Certain parts of the rock community and classical music have always had a close relation, and this article proves it when it comes to the the music of ELP who were being led by the musical genius that was Keith Emerson. There was speculation that he took his own life because he worried that he wouldn`t be able to play as good as the fans deserved because of an illness that troubled him late in life. You could call that “high ambition” but you could also call it “depression” and “Mental illness”. I believe the latter is true. Still, at 71, he outlived the composer, Ginastera, who is mentioned in the article. Alberto Evaristo Ginastera was an Argentine composer of classical music. He is considered one of the most important 20th-century classical composers of the Americas. Born in Buenos Aires in 1916 to a Spanish father and an Italian mother, he often used traditional Argentine musical elements in his compositions. He left behind a huge production when he died in Geneva at the age of 67.
Silent nights in America
Pete Erskine talks to Keith Emerson
Having spent the best part of a week hustling upwards of a dozen people for an interview with either Keith Emerson or Greg Lake, and having secured an audience with the former, shock and horror, but what should happen but your reporter`s tape machine blows out. Hence this interview was conducted, as a repeat, in adverse conditions, on the plane home.
Who is Alberto Ginastera?
About four years ago I was in Los Angeles doing one of these spectacular Hollywood Television productions which was being organised by Jack Good – it was about the time that mixed media was all the rage and everyone was getting into the thing that rock groups and classical orchestras were all the thing, let`s do a television spectacular on it.
Whilst I was over there I met Zeuben Maiter, Daniel Barenbaum and Jaqueline Duprez and lots of other people. This particular piece was being played by the pianist who did the world premier Ginastera`s first piano concerto and I happened to just grab the last part of it and afterwards I spoke with the pianist and it was very interesting to look at the part.
When I got back to England I managed to get hold of the piano music and I just worked on it in my own leisure time, not really intending to do it – it was just sort of something to play. Carl had always wanted to do a percussion piece which was well arranged and it wasn`t until we were getting this new album together that I realised that this was the ideal number because it`s percussive anyway – in the original there`s lots of pounding piano – it`s a very hairy piece of music so I rang him up and played it to him on the telephone and he liked it quite a lot and at rehearsals I played it on the organ and everyone was well into it. So I talked about arranging it, making strict observations on how Ginastera himself had written it and the rules that he had laid down for this particular piece of music were very strict.
So it had to meet with his approval before you could actually play it or record it?
Well, the thing that came across to me was that it can only be performed with the tympany set up here and the pianos were set up here and everything was laid out on this chart. The actual movement which I was arranging was well laid out to the number of bars and the whole thing was in `Rondo` form so in arranging this I had to adhere strictly to the rules. I didn`t want to adulterate his music in any way.
Is the version you`ve arranged very different to his own version?
There are reasons why all of it has not been used. There are various repeats which I`ve missed out and in some cases I`ve done repeats where he hasn`t. This was done because for the stage version I would be playing it on the organ and for various things to be audible I had to do this. There was a hassle there because he`s written it for piano and the piano has a far greater octave range than the organ so things had to be altered that way round.
Eventually we got the whole thing together as I`d done with Aaron Copland`s “Hoe-Down” I sent a tape to Copland (I`d not met him personally because I was out of the country) this time I wrote a letter to Ginastera and sent it care of Boosey and Hawkes the Publishers. They read the letter and said that they understood that I wanted it doing very quickly and they thought it would be much quicker for me to go and see him.
The next day I was off the plane with Stewart Young, armed with a tape recording and met Ginastera and I was quite nervous about meeting the guy face to face and playing his music to him. I had dinner with him and he was quite familiar with this electronic equipment because he`d worked in Argentina on these things and after dinner we got him to play the music. He couldn`t quite believe his ears at the start of it and then listening to it the second time through he said that it was fantastic, you captured the essence of my music.
