Which is the best orchestra? Rogers gets World Cup fever

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Letters the Nineteenth and Twentieth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

We all have football fever! Do you, too? The Village Cup contest is reaching its climax, and Blindingham is all a-tremble to see who will be eventual winners.

Vauxhall is the captain of the servants’ team, and he’s selected the voluptuous Addie Pose to be the twin strikers up front. I think he was trying to persuade Daisy to play in midfield, as I heard him say something about her ball carrying skills and her ability to score from the most surprising positions. He reminded Mr Dawson that he should change ends at half time and Mr Dawson smiled thoughtfully.

Helga has very kindly sewn our football from some spare leather that she had. I don’t know where she got the material from, but she does seem to be walking rather gingerly at the moment.

All the community groups are entering a team, but there have been some notable absentees: the locals at the Brassplayers Arms disappeared into the bar to discuss tactics and haven’t been seen since. The Classic FM team spent the weekend listing their top 100 matches, but only ever played the first half of each match. Mahler’s Symphonic Superstore only named 9 players in their side, saying it was unlucky to have a number 10, and the Wagner Jewellery and Cycle Store (formerly Wagner’s Rings’n’Cycles) was going to enter a team but when it realised that the abbreviated teamsheet would list them as Wagner Jew, it refused to play on the same pitch as itself.

So it got me thinking, your Ladyship. Why don’t we have an international world cup of orchestras? Each week two orchestras play the same pieces, and the audience vote on which was the best. A league table would determine which is the best orchestra in the country, then each country could enter an orchestra into the World Cup!

We’d then know which was the best orchestra in the world, and everyone would agree. That’s a fine plan, isn’t it?

By the way, I’m sure if you look out of your window any evening this week, you’ll see Mr Dawson doing sterling work on the training field. He’s got all the young men from the village to practise their physical fitness routines on the village green just beyond the Suarez Snack’n’Go Fast Food restaurant (near the Robben Diving Academy). He’s so rigorous, he even gets them to exercise with their shirts off, so he can make sure all the muscles are being toned. Some of the young men even get invited into his personal gym for special one to one training.

How lucky we are to have such a dedicated Head Butler as Mr Dawson.

I look forward to your opinions on the World Cup of Orchestras!

Yours, as ever in your debt,

Rogers

 -o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers

While it pains me to dampen your youthful enthusiasm, I must confess your recent letter gave me quite a Spasm, and not just because of the descriptions of Dawson’s training regime. You may have heard my cries from as far away as the shrubbery. The fact that for once I was crying “No! No! No!” might have alerted you to the fact that Something Was Up.

Where do I start? Well, initially I must ask you to refrain from banging on about football. You already know of my unstinting devotion to the Blindingham Cricket XI (we shall not mention the Blindingham Rugby XV, if only because it is the wrong time of year). Football in the summer offends my every aesthetic sensibility. This, Rogers, is the time for the sound of leather on willow – outdoors, of course, and not just from Mr Dawson’s apartments.

I must confess that competition is far from my favourite concept, since, as a child of Nature, it is my instinct to include everyone in everything.  Competitions do exist in the classical music world, but they are mostly for soloists, and in fact they are one of the principal means by which senior musical figures seek out their next young protégé(e). Élite musicians are always in a sense in competition with each other, since even the best player is only as good as his or her most recent performance. However, this “competition” is implicit rather than overt.

Your most egregious mistake is to imagine that one orchestra can be compared with another in terms of prowess. I have written to you before of the different qualities of sound which orchestras from different countries may produce.  An orchestra from the Czech Republic might excel in the works of Dvořàk (such as the Scherzo from the New World Symphony) and yet be unable to make head or tail of a symphony by Elgar.  The horn players of Russia have always cultivated a noticeable vibrato, which the horn players of England or Germany would eschew (but which I have found can add a remarkable piquancy).  These differences are to be celebrated, rather than to be pitted against each other.

It is true that certain orchestras are seen as being among the best: the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, and on a good day when the wind is in the right quarter, even the London Symphony Orchestra.  However the idea of bringing all of these orchestras together to play against each other is so wrong that I simply have to go and have another lie down. Fortunately my yoga instructor is close at hand to help me to relax.

The musical area in which competition is most welcomed is that of the Brass Band. Competition exists at local regional and national levels, and is pursued with a zeal bordering on fanaticism.  I leave you with a link to the Heroic March from Percy Fletcher’s Epic Symphony for Brass Band, which I trust will leave you in a chastened mood.

Yours as ever,

Ophelia, Lady Effingham

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Why are sopranos fat? Her ladyship and the trouser department

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Letters the Seventeenth and Eighteenth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

What a to-do! There was a fight in the Philip Glass Arms last night – a nice pub, but the bars haven’t changed since it’s been opened.

I sat near Thelion Spart, the arts reviewer for the Blindingham parish magazine. His latest review of the Blindingham Opera Group was less than kind, with the headline ‘BOG Off’, and the village is all a-quiver.

