic March. The rather busy Waltz has some rather skittish, skittery playing. The Aria is the longest movement, it is slow and dark, with a sense of sustained intensity. Serenade is a rhythmic and melodic dance, and here the solo cello part starts to get rather busy indeed. The Sarabande and Cadenza provides the solo cellist with some wonderful virtuoso display moments, with quite a spare and dark accompaniement from the orchestra. The Finale is fast and furious with a wonderfully bravura end. Blake's Diversions is a terrific work which combines an element of bravura with just the right element of fun and Robert Cohen is suitably dazzling in the solo part. The final work on the disc,Toccata (A celebration of the Orchestra) was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the 30th birthday season (1976/77). The version performed on the disc was revised by Blake in 1988/1990. The work is a large and complex piece designed to show of the orchestra, but allied to a quite sophisticated structural imagination. All based on an 84 bar theme, Blake plays imaginative games in the way he shows off the orchestra and demonstrates his ingenuity. The joy of the piece is that none of this really matters, as when you listen you are carried away. The first section of the work displays the various sections of the orchestra, with the music having a quiet sense of steady overall progression. Blake uses a lively imagination in the way he gives each section of its orchestra its moment. And then the piece concludes with a wonderful jazzy fugue. None of the works on this disc is well known, and the disc itself is slightly tricky to obtain. But I rather like Blake's imaginative re-working of contemporary style. The music here doesn't seek to re-define or push boundaries, instead it builds intelligently what has gone before. The results are neither simple nor simplistic and fascinating in their combination of wit and complexity. (Back to Top)

tin cup website review

…I would prefer our children to see this film (The Snowman) and listen to this music…the lyrics, the music, this boys voice…come from somewhere magical. Every now and again, man creates something that is worthy of ringing through eternity. (Back to Top)

Ashkenazy

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BARBER OF NEVILLE 'a delight from start to finish' - JOHN QUINN

Published by musicweb-international
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LETTER FROM JOHN WILSON ON 'THE BARBER OF NEVILLE'

BRILLIANTLY funny title, made me laugh out loud! (Back to Top)

LETTER FROM SIR NEVILLE MARRINER ON 'THE BARBER OF NEVILLE'

What good music! Almost as much pleasure to hear the finished performances as to make them. Bravo! Many congratulations! (Back to Top)

REVIEW OF 'THE BARBER OF NEVILLE' BY ROBERT HUGILL

Friday, 6 December 2013 cd review The Barber of Neville - PTC 5186 506 This new disc showcases wind concertos written by Howard Blake, but it also acts as an advanced celebration of Sir Neville Marriner's 90th birthday. Conducting the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the ensemble he founded in 1959. On this disc they perform Blake's Flute Concerto, with Jamie Martin, Clarinet Concerto with Andrew Marriner, Bassoon Concerto with Gustavo Nunez and Serenade for Wind Octet. The title of the album refers to the circumstances which brought the recording about. Without being award of it Howard Blake, Sir Neville Marriner and his son Andrew all frequented the same hair dresser and it was through his good offices that they met and planned the programme. Blake's Flute Concerto was written in 1996 and is for flute and string orchestra. In a very striking opening the flute sings over tremolando strings, with some lovely melodic writing for the flute. As the strings take over the musical theme the flute provides elaborate decorations. The scherzo (marked con spirito) is crisp and lively with, like much of the concerto, a neo-baroque feel. The movement has a lovely slow middle section, almost a cadenza and a rather perky coda. The Andante espressivo is a beautifully poised slow movement, the flute decorating the melody in a series of variations with a cadenza leading to the fourth movement, Marcia graziosi. This is a lively piece with a fluently personable theme. A cadenza leads into an atmospheric reminiscence of the opening. As I have mentioned, the concerto has a somewhat neo-baroque feel, not that Baroque's style is aping the baroque, but the way he writes for the flute with it playing nearly continuously is akin to baroque concertos. Soloist Jaime Martin is the principal flute with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and the orchestra of English National Opera. His playing is warmly fluent and poised throughout, giving the concerto a beautiful blitheness. Blake's Clarinet Concerto has something of a history. It was originally written in 1984 for Dame Thea King (1925 - 2007). The publishers, Faber, insisted the composer re-write some of the passage-work in the first movement. Prior to a second performance in Vallencia, Blake supplied a revised clarinet part. But this was given to Thea King at the last moment by the publishers. This allowed her no time to study it, upset she put the work aside, never to perform it again. In 2010 Blake was persuaded to look at the addition he made, and he produced a new edition which re-instated them. Thea King was taught by the clarinettist Frederick Thurston (1901- 1953), whose husband she became. Thurston gave the premiere of Gerald Finzi's Clarinet Concerto, a work whose influence seems to hover over Blake's concerto. The opening movement starts with a short rhapsodic clarinet solo over sustained strings (the composer describes it as a recitative) Invocation , leading to the movement proper, marked Moderato molto deciso. The writing for clarinet very much evoked for me that of Finizi, but with an interesting rhythmic element to the accompaniment. The movement is a dialogue between the clarinet and the strings, rather perky in character but with hidden depths. A second recitative follows, Ceremony, another rhapsodic clarinet solo over sustained strings, this time leading to the slow movement, Lento serioso. This is the emotional heart of the concert, a rather intense movement full of English rhapsody. The finale, Round Dance: Vivace is a lively movement but hardly up beat, there is still a melancholic cast to the writing. Andrew Marriner, former principal clarinettist with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, responds fluently to the technical demands of the concerto, his playing sounding easy and flexible. He responds warmly to the autumnal glow of the concerto and helps bring out the intense, rather melancholic nature of the English pastoral idyll. Blake's Bassoon Concerto was written in 1971 and revised in 2009, it is written for bassoon and strings. The opening Moderato starts with a gathering gesture from the string, followed by melancholy musings on the bassoon. As the accompaniment gets more developed, the bassoon writing becomes more elaborate. In this movement Blake deliberately utilises the instrument's ability to um large intervals. Soloist Gustavo Nunez plays with lovely chestnut tones. Like the clarinet concerto, despite the outward gaiety of the movement there is a sense of underlying melancholy. The slow movement, Larghetto, is a deceptively simple movement, with the bassoon line over a nicely discreet string accompaniment. The music develops that sense of intensely passionate English rhapsody which I heard in the clarinet concerto. The finale, Presto is a perky movement with an edgy interplay between soloist and strings, leading to a long imaginative cadenza. Nunez is the principal bassoon of the Royal Concert Gebouw Orchestra. He plays with lovely smooth chestnut tones, without the slightest sense of comedy that can sometimes accrue to the instrument. He demonstrates that the bassoon can be a real romantic protagonist in a concerto. Finally we hear Blake's Serenade for Wind Octet written in 1990. His writing for the wind group reflects the wind octets harmoniemusik origins, music written for outside. The Grazioso opening movement displays some lovely textures and introduces us to a distinctively fascinating sound world. The second movement, Seriosos come una marcia lente features a lovely long breathed oboe solo, playing an attractively meandering melody. The third movement Molto vivace is a delightful piece, full of high spirits. Blake has a remarkable talent for melodic felicity, and many of the musical ideas are highly memorable but he combines this with strong musical structure and emotional depth. This is music which appeals to mind and emotions as well as tickling the ear. His debt to his teacher Howard Ferguson and to English music from the 1950's is strong. Blake's music is unashamedly tonal and his traditional style clearly different to that of many of his contemporaries. But in our modern plural world there is room for all styles, and this disc introduces us to four works which delight and fascinate. Howard Blake (born 1938) - Flute Concerto Op.493a(1996) [16.44] Howard Blake (born 1938) - Clarinet Concerto Op.329a (1984, rev.2011) [21.31] Howard Blake (born 1938) - Bassoon Concerto Op.607 (2009) [13.35] Howard Blake (born 1938) - Serenade for Wind Octet Op.419 (1990) [14.40] Jaime Martin (flute) Andrew Marriner (clarinet) Gustavo Nunez (Bassoon) Academy of St Martin in the Fields Sir Neville Marriner (conductor) Recorded September 2012, St John Smith Square PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC 5186 506 1Cd [68.24] (Back to Top)

The Meaning of Modern

Published by Infodad
..“The Barber of Neville”...undeniably enjoyable to hear in a way that the works of many more self-consciously avant-garde composers are not. Of the four works on this disc, the Flute Concerto (1996), Bassoon Concerto (2009) and Serenade for Wind Octet (1990) all stray very little from classical models and all provide a pleasing mixture of virtuosic display...the very well-played and well-recorded disc earns a (+++) rating... (Back to Top)

Diversions beyond The Snowman. Feature article/interview by Robert Hugill

Diversions beyond the Snowman an encounter with Howard Blake The name of Howard Blake is immediately synonymous with the music written for the film The Snowman, beyond this his name might recall the scores for films such as Ridley Scott's The Duellists. But Blake has also had a parallel career writing concert music with works ranging from his piano concerto commissioned for the Princess of Wales's 30th birthday, through his oratorio Benedictus to his Diversions for cello and piano which he is recording next year with the young German cellist Benedict Kloeckner. I recently heard Benedict Kloeckner and Howard Blake playing a programme of Howard's music for cello and piano as a celebration of the composer's 75th birthday. At the concert Howard talked of his working on the cello part of the Diversions with the great French cellist Maurice Gendron. Subsequent to this I found I could find no record of Gendron having played the work (Howard's website is admirably comprehensive). So when I met up with Howard Blake to talk about his music and his career it seemed natural to start off our conversation by asking about Diversions. We met in his studio, a former artist's studio on a top floor in Kensington, double-height, top lit, with both a computer and a piano, walls lined with books, pictures and CDs, a record of a long working life; a lovely room in which to work. In person Howard Blake is charming and seemingly possessed of almost total recall, able to talk with ease about events in the past. He uses his website to store all the details of his various performances and during our conversations occasionally pauses to check a detail on his pc. Diversions history is an example of how Howard's concert works seem to go through multiple version, responding to need. Howard is a very practical composer, who sees his role as a craftsman and more than once in our discussions he talked about the composer's role and the need to respond in practical fashion. On his website Howard includes a couple of phrases which seem to sum up both the man and his music, describing himself as 'a composer working as a craftsman, responding to the requirements of the day', and referring to his music as being 'hopefully inspirational and non-elitist'. Howard's Diversions started as a piece for cello and piano in 1973, though he admits that the work was not as honed as it is now. Ten years later, Howard was in contact with the French cellist Maurice Gendron who suggested that the work might be developed into a concerto and Howard travelled to Gendron's home in Grez-sur-Loing to work with him. Gendron's home was just up the river from Delius's house and Howard was able to row from Gendron's house to Delius's along the river which inspired such works as Summer Night on the River. Gendron announce that the finale was boring; to Howard's comment that it was intended to be a major version of the main theme, Gendron responded that he had heard the theme once and never wanted to hear it again. Also, Gendron wanted Howard to make the Sarabande more virtuosic. Though Gendron was in his mid-sixties at the time, he was a superb player and under his encouragement Howard made the work more virtuosic, adding a new Cadenza and Finale. Gendron showed Howard how to take advantage of the extreme possibilities of the cello Once completed, it was planned to premiere the work at the Brighton Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Gendron as soloist. Near to the concert date the head of Radio 3 informed Howard that it was felt that Gendron was 'past it' and that he was being dropped. (Howard disagreed with this assessment of Gendron, having played works such as Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with Gendron whilst staying with him). Another soloist was not offered, and the BBC simply dropped Howard's work from the concert. The work was subsequently premiered with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Steven Isserlis as the soloist in the Fairfield Halls, Croydon with Sir Charles Groves conducting, in 1989. Though the location did mean that the work did not make as much impression as it might have. As a result of a record contract with Sony, which came about because of the success of The Snowman, Howard was able to record the concerto alongside his Piano Concerto on a new disc. Steven Isserlis declined to record the work so the part was recorded by Robert Cohen. Howard feels that this splitting of the solo role rather dissipated the potential of the work at its premiere performances; though Isserlis performed it subsequently, the recording was by a different cellist. Isserlis performed the work in 1991 at the Three Choirs Festival with the RLPO and Vernon Handley. Robert Cohen performed it in 1989 at the Royal Festival Hall, with the Bach Choir performing Howard's Benedictus, though Howard admits that it didn't fill the hall. Cohen performed the work again in 2000 with the Brighton Philharmonic under Barry Wordsworth. And that appeared to be that. Then in 2010 Howard got an email from a young German cellist, Benedict Kloeckner. One of Kloeckner's teachers was Martin Rummel. Howard and Martin Rummel had played the Diversions, in the version for cello and piano at the British Music Information Centre. When Kloeckner asked Rummel to recommend a contemporary work for cello and piano he suggested the Diversions. Having learned it, Kloeckner wanted some coaching and he and his pianist came over to Howard's studio. My meeting with Howard is in his studio and at this point in our discussion he walks over to the piano to demonstrate how the young players had got some of the speeds wrong, and he plays a passage twice; once gently and then again, this time rather burning up the keyboard. Impressed with Kloeckner's playing, Howard found himself demonstrating a lot to them. After two hours, Howard assumed that was that. Then Howard got an email from Benedict to say that he had entered the work for the European Broadcasting Union Young Artists Competition, and had come in the last seven (out of 32 countries), and that the finals were in Bratislava when he would be playing Diversions again. Howard went out to Bratislava and heard Benedict playing Diversions and he came in the final three. Next day the three finalists played a concerto, and Benedict played the Elgar and came first. Howard described it as a big event, champagne was drunk and bold plaques delivered. Before leaving for Bratislava Howard had realised that, if Benedict did win he would need a present. He thought of his violin sonata and, as with Sibelius it was relatively straightforward to transpose the work for cello. Benedict was pleased with his present and, some time later invited Howard to do a recital with him. With Diversions, the new/old Cello Sonata and two existing works for cello and piano Penillion and Jazz Dances, they had a complete programme. The first time that Howard played with Benedict Kloeckner he felt that they had a rapport. Their first concert together was at the Historiche Cafehalle in Schlangenbad, a suburb of Mainz in 2011. The concert was a success and they have gone on to do further concerts together and will be recording the programme for SWDR in early 2014. But the long journey of Diversions wasn't finished. Benedict had been playing with the Berlin Kammerorchester, performing a string version of Schumann's Cello Concerto in 2011 which Howard heard. So Howard created a new version of Diversions for string orchestra, which Benedict played at the Berlin Konzerthaus this year. And there are possibilities of further performances in the UK next year Benedict Kloeckner and the Berlin Kammerorchester conductor Jordi Bernacer in Howard Blake's Diversions for Cello and String Orchestra Howard Blake had started life as a pianist, getting a piano scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Whilst at the Academy he formed a duo with the violinist Miles Baster and learned the whole of the violin/piano repertoire, performing recitals in music clubs. In 1960 they performed in Edinburgh. It was a great success and Baster was offered a job of founding the Edinburgh String quartet. Thus bringing an end to their duo partnership. Howard's time at the Academy wasn't entirely happy. His composition teacher, Howard Ferguson, retired after a year and Howard found himself out of sympathy with the prevailing style of serialism and modernism on composition. Whilst at the Academy he virtually stopped composing and stopped playing the piano. Afterwards he started to work in films eventually working as a session player and conducting. He also learned to play jazz as it was only way to get work, eventually becoming in house pianist for the Abbey Road studios, playing everything from classical to jazz and rock, even playing cabaret on television. This led to work on films with people like Bernard Hermann and it was through Hermann that he took over writing music for The Avengers (Howard wrote music for 10 episodes). Later in our conversations Howard talked about having to write music for a weekly show like the The Avengers stopped him worrying about the Academy's obsession with making every bar of music original. This was being a craftsman, writing music responding to need. Life became so busy, with conducting, composing and being musical director at Elstree Studios, that Howard stopped playing the piano entirely. The busy-ness finally got to him, and he found he had no time for writing music, he wanted to write chamber music again. So in 1972 he dropped out and moved to Sussex. He admits that he was lucky, he had enough money in royalties to make him independent. Asked to write a series for Thames TV he said he'd do it if he could write for a chamber group, a piano trio with himself piano. He enjoyed it and they started playing Schubert Trios in concerts. They suggested he write his own music for their concerts, the original version of Diversions and the Violin Sonata both arose in this manner, plus a Piano Quartet written for a concert in 1975. All three works come from a period of intense action, and the Piano Quartet remains one of Howard's absolute favourite works. Inevitably, with all this activity, Howard's returned to his piano playing. Then Ridley Scott asked him to write the music for his first film, Ridley Scott's film The Duellists was an enormous hit and Howard was aked to do big films. There was a ballet for the Queen's Jubilee, plus some big orchestra pieces, he was busy writing again, too busy to play the piano. In 1989, David Welton of the Philharmonia contacted him. The Princess of Wales was the President of the orchestra and they wanted Howard to write a piano concerto for a concert for the princess's 30th birthday. Howard described it as a most glorious commission and Evgeny Kissin was to play the piano part. Nearer the time, Kissin announced that he did not have enough time to lean the piece. The premiere was in May 1991 and by Autumn 1990 there was no pianist. David Welton phoned Howard and said that 'the boys day that you can play it'. Howard linked the performance to a recording, deciding that the only way he could do the performance was to use a recording to check that he could indeed play it. The recording was done on a Fazioli piano, amazingly the first modern piano concerto to be played on a Fazioli. He had to practice for three months to get it back doing scales and Cramer studies. And indeed it all did come back, he recorded the concerto from memory. But in the dressing room at the Royal Festival Hall just before the concert, he found that he could not remember. He had never played a concerto in his life before, and it was too late to do anything to remedy the situation. He went out and realised he had to play is as if he was in the studio. The recording was issued on CD with the Diversions for Cello and Orchestra and Toccata, and Sony re-issued the disc five years ago to celebrate Howard's 70th birthday. A new disc of concertos, The Barber of Neville has just been issued on the Pentatone classics label, with Sir Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in Howard's Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon concertos, plus the Serenade for Wind Octet. Howard and Benedict Kloeckner will be recording their cello and piano programme for SWDR in January and performing the programme at Schwetzingen in 2014 (Back to Top)

