O Come all ye faithful- A Songmakers’ Christmas Carol

Reading again this piece (and please,please do)that was as much as I could remember of Graham’s own words last November there is very little to add. ………….beauty,integrity,loyalty,commitment,faithfulness and above all friendship are wonderful things to be reminded of particularly in this Christmas period.
Words that are fast becoming obselete ……for many….far too many………I cherish those for whom these values still have some meaning and are a guiding beacon in life …..Graham for me and many others is just such a shining light.
A Winter Birthday to cherish

The ever elegant Janet Suzman toasting the wonderful journey they had just shared with us
“But Graham you don`t have to play every note as though someone was sticking a knife into you” exhorted John Streets to the seventeen year old boy from South Africa at our Chamber Music Lessons that we shared as freshers at the RAM.
“But you do ,you do!! ” shrieked the 80 year old Janet Suzman “It makes all the difference”
……and it certainly does as the last note in a magical Christmas Songmakers`Almanac proved today.
Graham kept us spellbound as we waited for him to place a last note of pure gold.
“Don’t put your daughter on the stage” they all sang ……
………….but just you try to keep `em off it!
No logistics or music 360 degrees but pure jewels showered onto an audience seduced,ravished and even a little bewildered that such an evening could still exist in a world where vulgarity and speed seem to have taken the place of beauty and timelessness.

Graham with a musician admirer and next door neighbour backstage
How could I not exclaim to Janet Suzman how wonderful it was to see her back on stage?
It has been too long !
I enthusiastically told her how wonderfully elegant she was with her ruby red velvet ‘spolverino’ over a very ‘slinky’ black evening dress.
Red and black – just like my theatre in Rome ….it is the most elegant combination of colours as I have learnt over the years since asking the great set designer Eugenio Guglielminetti what colour we should paint the the ceilings and woodwork of our theatre in Rome.
The walls we had covered with ruby red velvet that had been passed through a machine to make it look antique and warm.
My wife the distinguished actress Ileana Ghione trusted her childhood friend ………..but when he said “black” we spent many sleepless nights with the seed of doubt!
There was no doubt once seen.
And as proven today.
It is of an elegance which suited the refined artistry of one of England’s greatest actresses.

On stage at the Wigmore Hall
How could I not exclaim to my student friend that he looks ever more like his mentor Gerald Moore.
An elegant dinner jacket and bow tie so rare these days when artists arrive before the public in a black shirt or even worse a white polo neck!
My old piano teacher Sidney Harrison well known for his informed and intelligent radio and TV broadcasts would always put on a tie and jacket when the red light came on.
There is a sense of occasion that is so often missing these days.
The feeling that when the curtain goes up – or that famous door opens in the Wigmore Hall – there should be something magic that happens.
A tingle of something that is unique to a performance shared with people who have travelled far and wide to experience what cannot be experienced at home with a CD or video player.
As Gilels used to say it is the difference between fresh or canned food!
And so it was tonight that in this hall where we are so often treated to all the Sonatas or Quartets of Beethoven or Schubert.The 48 Preludes and Fugues or complete works of Bach.Complete song cycles etc etc.
All marvellously played by artists with an extraordinary genial capacity to be able to play entire cycles and then repeat them a few days or even hours later in the same hall or on the other side of the globe.
It is rare though to find a programme pieced together with the loving care and attention that Graham has treated us to with his Songmakers’ Almanac over the past forty years.

Linn Rothstein with Ailish Tynan and Theodore Platt
But within these evenings we are treated to some sumptuous performances of music, poetry and song.
How could one not be ravished by the beauty of Graham’s playing in the Strauss “Three Kings.”Or moved by “The Birds” of Benjamin Britten.
The truly ravishing voices of Ailish Tynan,Anna Huntley or Theodre Platt (making his Wigmore debut!).
The refined authority of Janet Suzman and a Graham Johnson who can at last take the stage as actor and not be upstaged by one of our greatest living actresses.

The company with William Lyne sitting so comfortably on the head of John Gilhooly
I well remember Gerald Moore in his farewell performance at the RFH where not only the music will be cherished for ever but also his very witty speech given with the timing and inflection of a great actor.
Exhorting us not to come back stage as there were so many friends wishing to say farewell that it might mean that Elisabeth, Victoria and Dieter might miss their last buses home!
His final performance poignantly on his own on the vast stage of the Festival Hall will never be forgotten by those lucky enough to be present.
No video exists Thank God!
How could we forget “The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole” or “Christmas Presents “ where grown ups we are told need Father Christmas more that children!
Or be reminded of the sublime words of Thomas Hardy
Letting their hair down with Harry Woods hilarious “Poor Papa – He’s got nothin’ at all” alla Scott Joplin with Theodore Platt or the fun and games they all had with Poulenc “We want a little sister”.
The first half ended with Hugo Wolf’s “Epiphany” where the three singers sneaked off one by one until poor Graham was left alone still playing on stage!

Distinguished audience too with Roman Simovic ,leader of the LSO and his equally distinguished viola playing wife Milena.With Linn Rothstein,the pianist and Graham’s next door neighbour with the first clarinet of the Copenhagen Philharmonic:Franco Pedro Lopez
Nice to be reminded after the interval with “Mistletoe from Fraser’s 1835 Magazine” and that Beethoven had a sense of humour too in “The Kiss.”
Kodaly was born on the same day as Beethoven in 1882 as was Noel Coward in 1899.
The beautifully suggestive Kodaly “Sadly rustle the leaves” was contrasted with the wonderful fun of Coward exhorting “Mrs Worthington” not to put her daughter on the stage!
It was nice to be reminded too of Herbert Howells,who I often used to see at the RCM, with his beautiful “Come Sing and Dance” from Ailish Tynan.It was followed by the equally beautiful Charles Ives “Christmas Carol” from the creamy rich voice of Anna Huntley.
All three singers had such fun with the Humperdinck Christmas finale.
But it was Graham Johnson placing the final note of the evening with such loving care that will always remain in my memory for a long time to come.
It was a special occasion that will never be forgotten.
Mitsuko Uchida said the other day to one of her admiring public who wanted to take a photo backstage: “I do not like photos or selfies or people secretly recording concerts.They should remain like a beautiful memory of an unforgettable shared experience and not suddenly posted on social media.”
Perchance to dream indeed.
We were reminded tonight that dreams do still exist!

Graham Johnson, John Gilhooly, Janet Suzman,Ailish Tynan, Anna Huntley ,Theodore Platt

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