How proud I felt when Mr Spart decided to talk to me! Like all music critics, he’s very important – I know, because he told me – and he laughed kindly when I said I thought it was rude to criticise people. He told me that he’s just telling people what they should think, and they should be very grateful.

Then Vauxhall came in with his new girlfriend, Addie Pose, who sings for Blindingham Opera Group. Vauxhall spotted Mr Spart and came straight over. ‘Did you call my bird a fatty?’ he started, and said a lot of things I didn’t understand. Once we’d mopped up and cleared the broken glass away, I helped Mr Spart back to the table. Addie, who is of comely build, squeezed into the window seat in the Snug Bar with Vauxhall, and although he did have some difficulty reaching his pint, he seemed content.

Mr Spart explained that although Addie had a lovely voice, the role of Little Orphan Annie should be played by a young girl, preferably one who looked underfed and smaller than Miss Hannigan the orphanage owner. I said that I thought the voice was the important thing and he laughed at me. I’ll never forget his words, because he made me write them down.

‘If you want to listen to the voice, put on a CD. Opera is theatre, my dear. Belief can be suspended but it cannot be hanged and left to die. The eye informs the ear and ugliness, in whatever form, is distracting to our artistic sensitivities.’

He must be right, because he’s a well known critic, but I didn’t feel quite comfortable agreeing with him. I hope you’ll be able to help clear my mind. I asked Vauxhall, but not much of his reply could be written down.

Incidentally, Helga and Vauxhall are getting on very well and they seem to have developed an interest in insects. They were discussing the bugs in the bedrooms, and how many of your guests have been happy to pay for the videos that they have recorded. What fascinating visitors you have, to be interested in such things.

Yours as ever,

Rogers

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers

I am deeply concerned about members of my staff becoming involved in such an unseemly fracas. I will ensure that Mr Dawson hears of it and that he lets Vauxhall feel the firm smack of his discipline. Vauxhall is an excellent mechanic, but he has an unusual background – Lord Effingham met Vauxhall’s former employer in a rather unorthodox establishment in Syracuse. As a consequence, Vauxhall’s knowledge of how the trusted servant of a house such as Blindingham should behave may yet be imperfect.

However, I can but applaud his choice of companion. Addie Pose has great promise as a singer, and may yet burst the bonds of the BOG and rise to the true operatic stage. I hope eventually to hear her in the great trouser roles such as Cherubino (in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro) or Octavian (in Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier). As in the great British tradition of pantomime, the leading man is often played by a young lady. I understand from my previous meetings with her that Addie is already interested in cross-dressing, so it shouldn’t be too much of a leap.

As for Mr Thelion Spart, I fear he is sadly out of fashion. While the ability to act has certainly become a requisite for opera singers in this day and age, a certain embonpoint must remain welcome, if not universal. The days of Luciano Eatsalotti, when the leading tenor, great in every sense of the word, had to reach the stage by means of a golf buggy, are over, but artistry must always triumph over waist measurement.

Sopranos in particular have always been subject to sizeism, I fear. This may partly be because they have always been the object of interest of the great conductors – you would be surprised how many male conductors have married lady singers – or, in the case of others such as Humbert von Karryon, merely been associated with them.

You put me in mind of an idea that has occasionally surfaced in my ever-fertile mind: that of establishing a country-house opera company at Blindingham. They are all the rage you know – it’s not just Glyndebourne, but also Longborough and Garsington. A chamber version of Strauss’s Salomé might attract Ms Pose to the title role, to perform the Dance of the Seven Veils. That would show Mr Spart what he is missing!

I would have to discuss the potential impact on the grounds with the gardening staff of course – I am at leisure in the hothouse most afternoons should you wish to pursue this.

Yours ever,

Ophelia, Lady Effingham

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Does music run in the family? Helga looks after her vibrato

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Letters the Fifteenth and Sixteenth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

Thank you so much for taking on Helga’s cause. Everyone in the servants’ quarters knows just how formidable you can be when you get your gander up. I’m sure you could take on the entire council on your own! Mr Dawson did say that once you single-handedly took on the entire Blindingham Cricket team and that the showers in the pavilion still don’t work properly to this day. I don’t understand how you could bowl and keep wicket at the same time, nor why that should involve the showers, but I never question Mr Dawson.

Will you be accompanying the vicar to the concert given by Julia Lloyds Banke, Blindingham’s leading international cellist? Of course, she is the sister of that most wonderful composer Andrea Lloyds Banke, who wrote such masterpieces as ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Bognor Regis’ and the musical based on the haikus of David Cameron, ‘Cuts’. Vauxhall says Mrs Lloyds Banke’s computer must have had a broken ‘n’ when she wrote that.

I’ve read that Julia now has a herniated disc in her neck – Vauxhall said it was just karma that she should get a pain in the neck – and she must give up playing cello forever! What a loss to the village music society!

But that got me thinking, Lady Effingham. The two sisters are arguably the most successful musicians in the county and their father, William Lloyds Banke, ran the Blindingham Academy of Music, didn’t he? So does musical talent always run in families? If my parents weren’t musical, do I have no chance of being a musician?

