New video: BBC does satirical take on contemporary music

New video: BBC does satirical take on contemporary music


norman lebrecht

August 11, 2015

andrew davis

Get the point? We neither.

Schoolboy humour, or just scatology?



  • Furzwängler says:

    Brilliant! Also getting Lang Lang on board. And indeed it does sound like any amount of “modern” music I can think of…

  • Thielemann Skeptik says:

    Load of rubbish. If this video were actually clever it would make humour that actually incorporates the way an orchestra works rather. Anyone with basic software can put silly noises with video.

    • Furzwängler says:

      The conductor is Sir Andrew Davis, currently principal conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago and a past conductor of the Last Night of The Proms in London – this last event requiring a speech de rigeur at the end of the evening before the assembled thousands in the Royal Albert Hall. Davis was well liked for his impish sense of humour and gentle irony in these speeches. To appreciate these does require, of course that one possesses a sense of humour oneself .

      • Derek Castle says:

        Ghastly! Who says that Sir Andrew (with his ‘impish humour’) agreed to this rubbish.

        The BBC (if indeed they are responsible) employ the unintelligent to fiddle with things we have been happy with for decades:
        Wimbledon Match of the Day needed a public outcry after it had been turned into the biggest embarrassment sport has ever witnessed.
        Now we have Proms on TV for idiots in special slots (Thursday night for concertos, Sundays for symphonies) – bearable if Sir Mark Elder didn’t have to interrupt a symphony after each movement to explain what it’s all about. God help us! I hope they’re paying him well. (“And if you want to see that performance by Modern Toss, you can catch it on the I-player for the next six years.” ) Excuse me while I grab the sick bucket.

        • Derek Castle says:

          And for those without a sense of humour, ‘Furz’ is German for ‘fart’, so Furzwängler….

          • Furzwängler says:

            Oh dear, I would never have guessed!. How clever you are, did you work it out for yourself? Or did you need someone who can understand German?

          • Derek Castle says:

            Oh dear ! Touchy, Mr Anonymous…..

          • Furzwängler says:

            Seems I was right about your knowledge of German, eh Mr “Derek Castle”?

          • Derek Castle says:

            Oh dear! Like a dog with a bone. FYI that is my real name. I just happened to live and work in Germany for over 30 years and it was usually children who made jokes about farting. But to each his own. And now, not wishing to impinge upon the more serious posts on this page, I shall say ‘Gute Nacht’ and sign off.

      • Flossie says:

        Indeed, I loved being part of Sir Andrew’s “Modern Major General” performance during one of his memorable “last night” speeches – great fun. However the video compilation above is rubbish and doesn’t reflect his humour at all.

  • Flossie says:

    Not funny, not useful, not helpful. What the f-ck? Insulting. I have a very well-developed sense of humour.

    • DESR says:

      Anyone who says that they ‘have a very well-developed sense of humour’ you can be very sure is a stranger to it.

      Rather like when someone says ‘it’s not about the money’ means… It’s all about the money!

      • Flossie says:

        Dear Desr, you are completely wrong. You know nothing about me so how can you presume? We may not find the same sort of things funny but that is not the same as not having a sense of humour.

  • James says:

    I found it funny. I particularly liked 1:25. @Flossie: I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to be “useful” or “helpful”. I can’t imagine who it insults.

    • Flossie says:

      Having worked with Sir Andrew recently and colleagues featured here, I am well aware of his wonderful sense of humour – and theirs. It is neither clever nor funny.

      • will says:

        Hear, hear, agreed (Sir A.D. neither clever nor funny)!

      • Christy says:

        What sort of colleague writes on a public blog that their fellow colleague is neither clever nor funny? A fired one, perhaps? Or one who doesn’t care to work with this person again? Or perhaps just one who is essentially an unkind person?

        • Flossie says:

          Christy, I meant that the video compilation is neither clever nor funny. Sir Andrew Davies is great to work with, very funny – as are the members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Your assumptions after that in your statement are way off beam, nasty and presumptious.

    • Anon says:

      Agreed. Worthy of a little giggle. A harmless and amusing diversion.

  • Bette Solomon says:

    Cannot view from the US yet, but I bet it’s funny. There’s not a better target than contemporary music, imho.

  • Mark Shulgasser says:

    Video is unavailable in my country.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The Central New Music Committee in the Netherlands has blocked the video for inland consumption, apparantly in an attempt to protect the Party Line.

  • Brian b says:

    Unfortunately, not available in the U.S. But it would have to go some way to beat “The Barber of Darmstadt” parody in the Hoffnung Festival albums.

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    A new low for SD, reporting such rubbish !

