You shouldn’t be doing this…!

Rainer Hersch reflects on his inner demons as he prepares for a concert conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

CBSO
A violinist friend of mine once said that there was a point, about six steps onto the stage of the Festival Hall, when the audience sees you and there is no turning back.  It might seem an odd idea that, having done all the stuff it takes to get there, you would want to turn back – but you do.  Well, a bit of you does.  It’s hard not to stand on any big stage and not have your internal demon wonder what on earth you are doing there as that little voice inside says:

“You shouldn’t be doing this,
SIMON RATTLE should be doing this.”

Sometimes the feeling is mutual: I was once booked for a very well paid corporate concert, conducting the St Petersburg Philharmonic in their ‘Great Hall of the Philharmonia’ – an iconic building in which that same orchestra had premiered Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony while under siege from the Nazis.  That I should be doing orchestral comedy there seemed to them like they had been invited to participate in a stand-up routine in the Vatican.

St Petersburg Philharmonic Hall

In the end, these feelings do wear off a bit but it never quite goes away.  On Friday 10th March I am going back to a favourite of mine: Birmingham Symphony Hall to conduct and do jokes with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  Now that will be exciting.

Unlike the Festival Hall, whose acoustics are famously a bit rubbish, Symphony Hall was designed for great sound.  There is even a reverberation chamber behind the stage, the doors to which can be specially opened or closed to suit what is going on (I wonder if there is a setting for jokes?).  But it is also vast – it’s the same place where they often hold the Conservative Party conference, in fact.  At the back the seats seem to rise up at you like a tsunami.  And I know that at about six steps out the crowd will have seen me.  I hope I’m ready.  And for that little voice in my ear:

“You shouldn’t be doing this,
BORIS JOHNSON should be doing this.”

Birmingham Symphony Hall

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Rainer Hersch and the BBC

Rainer Hersch reflects on the ups and downs of working with the BBC – the shows, the interviews and more…

Having a career in radio is a very British phenomenon and all thanks to the BBC for what it is and what it stands for.  But working for the Beeb means terrible pay and awful conditions yet always is always interesting and fun.  In my case, it has ranged from playing an Italian hairdresser in a sitcom with Catherine Tate to discussing 16th Century settings of the Latin Mass with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. 

I spent one whole 45-minute documentary ‘preparing’ a piano – attaching assorted paperclips and screws to the strings to change the sound of the notes.  Last year, for my show about the Blue Danube Waltz I found myself singing with two Chinese tourists in Vienna while standing by the famous golden statue of Johann Strauss (they thought it was Mozart).   

BBC Logo.jpg

And then there have been the interviews…

People I couldn’t otherwise hope to meet who were drawn to my questioning merely by dint of the fact by so doing we would both get our dulcet tones on the airwaves. 

In 1999 I spent an afternoon with Yehudi Menuhin at his flat in Belgravia – actually, I think the experience probably killed him off because he went to the great concert hall in the sky a couple of months later.  In preparation, I read his autobiography – all 490 ruddy pages of it.   I remember my producer and I being shown up to his living room and nosing round his collection of photos (Menuhin with Churchill, Menuhin with Nehru, Menuhin with God Almighty – God with a big grin on His face looking a bit star-struck) when he suddenly just appeared behind us.  Slightly shrunken with age and with a particularly beaky nose, the episode felt like meeting Nosferatu.  

Well, on March 8th this year I am going to achieve another radio ambition – I am conducting and hosting Friday Night Is Music Night on BBC Radio 2.  FNIMN is the world’s longest running live orchestral music programme – so that is a hell of a reputation to wreck.  I’ll be working with the BBC Concert Orchestra, a choir and soloists, including my mate Sam Pearce playing a Mozart Horn Concerto on a hosepipe (ha!). 

So, after twenty years of slaving for the Aunty, what’s new?  Not much.  Pay’s rubbish, conditions terrible but definitely a hell of a lot of fun.

Visit the Rainer Hersch events page

Coming out… as a Viola player!

Yes it’s true but it’s a secret Rainer Hersch wants you to keep under your hat: he’s learning the VIOLA.  Here, in his own words, his story is revealed…

viola notation

Now, this feels more than a bit like the vibe of an AA meeting but here goes: ‘my name is Rainer and I’m a viola player’.  There – it’s out in the open.