Little is known of my father, sadly. I think he must have been a jazz musician because my mother told me that he used to swing both ways. I told Mr Dawson and he wondered whether he’d ever had a play with my father. I had no idea Mr Dawson played jazz. His closet holds so many secrets.

We did have a fascinating discussion about Julia Lloyds Banke, although when I started talking about her wide vibrato, Helga immediately rushed from the room muttering something about milady’s batteries.

Many thanks again for helping me so much,

Yours humbly,

Rogers

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers

First of all, I must thank you in return for (however inadvertently) reminding Helga of her duties.

I was very sad to hear about Julia Lloyds Banke – such a fine musician – but given what she sometimes got up to with the Royal Symphony Philharmonia over the years, I am surprised her neck lasted so long. I will call on her to offer my condolences and advice for the future management of her condition under times of physical stress. My husband is very knowledgeable about unusual methods of relaxation, and in fact I believe he and Julia were quite chummy at one point, so I might put them in touch again.

It is true that the Lloyds Bankes are a well-known family of musicians, and it is noticeable that musical ability very often runs in families. Take for example, the Bachs.

The most famous, Johann Sebastian, was the son of a musician (rather deliciously called Johann Ambrosius) and all his uncles and cousins were musicians (though we only really know about the male relatives – quite possibly his mother, aunts and sisters were musical too). He himself had two wives, both musicians, and 20 children, a record that I can only admire in awed silence.

Although they didn’t all survive into adulthood, many of them became professional musicians. The most famous were Johann Christian Bach, Carl Philippe Emmanuel Bach and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. The latter of these was a bit of a one, as my old nanny used to say, and used to write piano pieces for three players with the students playing the middle parts and the tutor (himself) playing the outer parts so he had to put his arms round both pupils. Here is a video of a version with six different people playing it – heaven knows what they are getting up to out of shot.

As to your own case, nil desperandum! History tells us of many composers whose parents were not in the least musical. As I have mentioned to you before, Haydn was the son of a blacksmith; in addition Berlioz’s father was a physician who actively discouraged him from learning music, and Tchaikovsky was the son of an engineer in the Department of Mines.

On the subject of success, this is a delicate matter. What is success, and how do you measure it? For the most illustrious, their place in history is paramount. JS Bach, for example, was not well-known until after his death, but is now seen as one of the greatest musicians ever. In the case of Andrea Lloyds Banke, I imagine that her bank balance is as good a guide as any to her achievements.

In the case of the Blindingham Cricket XI, the score book tells its own tale (indeed, I keep my own private score book to remind myself of their past glories).

Yours ever

Ophelia, Lady Effingham

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In which Helga’s organ is no longer desired by the ‘War Whores’

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Letters the Thirteenth and Fourteenth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

It’s all a to-do in the servants’ quarters. Helga is always kind enough to help out the local Blindingham Players with her harmonium, but it seems her offer is not appreciated this year.

Their production ‘War Whores’ has become an international hit (Mr Chu from the local take-away sent a video of it to his cousins in Shanghai, and they liked it). It commemorates the Battle of Blindingham, where the local officers used under the covers agents to infiltrate the enemy and cause a droop in morale. The performance uses life-sized puppets to great effect, and considerable interest. Vauxhall has been to see it several times.

Unfortunately, they have sacked all of the musicians who were helping them out, replacing them by a Casio keyboard plugged into the Vicar’s hi-fi system. Helga is outraged, and we have all offered what little we can to help. I’m planting a herbaceous border that will spell out ‘I (heart) Helga’s Organ’ when it blooms (I didn’t have enough osteospermum for ‘harmonium’), Daisy is auctioning off her baps and even Mr Dawson seemed interested in the idea of a whip round.

Now the Blindingham Borough Council (the BBC) sponsors Blindingham University Musical Society in a series of promenade concerts every year. The BBC Proms programme for this year’s series – BUMS Off Seats – has just been announced, and Helga’s not happy.

On the 400th anniversary of the Battle of Blindingham, there is a concert of war-themed music, all based around ‘War Whores’.

Do you think it was a mistake for the BBC to name a well publicised concert after a show in which musicians are not welcome?

Incidentally, have you been discussing the shrubberies with Vauxhall? He told me that you might like to plant okra around Solidago hispida. At least I think that’s what he meant when he told me that he was sure you would like your lady’s fingers around my hairy goldenrod.

Your humble servant as ever,

Rogers

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers

I am horrified at what you tell me. No wonder Helga was so out of sorts this morning – muttering under her breath in German (“verdammt elektronische Tastatur“, etc.) and failing to re-charge my batteries.

I had not picked up the excitement about ‘War Whores’, though of course I was present at the premiere some years ago, as the Vicar offered me a place in his box. Once we had sorted out any misunderstandings, we had a delightful evening – he of course is what we would once have called an advocate for muscular Christianity.

But I digress. My previous letter to you emphasised how very important live music is to me – and indeed I look forward to hearing about its effect on Daisy in due course (in that context, what you tell me about her zeal in supporting Helga strikes me as a good omen for you).