    • norman lebrecht says:

      A new low for the BBC, surely?

      • Flossie says:

        Indeed, a new low for the BBC. I have great difficulty believing that either the musicians or the conductor would have agreed to this spoof being released. I can only surmise that the players had no choice in the matter as they are under contract to the BBC? The BBC Symphony Orchestra have always excelled at playing difficult modern music and Sir Andrew Davies is one of the best conductors I work with. This is a poor attempt at a parody.

  • Dov Hoz says:

    What a shameful use of Stockhausen’s greatest hits without attribution or acknowledgement! Someone needs to alert his Estate, they could sue the BBC for infringement of copyright, and get millions in damages.

    • Derek Castle says:

      The Puccini Trust settled out of court with Sir Andrew (Lord) Lloyd Webber over his ‘accidental’ misappropriation for his Phantom of the Opera of a famous 8 note phrase from the first act of Fanciulla. Does anyone know what they squeezed out of him? Some say it is a small sum of money for each time Phantom is performed around the world.

  • JB says:

    The video seems to be blocked in Australia, where Sir Andrew Davis has recently renewed his contract with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

  • En Route says:

    Video not available in Austria

  • Marc says:

    John Bortslap, That nonsense in Darmstadt or wherever it was in the video you linked is truly nonsense– I gather that Modern Toss was at least intended, by someone, to be amusing (not that, here in the US, I can view it).

    • John Borstlap says:

      No, it was meant as a serious ‘transcendence of boundaries’ in an attempt to overcome the limitations of progress.


    “Impish sense of humour”? Read what happened when Schoenberg disciple Hans Keller, impish super-brain in charge of New Music at the BBC, secretly used the BBC Maida Vale Studios to concoct a sequence of squeaks, plops and bangs in cahoots with pianist Susan Bradshaw and a recording engineer. He attributed it to a fictitious modernist composer, Piotr Zak. Being in charge of New Music output, Keller had no trouble getting it scheduled for broadcast in the flagship Thursday Invitation Concert on what was the forerunner of Radio 3:

    Pundits and critics who’d greeted the work with deeply-argued, scholarly plaudits were not amused when the truth emerged.

    This wasn’t a spoof reliant on adding farts to TV pictures on a laptop. It was in a different league. Two distinguished practitioners of the avant garde were holding up a mirror to pretentiousness, and it actually sounded like a real piece of contemporary music sneaked into the BBC’s prime music network to test listeners presumed to be blessed with discerning ears. It had a believable title, not an ignorant one (you won’t find “in E flat Major” on a CD or in Radio Times).

    That’s why it worked. This childish clip will raise a titter here and there but if it really originates at the BBC it does represent a new low in (to use a Keller word) witlessness.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There is quite a repertoire of modern music irony of which I still prefer the 12-tone commercial by Matthias Bamert:

      As with concept art in the visual field: critique, arguments, irony, hoaxes, sarcasm etc. don’t have an effect upon the perpetrators because they are imune to rational or aesthetic discourse. The movement has never been a form of art, but the successful attempt to create something fundamentally new, next to art and next to music. So, any critique from the artistic territory was, and still is, something like criticizing a banana that it is a really bad apple. The best critique is to criticize the banana of trying to be an apple.

      • Hilary says:

        This has always amused me.
        There’s something affectionate about the wit, and of course it’s deliberately misguided as most of the music featured isn’t 12-tone anyway eg.Rite of Spring and Three Orchestral Pieces.

        As for the inane Andrew Davis spoof…..

    • Derek Castle says:

      Well put, Mr Greenberg. Totally agree. Have we got anyone on TV today as good as Hans Keller was when talking about music?

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    The problem with the Piotr Zak incident was that it was done by highly skilled people like the late Susan Bradshaw and some quality couldn’t help but creep through. A bit like the Stockhausen intuitive pieces.

    • John Borstlap says:

      What?! ‘Some quality’…? Of which kind? If anything can have artistic quality, then nothing can. We would have to completely redefine the notion of ‘randomness’ and ‘quality’- which, it must be said, has been tried already extensively in the musical avantgarde movement from the fities onwards.

  • Tim Panist says:

    #1 Why has everyone apparently assumed that this is necessarily a satire on “contemporary” composition? Rather than just some harmless messing about for amusement (of some). Too sensitive…

    #2 Just to note that much of the video is actually from a Vienna Philharmonic Prom performance of the Alpine Symphony cond Haitink, not the BBCSO. This should at least please detractors of said band who may (or may not) lurk hereabouts…

  • di says:

    There are loads of these types of overdubbed videos on YouTube – they are called ‘shreds’ – aimed at people who take themselves too seriously……