I flew back to England and I was over the moon and I told the rest of the guys what had happened and they were knocked out. In the early days of the band we were sometimes referred to as a classical rock band and my reasons playing classical music are that when I write a piece of music (and it can take six months to do it) it`s a refreshing change to play a different piece of music. I have a liking for classical music as much as I have a liking for jazz but it is refreshing to play something that somebody else has written and in my experience people have usually related that to earlier recordings.
As far as my own writing is concerned I think I can modestly say that it`s completely my own without any direct link or even a snatch from anything else which is classical. One example which made me slightly up tight was that when we were in America I heard one of our Baleros played over the radio at the end of which the D.J. said that it was Ravel`s Balero assuming that because I happened to call this piece of music a Balero he assumed that it was Ravel`s Balero. But on reference, if you compere the two there`s a different harmonic structure with mine and different time, signature, everything is totally different.
Is the band wholly satisfying for you?
Yes, they are. My musical education has been such I started off playing by ear, long before I had piano lessons. My first recollection I have is of an old upright piano being shipped into the house and my father played it and I used to imitate him and pick out my own tunes. When my father saw me trying to busk he asked me if I wanted to be taught and the next thing I knew (I was about eight at the time) this old dear of about 80 came round and started giving me lessons. It was a bit of a drag but I went along with it because it went along with my schooling.
I took it up to the age of about 14 – I played a bit of guitar and then I realised that because I could only play a few basic chords I couldn`t really entertain people. I realised that I could do a lot more at the piano because to me it was really more of a solo instrument so I went back to it but I really still wasn`t turned on to classical music. My first liking for the piano was hearing the jazz pianists and mixing with other local jazz musicians and developing my taste accordingly. Nothing at that stage on the pop scene interested me at all.
Does anything on the pop scene interest you today?
Nothing at all. My record collection at home doesn`t really consist of anything that interests me or turns me on except something like Steeleye Span which I think are really original, plus a bit of Frank Zappa. I`ve heard Weather Report, Joe Zawinul is great, I`ve got recordings of him when he played with Cannonball Adderley – I dug him then, he`s capable of a lot more and on this Weather Report album I`ve got he doesn`t do a lot.
Do you think that this is part of the trend today away from heavy instrumental dexterity back to a simplicity of feel?
Yes, you can`t rule out the fact that this is an overall sound effect. I think that when you listen to something of Miles Davis, you`ve got to listen to the overall effect not just analyse this bit or that bit. Possibly what Miles Davis is asking for is a new look, an overall look at everything, be patient and wait for something to happen – maybe I`ll give it to you and maybe I won`t. Which is possibly the way music should be. It`s usually a very spontaneous thing and as Eric Dolphy once said, music once it`s played, it`s gone, it`s gone through the air and you can never capture it again. I think that it`s a very valid point – it`s there for the moment, it`s not a lasting thing.
I mixed with a lot of jazz musicians and my earliest influences came from them. I started playing with local bands, and trios in some of the sleazy places. At least we could play the music that we wanted to play. Very gradually, pop music began to take on to me what you might pretentiously call, a culture. Studying people like Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, it was getting more interesting as blues was being brought into pop music and suddenly I took an interest and I started getting into it. But my early days were such that I wasn`t really playing what I wanted to play and I don`t think any bands those days could play what they wanted to play.
Are you really playing now what you want to play?
Well, I`ll get round to that. It was in those early days that I`d go off and play the piano and there`d always be people there who were listening and they`d say why don`t you play that on stage? And my excuse would be, you`ve got to be kidding… but then when I formed the Nice I thought well, why can`t I play that on stage? I`m cheating myself, I`ve really got to do this and Pete Jackson was with me and we both had the same idea. So the Nice was formed with that policy and it`s stuck with me ever since.
We did our first gigs and they were really hell, we played the Soul Clubs where the D.J. would do his bit and the band would come on and then the D.J. would come back again. But having made that policy I`ve stuck to it rigidly and anything that I`ve liked I`ve played and I think possibly the audience have broadened their tastes. This broadening of audience acceptance started to be brought about by people like the Beatles, George Harrison`s association with interesting Indian Music.
