Friday 29 August 2008

Job and me

In 1972 I was a lowly viola on the back desk of the Grimsby, Cleethorpes and District Youth Orchestra. The orchestra was the most senior of 3 and was looked after by 3 conductors, the most distinctive and charismatic being Geoffrey Babb. He had a knack of being able to bring off unusual and challenging works such as Malcolm Williamson's The Stone Wall and Rubbra's 3rd Symphony.

For the RVW centenary he decided that we would play excerpts from Job. We did the 1st movement and from number 6 to the end. We started rehearsing with number 6, the dance of Job's comforters. For a start it was the first time I'd played in an orchestra which included a bass clarinet and a saxophone (the orchestra also add a wind band from which to draw these players).

The sounds of the opening of the movement with the saxophone solo made a profound impression on me. At that time, classical music was (for me) Schubert, Mendelssohn and Bach (though I had studied Bartok as part of my O level music). RVW's world was new and entrancing, it blew me away and started a love affair with the composer that has gone on ever since.

We took the work on tour when we visited Bremerhaven, in Germany, that summer. I remember that we had to perform the RVW without the harp part (played on the piano) because the piano in the theatre was tuned to higher continental pitch. Later in the tour we played the RVW at a school, though I seem to remember the pupils being restive and puzzled by RVW's music.

In later life I never heard Adrian Boult conduct Job live, but did finally hear it in concert at the Royal Festival Hall with Vernon Handley. But the most memorable performance was when Birmingham Royal Balled brought their staging of Dame Ninette de Valois's ballet to the Royal Opera House. I know that some people find the ballet undramatic, but for me the combination of RVW's music and de Valois's movement created something beautifully meditative and moving. I'd love so see it again.

I remember reading that Nureyev had tried to persuade the Royal Ballet to revive Job so that he could dance Satan (the only really dancing role in the ballet, memorably taken by Anton Dolin and Robert Helpman). In the end they revived her ballet of The Rakes Progress and Nureyev never danced Satan. Our loss.

The Royal Ballet lost the original sets to Job in a fire. They had been designed by RVW's cousin, Gwen Raverat. After the war the designs were re-done by John Piper (I think), but RVW always preferred Raverat's versions. It would be interesting perhaps if the Royal Opera House could revive Job with Raverat's desiggs recreated. Small hope of this, I fear

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