REVIEW OF 'THE BARBER OF NEVILLE' BY CHRISTOPHER HATHAWAY

Published by KUHF
HOWARD BLAKE: Concerto for Flute and String Orchestra, op. 493a (1996). Jaime Martin, soloist. Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra, op. 329a (1984; revised, 2011). Andrew Marriner, soloist. Concerto for Bassoon and String Orchestra, op. 607 (2009). Gustavo Nuñez, soloist. All the preceding with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. Serenade for Wind Octet, op. 419 (1990). Members of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. PentaTone 5186506. Purchase on ArkivMusic. Almost all of the pieces listed above are being heard on records for the first time; the Clarinet Concerto, in which Sir Neville Marriner’s son Andrew (principal clarinet of the London Symphony) is soloist, is being recorded for the first time in the revised edition. Howard Blake, an Englishman who is now 75 years old, is much like his late American counterpart Alec Wilder in that he sees little if any distinction between “popular” and “serious” music---for want of better nomenclature. His style is lyrical above all, and his professional and contrapuntal grounding sets him apart from mere tunesmiths. He can write memorable melodies and he knows how to shape them and how to orchestrate them---in the marvelously compact first movement of the Flute Concerto, for instance, the melodic line is briefly traded off with the ‘cello. The Scherzo (second movement) is superb idiomatic flute writing, with deft handling of the strings. The slow movement is a deeply felt Andante espressivo, a piece that seems to be all about the flute’s middle register and the warmth of the lower strings. The finale is a march marked Grazioso. Jaime Martin is a marvelous artist who plays expressively, securely and without affectation. The Clarinet Concerto in particular shows Blake as a truly great composer, and Andrew Marriner as a great clarinetist. This is not to draw attention away from the other exceptional soloists on this disc, but in this performance a meeting of minds between composer and performer seems to be taking place. The three movements are entitled Invocation, Ceremony and Round Dance. The first begins with the clarinet alone, taking the lead in a rather dark-hued recitative, including some real virtuoso writing. The Allegro section of Invocation has a wonderful contrapuntal fabric and juxtaposition of musical ideas and occasional close harmony with the clarinet in its chalumeau register and the lower strings. The first movement leads without a break into the second, with a single clarinet note providing the bridge. Ceremony is a study in intense, impassioned lyricism; it all seems to bloom from the sound of the clarinet. Toward the end, there is an exquisite trio with the two oboes in the orchestra and the clarinet. The final Round Dance is quintessentially English. The Bassoon Concerto, in which soloist Gustavo Nuñez is in wonderful form, is the only one of the three concertos presented here that has an extensive cadenza----in the last movement. It begins with a march-like first movement, in which’s Blake’s lyrical spirit soon takes over. The whole concerto is an ingenious adaptation of the stile gallant to today. Indeed, all of these concertos are written for a Haydn-sized orchestra, more or less, without percussion. Two of them are scored for a string group, but one has the sense that Blake is using strings as a total orchestra, not just as several choirs of one species of musical instrument. It is the newest work on the album, having been completed just four years ago. The Serenade for Wind Octet seems to be dominated by a personalized chorale style; the second movement, Serioso, has a marvelous oboe solo and the finale is a dance that might be called worthy of Byrd or Bull. But, stylistically, this music belongs to no one other than Howard Blake. To steal a phrase from the late composer and critic Herbert Elwell, Howard Blake has shown us that “new things are still possible within the diatonic system”. The album is titled The Barber of Neville, since Neville and Andrew Marriner --- as well as Howard Blake ----frequented the Kensington hairstyling salon of a man called Jean-Marie. Through Jean-Marie, the three men got together and planned the making of this recording. All four of them are shown in photographs in the accompanying booklet. The Academy under Marriner (who will be 90 next year, and who has passed the symbolic baton to Joshua Bell while continuing to conduct the group from time to time), is one of the marvels of orchestral playing, having begun as a string ensemble and now greatly varied in size and scope as the repertory demands, with a core membership of about fifty to sixty musicians. It continually reveals new aspects of itself, having been heard over the last half-century plus in an unbelievable variety of repertory for ensembles of almost every size and description. (Back to Top)

75th birthday concert at Sir Vernon Ellis music room Robert Hugill

If you say the name of composer Howard Blake, then the first thing that comes to mind is his music for The Snowman with its famous song Walking in the Air. Sometimes a success like The Snowman can blind people to the full range of a composer's music, you only ever see the peak rather than the full landscape. Howard Blake is a bit like this, after all his opus numbers run to over 600, his Piano Concerto was written for the 30th birthday of Diana, Princess of Wales and his dramatic oratorio Benedictus has received many performances. Benedict Kloeckner photo Marco Borgreve On Tuesday 29 October we attended a private concert to celebrate Howard Blake's 75th birthday. Blake himself played the piano, accompanying the young German cellist Benedict Kloeckner in a programme of Blake's music for cello and piano, Pennillion for cello and piano op 525a, Diversion for cello and piano, op.337a, Jazz Dances for cello and piano op.520 and Sonata for cello and piano, op.619. Benedict Kloeckner (born 1989) originally got into contact with Blake in connection with Blake's virtuosic Diversions for cello and piano. Kloeckner played the work, accompanied by Jose Gallardo in the European Broadcasting Union's Young Artists Competition in Bratislava in 2010, ultimately winning first prize. Blake, as a congratulatory present, gave Kloeckner a new version of Blake's violin sonata transposed for cello. Kloeckner asked Blake if they could do a recital together, the result was an entire programme of Blake's music for cello and piano which they have performed in Germany a number with great success. They are recording the programme for South West German Radio in early 2014. Benedict Kloeckner has been studying with Martin Ostertag at the Hochschule fur Musik, Karlsruhe since 2002, as well as with Frans Helmerson in the Kronberg Academy Masters Program since October 2009. Thanks to a loan by L-Bank Baden Württemberg, he plays a 1720 Petrus Guaneri cello. Blake and Kloeckner opened their programme with Pennillion for cello and piano op 525a a version for cello and piano of a work originally written in 1975 for violin and harp. The work is a set of six imaginative variations on a Welsh-inspired theme. Whilst the Pennillhion had is showy moments, it was in Diversions for cello and piano, op.337a that the real virtuoso display came. In his spoken introduction Howard Blake explained how Diversions had started out as the punning title, Major Diversions on a Minor Theme, for cello and piano. The work was then orchestrated and, under the encouragement of the cellist Maurice Gendron, the piece expanded to include a fearsome cadenza and finale. The work is in seven movements starting with a Prelude and finishing with Sarabande and Cadenza, and Finale Allegro ritmico. The work which springs most to mind is Tchaikovsky's Rocco Variations, though Blake's piece is rather more robust and each movement is very vividly characterised. Blake's style is tonal and through his teacher Howard Ferguson you could hear links to other English composers and Noel Rawsthorne is someone else whose work came to mind. There is a clarity to Blake's writing and, thanks to the involvement of Maurice Gendron, the cello part is a wonderful display for the soloist. Kloeckner played from memory and clearly had a great rapport with Blake. After the interval they played Blake's Jazz Dances for cello and piano, Op.520. These are a group of nine movements each inspired by a modern dance rhythm, but they are by no means pastiches and in many Blake leaves the original far behind. Finally came the Sonata for cello and piano, Op.619 the version for cello of Blake's violin sonata. Again a strongly characterised work, full of big moments and some wonderful themes. In all these Kloeckner played superbly, apparently coping easily with the technical demands of the cello writing. But more than that, he brought a very strong sense of identification with the music, giving strongly powerful performances which went far beyond simply playing the notes. This was brought home in the encore. As a complement to the host, Blake and Kloeckner played the whole of the Diversions for cello and piano, op.337a again! After hearing these performances I can well understand why Kloeckner has won such acclaim in Germany with his programme of Blake's music and I look forward immensely to the recording. Blake has produced a new version of Diversions for cello and string orchestra (which Kloeckner premiered) and I hope that the work is taken up by British ensembles. (Back to Top)

Guardian - Portrait of the artist - Laura Barnett

Published by The Guardian
Howard Blake, composer – portrait of the artist 'No one ever says: "You're a composer? Wonderful! Why don't I give you lots of money?"' I wrote my first composition when I was nine, but I never thought I'd be a composer. It wasn't until I went to the Royal Academy of Music that it occurred to me to study composition – but I didn't get on so well, so I worked as a session pianist at recording studios like Abbey Road. It was there that I met Bernard Herrmann, showed him a one-movement symphony I'd written, and got a job writing music for The Avengers. After that, I thought perhaps I wasn't such a bad composer after all. Who or what have you sacrificed for your art? My family life hasn't been exactly peaceful. Wives and children don't really like a father who travels all round the world and is always busy. Has The Snowman's runaway success been a blessing or a curse? Both. I get letters from people saying it has seen them through very bad times – and it's marvellous that it's still played by symphony orchestras everywhere from America to Japan. But the downside is that people think I've never written anything else. Is there an art form you don't relate to? I'm not terribly interested in abstract painting. And I prefer films to most theatre – although, as I have a show that's been running for almost 15 years, I really shouldn't say that. What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life? Waltz in A Minor by Chopin. My mother used to play it after she thought I'd gone to sleep. I managed, gradually, to learn to play it by ear. It's the first piece I really fell in love with. Which artists do you most admire? Ingmar Bergman, for the way he managed to tackle such difficult subjects in film, and produce an extraordinary body of works that ask you to put as much into watching them as he did into making them. What's the worst thing anyone ever said about you? I have a very long list. One of the funniest was said at a reception at London's Wigmore Hall. I do tend to talk a lot. I was in a big crowd, and suddenly another composer shouted at the top of his voice: "All you ever do is bloody talk." The whole place fell silent. Is fame important to you? Unfortunately, fame is a necessary part of the equipment: in order for people to hear your music, you've got to be known. But I have mixed feelings about it. I was brought up with the very English idea that you should never show off. I've almost had to take evening classes in how to do it. What advice would you give a young composer? Don't give up your day job. And write because you absolutely have to – but don't expect it to be easy. People don't say: "How wonderful – you're a composer. Why don't I give you lots of money?" How would you like to be remembered? As somebody who tried to write music that would uplift people. Career: Best known for his soundtrack to the 1982 film version of The Snowman. Other film scores include The Duellists and A Month in the Country. The Barber of Neville, an album of his woodwind concertos, is out now, and next Monday he turns 75. Low point: "In 1998, when my own publisher sued me for every single piece of work I'd ever written. I felt I would die." High point: "Getting a call from the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1990 asking if I'd be interested in writing a piano concerto for Princess Diana."
Arranged by Caroline Ansdell
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Duellists symphony - Bonn Festival

Konzert der "Sinfonia Königswinter" Uraufführung in der Scheune KÖNIGSWINTER. Es waren vier Punkte, die für sich sprachen. Punkt eins: Die "Sinfonia Königswinter" trat im Rahmen des Beethovenfestes Bonn in der Zehntscheune von Kloster Heisterbach auf. Punkt zwei: Ihr Konzert zählte zum Festival anlässlich des 75. Geburtstages von Howard Blake, einem der bekanntesten Komponisten Großbritanniens. Punkt drei: Das Liebhaberorchester war mit Uraufführungen Blakes betraut, und der berühmte Mann saß dabei sogar selbst am Flügel. Und schließlich Punkt vier: Mit Benedict Klöckner hatte die "Sinfonia" einen jungen Cellisten von Weltklasse für diese Veranstaltung gewinnen können, der als Solist mit renommierten Orchestern spielt und als Kammermusiker zum Beispiel mit Anne-Sophie Mutter auf Tournee geht. Es wurde ein Ereignis, das sich auch Musikdirektor Kurt B. Wirtz nicht entgehen ließ. 1952 hatte er die "Sinfonia" als Kammerorchester Oberpleis gegründet und über 40 Jahre gelenkt. Nun war er begeistert von der Entwicklung dieses Klangkörpers, der seit einem Jahr von Tobias van de Locht dirigiert wird. Und auch Wirtz erhob sich am Schluss dieses Konzertes, um minutenlang zu applaudieren. Kein Platz in der Zehntscheune blieb frei. Die "Sinfonia" hatte weit über ihr Stammpublikum hinaus Besucher angezogen. Bei der Zugabe durften sie sich dann an einem der berühmtesten Werke Blakes erfreuen: "The Snowman", die Musik zum 30 Jahre alten Zeichentrickfilm, bei dem ein Junge Heiligabend mit seinem zum Leben erwachten Schneemann zum Nordpol fliegt, um den Weihnachtsmann zu treffen. "Abgeflogen" waren auch die Zuhörer in der Zehntscheune - in das Reich der Musik, um hier in bunte und anrührende Klangwelten abzutauchen. Bereits der Auftakt mit der Sinfonia Nr. 39 Es-Dur von Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gelang dem Orchester sehr gut. Das war Warmspielen für Blake und Klöckner auf hohem Niveau. Der Meister sagte danach: "Ich freue mich, dass ich hier zwei meiner Werke vorstellen und den Klavierpart selbst spielen darf." Nahtlos gelang der "Sinfonia Königswinter" der Wechsel vom 18. Jahrhundert in die zeitgenössische Musik auf klassischer Basis. Sie boten zunächst das Stück "Diversions" in der Fassung für Violoncello, Klavier und Streicher mit acht kurzen Sätzen dar. Und die Sinfonie Nr. 3 op. 642 "The Duellists", die anschließend auf dem Boden von Kloster Heisterbach ihre Uraufführung hatte, widmete Komponist Howard Blakes sogar dem gastgebenden Orchester: für die "Sinfonia"-Mitglieder ein berauschendes Geschenk. Benedict Klöckner geht in die "Verlängerung": Er wird am 29. Oktober, am Tag nach dem 75. Geburtstag, mit dem Jubilar gemeinsam in London das "Birthday concert Howard Blake" geben. In der britischen Hauptstadt hatte Blake zum 30. Geburtstag von Prinzessin Diana den Solopart seines eigens zu diesem Anlass komponierten Klavierkonzerts gespielt und anschließend mit der Prinzessin ein Gläschen getrunken. Und für Fans der Fernsehserie "Mit Schirm, Charme und Melone": Die Musik stammte von Howard Blake. Artikel vom 08.10.2013 Roswitha Oschmann, General Anzeiger Bonn, 8/10/2013
Arranged by Tobias van de Locht
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MUSICAL OPINION JULY 2013

Published by Musical Opinion
Arranged by Robert Matthew Walker - Editor Musical Opionion
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''The snowman and all that''

Published by Journal of the Robert Farnon Society
"THE SNOWMAN" AND ALL THAT : THE MUSIC OF HOWARD BLAKE By Philip L Scowcroft As I write, the Christmas TV feature "The Snowman" is 30 years old; the music for that, comprising not only the song Walking in the Air, but a nigh on 30 minutes sound track (though not for its 2012 Channel 4 sequel, "The Snowman and the Snowdog") was by Howard Blake. The composer may have become fed up with being remembered primarily for that, rather as Rachmaninoff was, when asked to play so many times that Prelude. In fact he has produced so many works - upwards of 600 - that it will not be the easiest of tasks to summarise his output. Generally speaking it has an easy, shapely, lyrical feel; although it includes substantial pieces like concertos and a Symphony we may fittingly regard it as "light music" in its broader sense. Howard Blake, appointed OBE in 1994, pianist and conductor as well as composer, was born in 1938, in London, although he was brought up in Brighton. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Harold Craxton and Howard Ferguson. Evidence of this classical training may be found in his concertos for clarinet, piano (1994, later recorded) and violin and a Symphony in one movement subtitled Impressions of a City. Other orchestral compositions include Concert Dances, A Nursery Rhyme Overture (1987), Heartbeat for tenor saxophone, big band and strings (1982, revised 1989) and a suite for strings entitled A Month in the Country derived from a play; other incidental music (for theatre, TV and film) we can exemplify was for "The Avengers" (1968), "SOS Titanic", "Henry V" (1985), "The Canterville Ghost" (1986) and "The Master Builder " (1989). His work included a considerable amount of what we may describe as "light chamber music": Penillion and a charming Burlesca for violin and piano, Jazz Dances for cello and piano, originally for two pianos; a Piano Quartet; and two deliciously tuneful Trios for respectively, flute, clarinet and piano and piano, violin and cello. Piano solo repertoire (as we have seen, the piano was his primary instrument) includes an appealing Ballade in G Minor, Eight Character Pieces, notably an Andantino in B Minor, and a suite, Party Pieces. Apart from The Snowman, Blake is not unknown to the world of film music. He provided a score for an adaptation of Erskine Childers' classic 1903 novel of secret service, "The Riddler of the Sands". His music for "Agatha", a film not in the best of taste, about Agatha Christie's notorious disappearance of 1926 was attractive but for some reason was not used. He also wrote music for a TV advertisement for the British Paralympic Association. Blake's portfolio included a children's musical and a large number of solo songs and choral works; we have not space here for even a selection of their titles. It is perhaps a pity that The Snowman overshadows his generally amiable output. It may be, too, that its prolific nature has, as so often happens (and not just in our present day – think of Telemann!), worked against more than a small proportion of it being performed. But this should not prevent us saluting that output and the pleasure it has given us. This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’, issue 195, April 2013. (Back to Top)

S.O.S. TITANIC reviewed by Charlie Brigden, Lost in the Multiplex

3rd March 2013 The Titanic. Probably only one other ship has inspired more music (the starship Enterprise, obviously), with the tragic tale of her voyage now a timeless legend. But while James Cameron's Titanic is the most famous, and A Night To Remember considered the best, there was another not half as well-remembered, one which used music to creatively tell the story of the doomed vessel and its passengers. Prepare to climb aboard S.O.S. Titanic. S.O.S. Titanic was a 1979 television movie with an impressive cast, including David Warner, Ian Holm, and Helen Mirren, and equally impressive production values. It's unfortunately been cast into shadow by other adaptations, a choice example being that this premiere release of Howard Blake's score is the first I've ever heard of the film. But if the album is reflective of the film, it's certainly worth tracking down. Now what we have on the album is an interesting mix of score and diegetic source music. Research tells me the film is known for its intriguing treatment of the disaster and the notion of class, with the story being told amidst the 1st, 2nd and 3rd class passenges. This is where the source music comes in, as the narrative movements between the trio are reflected by music, apparently "historically-correct". This gives ample opportunity for a diverse range of music, from the waltz from opera Eugene Onegin, a rendition of 'Rule Britannia', and traditional Irish music. You can see how the film would have benefitted from this method of storytelling, with the music being a shorthand for the characters and settings without needing to establish further. It also presents some fine arrangements of traditional material. The score itself is a fine work. It sets out its stall from the main title, a foreboding mix of thick brass and a solemn horn line which could easily be from one of the John Williams' classics such as The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno. The brass is quite prominent throughout the score, possibly representing the great ship itself. It certainly adds to the atmosphere, with a great deal of tension coming from that section. Of course this eventually gives way to a more emotional colour, such as the brief tragic motif in 'Abandon Ship', or the funereal sound of 'Desolation' (which reprises the line from the main title). Some of the music gets genuinely harrowing, such as the desperation of 'Survivors' or the power of 'The Hit', and while it's absolutely affecting, it never feels forced or cheap. S.O.S. Titanic is a fascinating album, presenting a unique musical interpretation of a tragic disaster. The way it moves through different genres is very creative, and the score is impressively impactful and reverential. Highly recommended. Copyright © 2013 Lost in The Multiplex. All Rights Reserved. (Back to Top)

Ashkenazy in Lugano - Zeno Gabaglio

March 8th 2013 Auditorio RSI Lugano. The concert considers the problems surrounding composers who compose both film and concert music. 'For a long time film soundtrack music has been surrounded by a strange double-sided paradox: first, that a good soundtrack should not be heard; second, that a good soundtrack does not exist. This statement is not by made a 'parvenu' but by Signor Gianfranco Plenizio, a cinema composer and conductor who has worked with film directors such as Billy Wilder, Monicelli, Risi, Scola and Fellini. He explains the paradox like this: if we watch a movie and exclaim "what beautiful music!" it must mean that it is not such a good soundtrack since it has become more prominent than the movie itself, both its images and its dialogue. If on the other hand a soundtrack is not all that noticeable, it must mean that it has fulfilled its purpose by being subservient to the film and therefore cannot deserve to be listened to as "pure music". I am wondering what Howard Blake's opinion is on this! It is thanks to his soundtracks (let's remember for example 'Flash Gordon' and the animated film 'The Snowman') that he has received worldwide fame, whilst at the same time not neglecting to write music for the concert hall and chamber music. In which genre is he a real composer? In which is he a real musician? I would say in both, taking into consideration that his purest music, the concert music, has all the descriptive and communicating abilities and skills which has made him celebrated in the sphere of cinema. With his diatonic and tonal language he contributes a clear representation of our present-day complexity without being in any way "retro'". Modest Moussorgsky wouldn't have understood this musical dilemma surrounding soundtracks, having lived many years before cinema was invented. However it is most likely that he would have appreciated knowing that in the 20th century he would have increased his celebrity with the use of his music in the animated Walt Disney movie "Fantasia" which in the 1940s gave colour and soul to one of his most beautiful classical works, the terrifying evocation of the 'witches sabbath' portrayed in his tone-poem 'A night on the bare mountain.' Dmitri Shostakovich on the other hand did not like cinema. According to his memoirs he appears to have genuinely disliked it. This strong dislike is quite surprising if we take into consideration the 36 movie scores which he wrote during his career... (Vladimir Ashkenazy in discussion with Zeno Gabaglio, March 2013 - translated from the Italian) (Back to Top)

