Friday 30 January 2015

Desert Island Discs - Record five - Wagner's Ring conducted by Georg Solti


1979-80 was undoubtedly the apex of my musical life, and it began with listening to the complete Ring cycle of opera's by Richard Wagner - on vinyl LP and a state of the art HiFi system, with a couple of friends, following the whole thing on scores, cocooned by the sensory isolation of a soundproof room in an underground 'bunker' administered by the Music department. In between we talked and read Wagner

The impact of living and breathing the mythic world Wagner for these four days was overpowering - and the mood lasted for several weeks afterwards - I recall a walking holiday in the English Lake District with my brother when almost everything seemed to remind me of the Teutonic woods and landscape, and I was continually more-than-half-expecting to find nymphs in the streams and wicked dwarves popping out from behind rocks.

The following year I was sharing a flat with some music students, one of whom was one probably the most 'musical' person I have ever known - he later became a BBC Radio Three producer, and then bought his own concert hall and recording studio.

I attended pretty much all the classical music concerts in the city and university - selling programmes at the main concert hall to get free tickets. I sang in tow Gilbert and Sullivan shows in lead parts (high baritone/ tenor) and sang tenor in large choral works with the auditioned Newcastle Bach Choir, and in a Chamber Choir of just twelve voices which was founded by the music students (and is still going, 35 years later).

Other highlights included attending a rehearsal with Sir Charles Groves conducting Das Rheingold, giving Sir Michael Tippet a birthday present on his 75th birthday, and later attending his birthday concert in London - travelling back five hours on the overnight train to arrive in Newcastle at 05.00h and going to medical school lectures the next day after only two hours of sleep!

Outside of classical music I played folk music on the accordion - at one point accompanying an impromptu ceilidh in the depths of Northumberland playing with the Duke of Northumberland's official bagpiper, busking for the Rag charity, and playing 'Scotland the Brave' in a country dance band made up entirely of my six flatmates (accordion, clarinet, guitar, piano, snare drum and double bass) at my 21st birthday party.

I suppose this was 'living at concert pitch' - and there were plenty of other non-musical activities going-on as well; not least learning medicine; and the frenetic year was followed by a bit of a collapse of morale and optimism which took a bit of getting-out-of. Such is what happens if one comes to rely on sequential powerful external pleasurable stimuli for personal happiness - the stimuli inevitably lose their potency, and there comes a point when the dose cannot be increased any further.

As for Wagner, and the Ring cycle - I never really appreciated them again with the same depth and intensity - except for Das Rheingold, which I still regard as a magnificent and mythic achievement.