Walking in the Air

Rachel Whibley has not so much been ‘walking in the air’ as on it since she gathered some friends together to play the soundtrack for The Snowman – live! as the famous animated film was been screened – minus the original soundtrack, of course!

Ever since the first performances around this time two years ago, it has proved resoundingly successful with audiences young (especially!) and old adoring it; but just don’t take their word for it – last year it was No 2 in The Guardian’s ‘Top 10 things to do at Christmas 2014!’

The initial idea for it was born some 15 years ago during the four years that Rachel – bassoonist in the Northern Chamber Orchestra while also ‘sitting in’ with the likes The Hallé and BBC Phil – worked in Ireland with the RTE Orchestra in Dublin.

On one occasion the orchestra did exactly what she is doing now with her own ‘Snowman’ orchestra. Been “struck by the emotional impact it had on the audience” in Dublin, she determined to recreate the experience in Glossop.

It took her a while to actually do it, but she did have family to bring up when she moved back to Glossop (nr Manchester) with husband Dan who, after spells with RTE Orchestra and Hallé, is now co-principal double bass with the BBC Philharmonic.

It was from its ranks, those of The Hallé, Royal Liverpool Phil, her own Northern Chamber Orchestra and Manchester Camerata that Rachel primarily gathered the aforementioned friends, including the last two’s principal horn Naomi Atherton, of Ensemble 360 note!

It created a formidable body of 26 musicians to play Howard Blake’s score for the 1982 animated film and perfectly synchronises with it under the direction of The Hallé’s contrabassoon principal and part-time conductor Steven Magee.

He has the added task this year of ensuring that it syncs with a newly created animated film of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite by Tom Scott, which has been going down extremely well with audiences.

Not surprising, really, as it looks absolutely charming from the snippets that can be found at www.carrotproductions.com a company set up by Rachel on the back on the huge success of The Snowman performances.

It, and the Nutcracker are at the City Hall, 1.30pm and 7pm, on Monday, the 14th of December.

Singing that song, Walking in the Air, will be ten-year-old Natasha Flounders from St Thomas More School (1.30pm performance) and 14-year-old Connie Campbell from All Saints High School (7pm) who beat off 20 other Sheffield hopefuls that auditioned at the end of October.


Miss Liberty Revealed

Irving Berlin’s Miss Liberty, getting its UK concert premiere at Firth Hall next week, had impeccable pre-premiere credentials in 1949.

Berlin with Annie Get Your Gun just under his belt, wrote the music and lyrics, triple Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Sherwood the book, Moss Hart was the director and, when show opened on Broadway after a four-week run in Philadelphia, Jerome Robbins the choreographer.

As most people will never have heard of the show, it is pointless to say it never caught on. The New York critics generally hammered it, as had those in Philadelphia where, in actual fact, every performance was a sell-out.

Many of its songs became popular hits at the time and it seems 98 singles were released along with three albums of the show’s tunes, one of them presumably being the original New York cast recording.

The show had been Sherwood’s idea after being moved by seeing what the Statue of Liberty meant to American GIs in World War Two and Berlin took to the idea when he approached him with it.

The playwright duly devised a scenario about the woman who had posed for the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France should you not know.

In a nutshell: a rookie reporter, Horace Miller, is sent to France to discover who the statue artist, Bartholdi’s model was. Entering Bartholdi’s studio, he sees Monique DuPont posing as the statue and naturally assumes it was she.

Taking her and her infamous grandmother, the ‘Countess’, to America, Monique is horrified to find out who she is supposed to be, but reluctantly goes along with the deception. Then the model is revealed as actually being Bartholdi’s mother . . .!

It was Sherwood’s first and last attempt to write for the musical stage. Moss Hart would have been aware of its shortcomings, but Sherwood continually refused to alter it, except once before the show opened in New York!

One of the things Hart may well have picked up on was one hero, Horace, and two girls, Monique and his American girlfriend Maisie whom he ditches at the end for no reason in favour of Monique.

All three are of equal importance dramatically and, musically, just about carry the show away from the ensembles, except for two notable exceptions, the Countess’s witty Only For Americans and the rather lovely Paris Wakes Up and Smiles sung by a lamplighter.

There are delightful songs in it – hence, 98 singles recorded! Horace’s A Little Fish in a Big Pond, his two duets with Monique, Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk and Just One Way to Say I Love You, and Maisie’s ragtime-inflected The Policeman’s Ball, all bear mention.

A clever duet for the two girls, You Can Have Him, is worth noting and then there is Berlin’s unabashed patriotism at the end, his setting of the Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the statue “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” sung by Monique(!) and chorus.

But this was not the Berlin of Annie Get Your Gun or his subsequent Call Me Madam the year after Miss Liberty.

Jule Styne’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes put an end to the show on Broadway and such things as South Pacific and Kiss Me Kate were also contemporary with Berlin’s show, which must have seemed old-fashioned and in, all honesty, was if that is considered a failing.

Engaging music yes, but it never had a chance!