Consonant Classical Challenge

Howard Blake Labels: CCC, classical music, contemporary music British composer Howard Blake is this subject of the Consonant Classical Challenge for this week. Blake is a respected composer both in the fields of classical and film music. He writes in a post-romantic idiom that has a strong English flavor to it.His composition "Walking on Air" from the animated short "The Snowman" is his best-know work. To many, it's his only known work. The song is well-crafted, and quite appealing. But if you listen carefully, there's more going on here than just pretty music-making. Blake infuses the song with an undercurrent of unrest, which gives it more emotional depth. I think perhaps its one of the reasons to song has remained so popular since its release in 1982. Blake's classical compositions are just a solidly constructed. His clarinet concerto sounds somewhat like Gerald Finzi's in terms of its Englishness, but the harmonies are little more aggressive. While still a quite attractive work, there's enough substance to reward the careful listener. Speech after long Silence, for solo piano is another work that has more going on under the surface. A casual listener will her the flowing chords and pop-inflected turns of the melody and feel quite at home. An active listener will take the title into account, and hear a carefully constructed elegiac work instead. Blake is first and foremost a melodist. It's his strength as a film composer, and it gives his classical music an instant accessibility. His flute quartet is a good example of that talent. The melodies are attractive and memorable. Although "Walking on Air" gets plenty of performances, there are many other works by Blake that should be well-received by concert audiences. Although his movie scores could be used in pops programs alongside those of John Williams and Howard Shore, there's more to Blake's catalog than just a collection of music cues. His classical works might not be considered proper academic fare, but they were written to communicate with the listener -- which is not a bad thing, I think. (Back to Top)

'A seasonal hit can lay a musician really low' - Michael White - Daily Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk Saturday 05 January 2013 A seasonal hit can really lay a musician low Howard Blake has written an oratorio and numerous concertos,but you don't hear them on Radio 3 Plaintive tunes: 'The Snowman' is a Christmas staple Photo: REX FEATURES By Michael White 7:00PM GMT 15 Dec 2012 Christmas is a time of giving but, as we all know, some get given more than others; and in the world of music there’s a sub-category of composers on whom Santa smiles with extra benevolence every December as they hang their stockings up and watch the cash roll in. I’m not referring here to pop composers or whoever penned those diehard crooner-tunes dreaming for Christmas to be white with chestnuts on an open fire. I mean a group of serious composers who got lucky – sometimes very lucky – with successful ventures into Yuletide music that turned out to beat Bing Crosby at his own game. They’re an interesting group in that their popularity has pushed them to the edges of the pukka concert-music circuit they would otherwise belong to. Which they usually regret. And that they’re richer than the average “respected” figure in contemporary music is no compensation – although it’s probably some kind of comfort. An example is Howard Blake, whose music for The Snowman ranks among those plaintive tunes that issue at this time of year from supermarkets, shopping malls and any public space with a pretence to seasonality. The Snowman has appeared on TV every Christmas since it launched in 1982. And Blake has made the most of it, recycling his score into symphonic concert versions, stage shows, ballets, string quartet arrangements, solos for guitar, violin, piano… Then there are the spin-offs: cover versions by Cliff Richard, male voice choirs and heavy metal bands. Plus all the licences for advertising. The Snowman’s music has sold everything from postal services in Ireland to ice cream in South Korea – although Blake once told me that he did occasionally draw a line: he’d turned down applications to use Walking in the Air for condom ads and porn films “because when you create something you love you have to protect it from the worst excesses. And I do actually love it. But at the same time he calls it “a pain in the a--e that I wish someone would take away. Not least when people ask, as they do, 'Have you written anything else?’ ” In fact, he’s written a lot else: some 600 works including an oratorio, Benedictus, that’s a mainstay of the non-medicinally modern choral repertory, a violin concerto, a clarinet concerto, and a piano concerto commissioned for the 30th birthday of Princess Diana. There’s a letter from the Princess, framed, on Howard Blake’s wall. It says she liked it. Many others liked it too. But do you hear it played on Radio 3? You don’t. (Back to Top)

Meditation on the Snowman lyrics

Published by Contemplating The Human Direction Musings on the human experiment Search Main menu Skip to primary content Skip to secondary content Home About this blog Tag Archives: Howard Blake The Snowman (Full Version) Posted on January 2, 2013 3 I am g
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Contemplating The Human Direction Musings on the human experiment Howard Blake - The Snowman ...from some where magical…came this song, 'Walking in the Air' and it hit a deep chord…and so I looked into it…and thus the multiple posts on this music and film animation. My brother texted me and notified me that the full version of the film was now available on YouTube. So here it is down below; it takes some 28 minutes to view…but it is worth it. I love the contrast between what the beautiful spirited boy shows the Snowman, the Snowman as I interpret being the embodiment of Nature…and what the Snowman shows the boy; this is…in its simplest form the point and conundrum I am facing and addressing with this critical reasoning project. And the music piece 'Walking in the Air' is the highest form of expressing my sentiments. If I had the resources I could create a more poignant video…and music selection…to pay tribute to this angelic and philosophical masterpiece composed and relevant for children.teens, adults, the elderly human”kind”. Every now and again, man creates something that is worthy of ringing through eternity. We’re walking in the air We’re floating in the moonlit sky The people far below are sleeping as we fly I’m holding very tight I’m riding in the midnight blue I’m finding I can fly so high above with you Far across the world The villages go by like trees (dreams) The rivers and the hills The forests and the streams Children gaze open mouth Taken by surprise Nobody down below believes their eyes We’re surfing in the air We’re swimming in the frozen sky We’re drifting over icy Mountains floating by Suddenly swooping low on an ocean deep Arousing of a mighty monster from his sleep We’re walking in the air We’re dancing in the midnight sky And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly [Lyrics and music of ”Walking in the Air” from 'The Snowman' by Howard Blake] (Back to Top)

Send a demo! - Tom Kelly - Daily Mail - Christmas 2012

Published by Daily Mail
By Tom Kelly For millions it is the song that encapsulates the magic of Christmas. So many will be bitterly disappointed that the eagerly awaited sequel to classic festive film The Snowman does not include any version of its haunting original theme, Walking in the Air. But none were more shocked than the song’s acclaimed composer Howard Blake – whose score sold over a million copies – after he was told that if he wanted to write any music for the new version he would have to submit a demo tape for consideration alongside scores of other budding musicians. Yesterday Mr Blake said the only song he had so far heard from the sequel, The Snowman and The Snowdog, sounded like ‘X Factor style pop’ which he feared would ‘upset’ fans of the first film. He said: ‘There are some people who watch The Snowman every year with their whole family, so to them it is something almost sacred. ‘It’s an icon that is part of the entire English Christmas. It really holds a very dear place in people’s hearts. ‘I don’t know what the new film is going to be like, but we presume it will have a pop type track on it so it will be a very different type of thing from everything to do with The Snowman so far over the last 30 years.’ He added: ‘I don’t think it can be a proper sequel without some version of Walking in the Air. ‘It could be song by a completely different voice, it could be updated. ‘But it’s so much part of The Snowman that people will be expecting it.’ Mr Blake, 74, wrote Walking in the Air in 1970 on a beach in Cornwall after escaping from London where the pressures of a massive workload had driven him to a near breakdown. It wasn’t until over a decade later when he was shown plans for the film of The Snowman that he realised he had the perfect musical accompaniment. In the 1982 film, based on the book by Raymond Briggs, the song accompanies a sequence as the boy and snowman glide over the countryside. In the sequel, the snowdog joins them as they fly across London before heading for the North Pole, over a new soundtrack written and recorded by former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows and British composer Ilan Eshkeri. Mr Blake said that after being belatedly told about the new film his assistant approached the show’s producer, Camilla Deakin, to ask if she wanted him to write any music for it. ‘She said if you care to submit a demo, we’re asking anyone who can write music to send in demos for our consideration. It’s unbelievable. ‘I wrote a very polite letter saying I don’t do demos but if you would like me to come and look at the script you are proposing I could let you know if I might be interested in composing a score for it. ‘I never had a reply… That is extremely offensive.’ Mr Blake said he was also upset because in publicity for the sequel distributed by Channel 4 billed at as being made by ‘the team behind the original film’. He said: ‘It’s not true, because the original team included me, the person who wrote the score, and Dianne Jackson, who directed the film. ‘Dianne added the sequence when they fly to the North Pole and meet Father Christmas, which was not in the original book and is one of the best loves parts of the film. ‘Dianne, who was a dear friend of mine, died at the age of 50 from cancer in 1992. ‘So to say it’s the ‘original team’ is a bit of an affront to the memory of Dianne. ‘They should have just said this is a new team making a new film and given it a new title without ‘snowman’ in it.’ Mr Blake said he was also disappointed that Raymond Biggs has constantly said that he doesn’t like the music from the original. He said: ‘He’s perfectly happy to collect the royalties from numerous sources for thirty years. So I think he protests a bit too much about it.’ Walking in the Air was originally sung by St Paul's Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty. A single version sung by Welsh chorister Aled Jones released three years later reached Number 5 in the charts. Burrows has said he tried to write a more ‘contemporary’ score for the new film, adding: ‘there's a little bit more of a pop element going on.’ Mr Blake first made his name in the sixties writing scores for TV show The Avengers and his subsequent pieces have include a piano concerto for Diana, Princess of Wales, commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra for her birthday in 1991, and the much-loved oratorio Benedictus. He is also one of the creators of long running Snowman stage show which has been seen by 1.5 million people and is playing in 50 cities across the globe this Christmas. One of the first person to see it was Diana, who took William and Harry to it when they were youngsters, and the Beckhams and Sir Paul McCartney and his family have also been to see it in recent years. He said: ‘It’s a marvellous modern Christmas legend. I think it’s the true legacy to The Snowman.’ t.kelly@dailymail.co.uk end (Back to Top)

'I wrote the Snowman at a terrible time' - Jessica Salter - Telegraph Magazine

Howard Blake at home in west London Photo: Toby Coulson Written by Jessica Salter Howard Blake, 74, is a composer whose pieces include a piano concerto for Diana, Princess of Wales, commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra for her birthday in 1991, and the much-loved oratorio Benedictus. But he is best known for writing the words and music for the animated film The Snowman in 1982. A ballet adaptation of this has been performed annually at Sadler’s Wells in London for 15 years, and this year runs until January 6 (sadlerswells.com). In 1994 Blake received the OBE for services to music. He has two grown-up children, Christopher and Catherine, and a son, Robert, 14, with his partner Diane. He lives in west London. Routine I wake up very early – about 6am. I always make an enormous pot of lemon tea and drink it with biscuits – that’s my breakfast. I do a bit of yoga, have a shower, and start work at 7am. I go out for lunch at 2pm, come home, have a short snooze, and start work again from 5pm until as late as 2am sometimes. Living arrangements Most of my life I’ve had a place on my own, even though I’ve been married and have children and have a partner now. But I’m not a good person to live with. I’m fine for a holiday or the evening, but mostly I’m working. My flat in London is where I work, and Diane and Robert live in Stockholm. It works. Blake's drawing of The Snowman by Dianne Jackson Photo: Toby Coulson Drawing Dianne Jackson drew The Snowman – the most beautiful drawings, which everyone recognises. She gets rather forgotten – you hear a lot about Raymond Briggs, who created the character, but his book is rather different to the film. He professes to be a boring old fart, and I wouldn’t dispute that. But Dianne was wonderful. I was due to go to Brisbane before The Snowman premiered in London. She gave me this drawing and told me I’d better be back in time. Related Articles The six notes that changed my life 11 Dec 2006 The Snowman 08 Dec 2006 Behind the scenes of Snowman sequel 13 Dec 2012 Snowman composer plays Walking in the Air 08 Dec 2012 Beethoven I collect music-related art. My neighbour is an art dealer and she told me about this bust of Beethoven (pictured below) that was going up for auction in Paris in 1987. I think Beethoven is the greatest composer, and this is very special to me. The bust of Beethoven Photo:Toby Coulson Violin sculpture I kept walking past this sculpture in a shop in Knightsbridge. Eventually I went inside and they said ‘Iit’s probably French, but we don’t know who made it.’ It’s all made from one piece of apple wood. It’s interesting because on the right is a hurdy gurdy which was a very popular folk instrument in France. I think the sculpture is from about 1700 or so because of the age of the instruments. Violin sculpture Photo:Toby Coulson First job After winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy, I got a job as a projectionist at the National Film Theatre. I was completely crazy about films, and I wanted to make films and write music for films. I was there for two years, it was a great job. Chance meeting One day, in the foyer, I met a friend who I had studied with. She had, by then, married a Russian pianist called Vladimir Ashkenazy, who I had always considered to be the greatest pianist in the world. It was amazing to meet him. He was there because he wanted to watch Ivan the Terrible, because it was banned in Russia, but we weren’t showing it anymore. So I borrowed the film from the library and a 16 mil projector and put on a showing in my flat in Hammersmith. I got beers and crisps and we had a party. Vladimir and I became friends after that. Session man I became a resident pianist at Abbey Road in 1965. I worked in Studio Two with the Beatles – it was an extraordinary time. This led to film and television work, including The Avengers – in 1967 the director asked me to take over composing all the scores. I was terrified. After the first day I had only written one minute. But when I had finished, I drove to Elstree and played it. The whole band stood up and clapped and it made me cry. Burn-out After The Avengers I did everything for anyone: commercials, feature films, plays. I’d just got married, and bought an enormous six-storey house in Knightsbridge, but I started to suffer from total exhaustion. I saw an Indian doctor – he told me I would be dead in five years, and told me to take up meditation. So I drove to Cornwall, rented a shack on the beach, and stayed there for three months. I’d completely lost my way. Innocence When I was on the beach, doing my meditation and trying to stand on my head, this tune came into my head, a tune of perfect innocence. It was the tune to Walking in the Air, but I didn’t know it then. Snowman In 1981 I met the producer John Coates, who recently died. He had this idea for an animated film – he had music but he didn’t think it was right. I said I could do him a demo in two days’ time. I knew where my song could go. I convinced him that it should be a film without dialogue – just music. Writing day On a beautiful day in June 1982 I told myself I would write the words to my score. I bought some sandwiches and was going to sit in the park to write it. On the way there, I thought of the phrase ‘walking in the air’. I got to the park, rented a deckchair, and wrote all the words in one day. I’ve never changed a word of it. NASA The head of NASA emailed me earlier this year – I didn’t think it was real to start with, I actually almost deleted it – and asked if they could use Walking in the Air as the soundtrack to a spectacular time lapse aurora videos. The video is amazing, it’s shot from outer space, with this satellite circumnavigating the world. And it has my score. Unbelievable. What greater accolade could you have for a song? Princess Diana I got a call from the president of Philharmonia in 1990. He asked me if I would write a piano concerto for Princess Diana’s 30th birthday the next year. He promised to get an incredible pianist to play it, which I thought was wonderful because I could write anything I liked. But the nearer we got to the date I kept ringing and asking if they had found a pianist because it was a very complicated piece. One day he rang up and said ‘All the boys in the band say you could play it’. But I hadn’t played for years. I stopped everything else and spent three months learning the piano again. I played at the Festival Hall to a sold out audience to Princess Diana. Afterwards I had a glass of champagne with her and she was absolutely marvellous. Howard Blake meeting Princess Diana. Photo:Toby Coulson Birthday I’m going to be 75 next year and they’re gong to do a festival for me in Dusseldorf. That’s pretty exciting. Opportunities I wrote The Snowman score at a time of terrible turmoil, but the song is about opportunities, if you can stop and take them. I’d always wanted to write a symphony with film – and that’s exactly what The Snowman is. (Back to Top)

Producer of The Snowman dies aged 85 - BBC News & Arts

Published by BBC News Entertainment & Arts
BBC News - Snowman producer John Coates dies at 85
'COMPLETE INNOVATION' BBC News - Snowman producer dies aged 85 John Coates will be remembered for his work on the 1968 Beatles animation 'Yellow Submarine' and the 1982 Channel 4 animation 'The Snowman'. "Composer Howard Blake, who worked extensively with Coates on films such as 'The Snowman', 'Granpa' and 'The Bear', met Coates in New York in 1981. "He allowed me to go along with my ideas - he let me do the music without any dialogue. The Snowman was a complete innovation," he told BBC News. He said making The Snowman had all been "very friendly", adding: "We fell out numerous times but always made it up. John always believed everything could be sorted out over a good lunch." (Back to Top)

The Snowman by C.Michael Kelly

Published by Immaculata
The Snowman, op. 323 Howard Blake (b. 1938) Although Howard Blake is a complete musician (performer, conductor and composer), and has completed approximately 500 works to which he assigned an opus number, his greatest successes are probably for his film music. His score for The Snowman was nominated for an Oscar in 1982, and he has been nominated for the British film equivalent for several other scores. He was awarded the top musical award of the Cannes Film Festival, as well as several other international awards, and is a member of the Royal Academy of Music. As perhaps a crowning achievement, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to music. The Snowman is generally thought of as a film for children, but it is full of adult meanings and importance beneath the surface. This arrangement condenses all of the important musical episodes from the film score into a seamless whole, worthy of stand-alone presentation on the orchestral concert-stage. (Back to Top)

Silence is golden

by Clare Wiley,23 May 2012, Cinema, Hollywood, Music, US Is music on the silver screen being drowned out? Three composers behind pioneering scores of silent movies speak out. (excerpt) ...the fact that filmmaking is a risky business both creatively and financially, has already led to an environment where music is obscured, hidden away under layers of noise. Howard Blake tired of the system early on. The British composer studied piano and composition at the Royal Academy of Music,and went on to score Ridley Scott’s 1977 The Duellists and Flash Gordon in 1980, among many others. ‘It’s a very stressful thing, writing scores for films,’ Blake says frankly. ‘When you work it’s always done under pressure and at high speed: you have to deliver the goods really. In a way it puts enormous restrictions on you as a composer. It’s very much an art of compromise – sadly so. ‘That’s why it had such a tremendous feeling to it. Everything appears to come to life by magic’ ‘I got fed up writing scores where the music was lost or mangled or under dialogue, or disappeared,’ he continues. ‘This is one of the downsides of being a film composer. You are very much a part of what Bernard Herrmann used to call a mosaic; film is a mosaic art.’ But in 1982 Blake saw a sketch for The Snowman, Raymond Briggs’ dreamlike children’s tale of a Christmas snowman that comes to life. ‘I thought, this is it, you don’t need any words, you don’t need any sound effects,’ he says. ‘I put the idea to a producer, saying I’d love to do this, where the music is an equal partner with the images.’ After creating a demo, Blake and his producer then pitched the idea to the newly launched broadcaster, Channel 4, which agreed to make the short. ‘I wrote the complete score, then recorded the complete soundtrack. So the animators were drawing the film to the score. That’s why it had such a tremendous feeling to it. Everything appears to come to life by magic. It’s the exact opposite to how films are usually written.’ But as cinema moved on, the silent genius of The Snowman was left behind, and Blake gradually turned to creating scores for ballet and stage productions. There were fewer and fewer films that truly put music in the spotlight – until The Artist.... (Back to Top)