Do you think that the things done with rock bands and classical music ever worked?
John Lord`s concerto and the “Five Bridges” thing were both done round about the same period and I really admired John Lord`s writing on that concerto. I thought that he scored that orchestra beautifully and I told him… and he slung a bouquet of flowers back at me and said he liked the “Five Bridges” thing… I did it on lots of occasions… I did it in Los Angeles with Zeuben Maiter, as I`ve already said I did it twice in England, once we recorded it live and then once I did it with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall but on both occasions there were so many hassles mainly because we were dealing with the musicians union which is tough. They`re unco-operative about getting rehearsals together. Even when we were called back for an encore some of the guys were looking at their watches and leaving the stage. The second time we did it the orchestra refused to come back on to do an encore and we had to come back on just on our own and improvise something to keep people happy.
All this just put me off from working with them again – I may well do but it`s got to be under a different situation. At the time I wasn`t really that concerned about whether it worked or not. I looked on it as the establishment against the anti-establishment. Here was a loud rock band battling hell out of these old conservatives in their penguin suits. There was a slight balancing problem with the orchestra – I`m quite happy with how the recorded version turned out. What really made it so enjoyable, you could get these guys to do almost anything – we were doing a piece from “2001” and I got them to all stand up on their seats throw their music up in the air and play each others instruments and they completely freaked out for just one minute.
I get the impression that this current tour has been incredibly carefully worked out in every respect…
It has to be. The lighting has to be pretty well together mainly `cos they can`t improvise. There were just a few minor changes that had to be made at the beginning of the tour. Like originally the piece with the moog at the end finished with it panning the theme from the third movement of “Karn Evil” and we left the stage, but people didn`t understand it. We needed some sort of finality to the set, to make the point. Another thing was that one of the numbers had to be transposed down a tone or so because Greg got laryngitis or broke his vocal chords trying to sing the number. I still like the improvisation parts… they differ from night to night.
Having just played a string of concerts, though, is the attraction still there?
Oh yes. It`s going to take me some time to relax. I could play another concert tonight. I don`t feel as if I`ve just worked six weeks…
Has this stage act got across better than the last one?
We`ve experimented an awful lot you know and tried various things, some of which have worked and some haven`t, but, as I was saying this morning, like a lot of bands around at the moment I would consider “safe” bands, but we`ve done an awful lot and risked a lot of things, like on the European tour with that praesenium and lugging around 70 roadies.
Do you risk things musically as well?
Sometimes. At Madison Square we went on and we did those things with the choir and a whole bunch of other sections without rehearsing them.
We were saying about “Karn Evil 9”. Do you think it`s come across as you intended it to?
Well, as we said, there`s only been a slight change in that to provide the people who`ll only have seen it once all year with a strong impression. The stage ending doesn`t take away from the meaning of the piece but it was very necessary to do this for the live performance; on the actual recording it was left as an unanswered question, because obviously with the subject we`re handling there is no answer…
How does it feel when the audience reacts to the effects in the show sometimes to a greater degree than some of the finer more subtle instrumental solos?
It`s important for me to put the point across of the difference between a machine playing the theme in relation to what we play and trying to drive the point across to the audience that it`s computors and things which are making them redundant. And I purposely programmed the synthesiser to play the theme that we just played to make the effect more pronounced. We also wanted to counter, in a way, accusations in the past that ELP are “Mechanical” in their music. I can base what I`m talking about on fact as, like when I left school I worked on IBM equipment and I was going to learn to become a programmer for these things, but, man, it was so boring. I purposely used to put faults in the machine to brighten up a dull day.
Some very interesting bands in small locations on the menu…
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Leo Sayer, Tim Bogert, Gallagher&Lyle, The Who, Deep Purple, Magma.
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