Last week, for two days (Tues-Thurs) I had the honour of staying in Connecticut with legendary orchestrator William David Brohn. This was all thanks to the aforementioned Septimus, who makes my life all the more interesting..! He first met Bill in 2006, following a performance of ‘Mary Poppins’ at the Prince Edward Theatre in London. Tim had been a fan of Bill’s since the 1994 re-orchestrated revival of ‘Oliver!’, and thankfully decided to tell him so. Thus began a wonderful friendship, which resulted in ‘Broadway to West End by Special Arrangement’ – a massive gala last year at London’s Drury Lane theatre, in honour of Bill, which was co-produced and created by Tim. Bill’s most famous scores are probably ‘Wicked’ and ‘Ragtime’. He counts his ‘West Side Story Suite’ (for Joshua Bell) as a work that is particularly special and personal to him.
Bill was working on a re-orchestration of Michel Legrand’s ‘Marguerite’ – which premiered in London in 2008, and I happened to see three times but has since been re-written, book and score. The songs have been changed and this forthcoming production also has a larger band. We heard a demo by Michel Legrand and his wife, performing ‘China Doll’ from Marguerite- originally for solo female but re-written as a duet. We were delighted to discuss the production with Bill, who hadn’t seen the show in performance. I also highlighted a couple of accidentals in the harp writing, which I thought might have been an interesting modal effect but turned out to be a pedal error.
I noticed that Bill’s orchestration style is characterised by a lot of individual, lyrical lines and countermelody, rather than filling in a particular harmony. It’s very refined and creates a sense of polyphony, but still emphasises the vocal line. At times it can be very thick and hearty as well, such as in ‘Journey On’ from Ragtime, and the Gershwin arrangements for Joshua Bell. I noticed the glorious orchestral combination of Gran Cassa, Tubular Bells and Timps for a combined dramatic ‘thud’!
I played ‘Entwining Brances’ (finale) from my ‘Deirdre and Naoise‘ for Bill, and he was very complimentary about it. He liked the fruity ‘Cello solos, and strangely didn’t complain about the Glock, though it’s the biggest problem in the piece for me. There are things about the orchestration that I would change considerably now, but I guess it was a good effort for the stage I was at four years ago. At Bill’s I also studied the full (orchestral) score for ‘Ragtime’, and ‘Ragtime Symphonic Suite’ (of which I had recordings). I also had the honour of studying the score for Stephen Schwartz’s recent opera, ‘Seance on a Wet Afternoon’, and met Schwartz briefly on the Thursday morning before leaving for New York. ‘Seance’ is a beautiful diatonic work which is the kind of thing I was hoping for in Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Prima Donna’, but didn’t quite get.. The arias definitely had the distinct ‘Schwartz’ trademark on them.
As for the Broadway Shows, I can recommend Bacharach’s ‘Promises Promises’, and as always ‘Mary Poppins’! The orchestration is of course, stunning. I took a sneaky photo of Bill’s Tony Award for Wicked, which I will upload at some point after Tim does the photos.