It's that time of the year again' - by Stuart Higgins - Christmas 2011

Published by PRS magazine
It’s that time of the year again, mistletoe in the office, boozy Christmas parties, piped seasonal tunes in the shops and the humming of Walking In the Air from The Snowman, writes Stuart Higgins. With its wonderfully uplifting music and lyrics, Howard Blake’s Walking In the Air raises our spirits, melts our hearts and momentarily transports us to another world devoid of economic doom and gloom. This year marks the 30th anniversary of its demo in a small Charlotte Street film studio. Blake says he ‘heard’ the tune as he walked gloomily across Perranporth beach, Cornwall in 1970 during a reassessment of his life and career. The enduring and mesmerising appeal and success of the music, the words, the film and even the stage show – is now in its record-breaking 14th year at Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre in London – is a matter of enormous personal pride. ‘I am often asked whether I feel The Snowman has typecast me and I have to admit that, of course it has. It’s like a big placard around my neck saying “Snowman”, says Howard, now aged 73, from his artist’s studio home in London’s Kensington Square. ‘I have written so much other music that I am equally proud of, but I suppose it is much better than being recognised for something which I am not proud of. I cannot possibly complain about the success it has brought me.’ The Snowman film poster, 1982 His vivid recollections of difficult times as a classical music student are a far cry from the global fame he now enjoys. He is forthright and candid in his views and pleased to give advice to budding composers and writers. ‘I am a composer,’ he asserts robustly. ‘I am not a songwriter. Because the musical world has been so massively hijacked by big business we tend to see the single pop song as the all-important unit. But there is so much more to music than that, and while I have always taken a wide interest in every sort of music whatever its origins, the wonderful possibilities of extended music, of concertos and symphonies and opera and ballet and film and instrumental music in all its myriad forms – this is what I am interested in and what I both listen to and continually attempt to create.’ Blake started playing the piano aged six and liked to pick out tunes by ear, having a gift for music from an early age. ‘I sang in the church choir and took lead parts at school in Gilbert and Sullivan operas. I was also assistant organist at the parish church.’ He wrote his first extended piece of music aged 12; a march in D major. ‘My local piano teacher didn’t believe I’d written it but then he took my under his wing and undertook to teach me harmony and counterpoint. I think I was very fortunate to receive that grounding so young.’ In 1957, at 18, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music as a classical concert pianist, taking serious composition as a second study. In his first term he composed an ambitious tonal piano work called Variations on a theme of Bartok, which was very well received by his professors. But the climate of opinion suddenly shifted in that year towards atonal music and this outlook started to actively discourage the writing of melodic music. Blake found it difficult to fit in and began to turn towards the idea of writing music for films, which seemed to offer far more freedom of style and expression. His musical head was turned one day when he watched the film The Battleship Potemkin. ‘I was knocked out by the combination of image and orchestra. It was an overwhelming emotion which made me want to study it as an art form, but no course of such study existed at that time.’ Leaving college in 1960 not knowing how he might achieve his aims he saw an Evening Standard advert for a projectionist at the National Film Theatre (NFT) and applied for the job. This allowed him not only to make a living but to see and study all the great films and listen to their music. He was also able to make his own film and write the music and this was shown at the NFT while he was still worked there. After two years he needed to move on. He had had great exposure to film and film soundtracks but began to greatly miss playing. ‘I was 23 years old and I decided that I wanted to play music and if I was going to do that perhaps I should just start at the very bottom. I got a job playing piano at a pub off the Edgeware Road in London called The Lord Chancellor. It was the best thing I ever did, despite someone emptying a pint of beer over my head one night because I couldn’t play the tunes they wanted me to, like Sinatra or the Top Ten. I learnt about audience reaction and participation! Blake and quintet rehearse The Snowman at Sadler's Wells, 2011 ‘In order to play the tunes they wanted I learned ten or so a day and the pub became so popular the police had to be called one night because the pub was so busy. I met a drummer who knew a nightclub in Bayswater so we played pop in the pub until 11pm and then went to the nightclub to play jazz.’ One night he was discovered by an EMI talent scout and whisked off to become staff pianist at the famous Abbey Road studios and work alongside the famous four, Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard and Tom Jones. ‘What happened in the 60s was a phenomenon, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing The Beatles, into a shop on a bus or anywhere and I had to think seriously about whether I should be writing two and a half minute pop songs because that was the unit of currency and I had a go at it. I wasn’t very good at it! I started to discover that, apart from Bill Evans and Miles Davis, I much preferred Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev – music that flowed for an hour not a formula with a guitar, bass guitar and set of drums. All music has its place but that wasn’t for me.’ But playing piano at Abbey Road led Howard also to play for film and television recordings. He played on the hugely successful Avengers series for Laurie Johnson who one day in 1967 asked if he would take over scoring the whole show. This led to an immensely busy period as both composer and conductor on projects up until 1970. ‘I was staggeringly busy,’ he remembers, ‘but even though I was now making a lot of money from all of this commercial media work I still hadn’t really found a way of writing the music that I felt was inside me and which I more and more wanted to write. This started to produce serious tensions and I started to become ill. A doctor advised me that I must take time off and I decided then and that I must in some way re-evaluate my life. I drove off to the farthest point I could think of away from London and rented a tiny beach hut near Perranporth beach in Cornwall. It was here that the embryo of The Snowman showed first signs of birth. ‘I was rethinking and reassessing my career and this tune came into my head and my mind. Its voice was all about innocence and purity and was something different,’ he said. ‘This was the inspiration for what was to become The Snowman but it took another 11 years to be born – perhaps the longest gestation period in history for a tune to come to life? ‘In Autumn 1981 I went to the studios of an animated film company called TVC run by a man called John Coates and he showed me an animation; an eight minute filmed pencil sketch of The Snowman. John had had a temporary track added but felt it wasn’t right. He asked if I would look at it. It included the boy flying with the snowman and the moment I saw it I said, “You could make a film without dialogue where the music is the entire script”. John wasn’t sure at all about this so I said I would make a demo, adding that I happened to have a tune that would be perfect.’ ‘Several days later I recorded the eight minutes of film on piano, which included the whole of what was to be Walking In the Air. Some sort of synchronicity was in the air. The film was made by Channel Four for Christmas 1982.’ His income through PRS for Music has risen dramatically through the success of The Snowman but he adds: ‘It is played and performed in every country and I only really know when I see the read-outs of royalties from PRS for Music four times a year. ‘But I also have a huge catalogue of music on top of that with 65 cinema and TV films contributing to a current total of 633 titles and counting. Of course some of the money doesn’t filter through for years and some of it may be for a very small amount – 0.0265p from Patagonia!’ Howard has a strong recollection of his first ever PRS for Music royalty cheque: ‘I had this lovely girlfriend in Brighton and she told me, “You are never going to make any money from music,” and in 1958 I got a cheque for £7 and you can imagine I was thrilled to bits and I wanted to put it in the bank but thought I should treat my sceptical girlfriend to a slap-up dinner. We had the dinner but when I showed her the cheque she laughed and pointed out that it was only for seven shillings not £7 – I was distraught at the time but I laugh about it now.’ We also asked Howard Blake some specific questions: Why do you think The Snowman has become such an institution? I think it’s because it’s neither pop or classical. It’s both. It has its roots in popular culture. The whole idea is about transcending, it’s about love and opening the world of imagination and it appeals to many different people on many different levels. People love to hear the tune because it makes them feel warm. They cheer and they cry when the snowman melts. It unlocks something in people which makes them feel better.” You’ve composed music for orchestras, solo works, film scores, how does your approach to each differ? Music is music. Mozart always wrote to commission. I have always worked on the basis that I should write the best thing I possibly can. I am part of the process whatever the genre. It is a kind of bond between the composer and the public. I am driven to write something that I believe will connect to the public. What are you working on at the moment? I am overseeing the production of The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre at Sadler’s Wells in London. It’s the longest ever running Christmas show with 14 years and we have just committed to another 10 years. There will be 66 performances and I will be overseeing it with a benevolent eye! It is also due to go to Korea and Finland and we have just done the show at the Lowry in Salford, Manchester. Q) Has the way you work changed since you first started composing music? Writing is thinking of music and being able to write it down. I used to always write with a pencil on music paper, but in the 90s computers came in and I was introduced to the Sibelius system where you can write music directly on to the computer and it plays back to you immediately. It was invented by two brothers called Finn and they called it Sibelius because Sibelius was a Finn! I think we are up to Sibelius 7 but I am still on Sibelius 5 which I am happy with. Initially I found it very difficult to write on the computer but it does mean you can write a lot more music and quicker too. It’s a fantastic tool. Are there many opportunities for composers these days? I believe there are lots of opportunities for young composers, more than ever because there are so many production companies, whether it’s TV, radio or film in all different genres. People often say to me, ‘How do I become famous and successful?’ The truth is that it’s a long hard haul and you have to come up with something within yourself that you really want to hear, in the hope that others will want to hear it too. You have to identify that and then market that and if you are determined to do it you will find time to do it because it’s important to you, even if you are doing another job at the same time. I have lost friends because they become envious. I used to love to meet up with other composers but the truth is that many find it very difficult to make a living out of music. They say, ‘It’s all right for you’ but I have worked very hard for what I have achieved. I know it’s not easy but you have to be determined and persistent to succeed, very much like anything else in life. 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HOWARD BLAKE TELLS THE SNOWMAN STORY

Published by PRS for MUSIC on-line magazine
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'How The Snowman found his song' - Tim Masters - BBC News & Arts

Published by BBC News Entertainment & Arts
BBC News Entertainment & Arts How the Snowman found his song By Tim Masters Entertainment correspondent, BBC News. In a triple-glazed apartment, a snowball's throw from the hustle and bustle of Kensington, composer Howard Blake relishes the sound of silence. Here he finds the solitude he needs to write musical scores like The Snowman, which includes Walking In The Air - one of the best-known Christmas anthems of modern times. "My whole life has been music," says Blake, casting an eye over the grand piano that sits in the corner of the room. "The downside of writing something as iconic as The Snowman is that people tend to think you've never done anything else." I was writing a horror film during the day and The Snowman during the evening - I've never told anybody that! The Snowman, the short animated film based on the children's book by Raymond Briggs, has been a seasonal fixture on TV since it first aired on Channel 4 in 1982. It has no dialogue, except for the lyrics of Walking In The Air. "I'd always had a theory that you could make a film with no dialogue, make the music the dialogue," says Blake. He describes the circumstances around getting The Snowman job as "synchronicity". Blake happened to be in the right pace at the right time - in this case a cartoon office in London's Charlotte Street - near the headquarters of the newly-launched Channel 4. Having been shown some footage, Blake realised he already had an unused song idea from years back that would fit. He made a demo and it was commissioned. Blake was actually working on another film at the time: Tony Scott's erotic vampire tale, The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and David Bowie. "It was unusual in that I was finding classical music to re-record," recalls Blake. "I found big chunks of Bach and Schubert, and the opera Lakme by Delibes. Howard Blake Howard Blake's works include a piano concerto commissioned for the 30th birthday of Princess Diana in 1991 "Right in the middle of The Hunger I got the call that they'd got the money for The Snowman: 'Can you start immediately?' "So I was writing a horror film during the day and The Snowman during the evening - two things more different you can't imagine." He pauses, and then adds with a laugh: "I've never told anybody that!" Blake learned the craft of writing music to animation from his work on TV commercials in the 1960s and 70s. He was a regular collaborator with Ridley Scott - the future director of Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and Robin Hood. "We did an advert for SR toothpaste," he recalls. "When Ridley came to do The Duellists - his first feature film which is a masterpiece - he asked if I would write the score. That's how one thing can lead to another." Blake studied piano and composition for three years, after receiving a scholarship to the Royal Academy in London. But he admits he was "crazy about film" while a student. It led to a job as an assistant projectionist at the National Film Theatre, which Blake saw advertised in the Evening Standard. "I thought - I've got to do this, I'll be up to my neck in great films. I got the job and I did it for about two-and-a-half years. "I saw Citizen Kane 25 times - famous directors would come and give lectures. Fritz Lang came there, and Jean Renoir - and very often we'd make them tea up in the projectionist's box." Afterwards, Blake had a successful stint as a session musician, working with artists including Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Cilla Black. In the mid-60s, Blake progressed to playing for film and TV. He names Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini among his mentors. Blake's other film scores include Flash Gordon (1980), Amityville 3D (1983), A Month in the Country (1987) and My Life So Far (1999). The Snowman stage show The live show has been performed all over the world He estimates he has written some 650 works, including pieces for orchestra, ballet and opera. In 1994 he received an OBE for services to music. But it is The Snowman that has been Blake's biggest success - one that he has been asked to revisit over the years. "The Snowman I didn't see originally as being a big job," admits Blake. "It's a very sparse score and there's a lot of space in it. Almost every piece of music expresses some emotion or movement. "It proved to be a very fertile ground to develop. You could take any one of of the motifs and develop them into something symphonic. It really has evolved." The Snowman's evolution includes a full-length ballet, which has become an annual Christmas season for Sadler's Wells at London's Peacock Theatre. But does Blake - with his vast body of other work - see The Snowman as some kind of albatross? "It is an albatross in some ways. People have heard of The Snowman much more quickly than they've heard of Howard Blake. That is an odd situation. "But it hasn't stopped my writing in many other genres. In a way it's financed my ability to write other music. I would like more recognition for things like my piano concerto or choral works - but they are happening. "I just like writing music. I do my best with them. It's a delight when something works. You can can complain about being a failure, but I don't think I'm in a position to complain about being successful." (Back to Top)

Edinburgh Quartet, Spieltrieb

Published by Andy Gill, The Independent
Review of the Naxos CD released June 26 2011: Howard Blake is best known for his film and ballet scores, several of which are included here as revised suites to accompany the newly-commisioned Spieltrieb. His music for the 1986 film A Month in the Country about recovering Great War casualties, is gently pastoral until darkness falls with the mix of pathos and terror in the third movement Elegy in stark contrast to the langorous sensuality of his ballet suite Leda and the Swan and the wistful Walking in the Air from The Snowman. There are affinities with, variously, Arvo Paart, Bernard Herrmann and Beethoven, and a successsion of emotionally-involving themes are skilfully negotiated by the Edinburgh Quartet.
Arranged by Karen Pitchford
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LETTER TO THE BRIGHTON GREEN PARTY

Published by Evening Argus
What on earth are Green thinking of? Green IS music and I thought I was in favour of Green. Music is the sound of nature and peace and eternity. I am now sometimes described as a world-famous composer (certainly with The Snowman, the rest perhaps when I'm dead). I learntto be a pianist, composer and conductor in Brighton. My knowledge of classical music came from the free Brighton record library in the early fifties. Also from having a free pass to the BPO rehearsals in the Dome and going on a free school trip to Glyndebourne. I acted at the free Downs primary school, won the 11-plus to the free Brighton Grammar School, where I sang lead roles in G and S and later got distinction in S-level Music.My Brighton piano teacher Christine Pembridge coached me to win the scholarship to the Royal Academy for piano and composition and I was supported by a university grant. This led to my lifelong professional music career. My first recognition as a composer came from winning the composition class at The Brighton Competitive musical festival in 1958. Brighton is famous throughout the world for its music. To remove assistance would be a devastating blow. I have always been immensely grateful to Brighton, since without it, as a composer I probably would have never existed. HOWARD BLAKE OBE FRAM (Composer). (Back to Top)

borders

Published by All media guide,LLC
Howard Blake: Violin Sonata; Piano Quartet Compact Disc Naxos November 18, 2008 British composer Howard Blake is known in his native country for film scores, including that for the short animated feature The Snowman (1982). Even by that time, however, he had begun to cut back on writing film and television music in favor of concert pieces at a time hardly congenial for his conservative style. An intriguing feature of the chamber music presented here is that three of the four works are revised versions of works written in the mid-'70s; the fourth dates from 1974 and is presented in a recording made in that year. That recording sounds sonically out of place, but this little-known music -- all the pieces are world premieres -- is a nice find. Blake can certainly be classed with the neo-Romantics. Reportedly he was initially surprised to be compared with Dvorák, but here, in his own booklet notes, he quotes a critic who makes the comparison. Like that of his model, Blake's version of Romanticism avoids sentimentality and heavily relies on rhythmic interest. Blake excels in short forms. The Penillion for violin and piano, Op. 571, is a startlingly concise variation set (a penillion is a Welsh oral tradition of improvised verses), and perhaps the highlight of the whole disc is the group of Jazz Dances for violin and piano, Op. 520a. Originally written for two pianos and arriving in the current version via one for cello, these dances are not jazz in the Gershwin sense, but subtle rhythmic tweaks of popular rhythms that go beyond jazz to tango (Slow Ragtime, track 17) and even medium rock, which makes something consistently absorbing out of the simplest of rhythms. The larger works are closer to the Dvorák models, with vigorous dance themes overlaid with hints of chromaticism. A pleasing group of works for those who enjoy the new Romantic sound. Back to Title Details © 2010 All Media Guide, LLC. Portions of Content Provided by All Music Guide ®, a registered Trademark of All Media Guide, LLC. (Back to Top)

VIOLIN SONATA

Published by MUSIC WEB INTERNATIONAL
Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Violin Sonata (1973 revised 2007) [23:41] Penillion Op.571 (1975 revised 2005) [9:32] Piano Quartet Op.179 (1974) [27:14] ¹ Jazz Dances for violin and piano Op.520a (1976 revised 2008) [13:48] Madeleine Mitchell (violin) Jack Rothstein (violin); Kenneth Essex (viola); Peter Willison (cello) ¹ Howard Blake (piano) rec. May-July 2008, Potton Hall, Suffolk and October 1974, Conway hall, London (Piano Quartet) NAXOS 8.572083 [74:15] Howard Blake’s Violin Sonata opens vibrantly but its poignant second subject alerts one to more sorrowful intimations, ones that are to recur as the sonata develops. Songfully lyric, it also embraces – in its slow movement – regretful intimacy. But Blake ensures that this is balanced by a more assertive and pained contrasting section before chimes usher in the tolling, elegiac reverie, one that ends on a sustained violin note. We are whisked away from this by the finale that freewheels virtuosically with the unabashed panache of a New Orleans funeral band returning from the graveside – but, again, not before some shimmering writing reflects on earlier material, recognising the skull beneath the skin, the loss in the laughter. It’s only when one reads that the work was dedicated to a sonata partner colleague of Blake’s, that splendid musician, the late Miles Baster – a prominent student of Albert Sammons and first violin of the Edinburgh String Quartet – that one realises the depths of utterance here. Blake hopes that Baster would have approved. Assuredly so, one thinks. This is a splendid work – at once, one senses, a violin treatise in expressivity and virtuosity, and also a subtle portrait of the impress of a lamented friend. The Piano Quartet Op.179 is the other big work here, and it opens with Toreador brio. The corporate sonority of the group is absolutely splendid and conveys Blake’s music with total dedication. This actually is something of an anomalous recording, given that it was made back in 1974 in the Conway Hall with that arch-inspirer of a number of Blake’s chamber works, Jack Rothstein, leading the ensemble. The confident Scherzo carries on the extroversion with a cello pizzicato episode taken up by the piano in imitative drollery. There’s a classical formality about the writing and a winning generosity of spirit. There’s also a bell toll in the slow movement but it’s very different from the lament to Miles Baster in the sonata. Instead the lyricism is warm, unhurried and uncloying. Joie de vivre drives on the finale, with its ‘stand up straight’ fugato and brief folkloric hints. This is another really enjoyable work, unashamed in its generosity. There are hints of Copland in the Jazz Dances for violin and piano but in the main these genial, atmospheric little pieces steer clear of anything too serious; they’re more dance-patterned than jazzy in any case: no Stuff Smith moments here. But do sample the witty Boogie movement – good fun. Penillion exists in variant instrumentation and is a theme and variations. Here it’s for violin and piano but there’s a bardic version for flute and harp. The violin version brings out the pseudo-Romanian/Carpathian qualities of it – lovely tumbling trills, plenty of badinage, a ghostly fifth variation, and a wistful close. Madeleine Mitchell has assumed the Baster-Rothstein place in Blake’s violinistic firmament, and bravo to that, as she is a marvellously communicative and virtuosic performer and plays with great sympathy. The composer himself accompanies throughout and with brio, reflection and delight. The recording locations – Potton Hall now, Conway Hall then – are admirable. So is this disc. Jonathan Woolf Brio, reflection and delight ... see Full Review
Arranged by JONATHAN WOOLF
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PASSION OF MARY

