Requiem for an Orchestra (2)

Nearly forty three years ago when I came to Vancouver the CBC studio was in the centre of town in an old building that has since been demolished. The acoustics weren’t good, neither was the recording. Money (or the lack of it) was a big issue. As principal bass I had to play all the difficult solos such as Per Questa Bella Mano and the Ginastera Variaciones often with only one “take”. There was no time for balancing and listening to it and much of the time when I listened to it over the radio I was dissatisfied. I don’t know how Avison, the conductor managed to handle the strain but he did, and as a result he was often bad-tempered due to nerves.

When they built a new CBC centre including a then state of the art studio we in the orchestra thought that things were improving. But they weren’t, they went steadily downhill.


Requiem for an Orchestra (1)

I wrote a blog recently about the CBC Vancouver Radio Chamber Orchestra not realizing then that its days were numbered. Last night I tuned in to the CBC news and listened to a short announcement regarding its disbandment. Since then they have elaborated a little and I have listened to some people give their opinions about it. Some said that it’s all due to the high rate of immigration we have been experiencing and that for politically correct reasons they (the CBC) are going to broadcast more ethnic music. Others say that maybe the Vancouver Symphony will take it over. The VSO board and management couldn’t seem to create enough work for the VSO in my days with them so they they tried to take over the CBC work and the free- lance opera orchestra. At that time they didn’t succeed with the CBC because John Avison, the conductor of the CBC Orchestra and Dr. Robert Turner the producer fought tooth and nail against it. The VSO eventually did take over the opera orchestra for a while, but when Richard Bonynge came on the scene he reverted to the old opera orchestra.

How I Came to Canada

In this video, I describe how I left my busy performing and recording life to come to Canada to work for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Wilhem Furtwängler, conductor

Not long after WWll I was playing in the London Philharmonic Orchestra and we were told that Wilhelm Furtwängler was coming over from Germany to conduct us.

Let me set the scene: Both Britain and Germany had suffered dreadfully in the war, and to say that there was no love lost between them at that time would be putting it mildly.

Furtwängler had been tried in a de-Nazification court just after the war and was acquitted.  This was only fair, because he was never a member of the Nazi Party, and although he was Hitler’s favourite conductor and conducted many times at Bayreuth, which, during the war had been regarded as a hotbed of Wagnerian anti-Semitism, in fact he put his job on the line in 1934 when he championed Paul Hindemith, who was Jewish, against Goebbels and other Nazis.

He was obliged to resign his conductorship of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra  but was later re-instated.  During the war the Berlin Philharmonic was playing at a factory and many of them were killed in an air raid.

At his first rehearsal with us he ambled onto the stage, mounted the podium and looked around nervously as if he expected us to boo him, but to a man, with no pre-arranged signal, the whole orchestra stood and applauded him.  His face changed into a warm smile and then he said “Bitte, Meine Herren, die Neunte Symphonie von Beethoven”. (Please gentlemen, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony). That was one of the most poignant moments in my long career.

In appearance he was fairly tall and lank and was stooped.  He was balding with a fringe of white hair.

On the podium he looked awkward. and stuck his belly out when he leaned back when conducting.  One couldn’t say that he had a clear beat, although he used a fairly long baton, but he was certainly able to convey clearly to us what he wanted.

Beethoven’s Ninth was a revelation. The orchestra, as a sign of great respect stood for him when he came on stage- a rare honour in those days.

He husbanded his energy until the climax in the last movement with astonishing results.  The air seemed to be electrified, and the audience gave him deafening applause, well deserved.

The next concert included the closing scenes from Wagner’s opera “Götterdämmerung”.  It was wonderful, and I thought at the time, novice though I was, that this was the true Wagner.

I came across him again when I was in the Philharmonia Orchestra. It was at the Lucerne, Switzerland, International Festival where he conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

I was reminded of the occasion many years later when I was principal bass of the Vancouver Symphony in Canada.  I received a nice cheque for a televised repeat of his Lucerne concert.

Getting to Know Gary Karr

My First Meeting with Gary Karr

In the early ‘sixties a recital given by Gary Karr, double bass, at the Wigmore Hall, London was being advertised. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend but a pupil of mine went and came back full of superlatives. Gary would have been in his very early twenties at that time.

Some time later, Eugene Cruft, my professor, asked me to play next to him at a television recording to be made at the BBC Television Studios. The Pro Arte Orchestra had been engaged and the soloist was Gary Karr.

After the rehearsal the whole orchestra plus the television crew gave him a resounding ovation and Eugene declared to me that he was amazed. Coming from him, that really meant something.

My Second Meeting with Gary Karr

In the mid-‘sixties I was principal bass with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that Gary was to play an arrangement of Paganini’s Moses Variations with us. He played beautifully, and after the concert we were chatting and he told me that he had been engaged to play the next day at a concert in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, about twenty miles away by ferry. We arranged that I would pick up him and his bass from his hotel the next morning, and, after breakfast at my house I would take him to the ferry.

My son, Nicholas, joined us on the way to the ferry. When we got there some very officious individual barred him from boarding the ferry (a huge boat) because of his bass. An argument ensued and meanwhile my son slipped away to phone the airport and discovered that a plane was leaving shortly from Vancouver Airport to Victoria, so we bundled Gary and his bass into my station wagon and I drove furiously to the airport; Gary caught the plane and was in time for his concert. Gary and I have often talked about this incident.

Getting to know Gary Karr more

By coincidence Gary and I both live in Victoria, British Columbia and are firm friends.  I recently listened to him play some arrangements he made of Japanese traditional melodies, and also when he played with the Victoria Symphony he was recalled many times. He played as well, or better than I could ever remember.

He came to a party at my house on my eightieth birthday  and he, on bass and some other musicians played “Happy Birthday”.   After this, my son brought out the champagne which certainly added to the festivities!