I’d like to pretend that it started gradually – you know: a bit of violin, joking around on a cello before getting mixed up with the heavy stuff but actually, I dived straight in.  It had been on my mind for while before I finally picked up the phone to a guy I know who lives near me and asked for lessons…

‘Great’, says he.  ‘What about 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon?’ ‘OK but, you know, I haven’t actually got a viola.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ he says, puts the phone down and that was it.  Next day he was shoving a bit of wood under my chin and getting to bow open strings.  

Rainer - viola

That was 18 months ago and now I’m addicted.  I pick it up every day for some scales and my latest piece.  And I am so hooked I have to set an alarm, not to start me practising but to remind me to stop.  

Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder where did it all go wrong?  The viola is just the most unsexy instrument.  It sits in the middle of all the other instruments, never gets the tune and is the butt of jokes:

‘What is the similarity between a viola player’s fingers and lightning?  They never strike the same place twice’.

‘A viola player runs, panicking back to her car.  Earlier in the day she had left the window open and her viola lying on the front seat.  When she gets back, the viola is still there and, lying next to it, another viola.’

Day 2. Viola just arrived.

So why, then?  Well, here’s the reason…

I wanted to see what it was like to actually play in an orchestra under someone else’s baton and if you play the viola, you are guaranteed a place.  Every orchestra needs them but none ever have enough.  No matter how terrible you are, conductors will fall on their knees and worship the ground you walk on ‘YOU HAVE COME TO PLAY THE VIOLA – HAL-LE-LU-JAH!’

But, in spite of these rather mercenary reasons, I really have grown fond of my ugly duckling.  I surf the net in search of viola porn – instruments for sale or music I could learn when I get a bit better.  I’m about Grade 6 – quite advanced for my viola age but I wasn’t exactly starting from nothing.  And, yes, I joined a local string orchestra and sit there, trying to figure out what the conductor wants just like viola players in other orchestras probably do about me.  I have slowly improved my intonation and bowing so that I even led the entire section at the rehearsal last week.  (OK, all the other violas players were away but it was a taste of life at the top).

Here’s the view from the violas – exciting isn’t it! 

The View from the Violas

So, that’s my embarrassing secret:

VIOLARING…

…with strangers and in public. 

I am not proud. 

But it could be worse – it could have been the BAGPIPES!

The New Year’s Concert Tradition

Rainer Hersch’s News Year’s Eve Bash isn’t the only concert to say farewell to 2016 and hello to 2017 – it’s part of a global tradition of music making at this festive time of celebration and merriment.

When did it all start?

The tradition of concerts on New Year’s Day has been going in Vienna since 1838 – if you include the Hofburg Court Orchestra’s at the Royal Hofburg Palace.  Rainer Hersch’s New Year’s Eve Bash is going to be nowhere near as sedate but it is on December 31st so it’s definitely in the zone.

Which is the most famous?

Well, probably still the one from Austria when the Vienna Philharmonic (who normally slum it as the State Opera Orchestra) don their tails and step out at the famous Golden Hall of the Musikverein concert hall.  50 million in 90 countries around the world are watching – so no pressure then.

MusikvereinMusikverein

Golden hall?

Oh yes, there is a hell of a lot of bling. It’s like that room you see in Trump Towers but, well, tasteful.  And slightly less scary. Plus, whether the people who built it knew it or not, its classic shoebox dimensions has also given it fantastic acoustics.  What’s not to like?

concierto-viena

What about Johann Strauss stuff then?

That came a bit later. The first person to put New Year together with Johann Strauss was conductor Clemens Kraus.  He loved the Blue Danube and all that and developed the idea of all-Strauss concerts.  Until then the Strauss Family were regarded as just a bit to plebby – a bit like the LSO playing disco hits from the 70s.

Strauss family

Don’t mention the war!

With his apparently unimpeachable arian credentials, the Nazis decided that Johann Strauss was their poster boy.  They put Clemens’s New Year’s Day concert on the radio and unwittingly set it on the road to the global phenomenon it is today.  Only one tiny problemo – Johann turned out to have had a Jewish grandparent.  According to the fascists’ doctrine, he was technically a Jew.  Oops.

Clemens Krauss

Clemens Krauss

Encore!

They have been at it ever since.  It has only turned massive in the last 20 years or so: Blue Danube, Radetzky March. Trish Trash Polka – charming but all very trad.  Time for something new, eh?  Give him another 10 years and Rainer will have Japanese tourists queueing round the block just like in Vienna.