I can assure you that I will Take Action. I have a number of useful insider contacts at both BUMS and the Blindingham Borough Council, whose previous contact with me must incline them to oblige me, and I will make them aware of my extreme displeasure and disappointment. You may tell Mr Dawson that when he has finished his whip round, I shall need my whips back. I shall certainly have a use for them! I shall probably require some Wagner to keep me going.

I am also setting up a petition with the help of the Musicians’ Union, which you will be able to find by searching online.

I’m sorry to hear about your lack of osteospermum – you should try a high potash feed, which Lord Effingham always used to swear by. Also, it isn’t around the hairy goldenrod that I wish my lady’s fingers to be placed, but the golden zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) – you’ll find they come out at the same time.

Sincerely yours

Ophelia, Lady Effingham.

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Keep music live; and keep Daisy’s seat warm

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Letters the Eleventh and Twelfth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

I am sorry to hear of your illness, but I hope I can humbly offer my best wishes as you recover. That’s a nasty thing to happen, I said to myself. I remember when Vauxhall the chauffeur had a nasty happening that put both his wrists in plaster. He got very grumpy, especially because every day Daisy would ask him ‘are you not feeling yourself?’ and then burst out laughing. Daisy has such a strange sense of humour.

Forgive my boldness, but I have taken to asking Helga about your health. You are lucky indeed to have so caring a lady’s-maid. I don’t understand why there is so much leather in her linen basket, and I’ve never known anyone else to squeak when they sit down, but she has a heart of gold.

You will be aware that I and the other gardeners have been rushed off our feet during the recent storms. Some of the ornamental features were submerged after a particularly heavy night! I asked Mr Dawson if he had ever known such a thorough lashing or whether the grotto had ever taken such a battering before, and he was clearly emotional about the whole experience – I think I saw a tear spring to his eye.

We have been so busy that I have not been able to go to any concerts recently, and I really must start again. I did hear a piece of music on the radio that made me eager to get back into the concert hall, a piece that I assume was all about salt, mustard, vinegar and pepper. It also had a female composer, I think, which is rare, isn’t it? The Four Seasonings, I think it was called, by Viv Aldi. I wonder why she chose Viv, and not Vivianne. I like a bit of formality, really, don’t you?

So, Lady Effingham, I’m sure you’ll be really proud of me – I hoisted my dander, screwed up my pluck, took my pride in both hands and… I asked Daisy to go to a concert with me! Are you impressed with my hardihood?

But she said no, there was no point in going to a concert when you could listen to the same music on a CD.

So is she right, Lady Effingham? What’s the point of spending all that time and money when you could sit at home in the warmth with your 12 inch woofers? And can you suggest a piece of music that would convince her that it’s worthwhile?

I must get back to the flooded fields – there is much to do. I told Helga that it was so difficult being a gardener in this weather, not knowing how many inches you were going to get, or how long it was going to last. She said I should try being a woman. That made no sense to me; perhaps it means something different in German.

Yours truly, with best wishes for your recovery,

Rogers

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers,

I’m so glad you value Helga, my faithful Rhinemaiden handmaiden (as I like to call her) as much as I do. Interestingly, she too is a fan of classical music, although she has rather unusual tastes, being particularly keen on Stockhausen. I believe she knew him quite well at one stage but unfortunately they split over artistic differences concerning the dialectic between the experimental, the avant-garde and the directionless temporal field. There was also an altercation involving knicker elastic and Lederhosen which I still haven’t got to the bottom of (and nor, apparently, did he).

Her Teutonic refusal to compromise brought her into conflict at her next job, with the recording company Deutsche Grammophon, where she was a trainee technician. She took rather too literally the producer’s suggestion where to stick the microphone while Julian Lloyd Webber was recording the Archduke Trio, and I understand the matter is still going through the courts. Her skill in all things electrical is a constant source of comfort for me, as many of my leisure pursuits require things technological. Hard-wiring is so much more satisfying than unreliable batteries. I refer, of course, to my audio set-up and my 12 inch woofers.

Viv Aldi, to whom you refer, is no lady, but a flame-haired priest, Antonio Vivaldi. He wrote a lot of music for an orchestra of charming young ladies back in 18th century Venice. The matter of female composers, and why there seem to be so few, is an avenue for future exploration.

But I am delaying addressing the most important point that you raise – that of persuading Daisy of the value of attending a live concert. I have to say I have always felt that one of the thrills of live music is the transmission of passionate energy directly from the musician to the seat of the listener – an effect always enhanced by sitting near the double bass section. The physical involvement of the players is also a visual thrill, and it can be hard to avoid swaying with the violins or hugging the person next to you in the manner of a cellist embracing her instrument.

However, Daisy may well not yet be ready for you to embrace her instrument, so I would confine yourself to taking her to hear a rapturously romantic programme. Emphasise that you are paying, so she is taking no risk with her money – you would be surprised how effective this is as a persuader. I thoroughly recommend a piece of music that ‘tells a story’, to help engage with the music on stage.

