An Evening With EMI Classics

Written by: Walter H.Z. de Villiers

On the occasion of the 10th-anniversary of EMI Music Sound Foundation, Walter H.Z. de Villiers shares with us a whimsical and (hopefully) humorous diary entry…

  • Not too obvious a pseudonym, hopefully! (Just a bit of self-protection!)

  • Went along to an EMI Classics bash on Friday (23 March 2007) at Cadogan Hall, London. Nice to be invited.

  • Took a chum along – will call him ‘Chalky’ to also protect his identity: splendid chap, been involved in lots of record-industry things. Tells you what he thinks!

  • Tickets and wristbands had been sent in advance. Wristbands? You needed one to gain access to the pre-concert Reception. Had a coffee with ‘Chalky’ beforehand when said wristbands were attached to, um, wrists! Had difficulty with mine (and even more difficulty getting it off – took kitchen-scissors to it when I got home).

  • Nice do. The red wine I chose was excellent and the oft-circulated canapés were very tasty. Caught up with other chums, including those who keep one in gainful employment (if under a different name!).

  • You know how it is at a concert when you get annoyed by late-arriving members of the audience who have no doubt been to a reception … boot on other foot this time!

  • Cadogan Hall full. Some well-known faces to be seen.

  • The excellent Kensington Symphony Orchestra was in position – do take in one of its concerts with long-standing conductor Russell Keable – and we were greeted by an EMI executive to begin the concert; didn’t quite catch his name – sorry – but he gave a witty introduction.

  • Then Myleene Klass strolled on. Bright, confident, sassy, very nice really – wasn’t absolutely sure who she was though (but then I don’t watch Reality Shows or listen to Classic FM) although I did know she has been signed-up as a pianist to record for EMI.

  • Anyway she introduced the “first act” – bet that’s the first time Russell Keable has been termed an “act”! Anyway, the KSO gave a rousing account of the Overture to Verdi’s opera “The Force of Destiny” – Russell Keable conducting his orchestra with typical musicality and the splendid boys and girls of this fine band responded likewise.

  • We then had, Myleene told us, Beethoven’s “Emperor Concert” (sic). The soloist was Thomas Kaurich, Head of EMI Classics. No celebrity pianist, Thomas is a graduate of the Juilliard School. He gave a poised, up-tempo performance that could have been more variegated and less hard-edged (at times) but he was certainly sensitive (slow movement) and had a fine sense of momentum (finale) – Russell and the KSO were attentive partners. Expected applause to break out after the first movement … gratifyingly, it didn’t. A lot of people stood at the end … why should such an upright position be thought of as ‘crawling’?!

  • We then had an interval. Bought ‘Chalky’ and myself an orange juice, one each actually – well, Chalky had bought the cappuccinos (sixth floor, Peter Jones, Sloane Square) – and we chatted with ‘Wilberforce’ (not his real name either!) who was on the (bottled) beer!

  • Back for Part 2 of the concert. Myleene, just signed to EMI Classics as a pianist (as I said), gave us a taster – a bit of floss by Michael Nyman (The heart asks pleasure first), which appears to be from his score for “The Piano”: so that was “The Piano” played on a piano (Myleene got that one out in her spoken intro). Don’t know what she is to record for EMI. She plays ‘nicely’ though, but she doesn’t need to turn to the audience and smile, unless she’s looking to hire herself out as a Liberace impersonator. Candelabra needed!

  • After her solo, Myleene was still motivating the audience! ‘Chalky’ thought he was at a talent show on commercial telly – you know, where the programmes interrupt the previews and adverts! (BBC not excepted!)

  • Anyway, Myleene having put Natasha Marsh on the pedestal she didn’t need, on strides the 6-foot (that’s why said pedestal not needed!), all-legs, blonde, provocatively dressed Natasha. But, can she sing? Yes, not bad at all: nice voice, good phrasing, plenty of feeling. Good choice of opera arias (a better word than ‘songs’!) – by Catalani (from “La Wally”) and a rather beautiful example from Nino Rota’s “Romeo and Juliet”, which also featured a lovely flute solo from Mike Copperwhite (the ‘h’ missing from the programme’s listing of KSO-personnel). Has/will Natasha be stepping into fully staged opera with a demanding conductor and director? Or will she just be doing ‘bits of things’?

  • Then a chair was carried on and placed at an oblique angle, and strategically re-positioned by Russell. He was not provided with seating (told you he was long-standing!) while Natalie Clein stole the evening with some unaccompanied Bach and a (non-credited) arrangement for cello and orchestra of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. ‘Chalky’ thought Natalie was using gut strings – she might have been … lovely sound.

  • Then to Alfie Boe, introduced as “the finest tenor of his generation”. Well, I thought (uncharitably, maybe), such comment didn’t say much for the rest of them! This was after he had sung the tenor’s showpiece aria from Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” – quite nice but Alfie seems (live, I haven’t heard his new CD) a bit tight tonally, sometimes under the note, and rather literal. (‘Chalky’ was less impressed!)

  • But, like Natasha, at least Alfie sang in the original language (Latin in the case of Rossini) and didn’t need a microphone.

  • Then Alfie, with Myleene at the piano again, gave us “A Living Prayer” by Ron Block.

  • Finally, Natasha and Alfie brought the ‘Drinking Song’ from Verdi’s “La Traviata”. She carried a bottle of champagne and two glasses, both drank, and Alfie made some daft (not deft!) movements (when he wasn’t singing). Reasonably well done. But Verdi lost!

  • ’Chalky’ (“I want to go”) and myself then left: it was the end of proceedings, as printed. The programme came with a CD, a sampler of the new recordings from Natalie, Natasha and Alfie.

  • Serious point. Why were we all there? Well, to celebrate the 10th-anniversary of EMI Music’s Sound Foundation, something of a well-kept secret, it seems. It is “an independent music education charity, established in 1997, whose aim is to improve young people’s access to music education.” Natalie spoke with passion about EMI’s enterprise. More about Sound Foundation from the following link.

  • So, please raise a glass to EMI’s initiative! And, thanks, EMI, and all the musicians, for an interesting evening.

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