Published by MUSIC WEB INTERNATIONAL
BARGAIN OF MONTH Howard BLAKE (b.1938) The Passion of Mary, op.577 (2006) [57:21] Four Songs of the Nativity, op.415 (1990) [19:04] Patricia Rozario (soprano); Robert William Blake (treble); Richard Edgar–Wilson (tenor); David Wilson–Johnson (bass–baritone) London Voices/Terry Edwards Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Howard Blake rec. 12-13 August 2009, Studio 1, Abbey Road, London. DDD NAXOS 8.572453 [76:25] The British have long had a tradition of choral singing. By the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century there were choral festivals all over the country. The Leeds Triennial and the Three Choirs remain the best known and indigenous composers wrote prolifically for the amateur singers. And what a line of composition it is: Elgar, Stanford and Parry wrote innumerable works for chorus and orchestra. More recently we’ve had Peter Racine Fricker’s A Vision Of Judgement and David Blake’s Lumina (a superb work which has been unfairly neglected) (both for Leeds), and John McCabe’s Voyage, Geoffrey Burgon’s Requiem and Gerard Schurmann’s Piers Plowman (for the Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester meetings of the Three Choirs Festival). The list goes on and on. Now we have Howard Blake’s The Passion of Mary which, put simply, just had to be written. Having set the Stabat Mater, Blake realised that more was needed as he hadn’t said all that he wanted to say, especially, as he realised, there was no setting of the Passion from Mary’s point of view. This work was the outcome. It is firmly of the British school of choral music. We must not forget that Blake, when younger, was a boy chorister and sang in the choir whilst studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He took part in a performance of VW’s Sancta Civitas in the presence of the great man himself. The Passion of Mary was given its British premiere at his 70th birthday concert in the Cadogan Hall, in London, in October 2008. It stunned the audience with its fluency, directness and feeling of ecstasy. The effect was spectacular – overcome with emotion, the audience sat in awe at the end, feeling that applause was, perhaps, not quite right after such an experience. I was there and can attest to that feeling http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2008/Jul-Dec08/blake2810.htm. That performance was of an exceptional quality and some of those performers have been reunited for this recording. Although playing for less than an hour, Blake manages, with the most economic of means, to tell the whole story of Christ, from Mary’s pregnancy to the Crucifixion and after. Following a brief yet intensely effective orchestral prelude, and a bass recitative, the soprano (Mary) sings the Magnificat, to music of high elation. The vocal line flies aloft in a finely judged orchestral setting. The orchestra is used throughout in a most restrained manner and only raises its voice once – at the time of the Crucifixion - in music of great strength and fury. This is both mystical in feel and magical in conception. Blake’s son sings the small but telling part of Jesus as a child, a wonderful stroke of imagination this, and the tenor takes the part as a man. Throughout there are choruses, recitatives, arias, duets and scenas, all of which follow one another easily and grow out of the argument. One of the most striking moments is when Satan, a suitably oily performance from David Wilson–Johnson, tries to tempt Christ. This is written, save for four urgent chords from the orchestra, as an unaccompanied scene. The work ends with a chorus worthy of Gabrieli, with joyful shouts of Gloria! The words “masterpiece” and “a work of genius” are bandied about far too easily these days, but here they can be used with confidence for this, surely, is Blake’s masterpiece, and, from a purely musical point of view, it is a work of genius. As my friend, and colleague, Robert Matthew-Walker wrote, “The Passion of Mary makes an immediate and lasting impact on the attentive listener, and there is no doubting the conviction of the composer and the directness of his musical utterance.” I cannot improve on that. This is superb stuff in a performance which is of the highest quality. I was at the sessions and can confirm the immense amount of work which went into making this recording. Patricia Rozario, whose voice Blake had in his head whilst writing, glows as Mary, making the most of her long scenes, and taking the wide leaps in the vocal line as if they were the easiest things she had ever sung. Considering that the part covers more than two octaves this is, in itself, quite a feat. Richard Edgar–Wilson (Jesus, as a man) sings with an easy fluency and fine diction, displaying a beautiful high G, so soft as to make one gasp. David Wilson–Johnson (as both the Prophet and Satan) is full-voiced and creates both parts with such skill that you’d be hard pushed to realise that it was the same singer. He is especially impressive as Satan as he descends to a low E? in the temptation scene. Last, but by no means least, Robert William Blake (Jesus as a boy) imbues the part with a quiet authority, displaying a beautiful delicacy in his delivery, and a full understanding of the music. London Voices sing with real gravitas – whether in meditative mode or when screaming for blood. How could they not when they were trained by a man - Terry Edwards - who, I have said this before, is the best choral trainer in London. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is with Blake all the way, giving their all, especially when allowed music to themselves. The orchestration is magnificent, with some eloquent moments for the harp. Blake brings out all the voices with great clarity. Michael Ponder’s production is a real asset, for the sound is big, yet even in the loudest episodes everything is clear and precise. There are also passages of such breathtaking pianissimo that one is on the edge of one’s seat. The sound is the best I have ever heard from Naxos. All in all, this is one of the very best CDs it has been my pleasure to hear and report upon. And we haven’t finished, for as a, very generous, coupling we have the Four Songs of the Nativity for chorus and brass. These are delightful settings of texts taken from Mediaeval English Verse (Penguin Books). Although not easy to perform, they make a lovely set of alternative carols if not of the community singing type. Ranging from devotional to racy this work makes a good conclusion to a very special disk. Choirs looking for new repertoire need look no further. Here are two works which can communicate easily and make a real impression on the audience. A very good booklet, with full texts, completes an issue which should be in every collection. This music is far too good to miss. Bob Briggs (Back to Top)

PASSION OF MARY (GAPPLEGATE)

Published by GAPPLEGATE REVIEW
Gapplegate Music Review Wednesday, May 12, 2010 Howard Blake: Modern Choral Music from England I first came upon the music of Howard Blake via the soundtrack to the memorable animated film The Snowman. In particular the main theme as sung by boy treble with orchestra really captivated. It was a little like a cross between The Moody Blues's Days of Future Passed and middle-period Keith Jarrett. Hearing it still gives me goose bumps. So when I saw this new Naxos release of Blake in a more "serious" concert choral zone, I jumped on the chance to hear and review it. Blake seems like a natural when it comes to vocal-orchestral expression. Everything he writes in these two works (The Passions of Mary; Four Songs of the Nativity) seems to lay out in a kind of idiomatic near-perfection. Howard Blake himself conducts the soloists, the London Voices, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for this recording, which seems definitive. The music falls in a 20th Century tradition of such works by Walton, Vaughn Williams and others similar. That is to say, it uses extended tonal-traditional means to express lyrically the dramatic import of the narrative texts. The Passion of Mary follows a modern oratorio vein; For Songs of the Nativity uses the song form for some memorable Christmas fare. Mr. Blake is a composer of talent. These are some beautiful and moving settings. If you are an Anglophile in matters classical, you will no doubt want this one. I will file it happily on my "modern English composers" shelf. That is, when I am not listening to and enjoying it. (Back to Top)

CHAMBER MUSIC

Published by Music Web International
Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Flute Quintet Op.493 (1996) [18:04] Shakespeare Songs for tenor and string quartet Op.378 (1987) [23:10] Trio for flute, cello and harp Op.559 (1962 re-arranged 2005) [9:04] Farewell My Gentle Harp - for tenor and harp Op.517 (1976 revised 2000) [4:58] Penillion for flute and harp Op.448 (1975 revised 1993) [8:30] Martyn Hill (tenor); English Serenata. rec. October-November 2005, St Lawrence’s Parish Church, Mickleton, Gloucestershire MERIDIAN CDE84553 [63:44] This is a delightful disc, high in opus numbers but also high in quality too. The Flute Quintet dates from 1996 and is cast in four movements. Warm lyricism and avian calls are the index for this, with the flute singing its verdant morning song in the opening Allegro Cantando. After a vibrant Scherzo there’s a lyrically textured slow movement and a light-hearted march finale with some strummed accompanying figures to vary textures. A rather earlier work is the Shakespeare Songs for tenor and string quartet. Blake takes well known songs from As You Like It and Twelfth Night, as well as single songs from Cymbeline, The Tempest and Love’s Labours Lost. The result is a cycle that confounds expectations. None sounds very much like anyone else’s settings. The bucolic old-time settings of, for example, When Icicles hang by the wall is not replicated in Blake’s own setting, nor are there Finzi-esque moments either. Blake paints his words with discreet delicacy, not playing up the ‘freeze’ in Blow, blow thou winter wind, though he certainly does push the tenor very high in Full fathom five, the more to accentuate its eerie sense of loss. He does so again in Come, away death with the same result - Blake sees things differently from the more baritonal consolations that other have wrought here. If there is an influence, I would sense Britten, especially in When Icicles. The Trio for flute, cello and harp is an arrangement of a 1962 work for flute, clarinet and piano. It survives the transition delightfully. French in orientation, cleanly and clearly lyric, generous in its melodic grace, it is a work of perfectly poised charm. Farewell My Gentle Harp is another vehicle for Martyn Hill, a Gaelic lament and truly lovely. Meanwhile Penillion for flute and harp – other versions exist – is inspired by Welsh music, though gently. I’ve heard it in its incarnation for violin and piano, and it’s perhaps not too surprising that this flute and harp version sounds far less ‘Carpathian’ in one or two of the variations, and rather more sweetly emollient. It ends a beautifully performed and enticing disc. Full praise, then, to Hill, always a most articulate singer, and to the players of the English Serenata for their mellifluous and sensitive playing, to the fine recording and to the booklet with its full texts. Jonathan Woolf A beautifully performed and enticing disc ... see Full Review
Arranged by Jonathan Woolf.
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kids top 10 classical music

Published by The Guardian -Culture Club- Sarah Bryan Miller
Writing in the Guardian, British critic Tom Service reports on a new poll: British children like Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky - but their favorite (allegedly) classical music is the theme to Harry Potter, by John Williams. Service is appalled, but rationalizes, “Harry Potter’s victory shows that children love lavishly orchestrated music, and that they understand that you can create worlds of magic and mystery with a symphony orchestra.” Here’s the complete list of winners: Kids’ top 10 classical music 1 John Williams Harry Potter 2 Howard Blake Walking in the Air (The Snowman) 3 Sergei Prokofiev Peter’s Theme (Peter and the Wolf) 4 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (The Nutcracker) 5 Sergei Prokofiev The Duck Scene (Peter and the Wolf) 6 Paul Dukas The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Fantasia) 7 Edward Elgar Pomp and Circumstance Op. 39, No. 4 (Fantasia) 8 Johann Pachelbel Canon 9 Sergei Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet 10 Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov Flight of the Bumblebee (Back to Top)

