One of the many joys of being a concert artiste is that, from time to time, one is given the opportunity to take part in something very special and, on this occasion, the Valentine Music Group asked me if I would like to feature in an important video they were planning to make at Blenheim Palace. The Producer was to be Tim Wills and we knew each other well because we had worked together at Blenheim when I made a CD for the OS label in 1999. I had also been privileged to play for the Winston Churchill Memorial Concert in 2000 so, by this year, I had developed a strong feeling for the Palace and for its staff.
Blenheim Palace is close to the historic town of Woodstock just north of Oxford and the very large estate in which it is situated is approached via the security staff at the gates. The view on entering the Palace grounds is truly breathtaking and, driving past the lake with its unusual but extremely attractive bridge, one comes to the Palace itself which can only be described as outstandingly impressive.
I was "received" in the video by Nicholas Day, the Palace Administrator, and then viewed several of the rooms with Helen Walch, the Deputy Administrator, who highlighted the gorgeous paintings on the walls, and much else including the room in which Churchill was born, before we reached the Long Library. This is where I had previously played the completely original 1891 "Father" Willis organ that graces this beautiful room but, this time, I also had access to the Library's 1890's Steinway grand piano so as to extend the range of music I could include. I also played the small but quite lovely 1850's organ by Postill in the Palace chapel and, returning to the Long Library, followed organ-builder Mark Wood on a conducted tour of the Willis organ that he maintains with great skill and enthusiasm.
I was welcomed to the 10,000 book library by John Forster, the Palace Education Officer, who showed me some of the fine books that go back in time and thereby provide a unique record of musical events at the Palace. Perhaps the most interesting to me was the original account in copperplate handwriting of the opening concert on Whit Monday the 18th of May.
1891 which listed the programme that included items such as "O for the Wings of a Dove" in which the singer was accompanied on the Willis organ by Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.
With the exception of "Lady Bird", I was recorded for sound on the piano on day one of the three-day visit whereas on day two, when all the organ pieces were recorded for both sound and vision, "Lady Bird" was similarly dealt with. Day three was used to film the links between the various activities and to take the outside shots. All the music for the video was recorded by the well-known "musicians' engineer" Ray Prickett whose wide experience has involved recording famous people such as Petula Clark and Kenny Ball and whom I already knew because he recorded my Blenheim CD in 1999. The filming was in the notably capable hands of the Director, Jeremy Wooding, and his team. Taking all three days together, I now realise just how much effort and skill is involved in producing and editing a high quality video.
I greatly enjoyed the experience and I am most grateful to His Grace the 11th Duke of Marlborough for allowing the video to be made at his home and to the staff for their splendid presentation of information about the Palace and its fascinating history.
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