Standing Ovation

So how about London?

Rainer Hersch’s News Year’s Eve Bash at the Cadogan Hall is the one to see! Starting at 7pm on 31 December this is perfect New Year’s Eve family treat. 

“You’ll never see another show quite like this”

Edinburgh Evening News

 

Rainer Hersch: ‘My strangest gig ever’

As we race towards the end of the year and the New Year’s Eve Bash with the Rainer Hersch ‘Orkestra’ at the Cadogan Hall on 31 December, Rainer recollects what must be his strangest gig ever. We caught up with Rainer to find out about why he took a crash course in Spanish…

Hola

In 2014 I got an email from a guy in Mexico asking if I had ever performed in Spain – by which he actually meant, ‘had I ever done a gig in Spanish’?  I said yes to the direct question because I had done a few shows for corporate clients in Spain – but in English -and carefully ignored the implied question about Spanish – because, somehow doing a concert in Mexico sounded interesting.  In any case I thought to myself ‘Well, I speak English, German and French.  Spaaanish – how hard can it be?’

Anyway, I didn’t hear any more about it until a couple of months later when I suddenly got a note that I had been booked to conduct a Mexican orchestra at a festival in San Pedro, near Monterrey in Mexico.  More time passed and the details were so vague that I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to happen – life is different in Mexico.  But then listings  started to pop up on-line and I realised it was on.

Monterrey

Monterrey

I had to go to New Zealand for another festival and was left with a week between coming back and Mexico.  In that week I had a three-hour Spanish lesson every day and we translated my set into simple Spanish sentences.  Yes, simple but still Spanish and  the completed translations occupied twelve sides of A4.  Then I got the Spanish teacher to record each of the phrases slowly and I set off for Heathrow repeating them carefully to myself.

I had good fun rehearsing the orchestra – a lot of whom had studied in America so spoke English (well, you know: still confusing their fanny with their bottom and such) but they could translate for the others.  

Estudiando español

Then, at last, the evening of the performance arrived.  I was so nervous, I smoked three cigarettes and I don’t smoke.  But finally, there was no avoiding it and I was summarily pushed out to face this entirely Mexican audience of around 1,000 people. I took a deep breath and delivered my first line:

‘Soy mitad inglés, mitad alemán.  No es una buena combinación.  Por eso, mi gustaría mucho conquistar el mundo pero… soy muy educado’ 

I’m half German, half English which is not a good combination.  It means I would like to take over the world but I am too polite….and they laughed.  It was the weirdest thing. They, apparently, understood this code that I had been taught.  Phew because, frankly, my Spanish teacher could have told me anything and I would have gone out there and repeated it.  The rest of the concert went well and there was much talk of doing it all again somehow (at least I think that’s what they said).

Learning Spanish

Now, let’s get one thing straight: I didn’t learn Spanish in a week – I learned just enough to get by in a very restricted vocabulary.  But Mrs Hersch (my wife) still hated me just the same and muttered darkly all the way on the flight home about me being some kind of freak.  As for the Spanish, I liked the sound of it so much I carried on with my lessons.  Get me out of the concert hall and I am pretty terrible but it’s coming along.  

Hasta la próxima!  

Rainer Hersch Orkestra

Enjoy a fabulous New Year’s Eve treat with The Rainer Hersch Orkestra and The New Year’s Eve Bash at London’s Cadogan Hall on 31 December – the perfect New Year’s Eve event for all the family.

Rainer Hersch’s 5 funniest musical moments

Rainer Hersch launches his brand new Orkestrawith The New Years Eve Bash on Saturday 31 December at 7:00 pm at the magnificent Cadogan Hall. Musical humour is at the root of Rainers hilarious shows so lets hear out about his five funniest musical moments

1) Andre Previn on Morecambe and Wise

This gave birth to the phrase ‘all the right notes, not necessarily in the right order’, with the wonderful Mr ‘Preview’ conducting. This became the title of two series I did for BBC Radio 4 about musical comedy.

2) Jerry Springer: The Opera

Words by Stewart Lee and music by Richard Thomas – both great mates of mine.  Well before this, Richard appeared in my BBC Radio 4 series ‘All Classical Music Explained’ as a nutty avant guard musician under the title ‘Mad Modern Music’.  Jerry Springer: The Opera was obscene of course but hilarious.  Not everybody got the joke – in fact, its BBC Two television broadcast elicited 55,000 complaints!