MusicWebInternational survey of Howard Blakes's discography by Rob Barnett

Published by MusicWebInternational
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classRev/2009/Sept09/Blake_survey.htm
Howard BLAKE - a survey of his music on CD Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Lifecycle - 24 pieces for solo piano. William Chen (piano). ABC CLASSICS 476 118-4 [65.33] AmazonUK AmazonUS Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Flute Quintet; Shakespeare Songs; Trio for flute, cello and harp; Farewell My Gentle Harp - for tenor and harp Op.517 (1976 revised 2000) [4:58] Penillion for flute and harp. Martyn Hill (tenor); English Serenata. MERIDIAN CDE84553 [63:44] AmazonUK AmazonUS Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Violin Concerto The Leeds; A Month in the Country; Sinfonietta for 10 brass instruments. Christiane Edinger (violin) English Northern Philharmonia/Paul Daniel ASV CD DCA 905 [62:40] AmazonUK AmazonUS review Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Violin Sonata; Penillion; Piano Quartet; Jazz Dances. Madeleine Mitchell (violin); Jack Rothstein (violin); Kenneth Essex (viola); Peter Willison (cello); Howard Blake (piano) NAXOS 8.572083 [74:15] AmazonUK AmazonUS Classicsonline review Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Piano Concerto; Diversions; Toccata - A Celebration of the Orchestra. Howard Blake (piano), Robert Cohen (cello) Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks (Concerto), Howard Blake (Diversions and Toccata) SONY CLASSICS 88697376972 [68:21] AmazonUK AmazonUS review (full details of the above discs at end of this feature) Howard Blake is best known for his music for The Snowman, an animated feature on Raymond Briggs' fable. The song Walking in the Air is from that feature. A treatment of this appears in tr. 21 of the ABC Classics Life-Cycle disc but the song was immortalised by the then treble Aled Jones - now a regular on UK Classic FM and BBCTV's Songs of Praise although he was not the singer on the soundtrack. It sold in millions. Blake has written prolifically; there are rising 600 works in his catalogue ranging from major concertos to film music, from opera to small instrumental genre pieces. His musical style is accessible without any ivory tower barriers to appreciation. His teachers included Harold Craxton and Howard Ferguson. Blake is Fellow and Visiting Professor of Composition at The Royal Academy of Music. In 1994 he received the O.B.E. for services to music. Highbridge Music, founded in 1974, exclusively publishes his works. The firm takes its name from Highbridge Mill near Cuckfield in Sussex, a converted watermill dating from 1810 which was the composer’s home from 1971 to 1981. It has been a source of inspiration for many of his musical works. Lifecycle was written in London, Brighton and Cuckfield. The sequence of 24 pieces came about following a conversation with Vladimir Ashkenazy to whom the cycle is dedicated. The music is pleasing; isn't that a large part of the role of music - to please? The titles range from piano stool 'standards' (Berceuse, Romanza, Scherzo, Chaconne, Nocturne) to the less conventional (Make-Believe, Dance of the Hunters, Walking in the Air, Oberon). The shortest plays 0.51 (Jump); the longest 5.16 (Impromptu). Knuckle-breakers such as Scherzo rub up against popular culture fantasies (Rag) and studies that have their roots struck deep into the music of Chopin, Rachmaninov, Medtner and Tchaikovsky. Notables include the Housman bells of Romanza, the rumba flavour and sway of Jump and the riotous faery-flight of Oberon (tr. 23) as well as the placid Make Believe - a transcription of Blake's song for Granpa which was another successful TV feature for Christmas-tide. The cycle is rounded with a soothing sleep. A pleasing disc then: pastime in good quiet company - both Blake's and Chen's. This is music written with an intent and attainment that is playful, sentimental and serious - above all tonal. The Meridian disc presents Howard Blake as celebrant of melody but always grounded in his own very personal embrace with the English tradition. His Flute Quintet declares a no-barriers statement of faith in that good-hearted marriage between joy, melody, pensive asides and solace. Avoiding blandness he spirits the listener away with enchantingly imagined and expressed moods and cheerful merry-eyed delight. Much the same applies to the light-suffused warmth and Gallic impressionism of the Trio for flute, cello and harp. This would go well in the same concert as the Ravel Introduction and Allegro and the Bax Elegiac Trio. The Shakespeare Songs fearlessly confront the English song tradition. The nine songs are subtle and very carefully crafted and shaped. It is notable that although these are quite short, Blake establishes without a falter or a blink his own anterior pacing. Fear No More, Full Fathom Five, Wedding Hymn and Lament inhabit an unhurried world. There are inevitable echoes from Britten yet Blake has more humanity and you may also catch yourself thinking of Geoffrey Bush and to a slight extent Gerald Finzi. Blake addresses these much-set texts without a tremor and with a confidence that does not trample on the words. Classic texts expressed with lucidity, nuance and with a response to their need for emotional release. Martyn Hill takes the colour of every word and reflects and refracts it into the 5 minute song Farewell My Gentle Harp to the anonymous Gaelic poem ‘The Lament of Rory Dall’. On a similar beautiful downbeat we come to the Penillion for flute and harp. For me the melody - which is limpid and enthralling - does not sound especially Cambrian. It is, however, gracious and utterly delightful. It delivers everything engaging that one would expect from the juxtaposing of flute and harp. The ASV disc of the Violin Concerto has been written about with more insight than I can muster by Ian Lace. It was written for Nigel Kennedy but premiered by Christiane Edinger in Leeds whose city fathers commissioned the piece. It stands in the central pathway of the great English tradition of music for violin and orchestra. At various times its wondrously presented ideas sing out in exultant company with The Lark Ascending and with the concertos of Walton, Elgar and Delius. It is however no pastiche and is deeply affecting in its own right. I only mention these other works to give you some idea of the sound-world. There's a tender Adagio and an Allegro con brio that is chipper, exultantly pointed and light-on-the-feet. This work belongs among my favourite violin concertos alongside Prokofiev 1, the superb Ivanovs, the Sainsbury and the Sibelius. The five movement A Month in the Country began life as the music for a Channel 4 drama. Its plot was about two soldiers returning to the English countryside from the trauma of the Great War. English pastoralism is certainly present in this score as in the Holstian trudge of the Alla marcia and the elegiac Howellsian atmosphere of the first movement which takes on a grimmer mien in the Adagio-Elegy. There’s a lighter Finzian quality in the Scherzando - slower than I might have expected. The Delian concentration of the sighing Andante is also memorable. The Sinfonietta is in four movements and was written for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. It is for ten brass instruments and was premiered at the Brighton Festival. It tracks through a world caught between the grandeur of the Venetian Gabriellis and Walton’s kinetic determination. You can hear this in the almost bitter Presto. The Maestoso has an evolutionary, slow-blooming, crowning motion and some superb writing for Jones's trumpet here taken by the trumpet principal of the English Northern Philharmonia. This ASV disc has been around since 1994 and supplies may be difficult to source. It is however well worth the effort. Recently reissued under a new number and with new finery the Sony disc is also deeply rewarding. The Piano Concerto was commissioned by the Philharmonia to celebrate the birthday of Diana, Princess of Wales. The brilliant melodic writing, full of inventive engagement, is redolent of Walton's much underrated Sinfonia Concertante. It has a limpid, straight-talking and beguiling enthralment about it. Echoes of the starry fluency and sincerity of the middle movement of Beethoven’s Emperor come across in the firefly glimmer of the Andante espressivo. The finale combines explosive New York jazziness with a Grainger-like zest. The piece ends with great delicacy and a satisfying blast of fireworks. It is not difficult to appreciate yet is not so easy as to be bland. The eight movements of Diversions are full of wit and enchantment - Maurice Gendron assisted Blake with the editing of the cello part. Once again the composer adroitly times and paces his treatment of intrinsically pleasing and grateful ideas. In some ways this is a modern Rococo Variations but with less bone china and more of a contemporary emotional landscape though nothing is dissonant. There are some lovely conceits here such as the confidingly pattering Serenade but profundity is never far away. The Finale has the cello and orchestra blazing away. Once again the Sony team must be congratulated on a recording balance that is both clear and sensitive to excitement and poetry. It is clear that Blake is drawn to revise his earlier works. His 1977 Toccata, dubbed a ‘Celebration for orchestra’ has been revisited and spruced up - to what extent we are not told. This extended work has lambent jazzy exultation, searing victorious heat, playful percussion and a humming and shining expectancy which glitters with Arnoldian stars. It's a moving, fragile yet robust fantasy - elegant in its strengths and foot-tapping in its rhythmic Waltonian exaltation. The orchestra give a dazzling account of themselves throughout. Toccata was premiered by the RPO under Hans Vonk in 1976 at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon. The Sony recording is stunning. The late Christopher Palmer provides the notes (from the original issue) with a brief update from the composer. The most recent disc and the one you are likely to encounter easily is the Naxos collection of Blake's chamber music. All four works here began their existence in the period 1973-76. Again Blake is a participant as pianist and as note-writer. The Violin Sonata is in the safe hands of Madeleine Mitchell who is an increasingly familiar presence in British violin music projects and beyond. The Sonata dates from 1973 when it was written for Jack Rothstein. Dissatisfied, Blake rewrote it in 2007 and it is this version we hear now. There are three movements. The first is typically impassioned like RVW's Lark but with a burning fervour. The Lento is at first in uncharacteristically expressionist language but soon evolves, slow-blooming yet passionately lyrical, with the piano becoming increasingly animated. The headlong final Presto soon finds a steady and sternly romantic mood which becomes more florid towards the close. The style is at times quite close to that of the Howells Piano Quartet. The Penillion is the same work that appears on the Meridian anthology - there for flute and harp. It was originally written for violinist Jack Rothstein and Annabel Etkind. Here its eight episodes are helpfully separately tracked. It remains determinedly unWelsh but that hardly matters a whit - it's a most gracious invention with Hungarian and English accents. The four movement Piano Quartet is the biggest work here at approaching half an hour. The vivid and fine analogue recording dates from 1974 and features the original team of the composer, Peter Willison (cello), Jack Rothstein (violin) and Kenneth Essex (viola) - a top-flight ensemble. For all its analogue origins its attractions are irresistible. The language is that of high romance between Dvořák, Schubert and Beethoven. If there is a touch of trilling pastiche about it that is no obstacle to the delightful and ineluctable flow of ideas and treatment. The nine Jazz Dances are a skilled celebration with unblushing fidelity to a range of popular dance forms. Nothing extraordinary here but everything is fresh and warmly engages mind and heart. It recalls Barber's Souvenirs yet without the volcanic climax that marks out the sultry Tango. Sentiment, terpsichore, frictionless seduction and foot-tapping vitality are all there. In addition to these various commercially accessible discs have been fortunate to hear a number of recordings not commonly accessible. I mention them here in the hope that they may encourage companies to record them or reissue existing recordings. The succinct Symphony in one movement op. 42 plays for between 12:14 and 14:30. It opens wistfully in the manner of Constant Lambert’s Music for Orchestra and Blake's own film score for The Riddle of the Sands. Superbly done and very English it is understated, quiet and vernal. There's a touch of RVW's In the Fen Country too. This pastoral flavour gives way to some decidedly American-style syncopation, the verve of which suggests Copland and Bernstein: super-fast pizzicato, finger-snapping kinetic vitality, bluesy swoons and mid-Western exultation. There are quite a few Blake film scores. Two are reflected in a now deleted Airstrip One CD AOD HB02 from 2000. The Duellists is a Ridley Scott film (1977) in which the principals were Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine with Edward Fox, Robert Stephens and Albert Finney. The session orchestra in this and in The Riddle of the Sands (1978) is Sidney Sax's luxury item ensemble - the National Philharmonic - well known from the RCA Classic Film Scores series. Blake's music for The Duellists includes a series of variations, many darkly inventive (tr. 10), on a plangently stated theme for flute or cor anglais. There are some psychologically oppressive cues drawing somewhat on Herrmann and Schoenberg. Things lighten up for The Chateau (tr. 13). The orchestral principals included Susan Milan (flute) and Alan Civil (horn) with Sax as leader. The score for The Riddle adds a sparingly used choir - in this case the John McCarthy Singers in music that is sweet, discreet and with a redolence of the Brahms Volkslieder. Though set along the Friesian coast the music wistfully evokes the world of Norfolk and the fen country. It is a very strong and certainly beautiful score. Just try the truly magical Sailing where every tickling and singing detail is tellingly invented and performed. A discreet chugging ostinato in the violins counterpoints delicious writing for oboe and for flute. This cue should be tracked down by Classic FM - a wonderfully memorable piece of writing. The music also carries the implication of threat and the smell of fog. Carruthers investigates the Barn suggests that Blake might well have been influenced by the Moeran G minor symphony - then recently issued on EMI (Dilkes) and Lyrita LPs (Boult). It's a wonderful score and stunningly recorded, even in analogue. I've read some pretty sniffy comments about the film. I disagree. It lacks glitz but is beautifully shot and oozes a kind of understated sincerity. The leads are Michael York, Simon MacCorkindale, Jenny Agutter and the greatly underrated Alan Badel. The major choral work that is Benedictus was issued commercially at about the same time as the concertos disc. Sadly it remains banished to deletion limbo. It really should be reissued. One of a series of major choral pieces by Blake, it revels in and extends the English choral tradition. Blake uses the solo viola as interlocutor in the prelude and postlude to frame the three parts and eleven segments. The viola lays bare a pensive and melancholy soul. The original recording is most beautifully done and the music seems to reference the monastery life in which Blake had immersed himself before writing this substantial work. It is however far from ascetic. Blake also articulates the fire in the sky. Robert Tear, who for the most part keeps the vinegar in his voice well under control, is the tenor soloist. The music he is allocated has the sense and feel of Tippett's A Child of our Time. Passion is not far away at any time - try tr. 5 Lord who shall dwell. Seraphically sweet writing carries the How lovely is thy dwelling place although it sometimes finds Tear in effortful mode. The solo viola returns for the start of Part 2 and precedes a setting of Thompson's The Hound of Heaven; a masterful work to the same words by Maurice Jacobson is in clamant need of recording. Blake characterises and colours sensitively at every turn of the poem. Part III starts with more peaceful music to salve the excoriation of I fled him .… This continues in balm and healing in Suscipe me with just a hint of Delius's Song of the High Hills. Blake finds his kinetic impetus again in Bless the Lord O my soul (tr. 11). The ascetic music of the monastery and the church bells return for Processu (tr. 12) which melts into an enchantingly glimmering diaphanous mist. A golden halo of choral sound fades down to meet the pensive valedictorian that is the viola. Benedictus dates from May 1980 and was first recorded in 1988 on Sony CDHB2. It was commissioned by The Ditchling Choral Society with assistance from The Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust. The premiere was given by Richard Lewis (tenor), Frederick Riddle (viola), The National Philharmonic Orchestra and The Ditchling Choral Society, conducted by Janet Canetty-Clarke at Worth Abbey on 17 May 1980. The premiere of the revised version followed under the baton of Sir David Willcocks at St Albans Cathedral on 25 January 1986. Let’s look forward now to the next Naxos Blake disc. This will include his second dramatic oratorio The Passion Of Mary (for soloists, chorus and orchestra) and Four Songs Of The Nativity (for chorus and brass ensemble). Blake conducted the premiere recordings at the Abbey Road Studios 12-13 August 2009 with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the choir of London Voices and soloists: Patricia Rozario (soprano), Richard Edgar-Wilson (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (bass-baritone) and treble Robert William Blake the composer's 10-year old son. Amid the hubbub of dissonance and the clamour for constantly renewed novelty for its own sake Howard Blake stands out as an urgently communicative and accessible creative voice. Rob Barnett see also http://www.howardblake.com/index.php INTERVIEW by Bob Briggs Full tracklisting:- Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Lifecycle - 24 pieces for solo piano op. 489 (1962-1996) (Prelude: Andantino; Nocturne; Impromptu; Toccatina; Mazurka; Walking Song; Chaconne; Scherzo; Ballad; Rag; Study; Berceuse; Prelude: Allegro Risoluto; The Music Box; Romanza; Dance of the Hunters; Dance of the Sun and the Moon; Isabelle; Serioso - come una Marcia lenta; Jump; Walking in the Air; Night and Day; Oberon; Make-Believe) William Chen (piano) rec. 18-20 Jan 2003, Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo Centre in the presence of the composer. ABC CLASSICS 476 118-4 [65.33] Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Music from Shakespeare country - Chamber Music Flute Quintet Op. 493 (1996) [18:04] Shakespeare Songs - for tenor and string quartet Op. 378 (1987) [23:10] Trio - for flute, cello and harp Op.559 (1962 re-arranged 2005) [9:01] Farewell My Gentle Harp - for tenor and harp Op.517 (1976 revised 2000) [4:58] Penillion - for flute and harp Op. 448 (1975 revised 1993) [8:30] Martyn Hill (tenor) English Serenata (Gabrielle Byam-Grounds (flute); Rowena Bass (harp); Stephen Bingham (violin); Anna Bradley (violin); Brenda Stewart (viola); Joseph Spooner (cello)) rec. no details given. DDD MERIDIAN CDE84553 [63:44] Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Violin Concerto The Leeds Op. 441 (1992) [32:36] A Month in the Country Op. 446 (1986, 1992) [12:53] Sinfonietta for 10 brass instruments Op. 300 (1981) [16:16] Christiane Edinger (violin) English Northern Philharmonia/Paul Daniel rec. Leeds Town Hall, 1993, DDD ASV CD DCA 905 [62:40] http://www.zen22662.zen.co.uk/2008/Oct08/Oct8thBlake_Leeds.htm Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Music for Piano and Strings Violin Sonata, op.586 (1973 - 2007) [23:41] Penillion, op.571 (1975/2005) [9:32] Piano Quartet, op.179 (1974) [27:14] Jazz Dances, op.520a (1976/2008) [13:48] Madeleine Mitchell (violin); Jack Rothstein (violin); Kenneth Essex (viola); Peter Willison (cello); Howard Blake (piano) rec. 9 October 1974, Conway Hall, London (Quartet), 24 and 25 May 2008 (Sonata), 13 July 2008 (Penillion) and 14 July 2008 (Jazz Dances), Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk also Conway Hall, London, 9 October 1974. DDD NAXOS 8.572083 [74:15] http://www.musicweb-international.com/classRev/2008/Nov08/Blake_sonata_8572083.htm Howard BLAKE (b. 1938) Piano Concerto, op.412 (1990) [25:52] Diversions, op.337 (1984) [20:45] Toccata - A Celebration of the Orchestra, op.386 (1988) [21:44] Howard Blake (piano), Robert Cohen (cello) Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks (Concerto), Howard Blake (Diversions and Toccata) rec. 19-21 December 1990, Sony Studios (Studio 1, The Hit Factory), Whitfield Street, London. DDD reissue of CBS (Sony) HB3 23 originally released May 1991 SONY CLASSICS 88697376972 [68:21] http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2008/nov08/Blake_pc_88697376972.htm (Back to Top)

mf files

Howard Blake is an accomplished pianist and composer who studied at the Royal School of Music in the UK. He composed music for the stage, radio and television, most notably incidental music for several episodes of "The Avengers", before establishing a career in film music. This career includes some stints as orchestrator for other composers such as Henry Mancini and a long CV of scores in his own name. His film music constitutes a large part of his overall output, though Blake has not neglected concert pieces having composed concertos for Clarinet, Piano and Violin as well as an oratorio called "Benedictus". His name came to prominence in the public eye when he composed the music for a production based on the book "The Snowman". This was soon turned into an animated film and "The Snowman" is now regularly broadcast on television at Christmas time. The familiar theme tune "Walking in the Air" was a big hit for the singer Aled Jones, at that time a boy soprano. The team behind this first animation went on to create others in the same style including "Grandpa" and "The Bear". Howard Blake even makes a cameo appearance in "The Bear" as the pianist at the window, while writer and illustrator Raymond Briggs appears as the smiling face in the moon. For a number of years, Howard Blake played an active role in the Performing Rights Society, and in 1994 he received an OBE for his services to music. Howard Blake has also written pieces for a variety of instruments and combinations. Among several for solo piano is his "Lifecycle" which, like Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and similar works by other composers, is a set of 24 pieces in all the keys including the "Walking Song" in A. This is just another example of his inclination towards the classical traditions of music, which is evident in some of his pieces. "The Snowman" is now regularly performed as a stage event during the Christmas Season, for example at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre at Christmas 2006. Films by Howard Blake: *An Elephant called Slowly - with the Virginia McKenna/Bill Travers team * The Duellists - historical drama by Ridley Scott * Agatha * The Changeling - the film was scored by Rick Wilkins but Blake supplied the music box theme * Flash (Gordon) - remembered for the songs by Queen, Blake did some arranging and the incidental music for the film, full of lovely synth music which somehow evokes the retro look of the film * The Snowman - the theme song "Walking in the Air" was a big hit for boy soprano Aled Jones (though he didn't sing on the original film) * The Lords of Discipline * Amityville 3-D * A Midsummer Night's Dream (1996) * Grandpa - a Snowman follow-on * The Bear - another animation from "The Snowman" team and also based on a Raymond Briggs book TV music by Howard Blake: * The Avengers - incidental music for a total of 7 episodes, substituting for the series resident composer Laurie Johnson * Play for Today - the episode called "Stronger than the Sun" * BBC2 Playhouse - a couple of episodes of this * S.O.S. Titanic * The Moon Stallion - a children's fantasy series * The Canterbury Ghost The soundtrack to the Snowman starts with the narrated version of the story which makes a great bedtime story for children leading up to Christmas, and is reminiscent of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" story. In addition the CD also has the soundtrack on its own without the narration, and this is great fun music for children of all ages. The Piano Score version of the full film is quite tricky to play, but there are simpler versions of the main theme alone or a suite from the film. The theme song is available in a piano plus vocal arrangement (with guitar chords) from MusicRoom, and if you visit di-arezzo.com and perform a search for "Snowman" or "Howard Blake" you will find a wealth of school arrangments for many instruments. Howard Blake - music for piano and strings album album cover Blake's "Lifecycle" for piano is available from this link at MusicRoom and this link at MusicRoom lists many other pieces for various instruments. His "Music for Piano and Strings" listed below is a good example of his concert or chamber music style. The album includes a collection of "Jazz" pieces for violin and piano, which like Shostakovich's "Jazz Suites" are not true Jazz, but simply lighter less serious works. The Howard Blake official website is at www.howardblake.com. * The Snowman - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com * Flash Gordon (Queen songs plus dialogue mostly) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com * Flash Gordon (Howard Blake score - but very rare) - Amazon.com * Music for Piano and Strings (with Howard Blake playing the piano) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com (Back to Top)

HOWARD BLAKE AND FILM MUSIC

mardi, avril 11, 2006 Howard Blake about film music April 2006 - I had the opportunity to ask questions about "film music" to Howard Blake who wrote numerous concert works and film scores (including THE SNOWMAN, THE DUELLISTS, A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY [1988 Anthony Asquith Award], THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE...). - Jean-Francois Houben: Maestro Blake, you wrote a lot of concert works (with public performances since 1974) but since your studies at the Royal Academy of Music, you are interested by the movies (you were projectionist at the National Film Theatre ; you directed a movie) and by film music. Several composers working for the movies and writing for the concert hall have a very critical (sometimes cynical) attitude concerning their own film music (for example, Miklos Rozsa -- you had lunch with -- judged his musical life as a double life). What are your current feelings about "film music"? - Howard BLAKE: As a student at the Royal Academy of Music, I studied composition and piano between 1957and 1960 (classical - I toured with a violinist playing Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Franck, Ravel... etc) on a bourse but became disenchanted with current ideas of 12-tone, serial... I saw Potemkin with an orchestral score at the age of about 19 and decided that the future of art lay in the combination of music and images (film images). I applied to study film rather than music but at that time nobody could understand what I was talking about, and they wanted me to do a course in photography. The University grant people decided I should stay at the RAM, where I did very little. I spent much time at the National Film Theatre and wrote extensively on the philosophy of art/music/cinema etc. After college I got a job at the National Film Theatre... which I loved- I met Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, Vincente Minelli, Jacques Tati, Orson Welles, Chris Marker- all sorts of people! I made my own 16mm film which I wrote, edited and composed the music for. It was terrible but good enough to be shown in the film theatre as a short with Maltese Falcon- believe it or not! But I realised my gift was music and not script or direction. I was very interested in the fact that film used every sort of music and decided I must learn all sorts. I took jobs in pubs and nightclubs as a pianist playing jazz, pop, rock, latin american... and one night was 'discovered' and asked if I would like to be a recording session pianist working at Abbey Road. I enjoyed this and played with good people: John McLaughlin, Jimmy Page, Tom Jones, Cliff Richard, Sylvie Vartan, Francis Lai... among many. Whilst doing this, I wrote a 12-minute symphony sub-titled 'Impressions of a City' which I wanted to film. However instead I met Bernard Herrmann who thought it was brilliant and asked me to do some arranging and recommended me to Laurie Johnson at Elstree. I played piano and organ on The Avengers and then was asked to take over as composer/musical director, which I did (1967/1968). At the same time, I wrote many commercials for TV (204!), feature films (Some Will Some Won't, Elephant called slowly, All the way up... (...) At that point, I (...) realised I was not doing what I wanted to do. I (...) re-thought the situation, deciding I would try again to write a 'Symphony with Images'. I (...) moved to a watermill in Sussex where I worked at such a thing- but without result. However my composition improved a lot and I began to write 'serious' works as they are called- Piano Quartet, Diversions for cello, Cantata 'Song of St Francois', Benedictus' oratorio. Suddenly all sorts of people wanted me to write: Ridley Scott and David Puttman came to see me for 'The Duellists', Lynn Seymour asked me to compose a ballet for The Queen, The Royal Shakespeare Company asked me to write for the theatre, and Richard Williams asked me to write for animation. But I still hadn't created my own film in which the music drives the images. I gave up the idea (...) and I returned to London to be a 'pen for hire' again, buying my present studio in Kensington in early 1982 to be MD [Musical Director] on 'The Hunger' for Tony Scott. I had just started on this when The Snowman happened. I had seen an 8' pencil animatic in October 1981 and suggested to TVC that one could do a film with no dialogue and had recorded a piano demo. I saw it as the sudden opening of a window onto what I always wanted to do and I took full advantage! Snowman in England has become an icon and is very successfull (platinum disk, top of the pops, TV every Christmas for 24 years, plus stage show, concert versions, etc, etc...). I hoped this would lead to many more things of the sort- open an avenue. It is true that I did two more similar animations (Granpa in 1988 and The Bear in 1998) but they were surrounded by trouble and contractual manoeuvres and therefore hampered, to an extent sabotaged, which is a pity. I have never taken a view like Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann because I started with a different view. ( I discussed it with them at length when we all had lunch at the Gay Hussar that time). There are many different genres within film and if you are lucky enough to be asked to do one, you should be aware of what it is you have taken on. Of course if you want to make money that is something else. Many of the most interesting things produce no money and many of the most boring produce a lot of money!! I took very much the view of Mozart, that as a composer you must respond to the wishes of the time and do your best possible work in every case. This is not perhaps a typical view and is the exact opposite of Wagner's - but then I like Mozart and I don't like Wagner! At the end of my website biography [http://www.howardblake.com/], there is a note of 'what I believe' from the Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Composers. (...) I think that the 'Symphony with Images' I always dreamt of found a way of being born on STAGE rather than FILM! ...for the problem with film is that it is enmeshed in finance, politics, propaganda, stars and directors with egos needing gigantic streams of money and publicity and flattery...The great art of film with its sister-muse of music which promised such fine possibilities of beauty in the days of European Silent Cinema has been hijacked by book and theatre agents and mass exploitation of lowest human common denominators. If one wants to experiment one has to face up to the fact that one will have to pay for it oneself. And it's expensive. Lastly, it is true I have adapted one or two scores for concert performance -Duellists and Riddle of the Sands at the request of the RPO [Royal Philharmonic Orchestra]. The only ones that work for me are the 3 animation scores. They stand up as music because they were composed as music. Otherwise scores are best heard WITH film because that is what they are designed for. - JFH: You are now a notorious composer, pianist, conductor and musical director. Several years ago, you did some orchestrations a.o. for English film composer Stanley Myers (1933-1993). Can you share some memories about him? - Howard BLAKE: Stanley was a terrific person who helped people and loved music of all sorts ; he was interested in and enthusiastic about everything. He was highly intelligent and had read PPE at Balliol Oxford. I met him in the period when I was still playing in clubs and he had just landed his first TV film, perhaps it was 'Poor Cow' or 'Up the junction', I can't remember... He asked me to play keyboards and I wrote out some funky Jimmy Smith licks. We became great friends and went to many concerts together, from Pink Floyd to Stockhausen, with different girl friends (he had more than anybody I have ever met). I remember going to the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band at Ronnie Scott's with Quincy Jones, John Williams the guitarist and Stanley. He often gave dinner parties and invited very interesting people - Jerry Goldsmith one night (who played us a tape of a Cantata he had written) -Roy Budd (who he introduced to everybody) - the great Hollywood arrangers (...) who had worked for Gershwin and argued about the different qualities of a cello A or D-string. I played classical pipe organ at the BBC with jazz rhythm section on 'All Gas and Gaiters'. On 'Kaleidoscope' I played many different instruments as he loved to use many different sounds. That was a big break for him. I loved the funky-sort of waltz of the titles and the very original suspense music with - I think - azikwe xylophone and a harp bass line. I played piano on several different versions of his 'Cavatina', which I remember him writing - the girl in the next studio in Redcliffe Road said to me 'he keeps playing this same tune over and over again it's driving me insane!'. First was on 'The Walking Stick' with David Hemmings, then on 'The Raging Moon' with Brian Forbes before finally on 'Deer Hunter' , which I didn't play on - we were both in Hollywood at that time but working in different studios. John Williams played on all three. I loved 'Michael Kohlhaas' which I went to see with him, and I loved playing on 'Age of Consent' for Michael Powell. I played solo piano at Olympic and James Mason sat next to me, saying he wished he could play the piano! At the start Stanley, Carl and I used to all work on each other's projects. My original prize-winning commercial 'Courage Light Brigade' was played on 2 harpsichords and piano played by the 3 of us! However it was thought to be a bit crazy for an ad and I rescored it for orchestra. Of course I met Hans Zimmer who looked after Stanley and Richard Harvey's 'Snake Ranch'. After Deer Hunter, Stanley really got too busy and tried to do too much. Like so many others he desperately wanted to be recognised as a classical composer and spent much time on his Saxophone Concerto. My last memory was having dinner (...) in the summer of 1993 when I looked through his completed score of the Concerto (I had advised him on various phrasings and dynamics etc). (...) He looked fine (...) but died later that year of leukaemia. I wrote an obituary and at his memorial where I was honoured to conduct the concerto. He is greatly missed.
Arranged by jean-francois houben
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Alfriston Summer Music