Take her, for example, to hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade – a wild and wonderful journey through the Thousand and One Nights, with plentiful drama and colourful orchestration (by which I mean which instruments play which bits, not how well the concert is organised). The final movement, in which a ship is wrecked upon the rocks, should be persuasive for even the most disinterested, with its strident brass fanfares, its thundering and driving percussion, and tempestuous wind and string writing. As the music calms in the final few moments, all will feel right with the world for a glorious few seconds and Daisy herself might sigh contentedly.

Should you wish to talk about the music, do not press her for an answer; should you find yourself saying ‘Daisy, Daisy, give me an answer, do’, I think the pleasantness of the evening will be brought to a swift halt. Good luck! I trust your passion will overcome her disinclination in whatever field you choose to pursue.

Should you wish for further advice on how to persuade a reluctant woman, please do come and find me in my boudoir at any time. Wednesday afternoons are currently free.

Yours ever, Lady Effingham

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Conduct with a stick but talk with your body; her Ladyship advises conductors

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Letters the Ninth and Tenth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

Thank you for being so clear about what conductors do. It seems most apt to compare Mr Dawson to the conductor of an orchestra, as most late evenings when I pass his room there appears to be swishing and grunting going on. How exciting it would be if he were to become a conductor. How firm his baton could be. Unlike Bernard Haitink, though, I can’t imagine Mr Dawson tickling your hanging baskets with a feather duster.

If I may try your patience a little further – you have already been so kind – I will ask you two more questions about conductors. Firstly, does changing the conductor make any difference to the music?

While you compared Mr Dawson to the conductor of an orchestra, and Lord Effingham to the composer of the music, I can’t imagine Blindingham Towers changing a great deal if a different Head Butler took over (God forbid!) from Mr Dawson.

However, when I was at the last Royal Symphony Philharmonia concert, with the Italian conductor Don Follomi, I heard members of the audience saying he wasn’t as good as other conductors like von Carry-On and John Eliot (who is a gardener, I think they said – like me!). So does it matter who wields the stick?

Would you be able to manipulate 50 men and a few women at the same time? I’m sure you could inspire the men, but exactly how you would bend the women to your will is something I can only imagine. Perhaps another time I might be allowed to ask why there are so few women in the orchestras.

The second question I have goes back to Mr Dawson and how he runs Blindingham Hall. He’s English, and he speaks English (mostly – although I have heard some very strange language coming from his room. It’s a sort of grunt that’s as clear as Welsh, but not as warm and tender as German). If he only spoke a foreign language, we would have no idea of his wishes. How did Don Follomi speak Italian to his orchestra and yet run a rehearsal? I’m sure you can only imagine the effect a strange tongue would have on your ability to concentrate.

Thank you again, Lady Effingham, for your listening suggestions. I was so inspired by Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, that I checked on Spotify for other pieces by Strauss. I found this piece, which is very different – what a versatile composer Strauss must have been! Thunder and Lightning Polka is such a descriptive name, as I can hear the flashes and bangs just like in the storm that crashed over Blindingham Hall last week.

Daisy the pastry-maid was clearly terribly frightened – so much so that she sheltered all night in Vauxhall’s room. He was so enthusiastic at comforting her that she emerged the next day with a broad smile and he spent all day complaining about his bad back. He really is so kind, unlike his rough demeanour.

I look forward to your reply, and I remain,

Yours, Rogers the Third Under-Gardener

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers,

It has been a very long time since I’ve been able to grasp a pen as I have been temporarily disabled by a freak accident involving a performance of the Webern Five Pieces for Orchestra. It seemed that my pen-grasping days might have been over, but my health was restored by a magnificent surgeon at the spa in Marienbad and the nightly ministrations of the spa orchestra, whose vigorous attention to their duty was a balm to my troubled soul.

During the period of my convalescence, I gave much thought to your question about different conductors. I recall the story of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, who was held to be able to create a particular orchestral ‘sound’ which was much admired. His successor in the post tried in vain, alas, to re-create this ‘sound’. One day in rehearsal, a sudden change came over the orchestra – the Furtwängler ‘sound’ had come back! The conductor, bringing the music to a close with tears in his eyes, turned towards the almost-empty auditorium, only to see the tall, gangling figure of Furtwängler himself lurking at the back, having returned for a short visit.

So; it could be the quality of gesture, the force of personality, the ability to translate the sound in one’s head to the sound in the concert hall – or possibly the quality of one’s pheromones. Listen to a Furtwängler performance, of Beethoven’s 9th symphony for example – and you will perhaps perceive a glimmer of what I mean.

It’s certainly nothing to do with language – Italian, French and German musical terms are understood the world over. Many orchestras are happy to be rehearsed in English, German, French or Italian. In my view, a conductor should be able to say the bar numbers or rehearsal figures (e.g., ‘let’s start from five bars after figure B’) in the local language, and convey everything else by physical gesture. Ah – body language! I’m sure Mr Dawson will agree with me on its crucial importance.

Speaking of Mr Dawson, I hope he has warned you about the chestnuts. I was experimenting with roasting fresh chestnuts in the microwave, after I had come in late and the servants had gone to bed. Mr Dawson returned even later than I, with a friend who happily turned out to be a fireman. So Effingham Hall survives for one more New Year.

