The first concert ever filmed in colour?

That’s the claim being made for the first DVD release of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult at Canterbury Cathedral on March 29, 1968.

The soloists were Janet Baker, Peter Pears and John Shirley-Quirk; the orchestra was the London Philharmonic, with its choir. Vernon Handley was the assistant conductor and the Canterbury organ was out of order. The BBC organist Charlie Spinks was set up in a parish church two miles away with a closed-ciruit television link.

According to the publicity material (quoting Sir Adrian’s memoirs), the director Brian Large commandeered eight of the nine colour television cameras known to be in the UK at that time.

The performance was broadcast on Easter Sunday, 1968.

Does anyone have memories of the film session?

Recognise themselves in the orchestra and chorus?

Or know of an earlier colour-filmed concert?

icaclassicsicad5140

See also: How to be a lazy conductor.

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  • And if you’re thinking of buying it, don’t fall for Amazon’s £24.99 price, like I just did. It’s only £17.99 on the ICA Classics website (publisher of the DVD).

  • Wonderful to have this historic document available. Can certainly recognise Rodney Friend as concertmaster and I think Marie Wilson sitting with him. She was a long time principal of the BBCSO in its very early years under Sir Adrian.

  • The DVD also comes with a fine documentary originally broadcast in April, 1989 to mark Boult’s centenary. Presented and narrated by Vernon Handley, the programme features a wealth of archive material – including clips of the Gerontius performance – and sections of a fine studio performance from 1970 with the LPO of works by Bliss, Holst and Vaughan Williams – itself an choice candidate for DVD release. ICA take note!

  • My life-changing musical experience was Boult conducting Elgar’s 2nd in Bedford Corn Exchange 1971. On recently I heard a thrilling Brahms 1st on the radio – startlingly dramatic – and it was Boult at the Proms in around 1975! The orchrestra always sounded double the size under Boult as he was the only person, then, with violins on opposite sides. In Elgar or Brahms a revelation.

  • Wonderful conductor, nothing ‘lazy’ about his technique, everything is highly concentrated.

    Acoustics in a church setting often are a liability. I remember only one occasion when it was actually adding to the musical experience, and that was a performance of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ in Ely cathedral, with ornithological additions by some stray birds. While textures still sounded clear, the piece got an entire extra dimension, as if you were sitting IN the music..

  • It’s fantastic to have this performance with three wonderful soloists in their prime – and all singing from memory too. I only wish there was less filming of stained glass windows and ceilings etc and more film of the singers and players.

  • All I can think about is how unpleasant it is to listen to monumental choral-orchestral pieces in big wet cathedrals. I heard a performance of the War Requiem at a cathedral in Boston and it was like a two-hour-long, undifferentiated drone. Perhaps Canterbury Cathedral has a magically decent acoustic – I’ve never heard a performance there – but I sure doubt it!

    • We’ve got some stunning cathedral acoustics in the UK (and a few muddy ones too). Often it’s a matter of knowing where to sit – and being close to the action is frequently *not* the place to be.

      It’s not only the UK: TKC played two very large programmes in a fabulous, and massive, German Abbey during the summer. During the rehearsal I walked 85 metres down the aisle, and standing against the west door could hear every note from the assembled musicians at the far [east] end of the Abbey. An astonishing acoustic – those builders 900 years ago can sometimes teach modern designers a thing or two about acoustics…

  • “Or know of an earlier colour-filmed concert?”

    Clouzot filmed Verdi’s Requiem in color in 1967. Karajan conducting La Scala, soloists were Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, Luciano Pavarotti, and Nicolai Ghiaurov.

    • Oh well that’s embarrassing, for some reason my previous post wasn’t showing up so I double posted. Sorry!

  • Surely colour *film* existed before 1968 and was used to *film* a musical performance at some point. Note the mention of colour *television* cameras; this was perhaps the first concert to be *videod* in colour.

  • As for ecclesiastical acoustics, well I recall very muddy confusing sound in York Minster; but a breath-taking and memorable concert of Tallis’ Spem in Alium in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. A case of matching the music to the acoustic, perhaps?

  • I think that first the term “concert” needs to be clarified. Does it mean just a live broadcast of an audience attended concert or does it include recorded performances without an audience?. According to the notes with the DVD, this Gerontius was recorded without an audience over 3 days in 1968.

    Secondly, when referring to the first concert filmed in colour do we mean in England or anywhere in the world?.

    The U.S. was ahead of the U.K. in broadcasting TV in Colour. On November 23rd 1966, the first in the 10th Season of Children’s Concerts hosted by Leonard Bernstein was broadcast, in colour, on American TV. At the start of this “concert” the Maestro makes a point of stating that this was the first of these events in colour. It is not clear whether any other U.S. concerts had been broadcast previously in colour. The concert, in colour, is on Youtube at

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGTT_VK2kVY

    In the U.K. colour TV broadcasts appear to have commenced in 1967 on BBC 2. According to online records of broadcasts from then, on Christmas Day 1967 at 10.30 pm BBC 2 broadcast a colour TV recording of Parts 1,2 and 3 of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio conducted by Benjamin Britten. See

    http://ukchristmastv.weebly.com/bbc-1967.html

    and

    http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/66875731a40b449895cec0ae44846fc2

    According to Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century, by Paul Kidea, page 501, the performance was recorded earlier in 1967 in Long Melford Church in Suffolk. It appears that a radio broadcast took place on BBC Radio 3 on 29 October 1967

    http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/9d9f77c1d8b7434ba446d2840b921a38

    It is not clear whether the TV recording was of the live concert, said to have been on 2 September 1967, or whether it was a subsequent recording (probably without audience).

    As regards the Boult Gerontius at Canterbury Cathedral, the author of Hallelujah, An informal history of the London Philharmonic Choir, (Daniel Snowman, 2007) refers to this on page 21 as an event early in his time as a member of the choir.

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