Nightmare Romance Bernard Herrmann & Alfred Hitchcock

Günther Kögebehn
June 2006

The Music

A very unusual Herrmann event at the Barbican in London on March 17 2006. And here’s a very short report.

The Music (performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra unless indicated):

The City (under narrator)
Conversation Piece
Mount Rushmore Sequence
Hornpipe Polka
Jigsaws (quintet)
New Dawn Music (quintet)
Kane’s Picnic (quintet)
Chronicle Scherzo
Fire Engine
The Bedroom
Reading (quintet)
Captain’s Death (orchestra and quintet)
The Road (orchestra and Bill Frisell, guitar)
Main and End Titles
The Nightmare
Scene D’Amour
Main Title (by Oskar Sala and a lot of birds) (under narration)
The Rainstorm
Temptation (duet: Bill Frisell, guitar and Gil Goldstein, celeste)
The Madhouse
The Murder
The Stairs
The Knife
Autumn Afternoon
Waltz Macabre
The Closet/Harvest Eve/Slumber
The Doctor
The Hunt
Blood and Coda
TAXI DRIVER (orchestra with quintet)
Night Prowl

BBC Concert Orchestra
Joel McNeely, conductor

The quintet:
Greg Cohen, bass
Bill Frisell, guitar
Erik Charlston, percussion and vibes
Gil Goldstein, celeste and piano
Marty Ehrlich, saxophone and winds

Kerry Shale, narrator

Arrangements and musical direction by Joel McNeely and Greg Cohen
Conceived and produced by Danny Kapilian


The Report

The Barbican Centre

When I had the chance to attend the event on St Patrick’s Day at the Barbican Centre in London, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Danny Kapilian didn’t release a concert schedule beforehand so it was anyone’s guess to what actually was going to be performed that night.

I expected the jazz quintet to be involved doing Taxi Driver or The Day the Earth Stood Still or playing a session before the interval, so it was a total surprise to see what actually happened. Concert wouldn’t do it justice. It was a multi-media event with film clips, a narrator imitating Herrmann and Hitchcock, a great symphony orchestra and five excellent jazz musicians, but somehow it felt like someone tried to put too much into one evening.

An ambitious plan, but personally I think it was a mistake to mix the jazz quintet with a symphony orchestra. The jazz musicians were fantastic and jazz improvs on Herrmann’s music are not a bad idea at all. In separate sessions or a concert they would have worked a lot better. Actually something like this did happen in New York a month earlier at “Joe’s Pub” and according to one report it was very enjoyable. With a slightly different line-up performing: Marty Ehrlich, Ted Rosenthal, Erik Charlston, Brad Shepik and Greg Cohen played selections from several Herrmann scores over there, but back to that evening in London.

One felt Joel McNeely slightly overextended himself, not being able to get it all together. But one has to remind that Mr McNeely is primarily a fine composer and a solid studio conductor. But live concerts are a different animal and all things considered he did quite well what must have been one of his first live concerts with a major orchestra in Europe. And a quite difficult concert/event it was.

Overall it was an interesting experiment with excellent musical selections and good performances, but some things sadly didn’t work as well as they should have. But it was an all Herrmann concert in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Bill Frisell! And one got to hear superb live performances of North by Northwest, Vertigo, Marnie, Psycho and Taxi Driver amongst others.

In the end a unique experience that raises the awareness of Herrmann’s music beyond typical film music circles. Speaking of them, amongst the crowd in the Barbican I could spot producer Robert Townson of Varese Sarabande Records and composer David Arnold of the James Bond movies…


The Press

And some voices from the press:

“Frisell is more interesting as a collaborator than as a leader in his own right, and there was something to be said for hearing a circle of improvisers carry us far beyond note-for-note re-creations. It didn’t entirely work in the end — Frisell and Co often seemed a peripheral presence — but it was a brave notion, all the same.” -Clive Davis, The Times

“The improvisers rewrote the script a little, adding surprises such as Bill Frisell’s eruption of electronic sound at the end of The Trouble With Harry. Sometimes they interpreted an entire cue without orchestra: a sleazy jazz quintet for Citizen Kane, more abstract timbres for Psycho.” -John L Walters, The Guardian

“The quartet (sic) was specially assembled to re-interpret Herrmann’s orchestrations and performed cues from Psycho and The Trouble With Harry, among others. While it was an original concept and some of the pieces worked fairly well, I think it generally raised a few eyebrows and became a little tiresome, particularly The Trouble With Harry which was quite lengthy.” -Michael Beek, Music from the Movies


The Programme


Special thanks to Matt Perkins and Nick Haysom