And incidentally, the Strauss work which you mentioned in your last letter is in fact from a different family from Richard Strauss. The Johann Strausses are very much associated with New Year, so I will leave you with best wishes for all the servants’ hall for 2014.

Yours sincerely

Ophelia Effingham
Lady Effingham of Blindingham

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What does a conductor do? Her Ladyship pollinates her orchids

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Letters the Seventh and Eighth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

Thank you for your kind suggestions and I feel more confident now. Thanks to you I have my pecker up and I’m full of pluck. Classic FM is now permanently on the tractor radio and I don’t mind that Vauxhall the chauffeur has taken to calling me hoity-toity.

I did like that Brahms Hungarian Dance you suggested and I was singing it and dancing all round the shrubbery yesterday until Daisy the pastry maid asked if I was Brahms and Liszt, which I didn’t quite understand.

I even went out and bought a CD of some Mozart that I heard on the radio. My favourite track at the moment is this one; it just seems so bubbly and lively, and the way the music goes suddenly loud and soft just sounds like Mozart’s making a big joke and having fun.

Your advice about having someone to go with to a club is very wise. When I first arrived at Blindingham Hall, Mr Dawson asked me what kind of clubs I went to. I said that I liked the sort of club where the members were happy to see you, and he said that was his kind of club too. I said I was sure he only went to clubs where the members were fine and upstanding, and he smiled and nodded. What a nice butler Mr Dawson is.

Talking of having a guide, there are still many things I want to ask you about classical music. For example, in both concerts that I went to, there was one man who was late on stage – he arrived after all the others, and he wasn’t even a musician. He just had a white stick that didn’t make any noise.

When he appeared, the orchestra stood up, as if they were really cross with him, but he just smiled and waved at them to sit down. At the end, when they’d done all the work, he bowed to the audience and they didn’t. He even left the stage first, and then – before the orchestra had a chance to go home – he came back and bowed some more.

Who is he? What does he do? And is it always a man? Daisy the pastry maid said it was typical of a man to expect people to be pleased when he waggles his thing around. She said it would be typical if he finished first and then fell asleep during the clearing up.

I remain yours in humble gratitude,

Rogers the Third Under-gardener

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers

How interesting – I had no idea I had a pastry-maid called Daisy. If her chocolate éclairs are anything to go by, she is a budding genius. How one lives and learns.

I am delighted to be able to have the chance to explain to you the role and indeed the person of the conductor. My previously long-lost son Jeck is currently moving on from his work as a trombonist in order to study conducting.  Having mastered all seven positions of the slide, he realised that being a conductor requires many more positions and indeed techniques to which he is keen to turn his hand.

Let me draw a comparison between the orchestra and my own dear Blindingham Hall. Lord Effingham (though absent) is the head of the household – the equivalent, perhaps, of the composer of the music. However, Mr Dawson is the head of the servant’s hall and it is he who oversees the vast and varied roles of the staff (the orchestra). A conductor has a similar role – he or she (for gender is no barrier) must provide a focal point, an inspiration and a driving force, and of course is there to take the blame when anything goes wrong.

For these heavy responsibilities, the conductor is often paid more than the whole of the orchestra put together. Quite why this is the case I am not sure. When it comes down to it, the orchestra is making all the actual sound. The only sounds a conductor makes are a slight swishing noise and a few grunts. I can think of many professions which can produce similar aural results but which command a lesser fee.

So: the reason the conductor comes on stage last is to give the orchestra time to tune up and warm up – you may ask Vauxhall about this as he is always going on about cars needing to do this sort of thing, keeping me pinned to the back seat for quite some time before we can finally drive away.

At the end, the conductor should bring the orchestra to its feet in order to acknowledge the applause graciously and en masse. Any conductor who does not do so makes him- or herself extremely unpopular with the musicians. However, unpopularity with anyone but the audience and record-buying public rarely troubles many conductors – in fact it is no secret that some at the top of their profession are veritable monsters. However, many are charming. Among my favourites is the lovely Bernard Haitink – so delightfully stolid to look at and yet he has a touch as light as a feather. Delicious – particularly in this.

There is plenty more to learn about conducting – it will have to wait for another time as my orchids need attention in the hothouse. I have a particularly fine one with the most enormous blossoms which have to be pollinated with an ostrich feather duster. Perhaps I should invite Bernard Haitink to do it for me.

Yours most sincerely,

Ophelia Effingham

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Is Classical Music boring? Lady Effingham counsels patience

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Letters the Fifth and Sixth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

It is with great sadness that I tell you what a terrible disappointment last week’s concert was. I felt so foolish, and I hope I can once again ask your advice as to where I went wrong.

I tried to call the secretary of the Royal Symphony Philharmonia in the afternoon, but for some reason they were busy, so couldn’t meet me when I arrived. Everyone in the audience seemed to know where they were going, even though there were dozens of doors on four different levels and I didn’t know which one to go into.