3) Anna Russell explaining the Ring Cycle by Wagner

I met her once in Toronto. in 1997 – she was living in a retirement complex she had somehow helped raise money to construct.  In gratitude, they had named one of the avenues after her, which she then lived on, leading to misunderstandings whenever she was asked by officialdom to give her details: “Name please.” “Anna Russell.” “Address?” “Anna Russell”.  They assumed she was simply some dotty old woman who couldn’t tell one thing from another.

4) Patrick McCarthy taking over at the Proms 

Kind of funny and a bit weird at the same time:  In the middle of a Proms performance of Carmina Burana, one of the soloist singers collapsed.  A music student who was standing with the prommers and knew the part went round the back to offer his services.  They found him a jacket and on he went. The rest is Proms history.  I had Patrick as a guest in one of my radio shows. Very nice man but you’ve got to stay on your toes – give him half a chance and he’ll take over.

5) Victor Borge running around the piano with Lee Hambro

I have done this routine many times myself as part of Rainer Hersch’s Victor Borge. Lee Hambro actually came to see it one time and he and I became friends during the last few years of his life.  He and is wife Barbara came round my house a few times and we played duets.  Victor Borge I met briefly back stage at the concert hall in Stockholm – a meeting I act out in Rainer Hersch’s Victor Borge.

And what better opportunity to experience Rainers musical humour for yourself at Rainer Herschs New Years Eve Bash on Saturday 31 December at 7pm. 

At last a musical comedian with a difference he is really funny’  The Daily Telegraph

The real Victor Borge

Victor Borge

Rainer Hersch has often been compared with one of the greatest musical comedians of the 20th century – Victor Borge. A brilliant pianist, virtuoso comedian and, at one point, the highest paid entertainer in the world, we find out about the real Victor Borge and why his humour is so immortal.

Early days

Born Børge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1909, Victor Borge’s blend of music and comedy earned him the nicknames The Clown Prince of Denmark, The Unmelancholy Dane and The Great Dane

His father a violist in the Royal Danish Orchestra and his mother a pianist so his musical  upbringing was strictly classical. He quickly displaying prodigious talent and was awarded a full scholarship to the Royal Danish Academy of Music in 1918 giving his first major concert in 1926. A few years as a classical concert pianist, he started his now famous “stand up” act, with the signature blend of piano music and jokes and travelled extensively across Europe telling anti-Nazi jokes.

A Danish stamp featuring Victor Borge

A Danish stamp featuring Victor Borge

During World War II, Borge was playing a concert in Sweden as the Nazis invaded Denmark. Borge managed to escape to Finland and travelled to America on the last neutral ship to make it out of the country arriving in the States with just $20. Borge returned to Denmark once during the occupation disguised as a sailor to visit his dying mother.

America

Borge did not speak a word of English when he landed, yet he quickly managed to adapt his jokes to the American audience, learning English by watching movies. He took the name of Victor Borge, and in 1941, he started on radio before being hired soon after by Bing Crosby.

Borge quickly rose to fame, winning Best New Radio Performer of the Year in 1942 followed by being offered film roles with stars such as Frank Sinatra. In 1946 he began hosting his famous Victor Borge Show which made his mark on NBC.

Victor Borge at NBC

Victor Borge at NBC

Later career

In 1948 Borge became a naturalized citizen of the United States and not long after started his Comedy in Music show in New York which was to become the longest running one-man show in the history of theatre with 849 performances placing it in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Borge even appeared several times on Sesame Street and was a guest star on The Muppet Show. Victor Borge continued to tour until his last days, performing up to 60 times per year when he was 90 years old.

Victor Borge and The Muppet Show

Victor Borge and The Muppet Show

One of the world’s most loved and admired performers and entertainers,  Borge died in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the age of 91, after more than 75 years of entertaining.

His legacy

Victor Borge’s inimitable style, based on trademark physical and visual elements was always a winner with audiences of all ages from the musically uninitiated to the most learned. His musical gags always brought the house down and his breadth of musical knowledge and skill enabled him to string a musical gag seemingly forever whilst always keeping this audience eating out of the palm of his hand. All these elements live on today in the madcap musical world of Rainer Hersch.