Monday, October 03, 2011

Young, gifted, black and now on the BBC


Surprising where these paths lead. A fascination with Philippa Schuyler led to John McLaughlin Williams' priceless recordings and analysis of her early piano music. And now that path leads to a BBC Radio 3 programme.

My two paths in August celebrating the 80th anniversary of the birth of the black American musician sparked an email from BBC producer Michael Surcombe asking if I would have any objections to a radio feature on Philippa Schuyler being developed using John McLaughlin Williams as a contributor. To which my unequivocal reply was, of course there would be no objections.

The BBC programme has been made with my agreement, but I have no other involvement in it. It will be broadcast on Radio 3 at 8.25pm on October 14 during the interval of a concert of American music. The 20 minute feature is titled The Colour of Genius and the presenter is the composer Ella Spira who has worked with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Ministry of Sound and the Royal Ballet. John McLaughlin Williams' contribution was recorded in WRCJ-FM in Detroit, Michigan and the recordings of Philippa's piano music made by him for An Overgrown Path are being used by the BBC.

Kathryn Talalay, who wrote the definitive life of Philippa, is also a contributor and a rare copy of the pianist's quasi-autobiography Adventures in Black and White has been found by BBC researchers. I know that John has tracked down a copy of Philippa's only commercial recording; this is of music by Turina, Mussorgsky, Liszt and Copland and has been out of the catalogue for decades, but I do not know if it features in the programme.

I have invited the BBC to contribute a guest post on the making of the programme and hope that this will be written by Ella Spira - more details when they are available from the BBC. For my part it is very rewarding to see the diabolus in musica again refreshing the parts other media cannot reach.


* Header photo is of Philippa Schuyler and lower is of John McLaughlin Williams. October is Black History Month in the UK and in recognition of this I have suggested the BBC repeat their programme about Rudolph Dunbar, but as yet have no confirmation this will happen. The Dunbar feature was first broadcast in August 2007 following my article about the black Guyanese conductor which appeared in April of the same year. Rudolph Dunbar worked with Philippa Schuyler, as did Everett Lee who featured in a path earlier this year, while African American conductor Dean Dixon was profiled in 2008.

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3 comments:

Philip Amos said...

The genesis of this programme is the product of your fine work and a considerable achievement. Well done you, Bob, and my thanks. I am daring to hope they will follow up with a re-broadcast of the Dunbar programme and others on Dean Dixon, e.g., and perhaps even Avril Coleridge-Taylor, whom I mentioned in an earlier comment.

Pliable said...

Thank you Philip, that is appreciated.

John McLaughlin Williams' contribution must also be acknowledged. By making the recordings of Philippa's music and providing such a penetrating commentary he brought a dry piece of desk research to life.

Yet another example of John selflessly championing marginalised musicians. It was an honour to work with him on this project.

Philip Amos said...

You are right, of course, Bob -- I should have mentioned John, who has done so much Trojan work, even from the sidelines. Rather unforgiveable of me given the topic and context, but I'm glad I can make up for it and do him honour now. On the matter of Philippa, John's performances and analyses of her early piano pieces fascinated me.