This time I was more prepared, so I wrote down the pieces I was going to listen to, so that I could maybe find the CDs in the library afterwards and sing along. The Royal Symphony Philharmonia were playing Brahms’ Tragic Overture, a brand new bassoon concerto ‘Juxtaposition III’ by May Kitstopp-Pliz and a piece called ‘Symphony Number 3’ by a man called Bruckner.

Nobody seemed very happy on stage, I didn’t recognise any tunes and I was bored after the first 10 minutes. At the interval the bar was filled with people who had got there quickly, so I couldn’t get past them to get a drink, and when I tried to leave after 20 minutes of the symphony, everyone around me was very cross. They wouldn’t even let me climb over them to get out of the row that I was in.

It was much more expensive than the Blindingham University Music Society concert and much less fun. Dawson said that I shouldn’t try mixing with posh people and that you would know how to handle the big nobs.

Did I do the wrong thing, going to this concert? Is classical music really this boring? The piece by Wagner that you sent me was much more fun. Why can’t it all be like that?

I did try to find you in the hothouse on Wednesday afternoon to ask you in person, but you weren’t alone. I overheard you talking to someone, who was asking you to move into some unusual positions. I could hear you were trying very hard indeed to do as he asked, so I can only assume he was your yoga teacher.

As ever, your humble servant,

Rogers the Third Under-gardener

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers,

Oh dear. I fear you may have bitten off more than you can chew. Normally I approve of reckless abandon, but you are in need of guidance. I always remember my maternal grandfather, Lord ‘Stuffy’ Bendingleigh, telling me how his great friend Sir ‘Muffy’ Comingham, who was some years older than he, introduced him to the clubs of London, and how invaluable it was to have a friend to give one the entrée, as it were, to new social circles. Going alone as you did was brave, but perhaps foolhardy. Choose the right guide and you may go wherever you will.

I am sad to hear that you were bored by the Brahms. He is one of the great Romantic composers, always with a hint of classical strictness to give one an intellectual frisson alongside the Romanticism that provides a sensual thrill. Perhaps you should try again with some of his less rigorous works such as the Hungarian Dances or the Academic Festival Overture. One of the BUMS students might help you there – you could find it on Spotify.

Please ignore what Mr Dawson says about mixing with posh people. Of course I know how to handle big nobs – I was born to it. You, however, may yet learn.

Now – a little advice. I feel you should aim to listen to shorter works to start with, before immersing yourself in lengthy symphonies – length is an excellent thing, if you have the stamina for it, but it requires a certain amount of building-up. I should be happy to vet the programme of any concerts you might plan to attend in future. Ask Cook to submit them to me with the menus.

Should you need any further tips on relaxation, with or without music, my personal yoga trainer attends me in private every Thursday afternoon. You could perhaps observe us from the gallery, without fearing that you would disturb us.

Yours sincerely

Ophelia Effingham

(Lady Effingham of Blindingham)

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Rogers goes to the Proms; her Ladyship handles his queries

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Letters the Third and Fourth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

I have to write to thank you for your kind words and advice. I did enjoy listening to Portsmouth Point, your Ladyship. It was all frothy and energetic and had that tune that kept jumping low to high. Well, when I say tune, I can tell there are lots of tunes happening, but none that I can sing. Perhaps that’s just because I’m not a very good singer, or perhaps the tunes are too complicated for me. But no matter – I enjoyed the music and that’s the main thing, isn’t it?

I’m afraid I was too shy to interrupt you while you were sunbathing on Sunday, but when I told Vauxhall the chauffeur, he seemed strangely interested. He asked me if you were going to be sunbathing in the buff, but I said no, in the walled garden.

I followed your suggestion and looked up The Blindingham University Music Society on the internet. I tried typing in BUMS into Google and got some frankly unexpected results, but once I’d typed the full name in, it all became much clearer. By chance they were putting on a concert last night called ‘Friday Night is BUMS Night’, which I’d always misunderstood before, but this time I took the plunge and went.

None of the other servants would go with me, so I was very brave and summoned up all my courage and rang the secretary of the orchestra. He arranged my ticket and even met me when I arrived.

I can’t list all of the pieces I heard. Everyone else seemed to know what they were called, and most of the audience seemed to have a piece of paper listing them, but I didn’t know what that was. There was one piece at the end where everyone waved their flags and sang along, and seemed know the words. I think it was ‘Land of Hopeless Tories’, which surprised me, because I thought everyone there was dead posh.

Everyone seemed to be having a good time and I’m looking forward to my next concert, next Friday. I’m going up to London to see the Royal Symphony Philharmonia. I don’t know what they’re playing, but I’m very excited and I wanted to thank you for giving me the confidence.

Mr Dawson tells me that you’re always happy to bend over backwards to help a young man and when I said that you’d helped to stiffen my resolve he sniggered in a way that I didn’t quite understand.

Thank you once again, your Ladyship, and I remain,

Your most faithful servant,

Rogers the Third Under-gardener

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers

Congratulations on your first foray. I am delighted to read of your success. Allow me to elucidate a number of your points.

