BBC Proms 2010: Rodgers & Hammerstein \ John Wilson Orchestra
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).
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.