Alain Prost, Exeter College Oxford, Formula One, George de Voil, Hollywood, James Hunt, Monza, Niki Lauda, Nurburgring, Parliament Choir, This Joyful Eastertide, Tom Cruise
I have just finished listening to a great first broadcast of This Joyful Eastertide, performed by Exeter College, Oxford under the direction of George de Voil. I was really taken with their interpretation, certainly making the piece sound more subtle and refined than it is on paper, and that choir makes an impressive sound. It has made for a great start to the day.
As I suspected, things seem to be about to get busy on the composing front. There is some tinkering to be done for the next Parliament Choir concert, and the possibility of having a chamber work performed during the summer. Given the importance to me of building up a body of work and a reputation not exclusively as a choral composer, this is a significant opportunity and one I do not intend to squander.
I am therefore ploughing through old scores to see if there is anything suitable for the summer, secretly hoping that I will find nothing and will instead have the opportunity to write something from scratch. I woke up time and again during the night with quartal harmony and all sorts of other nonsense flying around my head, the product of doodling and sketching in the pre-bed hours, and I think – no, make that “I know” – that there are ideas ready to spill out onto the paper.
I also have a meeting tomorrow morning to discuss the details of my latest commission, itself non-choral and of a decent length, and I should not forget at least two more performances in April. The rhythm of the year is taking off and the quiet period to March appears to have come to an end.
On a completely unrelated matter, I saw the trailer for Ron Howard’s Rush yesterday, and this is a film I am definitely, definitely going to see. While I have some concerns about the Hollywoodisation of the subject and am still hurting from the whole Prometheus thing, the combination of classic Formula One, a you-couldn’t-make-it-up story, gorgeous original machinery and no Tom Cruise or Jason Statham ticks all my boxes.
For those not in the know, the film concerns itself with the 1976 Formula One season, specifically the absurdly unlikely friendship between gritty, calculating Niki Lauda and boorish, debonair (depending on your point of view) James Hunt. The two men could not have been more different, and yet were friends, despite the bitter and hostile rivalry between the two in that year.
Lauda, of course, nearly died in a terrible crash at the fourteen-mile Nurburgring that year (yes, that’s four-teen miles for a lap), his Ferrari broadsided after it hit the barriers, the driver trapped in the ball of flame, inhaling deadly smoke. The last rites were administered using engine oil, so the story goes, and Lauda was taken off to hospital to live out his final hours.
Except that Lauda was always one to do things his way. Six weeks later, his face forever altered by that burning fuel, he was back in his Ferrari at Monza, qualifying fifth and finishing fourth. By all accounts his wounds had opened during the race and he removed his bloodstained balaclava far away from prying eyes. The rest of the story of that season, especially the rain-soaked finale, is just as extraordinary, and I won’t spoil it for those who do not know and wish to see the film.
Lauda never forgave Ferrari for trying to replace him after his accident, saw out the 1977 season with them, becoming champion and thus rather proving his point, and then left them. Eventually, “tired of driving round in circles”, as he put it, he retired in the middle of a race weekend.
He came back in 1982, of course, for a vast sum of money, won his fifth race back and then went on to win a third championship in 1984, defeating team mate Alain Prost by the sadistically small margin of half a point, the Frenchman never forgetting the lessons he learned from The Rat that year.
The actor playing Lauda is scarily close to him in looks, intonation and delivery, but the cars are the real stars of the show, original machinery being used where possible, from the age when cars and not just their liveries looked different from each other. Of course, it was a much more dangerous age, but one only needs to go back to the last race to see how much behaviour has changed. I must be middle aged, because things genuinely aren’t how they used to be, although performances of my music seem to be getting better and better!