The list of pieces is called a Programme. It can be advisable to buy one, as it is supposed to tell you what is going to happen and sometimes carries charming photos of the participants so you can tell who is who. However, they can be filled with pitfalls such as steaming heaps of jargon and lengthy articles about the works which obfuscate rather than enlighten (I like a bit of obfuscation myself, but only among friends).

As I believe I mentioned in my previous e-mail, you were in fact attending a ‘Last Night of the Proms’-style concert. The Last Night of the Proms is a concert that is given every year at the end of the BBC Proms season, usually at the end of the first week in September. It is a completely bizarre occasion, unlike any other normal concert, and gives everyone the wrong impression as to what classical concerts might generally be like. Many organisations copy the style in order to seem accessible and approachable (I must say the BUMS secretary sounded extremely so. I should watch out for him if I were you).

You must also rid yourself of the idea that ‘everyone there was dead posh’. My dear man, if you think they were posh, you have simply no idea what ‘posh’ truly means. (I’ve always thought it was short for ‘port’s out, shove it home’, but I may have got that slightly wrong. I blame Cousin Hugo.) The people at your concert were just wearing all their nicest clothes and talking in a way that gives the impression they know more than they actually do.

I must say that I think your idea of going up to London is very adventurous and I do trust that you will take care. My long lost son Jeck (now happily found again) was a trombonist in the brass section of the Royal Symphony Philharmonia for a time, and I understand they have no limits, not just in terms of their talent and brilliance. Their party piece was Wagner’s ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ – you can find it on Spotify to give you an idea of their style.

If you need guidance about the content of the programme, I should be happy to take you through the particulars. I shall be in the hothouse end of the conservatory on Wednesday afternoon (which, as you may realise, is Mr Dawson’s day off). Please don’t mention this to Vauxhall – he should be confining himself to sorting out his big end, and you may tell him so from me.

Yours sincerely,

Ophelia Effingham

(Lady Effingham of Blindingham)

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Rogers discovers Classical Music; her Ladyship advocates the Proms

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Letters the First and Second
From Rogers to Lady Effingham, and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

Please forgive the size of my presumption. I have been trying to embolden myself for several days since Mr Dawson, your esteemed Butler, suggested that I write to you.

You will not know me, although the Head Gardener tells me that you admire a young man with an enthusiastic dibber. My name is Rogers, and I’m your third under-gardener. If I can crave your patience, I will explain my intrusion into your correspondence.

I was driving my tractor through Hardacre Wood last week, when the radio malfunctioned. Instead of Radio Suffolk’s famous phone-in ‘Suffolk’n’what’, I could not move the dial from Classic FM. I found myself strangely enjoying the music – the like of which I had never heard before.

Over the noise of the tractor, it was difficult to hear the announcement, but I think I was listening to Orpheus in his Underpants by Often Park and Hair on the G String by his brother, Jay Z Park.

I was telling everyone about it in the servants’ quarters and most of them thought I had ideas above my station – especially Vauxhall, the chauffeur. But Mr Dawson said that you were the best person to ask about what to do next. However, he might have got me confused with the butcher’s boy, as he said you would be keen on fresh meat. He also said something about pork stuffing that I didn’t quite understand.

I know from the other servants that classical music is very difficult to understand and is usually very boring. That doesn’t seem right to me from what I heard, but I don’t know what to do next.

Lady Effingham, can you please tell me what to do?

Your humble servant,

Rogers the Third Under-gardener

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers

I received your letter with keen interest. Happily I am known for my unconventional approach to the strictures of society and am delighted to receive this kind of intrusion from my third under-gardener. I can only greet the idea that you might be seeking more refined pursuits with a whoop of joy.

Music, as you know, is my passion. Ah the wild nights with the percussion section of the Royal Symphony Philharmonia that I have known! But perhaps I should draw a veil over those reminiscences until your understanding of music has blossomed.

Given that you have only a tractor for transport, I suggest you attend a concert locally. You would be surprised how affordable they are even on the pittance that I pay you.

May I suggest the Blindingham University Music Society? It is made up of keen, energetic and attractive young students and their interestingly rumpled professors. I occasionally patronise their activities myself. However, to reassure you in case of social embarrassment, I shall not be present at their next concert, as I shall be studying the libretto of Wagner’s Siegfried with my long-lost nephew from the German side of my family, Gottfried von Heldenwurst.

They will be mounting a ‘Last Night of the Proms’ style concert which should offer a range of different musical styles. If you don’t like the first piece, another one will be along shortly. We must not run before we can walk – or should I say promenade? I believe Walton’s Portsmouth Point Overture is on the programme. If you click here you should be able to find it on Spotify.

Finally, I must request you to cease viewing your new project as having ‘ideas above your station’. The great composer Haydn was the son of a blacksmith. Genius, as I have often found on my travels across the globe, does not baulk at mere class. Be bold. Be adventurous. Be forthright.

Dear me, I may have to go and have a lie down for half an hour in a darkened room.

Please keep me apprised of your adventures. Should you wish to find me alone, I shall be sunbathing in the small walled garden on Sunday, if the weather is fine.

Yours sincerely

Ophelia Effingham

(Lady Effingham of Blindingham)

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