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BBC Proms 2010: Rodgers & Hammerstein \ John Wilson Orchestra

August 22, 2010

I’m still not absolutely convinced about how deep Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music actually goes. There were moments when I found myself listening to music from Flower Drum Song and thinking how I must make sure not to let the show appear on my birthday Amazon wish-list. Songs from Carousel too did leave me looking a little blankly around the near capacity Royal Albert Hall.

But that lack of enthusiasm for some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s songs wasn’t down to soloists Kim Criswell, Anna-Jane Casey, Sierra Boggess, Rod Gillfry or the brilliant Julian Ovendon. Nor was it down to the John Wilson and his orchestra. All were fully committed to the cause. Take a look at the first violins close to the beginning of the concert when the show is broadcast on (Saturday 28 August, 7.45pm on BBC Two).

Listen to a post concert AudioBoo

Fundamentally, the problem is down to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s melodies, rhythms and lyrics. Yes, their work would have changed the face of musical theatre in the 1950s and 60s. But now there are moments when the seemingly two-dimensional characters end up giving the game away in the opening lines of each song. Its as though the surprise – the conclusion – is given away in the first few lines of the song. ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’ is a rousing song. But once you’ve heard the opening call to arms, suddenly the rest of the song loses my attention.

Sometimes I found myself longing for complex rhythms. Maybe just a little bit more syncopation? What the performance reminded me of was the time Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music existed in. How as a kid I been exposed to the orchestral sound for the first time listening to the Sound of Music on record and how thirty years later I felt distant from some of their catalogue.

Similarly, if future audiences are left wanting musically when they hear the scores for the first time, will that mean that interest in the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein dwindles? Will the likes of the Sound of Music or Carousel or Oklahama soon become unfashionable curiosities like over-orchestrated arrangements of Bach?

The work of people like John Wilson will – undoubtedly – keep this music alive for future generations. He reconstructed orchestrations for tonight’s performance demonstrating the same love for the genre as he did for the MGM Prom last year and the Carry On medley he arranged a few years ago. And its that kind of commitment which is both indicative of and vital to the BBC Proms.

It is only by being exposed to a wide variety of music that the opportunity presents itself to think about how that music effects the individual both in the past and in the present. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s entire catalogue may not make it to my wish-list, but one might. Keep an ear out for Something Good.

Watch the BBC Four broadcast of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Prom

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14 Comments
  1. Well you may remember how miserable I was last year about the MGM Prom last year – I just found it too… too… well too too really. I much preferred the R&H Prom this year. The songs mean more to me than the MGM stuff, and in fact I had more than one tear in the eye whilst listening to it on the i-play-it-again this afternoon. I think it was because I could remember my Mum singing “I’m strictly a female female”, and I’m afraid that won’t happen again. But yes I thought it was terrific and I trust your M&D enjoyed it too Jon.

  2. Pamela Parkes permalink

    John Wilson is obviously a genius. He is unbelievably passionate about the musicals and films of the 50s and 60s which is evident when he is conducting. The orchestra are apparently hand picked and it shows. The singers, soloists and Maida Vale singers are fabulous. We have enjoyed this Rodgers and Hammerstein prom immensely and hope he continues to do this type of prom each year. I’ve got to be there in 2011!!

  3. Vivion Kennedy permalink

    Wonderful, enjoyed every second of it. Thank God for the BBC.

  4. We found this Prom absolutely wonderful, with John Wilson the artists , and orchestra .
    Taking us back all the years.
    The BBC should be proud.

  5. Bill Guest permalink

    Can’t agree with your comments on R & H’ s music at all – in fact they leave me deeply perplexed!

    A wonderful evening. Thank goodness for John Wilson and his merry band, and all the soloists plus the ever-excellent Maida Vale choir. And three cheers as ever for the BBC.

  6. Gerry Boud permalink

    Another absolutely wonderful concert from John Wilson and his fantastic orchestra and singers. However, I just cannot believe they did not do one of the biggest showstoppers from Carousel, You’ll Never Walk Alone. Absolutely made for full orchestra and chorus and Wilson’s superb arranging. I know you have to be choosy in the time available, but to leave this one out! I thought, ah, he must be holding this one back for the big finale and waited for it to happen. Sadly it didn’t.
    But, still, what a concert and, yes, he did great justice to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music. And once again full marks to the BBC on providing it. I can’t wait to find out what John Wilson and the BBC will have for us next year.

    • J. Freeman. permalink

      Absolutely WONDERFUL. It wa a breathtaking concert, we keep playing it over and over. The orchestra itself, the Maida Vale singers, and the soloists just amazing. Thank you all so much.

  7. Pat Cooke permalink

    Just watching the repeat on BBC4 it is just as brilliant as the first time I watched it. Well done BBC!
    I love all these songs but “If I loved you” from Carousel always brings a tear….. brilliant singers. Thank you John Wilson – I wish you every success.

  8. keith oliver permalink

    Was looking forward to seeing the programme this evening on BBCi. Unfortunately its not available. Blast !!!

    • Hey Keith – I think there must be a problem with the BBC’s iPlayer tonight. I’m noticing there’s quite a few programmes I can’t see on the site. I figure it will be fixed in good time.
      Sunday 10 October 2010

  9. Martin Cohen permalink

    I couldn’t disagree more! I grew up as a small child in the 50s and was regularly taken to see the film versions of these R&H musicals by my parents. I was mesmerised by the visual spectacle and equally as much by the unsung hero orchestrators who elevated Rodgers’ genius to dizzy heights. I later became a professional musician and learned to appreciate the skill of the writers and arrangers of that ‘golden era’ far more. For me Richard Rodgers remains probably the greatest ‘tunesmith’ of the 20th century. However, I would say that the R&H prom was a far superior event compared to the MGM prom of the previous year mainly due to the spectacular error of wheeling on singers who were at times hopelessly miscast, Curtis Stigers for one. None of that was present this time and we were treated to sublime performances from artists perfectly matched to the musical treasures they were entrusted with. Congratulations to John Wilson and his brilliant orchestra and worth every penny of the licence fee alone.

  10. Having read the reviews of the Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Proms, I really can’t agree with their negative approach. Yes there were exclusions, but I loved it and have just watched the repeat on BBC 4 as well. Congratulations to all the singers and the enthusiastic John Wilson. I really look forward to their next appearance. And, thank God for the BBC.

  11. Alex Poor permalink

    This concert is fantastic – such stirring orchestral arrangements that took me back to when I first saw the movies in stereo and CinemaScope in the cinema. R&H’s music will live forever and if the reviewer didn’t apprreciate it then he/she is in a minority. The raptuous applause after each segments demonstrated the enjoyment of the capacity audience. I didn’t attend the concert because I am in Australia but I had a friend in the UK send me a copy of the BBC broadcast on DVD and it will be played often on my 50inch plasma TV in surround sound. Thanks to John Wilson for giving such a magnificent concert.

  12. ALAN HONEYBILL permalink

    Unforgetable,brilliant,wonderful melodies and diction perfect singing.The John Wilson Orchestra are fabulous, they all look like they are having a ball. I can’t praise this concert too much. Pick of the singers for me is Julian Ovendon, whose soliliquay from Carousel was just
    mind blowing. I am a classical music nut, but this was the high light of the season. The recording will be played over and over at my house.

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