Thursday, June 14, 2018

Bruckner- oops!

Jascha Horenstein (1898 - 1973)
Jascha Horenstein was marvellous conductor, particularly of Mahler and Bruckner.   He was one of the rare conductors who was really admired by orchestral musicians.  The recordings we did of Mahler’s 1st and 2nd symphonies in Barking Town Hall were really outstanding.
However, one memory stands out of a performance in the Royal Festival Hall of Bruckner’s 7th symphony  (the one with the beautiful slow movement of Wagner tubas).  This symphony has a long scherzo followed by a long trio and then returns to the long scherzo.   During the evening performance,  as we arrived at the end of the first scherzo it was clear that Horenstein thought the movement was ended. Somehow the entire orchestra sensed that he had forgotten the trio, so that with his next down-beat we started the finale.  After a few seconds Horenstein’s face showed absolute shock as he realised that he was set to do the shortest performance ever of that symphony.  Poor man.
Roger Birnstingl 

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Expressive violin concertos by three unfamiliar names have recently made a well-deserved break into the recording world. The most dramatic of these three scintillating works is that from the seasoned Great War composer Gordon Jacob. His concerto, composed 30 years after that conflict's conclusion, is still an abject reflection of that period and its haunting memories.
The three movements move from a contemplative opening through a prayer-like andante and finally to a reflective but optimistic allegro finale.

Gordon Jacob (1897 - 1996) was taken prisoner during the First World War. While in the camp, with several other musicians, he formed an orchestra and composed and arranged for the oddly balanced forces available. This gave him a valuable insight into how to write for each instrument so that the notes 'lie well' for the fingers, and to understand unusual instrumental combinations. Later in life this expertise made him much sought-after by several more famous names, for help with their orchestration. His book 'Orchestral Technique' is still a much valued reference book.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Early Years - getting the right sound

When we started publishing, we were also teaching wind instruments. We agreed that the most important thing for our students to get right at the beginning was the sound.

'It doesn't matter how fast and fancy you can play - if your  sound isn't good, people won't invite you to play more than once!' we told them.
The trouble with putting beginners into a wind band is that they are playing in a LOUD environment, and the quality of their sound gets little attention. This is why we created the Schools Wind Series.
Emerson Edition No.2, the first of the series, was a simple Bach Sarabande, arranged to our recipe by Lamont Kennaway. The instrumentation reflected what was generally available in schools at the time: plenty of flutes and clarinets, and an oboe and bassoon if you were lucky. The occasional horn was a bonus.
Although the piece is short there are plenty of opportunities to learn how to listen to each other, match phrasing, allow another instrument to be heard above one's own, and give attention to accents, dynamics and all the other good musical grammar that is often drowned out in a wind band. Careful rehearsal, with different pairs of instruments matching their tone and phrasing - then coming together with the whole group - holds the pupils' interest. They find it more rewarding than just galloping through a sequence of loud, jolly stuff.
The sound made by our groups of students was a balanced chamber music sound. Some of them are still making a beautiful sound - in the music profession.

Schools Wind Series

E2     Bach/Kennaway - Sarabande (2fl. ob. 3cl. bn.) Grade 3/4
E47   Bach/Emerson - Three Sarabandes (2fl. ob. 3cl. bn.) Grade 3/4
E172 Geoffrey Emerson arr. - Christmas Pieces (2fl. ob. 3cl. bn. hn.) Grade 3/4
E7    Ronald Hanmer - Suite for Seven (2fl. ob. 3cl. bn.) Grade 3/4
E52  Ronald Hanmer - Serenade for Seven (2fl. ob. 3cl. bn.) Grade 3/4
E22  Thomas Lowe - Suite of Dances (2fl. ob. 3cl. bn. 2hn.) Grade 5
E23  Schubert/Emerson - Scherzo & Trio in F (2fl. ob. 3cl. (2cl. hn.) bn.) Grade 3/4
E61  Schubert/Emerson - Scherzo & Trio in g minor (2fl. ob. 3cl. bn) Grade 3/4
E24  Whitlock/Emerson - Folk Tune (2fl. ob. 3cl. bn. hn.) Grade 3/4

Find them on the Advanced Search - Series Title - SCHOOLS WIND SERIES

Thursday, May 3, 2018


AndrĂ© Previn - conductor (     )

One good thing about AndrĂ© Previn was that he had a good sense of humour so that when the following happened he nearly fell off the podium laughing.  It was a performance in the Flanders Festival in Bruges of Berlioz Fantastic Symphony. In the 'March to the Scaffold' the Dies Irae is played. The tubular bells join in at one point,  but on this occasion some joker had stuffed a duster up one of the bells.  The result was a boom, boom, boom, pshut  at which point the poor percussionist fell on his knees trying to extract the duster.  It was with the greatest difficulty that Previn could continue the performance.
Roger Birnstingl


