This week in our NMC Archive is a blog written for our Friends Newsletter by Hannah Vlcek, who worked at NMC for more than 15 years and who shares with us some of her fond memories.
My first day at NMC started a day late. I received a somewhat strained phone call from Jenny Goodwin, then working freelance on CD booklets, asking me to stay at home as (it turned out) my intended manager had vanished; the Trustees had to decide what to do with me. I’ll always be grateful to Bill Colleran, Bayan Northcott, Noel Periton and Colin Matthews for deciding that I might be useful in helping Jenny to tidy up the chaos left by my predecessor. (Of course, my name may have helped: the first, highly efficient NMC Administrator had been Hannah Taylor, née Rogers, and for several years I was joined by NMC’s excellent Sales & Marketing Manager, Hannah Bissett, née Teale.)
For me, the best part of the job had always been arranging and attending recording sessions. My first were for an album of Robert Saxton’s chamber music, produced by Stephen Johns (now an NMC Trustee) and conducted by Christopher Austin at St Silas’s Church in Kentish Town, punctuated by breaks for Mass; very soon after that came the excitement of Elgar’s Symphony No 3 ‘completed’ by Anthony Payne. A small audience was allowed into the cavernous Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale to hear one of the first run-throughs by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Andrew Davis. I sat next to Bayan, trying to guess which parts were Elgar and which Payne, and got them all wrong (the sections that sounded like genuine Elgar to me were, of course, pure Tony.)
I also got the chance to sit in the control room with the engineer and producer. Watching a really good producer at work is fascinating – a mixture of psychology and extreme listening (or occasionally vice versa); at Maida Vale that would be either the legendary Trygg Tryggvason with Andrew Hallifax, Colin with Trygg, or the BBCSO’s own chief producer Ann McKay and engineer Neil Pemberton. Many more recent NMC recordings have been produced, engineered, then edited and mastered by one man, the multi-talented David Lefeber.
However, attending sessions could involve more than score reading and remembering to put five sugars in Trygg’s tea: I have found myself page-turning for several very tolerant pianists, though none so fast as Rolf Hind in Simon Holt’s breakneck Klop’s Last Bite; and, in BCMG sessions (also with Rolf), joining Stephen and Jackie Newbould in providing a hummed background note to Simon’s eco-pavan. The most recent sessions I attended have been among the most rewarding: Hugh Wood’s long-planned song cycles with James Gilchrist and Simon Lepper, and the ‘Watkins Trio’ sessions at Menuhin Hall of Richard, Huw and Paul, for Richard’s album of horn works written for him.
If any NMC Friends reading this are wondering whether it’s worth attending a session: there is no better way (other than performing it yourself) of getting to know the way the music is put together, since you’ll hear it rehearsed, deconstructed and then performed. All you have to do is turn up, and be silent when asked!
Back in the NMC office, I’ve had the pleasure of working on booklets for releases as varied as: Brian Elias’s Laments – which set verses in a near-extinct Greek/Italian dialect, Grico; NMC’s reissue of Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy, proofing its remarkable libretto by Stephen Pruslin; and plunging into the Baroque universe of Gerald Barry’s opera The Intelligence Park, its libretto by Joyce scholar Vincent Deane. Even these though are eclipsed by The NMC Songbook – not only its booklet, with nearly 100 composers and poems and 25 artists, but its planning. Scheduling it was probably the most fun I’ve had with a spreadsheet. It’s a perfect example of how so small an organisation as NMC can be flexible enough to accommodate a unique and expanding project: it was originally meant to be just one disc but ended up as four. And it could never have happened without Iain Burnside.
There has also been the occasional bit of glamour: at the Gramophone Awards for The NMC Songbook, NMC was on the same table as Bryn Terfel, there with the Hallé. As dinner was served, he carried bread rolls around the table, singing ‘Notte e giorno faticar’. This was the one name I could drop to impress my mother, until she heard Judith Weir on Woman’s Hour!
The most valuable part of working for NMC has been the opportunity to work with its catalogue of distinguished composers, artists and ensembles. It has been a privilege to work with Anne, Ellie, Helen and Lucile, with NMC’s invaluable trustees, past and present, and most of all with Colin (whose emails I shall miss particularly – I have fond memories of an early series which purported to be from one K. Stockhausen of Sirius). Thanks, Gustav and Imo. Long live the Blue Sheep.