Published by Music Web International
SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews * OPERA REVIEWS * UK CONCERTS * INTERNATIONAL CONCERTS * NEWS ARTICLES * INTERVIEWS * HOME Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free. Other Links * Archived Reviews 1999 - 2007 * MusicWeb's Disc Review Pages * The MusicWeb Readers Forum * About Seen and Heard Contributors List Contact Us Editorial Board * Editor - Bill Kenny * Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs Founder - Len Mullenger Google Site Search Internet MusicWeb SEEN AND HEARD UK CONCERT REVIEW Howard Blake and Haydn: Howard Blake, Jeremy Young (pianos), Sam Walton (marimba), Edinburgh Quartet (Tristan Gurney, Philip Burrin (violins), Michael Beeston (viola), Mark Bailey (cello), St Andrew’s Church, Alfriston, Sussex, 29.7.2009 (BBr) Haydn: String Quartet in G, op.64/4 (1790) Howard Blake: Spieltrieb, String Quartet in one movement, op.594 (2008) (world première) Violin Sonata, op.586 (1973/2007) (first public performance) Haydn: String Quartet in D, The Lark, op.64/4 (1790) Howard Blake: Diversions for marimba and piano, op.439a (1985) Thank goodness for Howard Blake! This is, without doubt, what the very attentive and appreciative audience at tonight’s show was thinking as they listened to some of the most attractive and satisfying music written in the last 25 years. Alfriston Summer Music is now in its fourth year and this show was part of a week’s music making which takes place in the beautiful 14th century church in this idyllic English country village; each year Jeremy Young and Daniel Bhattacharya present chamber music in the most delightful surroundings you could imagine. The church is ideal for performance for it isn’t too reverberant – it’s a small building (only 115 feet by 70!) – and there is a real feeling of intimacy which chamber music craves. I wish I could have stayed and heard more. Tonight’s concert was given in honour of Blake’s 70th birthday and it was a happy choice to pair his work with that of Haydn, surely one of the wittiest composers who ever put pen to paper. The Edinburgh Quartet gave two Haydn Quartets with exactly the right spirit, pointing all the humour – and there is much humour in these works – and delighting us with their delicate touch in this music. Most enjoyable was Mark Bailey’s relishing of Haydn’s fantastic cello writing, but theirs was a true ensemble performance, all four members of the quartet working together in superb accord. Blake’s new quartet Spieltrieb, commissioned by the Edinburgh Quartet to celebrate its 50th anniversary, was given a magnificent performance. It’s not often that one hears a première of such assurance and commitment. Spieltrieb is a concise work, playing for about 16 minutes, but within that short timespan there is much event – including a superb pizzicato scherzo of great virtuosity and, best of all, a coda to melt even the hardest of hearts, ending in the purest D major. This is a major addition to the quartet repertoire and it is to be hoped that it will be taken up by many groups in the near future. The Violin Sonata is a big, bold work; the outer movements are predominantly fast, but within their framework there is a multitude of emotions and moods. The slow, middle, movement begins and ends as a valse triste which encloses a passionate outburst. Tristan Gurney gave a very assured performance in which he was partnered by the composer. The Diversions for marimba and piano, an arrangement of a work for cello and orchestra, ended the concert in very high spirits, the audience being both fascinated by an instrument which seldom finds itself in the spotlight and by a work of great wit and vitality. Sam Walton is a soloist of outstanding virtuosity and Jeremy Young played the piano part with great aplomb. It says much for the quality of both the music and the music making that at the end of the concert many members of the audience wanted to stay and chat with the performers about what they had heard. If this is what Alfriston Summer Music is all about then I hope to return and experience it again. Bob Briggs Back to Top Cumulative Index Page * OPERA REVIEWS * UK CONCERTS * INTERNATIONAL CONCERTS * NEWS ARTICLES * INTERVIEWS * HOME
Arranged by Bob Briggs
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THE PASSION OF MARY

Published by Church Times
http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=66752
THERE was no such problem for Robert William Blake, ten-year-old son of the composer Howard Blake. With Bernard Cribbins, nearly 80, and a polished Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, he was the star of a 70th-birthday tribute to Blake Sr at the Cadogan Hall, near Sloane Square, in London. You could hear every word sung by Master Blake (a member of the Stockholm Boys’ Choir), both when he was amplified and when he wasn’t. I have never heard The Snowman live, and had not realised how, with its wit, sensitivity, and subtle design, it is a masterpiece when viewed as a whole. We were eager to hear the London première, also conducted by the composer, of Blake’s 50-minute oratorio The Passion of Mary, which draws together his previous Stabat Mater, the Magnificat, the Salve Regina, and other Marian and nativity texts with the wisdom of a Berlioz. The outcome is a splendid, highly accessible choral work of Three Choirs dimensions. Patricia Rosario — here especially striking — and Martyn Hill were the soprano and tenor soloists. Howard Blake is a master-musician from whom our church and cathedral organists should commission anthems and canticle settings; for he has inspiration on his side.
Arranged by jo carpenter
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DAILY MAIL 'HOW THE SNOWMAN SAVED MY LIFE'

Published by DAILY MAIL Femail 20th December 2008 writer Amanda Cable
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1097259/He-close-breakdown-composer-Howard-Blake-idea-Walking-In-The-Air-The-rest-history-.html
Howard Blake loves to tell the story of the time he caught a taxi to the airport. His composition, Walking In The Air, from the animated TV film The Snowman, which was sung by Aled Jones, was topping the Christmas charts. Howard chortles as he recalls, 'The radio in the taxi was playing The Snowman, and I asked the driver to turn it down. He said, " Listen mate, this is the best tune you'll ever hear. You should sit back and listen. You might learn about good music." 'So I sat back and said rather smugly. "Well, actually, I wrote this song. The driver turned around and said, "Oh, yeah? And I'm Father Christmas."' Howard Blake came up with the score for Walking In The Air on a secluded beach in Cornwall, not long after a near-breakdown Howard Blake came up with the score for Walking In The Air on a secluded beach in Cornwall, not long after a near-breakdown With that, Howard throws back his head and roars with laughter. With his boyish face and twinkling eyes, he is not what one might expect from an eminent composer who has just turned 70. In fact, his birthday was marked by a special concert and topping the bill - with an angelic rendition of Walking In The Air - was Howard's ten-year-old son, Robert. The enchanting story of a boy and his snowman who comes alive, is now a firmly established Christmas classic. A 26-minute animated film, first shown on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve 1982, it has become the staple diet of TV repeats every December. While the story is heartwarming in itself, it is Howard's haunting score, and, in particular, the music and lyrics of the theme song Walking In The air, which give the film such hope and joy. Incredibly, the song was first composed when Howard was in the depths of despair. Born to working class parents in Brighton, by the time Howard was six he had taught himself to read and play music and, at 18, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. After scraping a living as a session musician, his break came in 1968 when he was asked to compose incidental music for some of the Tara King episodes of the hugely successful cult TV series The Avengers. 'Everyone wanted me to write for The Avengers, and after that I was offered other TV shows, films and commercials, and my income suddenly leapt. I took it all on and, in the middle of it all, I got married. My wife, Mavis, didn't want to live in a pokey little flat, so we bought a lease on a house in Knightsbridge, next to Harrods. 'It was grand, imposing, impressive - and I hated it. I would find myself walking around this huge house, feeling totally displaced, and I couldn't compose a note. It was a kind of breakdown. I thought, "I can't keep going like this". It was total burnout, and I'd had enough - to the point that I didn't even care if I lived or died anymore. 'I knew I had to get away. It would mean career suicide, but I just didn't care. I said to my wife, "I've got to work out what I'm going to do, and I need to find somewhere totally silent." I packed the car, and left her on the doorstep, asking, "What do I tell people?" Howard Blake with his son Robert, who sang the classic song at a concert to mark his father's 70th birthday Howard Blake with his son Robert, who sang the classic song at a concert to mark his father's 70th birthday 'I didn't have a clue where I was going, but I finally ended up in a tiny fishing village in Cornwall. The beach, was deserted because it was late February, and next to it was an empty holiday camp. In the corner was a small wooden chalet, all on it's own, and I thought, "That's where I need to be." 'The only heating was a single electric bar heater, but, walking into this freezing hut, in total isolation, was the first time I felt calm in months. I started reading, took up yoga and finally began to write music again. 'One day, as I walked along the deserted beach, six notes just came to my head. I jotted them down on a scrap of paper - which I still own. This was the beginning of the tune of Walking In The Air.' Those few notes and the dog-eared scrap of paper stayed with Howard for 11 years, as he returned to London and rebuilt his life and career. His marriage collapsed - but he was composing the orchestral, choral and ballet scores he'd always dreamed of. 'But those few notes of my un-named melody kept coming back to haunt me,' he says. 'I couldn't get them out of my head - I needed to find a home for the song.' Then, by chance, in 1982, Howard met film producer John Coates, who was working on a new animated film. This was The Snowman - based on the children's picture book by Raymond Briggs - but he needed a score to accompany it. Howard says, 'I knew this was where my song should go.' It was only when the music was finished, that Howard decided to write lyrics to his lead melody. 'I got up one morning and thought, "I'll hire a deckchair in the park for the day and write some words. 'I didn't actually have a clue what I was going to write, but, as I stepped from the doorstep onto the pavement, and then from the pavement down onto the road, I suddenly thought about stepping into the air... walking in the air. I thought, "That's great - I've never heard anyone say that phrase." So I paid a fiver for my deckchair, and sat writing for the whole day.' Aled Jones, who recorded Walking In The Air for a TV Commercial after the original singer's voice broke Aled Jones, who recorded Walking In The Air for a TV Commercial after the original singer's voice broke Although many people believe that Aled Jones sang the film's theme song, it was actually recorded by Peter Auty, a 12-year-old choir boy from St Paul's Cathedral. It was only five years later, when a toy company asked to use the tune for a TV commercial, that Howard decided to re-record it. 'I rang Peter, and a deep voice answered the phone,' he says. 'His voice had broken, so he couldn't be my soloist. We didn't know who to choose, but I had seen a boy from Wales sing on the BBC's Songs Of Praise. I found out his name - and that was how The Snowman made Aled's career.' Fifty-six and divorced with two children, Howard, now established as one of Britain's most successful composers, was to find his life changed unexpectedly. 'To be honest, I was totally fulfilled,' he says. 'I never expected I would ever fall in love again. 'It happened by chance. I went to have my picture taken for the cover of my CD, and the photographer had two Swedish friends staying. One was Diane, who was just 23. We got on so well, and I fell in love with her very quickly. She is my soulmate.' When Robert came along, Howard was terrified of being an older father - but, he needn't have worried. 'I didn't have much to do with my older children after my divorce, so it's been wonderful to grow so close to Robert. I dance around the room to music with him. It was only when he was six that I heard him singing in the bath and realised he had a beautiful voice.' In fact, Robert won a place with the world-renowned Stockholm Cathedral Boys Choir, and has performed several times on national television. When a concert was planned to celebrate Howard's 70th birthday, Robert was chosen as the soloist. 'I can't imagine a better way to celebrate my birthday than seeing my own boy on stage, singing my song,' he says. 'Yes, it did bring tears to my eyes. The whole evening was magical. And it snowed that night - for the first time in 70 years in London in October.' Diane and Robert live in Stockholm, and Howard sees them every few weeks. 'We live apart,' he says, 'because Diane has her own career as a corporate lawyer, but we are such a close family unit. 'I can't wait for them to come to London for Christmas. Last year, we all went to midnight mass and the Bishop of Kensington started his sermon by saying, "There is more to Christmas than Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and The Snowman".' With that, Howard starts to chuckle again - a musical genius who likes nothin
Arranged by Jo Carpenter
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TIME OUT Christmas 2008

What was it about 1982, its fantastical mute characters and heartwarming flights with children? This animation of Raymond Briggs'story has the edge over 'ET' thanks to (Howard Blake's)'Walking in the air', the horrors of Aled Jones' subsequent career notwithstanding (Back to Top)

NAXOS: music for piano and strings

Howard BLAKE (b 1938) Violin Sonata, op.586 (1973 – 2007) [23:41] Penillion, op.571 (1975/2005) [9:32] Piano Quartet, op.179 (1974) [27:14] Jazz Dances, op.520a (1976/2008) [13:48] Madeleine Mitchell (violin), Jack Rothstein (violin), Kenneth Essex (viola), Peter Willison (cello), Howard Blake (piano) rec. 9 October 1974, Conway Hall, London (Quartet), 24 and 25 May 2008 (Sonata), 13 July 2008 (Penillion) and 14 July 2008 (Jazz Dances), Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk DDD NAXOS 8.572083 [74:15] Released to coincide with his 70th birthday, this disk of, mainly, “recent” chamber works by Howard Blake is a welcome reminder that there is so much more to this interesting composer than Walking in the Air and a myriad of film and TV scores. Whilst a student Blake formed a violin and piano duo with the late Miles Baster – it was after a recital they gave in Edinburgh, which ended with the Franck Sonata, that Baster was asked to form the Edinburgh Quartet (for whom Blake has recently completed a String Quartet for their 50th anniversary) – and they worked their way through the whole of the repertoire for their instruments. The Violin Sonata was written at the behest of Baster but as he left for Scotland and the new Quartet the work was abandoned with only a few sketches made. A decade later Jack Rothstein asked for a Sonata and the first version of the present work was written. But what we have here is a “ferociously” (Blake’s word) revised version, dedicated to the memory of Baster. Starting in a most unprepossessing way the music soon moves into typical Blakeian rhythmic and melodic mode, and the movement progresses in a dance–like manner, with short lyrical episodes breaking up the forward movement. Although this music doesn’t sound at all like Douglas Lilburn’s magnificent Violin Sonata (1950) it reminded me of that work because of its sheer determination of purpose. The slow movement which follows is distant and withdrawn, the music moving simply in a melodic line for the violin accompanied by a single line in the right hand of the piano and held chords in the left. An agitated and passionate middle section, with wide leaps for the fiddle, disturbs the calm but the opening section returns, a little more resigned and melancholic. The finale is a laconic and gently humorous piece, after a whirlwind start, which jumps from idea to idea without resting. This Violin Sonata is a very fine achievement and a worthy addition to the repertoire. Penillion was originally written for violin and harp and exists in several different version – one for flute and harp is available on a disk of Blake’s chamber music, MERIDIAN CDE84553. It’s in eight very short sections mixing lively and restrained music. As befits a penillion – a Welsh composition where an harpist accompanies him/herself whilst singing – these are songs without words, but the harmonies are far more modern than anything you’d hear in a real penillion. It’s an unpretentious, delicate piece. That the Piano Quartet should be included here is of special significance for it was with this work that Blake made the conscious decision to cut back on his more commercial, and lucrative (!) film work and turn to the concert hall. Indeed so much is it a pivotal work in his catalogue that he turned down the opportunity to score Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in favour of writing this work. The work was written for the performers playing here, who gave the première, in the Purcell Room, eight months after this recording was made. It’s a very classical work in the mould of Dvořák’s chamber works (a comment which shocked Blake when I mentioned it to him, for he had thought it to be rooted slightly earlier). No matter. It’s a fine work, strong themes, a well thought out design, very gratefully written for the instruments – Blake fully understand strings (he says he once played the fiddle badly). The scherzo, second, movement has a Mendelssohnian lightness and freshness about it, but the harmony belies anything pre–1940! The slow movement may come as a shock to anyone who knows Blake’s wonderful Piano Concerto (re–issued this month SONY 88697376972) for this is the Concerto’s slow movement in embryo. It’s very touching in this form, the emotion more restrained, the gestures smaller but no less moving. The finale is a country dance. The Jazz Dances make a delightful collection of encore pieces, but they’re not jazz per se, rather jazzy pieces – in the way that the Blues in Ravel’s Violin Sonata is jazzy. It’s hard to believe that these pieces, which fit perfectly on to the combination of violin and piano, were originally written for two pianos! They are by turns fast and slow, one a blues, one a boogie, one a kind of popular song and so on. Like the Five Pieces, op.84 (1964) by his friend Malcolm Arnold any one of these miniatures would make very good encore pieces for they are most enjoyable and great fun. This is a very enjoyable and exciting disk, not least for the superb Violin Sonata. Madelaine Mitchell is a committed advocate for this music and it is to be hoped that the Sonata, at the very least, will enter her regular repertoire. The composer himself is a sympathetic duo partner, and the sessions brought back, for him, the memories of his partnership with Baster and the joy and satisfaction of playing chamber music together. Despite the fact that the recording of the Quartet dates from 34 years before the recordings of the other works, the sound is remarkably consistent and has a lovely, rich, ambiance and in the duo works there is a real feel of the concert room. The musicians are placed a little way from the microphone so as to put them in perspective with the acoustic. Now Naxos has dipped its toe into the Blake catalogue might I make a plea for a disk of his music for string quartet? The public deserves to hear more of this endlessly fascinating and very interesting composer. Bob Briggs (Back to Top)