Thursday, April 12, 2018

THOSE FOUR NOTES - Tchaikovsky Symphony No.6
the bassoonist's nightmare

 by Roger Birnstingl

is very puzzlinIt g why Tchaikovsky didn’t put those four notes on the bass clarinet, an instrument he used quite a lot, particularly in his ballet music, the Manfred Symphony and more. There must have been some technical reason why he chose the bassoon and this we shall never know. It is the only occasion that I have seen a bassoon part of any work with four pppp, so he must have known that he was asking a lot.
He conducted the first performance  himelf, shortly before his death. It's impossible to know whether the bassoonist played this passage on that occasion. My guess is that he did, and it was a disaster so that from then on it was played on the bass clarinet. Interestingly it remains in the  bassoon part and in the printed score. 
I have only had to play this bit on two occasions. The first was at the RFH with Markevitch conducting the LSO. I had got through the opening solo and was feeling relieved that the worst was over. Jack Brymer was in the middle of his long solo when I became aware that the bass clarinettist was looking at me with a desperate expression indicating that his instrument was not working. No choice for me but to play the notes for him, and with the reed I had on which was not the one I had used for the opening.
Jack, being a real pro, made a subtle crescendo towards my entry so that I could play fairly comfortably thinking ‘better too loud than not at all’. Amazingly, Markevitch gave me a bow at the end although I am sure that most of the audience had no idea why he had got me to stand up.
The other time was when the bass clarinettist of the Suisse Romande, a friend of mine, asked me to do this because he would have had a completely free week and wanted to go away. This concert was right in the middle so of course I agreed and worked out some tricks with a duster in the bell and the Bb key closed with a rubber band.

Roger Birnstingl started playing the bassoon at age 14. He was educated at Bedales School and later studied with Archie Camden at the Royal College of Music in London.
He has served as principal bassoonist of the London Philharmonic (1956–1958), the Royal Philharmonic (1961–1964) and the London Symphony Orchestra (1964–1977). He later served as principal bassoonist with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande until his retirement in 1997. He is currently professor of bassoon at the Geneva Conservatoire. He is also a joint president of the British Double Reed Society.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The story of E1

It was 1972 and I had been supplying music to young wind players and their teachers for about a year. Teaching wind instruments in schools was still a fairly new thing, and there was very little music written that was suitable for young beginners. I paid a visit to the British Music Information Centre and looked through random boxes of manuscripts, searching for a style that looked fairly easy. That was how I discovered the name Raymond Parfrey. He seemed to have written several pieces that were tuneful and uncomplicated, so I got in touch with him. He was very interested, but at that precise moment he was doing a commission for alto flute. How interesting! Not exactly suitable for young beginners, but there was very little published for alto flute. Why not take it on?

I had been listening to advice from established music publishers for a while, with the idea of doing some publishing myself. The first sensible thing to do of course would be to publish something that would be popular and sell well. Another suggestion was to number your publications with a numerical prefix of some sort, so that it looked as if you had been publishing a large quantity for years.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm not very good at taking advice. This is why I began with E1 - Lyric Moment for alto flute.

Innocent and undaunted I took a copy into London and started calling in to some of the major music shops to see if they would buy one. On the whole they were encouraging and gentlemanly (yes, all the buyers were blokes then), patting me on the head and taking a copy. I was a music publisher, and over the moon!

Raymond Parfrey 1928 - 2008

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Gordon Jacob 1895 - 1983
It was in 1974 that a concert was given in Hertfordshire by a clarinet choir. That was a relatively unknown combination in those days, but Gordon Jacob had written a piece Introduction and Rondo that was to receive its first performance that day. We were asked whether we could give him a lift to the venue, and I sat behind him in the car. He confided to us that he had never actually heard a clarinet choir, but he was such a master of orchestration that it was a great piece, and the players and audience loved it.
My music business (JEWM) had been running for three years, and we were beginning to publish new works for young players. The repertoire for beginners at that time was very limited, as learning wind instruments in schools was still a new venture. I was particularly annoyed that beginner brass players were usually asked to play a brass band part as their exam piece. It would be unaccompanied, and make very little sense without the rest of the band, but there was not much else suitable.
As we drove along I went into a bit of a soap-box speech about the fact that young players needed good music when they were learning, not just simple ditties written 'down to their level'. They need to be taught with well-written music of stature and quality.
Very soon after, through the post, came Four Little Pieces for trumpet or cornet and piano - from Gordon Jacob. It soon went on to the AB exam syllabus and has remained there on and off ever since. Many other pieces followed, and through that chance transport problem a long friendship was established. Isn't life wonderful?

Cover illustration by Timothy Macpherson aged 12.