Julian Bream My Life in Music
A Music on Earth production, from 2003, directed and presented by Paul Balmer
Julian Bream (guitar, lute)
Peter Pears (tenor)
George Malcolm (harpsichord)
John Williams (guitar)
Ali Akbar Khan (sarod)
Julian Bream Consort
Jane Balcon (speaker)
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: November 2006
CD No: AVIE AV2109
Duration: 3 hours 15 minutes [including bonus material]
In this superb biopic (made in 2003 and now on DVD after an initial limited release) by award-winning film-maker Paul Balmer, master guitarist and lutenist Julian Bream relates some of the events that helped to shape him both as a musician and as a human being.
Using performances by Bream (especially filmed in the Snape Maltings concert hall for this documentary in 2003) of the first and last movements from Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland, Bream’s story (told mostly from the comfort of his armchair at his home in Semley, Dorset) takes us from his birth in Battersea and first musical experiences with his father (a talented amateur musician), through hearing Segovia play for the first time, work in film, theatre and radio, studies at the Royal College of Music (in cello and piano – there was no tuition in classical guitar available at that time), National Service, discovering the music of John Dowland and the world of the Renaissance lute, meeting Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears for the first time, to a life in the country and the establishment of a now-legendary performing and recording career.
Many of the performances (given in full and without annoying voice-overs) and other material come from the BBC’s “Monitor” programmes of the early 1960s and the Canadian Broadcasting Commission’s archives, such as Bream and a jazz combo doing a ‘Hot Club of France’ impression in a Kensington flat (Django Reinhardt is one of Bream’s idols), improvising with Ali Akbar Khan in ‘East Meets West’ and Stravinsky being ‘serenaded’ by Bream on the lute (part of his drive to commission works from major composers – in this case he was unsuccessful).
Also featured are excepts from earlier documentaries on Bream: the BBC’s “A Life in the Country” (1976), “The Five Faces of the Guitar” (1974 – the performance here of the ‘Fugue’ from a Bach Violin Sonata as transcribed for the guitar is a knockout) and “¡Gutarra!” (1985). There are also some wonderful newsreels and plenty of stills.
Bonus chapters include Bream talking about the 1984 accident which nearly ended his career and a beautiful reading of Bream’s favourite poem, Cavafy’s “Ithaca” by actress Jane Balcon. Other extras include further performances by Bream from the archives, a stills montage, an extensive discography, a ‘making of’, the director’s commentary (which I thoroughly recommend) and a first release sound-only BBC recording of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Sonata for solo guitar, made in Bream’s recording venue of choice, the chapel of Wardour Castle.
“Julian Bream – A Life in Music” is a delight from start to finish; what is made clear is Bream’s absolute commitment to music (often to the detriment of his relationships) and his sheer determination, like Segovia’s, to raise the classical guitar to the level of a serious concert instrument through the commissioning of new works and an uncompromising attitude to promoting them.
This is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest musicians of our time.