A Bob Briggs appreciation of the Piano Concerto on International Music Web

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2008/roty2008_1.htm
For a composer with such an impressive body of work as Howard Blake it is scandalous that he should be known by only a few pieces – the most famous being his score for the animated film The Snowman. His music is readily approachable, quite often has a smile on its face (a characteristic of the composer himself), and his catalogue is frighteningly diverse, ranging from music for The Avengers ("A glass of champagne, Mrs Peel?") to scores for some 60 films, including Ridley Scott’s The Duellists (available on Airstrip One AOD HB 002), and far too much concert music to begin listing here. This year he turns 70 and shows no signs of slowing down, having recently completed a stunning String Quartet, named Spieltrieb, and started work on his 1st Symphony! This is a timely re–issue, to coincide with his birthday on 28 October, featuring three concertos, one each for piano, cello and orchestra. The Piano Concerto was commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra to celebrate the 30th birthday of Princess Diana, who was the orchestra’s patron. Blake was promised a pianist of the calibre of Kissin as soloist so he wrote a true virtuoso work only to be told, as he reached the end of the composition that, as no–one was available, he would have to play it himself. He rose to the challenge, despite having never played a Piano Concerto in his life, and gave the première in the Royal Festival Hall, in London, shortly after making this recording. In the usual three movements, and, as with his Violin Concerto (available on ASV CDDCA 905), the first movement takes up the bulk of the playing time, it is a joyous piece, starting with the simplest and most innocent of ideas – and what an idea it is, pregnant with possibilities – which returns in the finale and is transformed at first into a musical box idea, then a fugue and finally a rhumba! These two fast movements – Blake is a master at writing sustained fast music, which is none too easy and is seldom encountered in so much music of today – enclose a tender slow movement which truly has an heart of gold. The piano writing is of the most virtuoso kind, the orchestration is colourful and always interesting – just listen to the wonderful writing for brass – especially the horns – at the beginning of the recapitulation of the first movement. It sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it – which is often. Nobody can afford to miss this, one of the truly memorable Piano Concertos of the last century for it is fine stuff indeed. I will stick my neck out and say that, for me, it is the most sheerly joyous Piano Concerto since Ravel’s in G. Blake talked quite extensively about the genesis of the work when I interviewed him recently. The Diversions is a more serious and complicated work. Originally written for cello and piano, in 1973, it was a meeting with the great French cellist Maurice Gendron, eleven years later, which brought about a full scale concerto piece and the orchestration was completed in 1985. In eight movements, some very short, the work shows the cello off to great advantage in richly romantic music, the soloist quite often singing its heart out in wide ranging melodies or showing off its agility with rapid passage work. There’s an extended Aria (movement 5), a wonderfully Gallic Serenade (movement 6) and the work ends with a riotous finale. The cello repertoire still isn’t as big as it should be, given the amount of fine players around, and this is a valuable addition to the catalogue. Cohen is one of this country’s best players and he is grossly under represented on disk so it’s good to have this example of his work. He plays with total conviction, as if he’s been playing the work all his life, and it’s a thrilling performance, brilliantly accompanied by the Philharmonia. To end, the orchestra itself comes under the spotlight. First the woodwind, with gloriously gamboling bassoons, entertain us, soon joined by the horns. Gradually all the various instruments join in until the full orchestra has entered the game. This, however, is no display piece in the manner of Young Person’s Guide or the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra. The tempo is fairly relaxed, there’s much humour – Blake is a very funny man and I can hear him now doing impressions or telling stories of the people he has known and worked with – and, in a way, it’s as much a portrait of the composer as it is a work celebrating the orchestra. This disk must not be missed on any account for it contains music by a much under-rated composer whose voice is clear and well focused, who can communicate with his audience, can write fluently and with great confidence for the full orchestra and, best of all, knows how to entertain. The performances are magnificent, the sound gloriously full and rich and the notes from the original (1991) issue by the much missed Christopher Palmer, who also produced the disk, although out of date in some respects, are a lesson in how to write clearly and without fuss about music. Beg, steal or borrow the money to buy this disk, for, once heard, you’ll not want to be without this marvellous music. Bob Briggs (Back to Top)

Let it snow

Published by Peace Arch News, Canada
By Alex Browne - Peace Arch News Published: November 08, 2008 10:00 AM When British author/illustrator Raymond Briggs’ classic 1982 children’s book, The Snowman, was turned into an equally classic (and Oscar-nominated) animated film by director Dianne Jackson, one of the lasting benefits was the creation of a musical score by English composer Howard Blake. It included the song Walking In The Air, sung by a boy soprano, which became an international hit. But much like the magical snowman of the story, built by a lonely boy named James who discovers to his amazement that he has created a friend and partner in adventure, Blake’s entire score for the movie has taken on a life of its own. Today, it is frequently performed at events in which it is played by a live orchestra accompanying the film. And there’s also a concert version with full narration taking the place – Peter and the Wolf-like – of the visual imagery. But in both cases, the challenges of performing and interpreting the piece are usually in the hands of professional musicians. Not so in the upcoming sold-out performance of The Snowman by the Semiahmoo Strings Youth Orchestra (Sunday, Nov. 30, 2:30 p.m. at the Wheelhouse Theatre, Earl Marriott Secondary, 15751 16 Ave.). With the exception of percussionist Phillip Crewe and guest singer Aiden Wilk, the brilliantly tender and evocative music is in the hands of the student musicians – under the direction of Strings founder Carla Birston. It’s yet another of the challenges – including supporting professional baritone Alex Dobson, and playing with some of Vancouver’s finest jazz musicians – that mark the Semiahmoo Strings (and its junior subgroups) as an ensemble in a realm of its own among youth orchestras. As usual, Carla is being assisted in preparing and rehearsing the ensemble by her husband, cellist and arranger Harold Birston, and is also receiving welcome help from violinist Gillian Gjernes, mother of Strings cellist Roland. There is a cinema theme to all of the concert, which, beyond the accompanied screening of the 26-minute film, offers classical pieces that have acquired new life by being featured in soundtracks, as well as music specifically created for motion pictures. Thus John Williams’ famous Raiders Of The Lost Ark theme, performed by the Demi-Semiahmoo Strings, and a suite of film themes by Italian film composer Ennio Morricone (The Untouchables, Once Upon A Time In The West, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, Maddalena) are joined by Bach’s Toccata and Fugue (given bravura treatment by conductor Leopold Stokowski and Disney artists’ visuals in the groundbreaking 1940 Fantasia), and two pieces latterly associated with 2001 A Space Odyssey, Richard Strauss’ fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra and Johann Strauss’ By The Beautiful Blue Danube (used memorably for a sequence of a rocket docking at a space station). But while these are the kind of idiomatic stretches the Strings’ members have taken in stride before, actually playing to film is new territory for the talented students. It’s also providing a workout for Carla, whose conducting of tempos and cues will be critical in matching the music to the movie – the students eyes must stay on her, rather than wandering to the projected images. “I’ve watched it about 50 times over the last month,” she said. “Twice a night, including one time through conducting without the sound.” A surprise for her was the free-flowing nature of the score as opposed to movie music that mirrors every aspect of the action. “I would have thought the music would have been more in synch with the images – but it’s not at all,” she said, noting some actions begin on second and third beats of measures, while even a dance sequence in which a snowman appears to be conducting the music is not in strict tempo. “You look for every little thing as a cue. Harold said, ‘You’re going to have the best sense of time after this’.” “I don’t know how this would work with one of those ubiquitous click tracks they use now,” Harold Birston said. “The publishers offered to attempt to make a click track for us, but I’m sure it will work fine without it.” It helps that the young musicians really love the music, Carla said. In fact, excitement about the project ran so high among the students after the first rehearsal that she was beseiged with demands for tickets – which led to an early sell-out for the concert. “They were buying tickets for their friends as well as their families,” she noted. “I think we could have sold it out three times over.” Noting the response, the Birstons are not ruling out a repeat of the film music idea – possibly as a special concert every year. They agree that film music has become the most vital survivals of the classical tradition in the present day – and it’s dramatic sense is a guarantee of audience attention. “I like the license film composers have,” Harold said. “I like that about opera too – it’s not like the strict sonata form. But some film music is beautifully scored, and beautifully played by first class musicians. Challenging or not, the exercise of The Snowman will be worthwhile for the sense of accomplishment among the Semiahmoo Strings musicians – and their director. “I said to Harold, ‘As soon as I see that snowman’s face on the big screen I’m going to be very excited’,” Carla said. (Back to Top)

Birthday concert

Published by Daily Mail, October 30th, 2008
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1081639/Diners-sour-Ramsay.html
Walking in the snow. Composer Howard Blake's celebratory 70th birthday concert at Cadogan Hall, where he conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, included one especially personal performance. For singing the solo of his hit Walking In The Air from The Snowman was his ten-year-old chorister son Robert - performed, coincidentally, just as the first October snow in London fell for 70 years. 'It went down tremendously well,' a proud Blake tells me. 'Robert has grown up with music and he loves it. He's taking after me, I think.' A 600-strong audience enjoyed the concert, which also featured the brilliant Shanghai-based pianist William Chen and the London premiere of Blake's dramatic oratorio The Passion Of Mary. 'I thought I've got this huge birthday and I'm so old nothing will happen, so I sat down and thought what I would really like to happen on my birthday and this was it,' adds Blake, who after the performance headed to the Groucho Club, where a piano was installed in his private party room especially for the occasion. (Back to Top)

Classic FM Radio Arts Daily podcast

Published by Classic FM
http://www.classicfm.co.uk/sectional.asp?id=17535
This week sees a special concert celebrating the life and works of Howard Blake. The composer himself - who's just turned 70 - will conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in several works including his Piano Concerto. Chinese pianist William Chen has made study of Blake's music, and will perform on the night. He explains his fascination.
Arranged by Jo Carpenter, T: +44 (0) 20 7737 5994, jo@jocarpenter.com
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A Birthday Celebration

Published by Classic FM Magazine (October 2008)
CFM Mag Oct 08 HB.pdf
Arranged by Jo Carpenter, T: +44 (0) 20 7737 5994, jo@jocarpenter.com
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An Interview with Howard Blake

Published by MusicWeb International
http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2008/Jul-Dec08/blake_part1.htm
Arranged by Jo Carpenter, T: +44 (0) 20 7737 5994, jo@jocarpenter.com
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Howard Blake at 70

Published by Musical Opinion (September - October 2008)
MO Sep08 news story.pdf MO Sep08 HB p1.pdf MO Sep08 HB p2.pdf
Arranged by Jo Carpenter, T: +44 (0) 20 7737 5994, jo@jocarpenter.com
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The Showman

Published by GIG Magazine
GIG Sep 08.pdf
Arranged by Jo Carpenter, T: +44 (0) 20 7737 5994, jo@jocarpenter.com
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Too Many Records (Interview)

Published by International Record Review (october 2008)
IRR Too Many Records Oct 08 HB.pdf
Arranged by Jo Carpenter, T: +44 (0) 20 7737 5994, jo@jocarpenter.com
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Blake's 70

Published by Classical Music Magazine September 2008
Classical Music_barline news.pdf
Arranged by Jo Carpenter, T: +44 (0) 20 7737 5994, jo@jocarpenter.com
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News story on Howard's 70th birthday concert

Published by Pianist Magazine (Oct-Nov 2008)
Pianist Mag Oct08.pdf
Arranged by Jo Carpenter, T: +44 (0) 20 7737 5994, jo@jocarpenter.com
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Musique de cinema - Jean-Francois Houben (translated into English)

Film Music - Musique de cinema mardi, avril 11, 2006 Howard Blake about film music April 2006 - I had the opportunity to ask questions about "film music" to Howard Blake who wrote numerous concert works and film scores (including THE SNOWMAN, THE DUELLISTS, A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY [1988 Anthony Asquith Award], THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE...). - Jean-Francois Houben: Maestro Blake, you wrote a lot of concert works (with public performances since 1974) but since your studies at the Royal Academy of Music, you are interested by the movies (you were projectionist at the National Film Theatre ; you directed a movie) and by film music. Several composers working for the movies and writing for the concert hall have a very critical (sometimes cynical) attitude concerning their own film music (for example, Miklos Rozsa -- you had lunch with -- judged his musical life as a double life). What are your current feelings about "film music"? - Howard BLAKE: As a student at the Royal Academy of Music, I studied composition and piano between 1957and 1960 (classical - I toured with a violinist playing Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Franck, Ravel... etc) on a bourse but became disenchanted with current ideas of 12-tone, serial... I saw Potemkin with an orchestral score at the age of about 19 and decided that the future of art lay in the combination of music and images (film images). I applied to study film rather than music but at that time nobody could understand what I was talking about, and they wanted me to do a course in photography. The University grant people decided I should stay at the RAM, where I did very little. I spent much time at the National Film Theatre and wrote extensively on the philosophy of art/music/cinema etc. After college I got a job at the National Film Theatre... which I loved- I met Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, Vincente Minelli, Jacques Tati, Orson Welles, Chris Marker- all sorts of people! I made my own 16mm film which I wrote, edited and composed the music for. It was terrible but good enough to be shown in the film theatre as a short with Maltese Falcon- believe it or not! But I realised my gift was music and not script or direction. I was very interested in the fact that film used every sort of music and decided I must learn all sorts. I took jobs in pubs and nightclubs as a pianist playing jazz, pop, rock, latin american... and one night was 'discovered' and asked if I would like to be a recording session pianist working at Abbey Road. I enjoyed this and played with good people: John McLaughlin, Jimmy Page, Tom Jones, Cliff Richard, Sylvie Vartan, Francis Lai... among many. Whilst doing this, I wrote a 12-minute symphony sub-titled 'Impressions of a City' which I wanted to film. However instead I met Bernard Herrmann who thought it was brilliant and asked me to do some arranging and recommended me to Laurie Johnson at Elstree. I played piano and organ on The Avengers and then was asked to take over as composer/musical director, which I did (1967/1968). At the same time, I wrote many commercials for TV (204!), feature films (Some Will Some Won't, Elephant called slowly, All the way up... (...) At that point, I (...) realised I was not doing what I wanted to do. I (...) re-thought the situation, deciding I would try again to write a 'Symphony with Images'. I (...) moved to a watermill in Sussex where I worked at such a thing- but without result. However my composition improved a lot and I began to write 'serious' works as they are called- Piano Quartet, Diversions for cello, Cantata 'Song of St Francois', Benedictus' oratorio. Suddenly all sorts of people wanted me to write: Ridley Scott and David Puttman came to see me for 'The Duellists', Lynn Seymour asked me to compose a ballet for The Queen, The Royal Shakespeare Company asked me to write for the theatre, and Richard Williams asked me to write for animation. But I still hadn't created my own film in which the music drives the images. I gave up the idea (...) and I returned to London to be a 'pen for hire' again, buying my present studio in Kensington in early 1982 to be MD [Musical Director] on 'The Hunger' for Tony Scott. I had just started on this when The Snowman happened. I had seen an 8' pencil animatic in October 1981 and suggested to TVC that one could do a film with no dialogue and had recorded a piano demo. I saw it as the sudden opening of a window onto what I always wanted to do and I took full advantage! Snowman in England has become an icon and is very successfull (platinum disk, top of the pops, TV every Christmas for 24 years, plus stage show, concert versions, etc, etc...). I hoped this would lead to many more things of the sort- open an avenue. It is true that I did two more similar animations (Granpa in 1988 and The Bear in 1998) but they were surrounded by trouble and contractual manoeuvres and therefore hampered, to an extent sabotaged, which is a pity. I have never taken a view like Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann because I started with a different view. ( I discussed it with them at length when we all had lunch at the Gay Hussar that time). There are many different genres within film and if you are lucky enough to be asked to do one, you should be aware of what it is you have taken on. Of course if you want to make money that is something else. Many of the most interesting things produce no money and many of the most boring produce a lot of money!! I took very much the view of Mozart, that as a composer you must respond to the wishes of the time and do your best possible work in every case. This is not perhaps a typical view and is the exact opposite of Wagner's - but then I like Mozart and I don't like Wagner! At the end of my website biography [http://www.howardblake.com/], there is a note of 'what I believe' from the Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Composers. (...) I think that the 'Symphony with Images' I always dreamt of found a way of being born on STAGE rather than FILM! ...for the problem with film is that it is enmeshed in finance, politics, propaganda, stars and directors with egos needing gigantic streams of money and publicity and flattery...The great art of film with its sister-muse of music which promised such fine possibilities of beauty in the days of European Silent Cinema has been hijacked by book and theatre agents and mass exploitation of lowest human common denominators. If one wants to experiment one has to face up to the fact that one will have to pay for it oneself. And it's expensive. Lastly, it is true I have adapted one or two scores for concert performance -Duellists and Riddle of the Sands at the request of the RPO [Royal Philharmonic Orchestra]. The only ones that work for me are the 3 animation scores. They stand up as music because they were composed as music. Otherwise scores are best heard WITH film because that is what they are designed for. - JFH: You are now a notorious composer, pianist, conductor and musical director. Several years ago, you did some orchestrations a.o. for English film composer Stanley Myers (1933-1993). Can you share some memories about him? - Howard BLAKE: Stanley was a terrific person who helped people and loved music of all sorts ; he was interested in and enthusiastic about everything. He was highly intelligent and had read PPE at Balliol Oxford. I met him in the period when I was still playing in clubs and he had just landed his first TV film, perhaps it was 'Poor Cow' or 'Up the junction', I can't remember... He asked me to play keyboards and I wrote out some funky Jimmy Smith licks. We became great friends and went to many concerts together, from Pink Floyd to Stockhausen, with different girl friends (he had more than anybody I have ever met). I remember going to the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band at Ronnie Scott's with Quincy Jones, John Williams the guitarist and Stanley. He often gave dinner parties and invited very interesting people - Jerry Goldsmith one night (who played us a tape of a Cantata he had written) -Roy Budd (who he introduced to everybody) - the great Hollywood arrangers (...) who had worked for Gershwin and argued about the different qualities of a cello A or D-string. I played classical pipe organ at the BBC with jazz rhythm section on 'All Gas and Gaiters'. On 'Kaleidoscope' I played many different instruments as he loved to use many different sounds. That was a big break for him. I loved the funky-sort of waltz of the titles and the very original suspense music with - I think - azikwe xylophone and a harp bass line. I played piano on several different versions of his 'Cavatina', which I remember him writing - the girl in the next studio in Redcliffe Road said to me 'he keeps playing this same tune over and over again it's driving me insane!'. First was on 'The Walking Stick' with David Hemmings, then on 'The Raging Moon' with Brian Forbes before finally on 'Deer Hunter' , which I didn't play on - we were both in Hollywood at that time but working in different studios. John Williams played on all three. I loved 'Michael Kohlhaas' which I went to see with him, and I loved playing on 'Age of Consent' for Michael Powell. I played solo piano at Olympic and James Mason sat next to me, saying he wished he could play the piano! At the start Stanley, Carl and I used to all work on each other's projects. My original prize-winning commercial 'Courage Light Brigade' was played on 2 harpsichords and piano played by the 3 of us! However it was thought to be a bit crazy for an ad and I rescored it for orchestra. Of course I met Hans Zimmer who looked after Stanley and Richard Harvey's 'Snake Ranch'. After Deer Hunter, Stanley really got too busy and tried to do too much. Like so many others he desperately wanted to be recognised as a classical composer and spent much time on his Saxophone Concerto. My last memory was having dinner (...) in the summer of 1993 when I looked through his completed score of the Concerto (I had advised him on various phrasings and dynamics etc). (...) He looked fine (...) but died later that year of leukaemia. I wrote an obituary and at his memorial where I was honoured to conduct the concerto. He is greatly missed... (Back to Top)

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