Three major new films by John Bridcut have recently been screened by BBC Four. Karajan's Magic and Myth (see below) told the story of music's most successful conductor, Britten's Endgame launched the BBC's celebration of the Benjamin Britten centenary, while Requiem explored the history of one of music's most powerful and enduring forms.
John Bridcut is an award-winning film maker, with a string of varied documentaries to his name, ranging from politics to contemporary history to the arts. His latest award is for Colin Davis In His Own Words, a tribute to the British conductor who died in April 2013 at the age of 85. It was judged Best Arts Documentary in the 2014 Grierson Awards.
The Britten film is his sixth composer portrait, after studies of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius, Parry – and his first Britten film, Britten's Children.
Most of his work is produced by his own company, Crux Productions, but he does occasionally freelance as a director and producer for other production companies. He has published two books on Benjamin Britten, and lectures on music, broadcasting and current affairs. In November 2013, he curated Illuminating Britten, a weekend of special events at the Barbican Centre and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and co-presented the Britten anniversary weekend on Radio 3, live from Aldeburgh.
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Launching the 2015 Trans-Siberian Art Festival in Krasnoyarsk, John Bridcut has recently presented his profiles of Herbert von Karajan and Mstislav Rostropovich to large audiences in the city's Film House. A few days earlier, his film Requiem accompanied the Karajan profile at the Pobeda cinema in Novosibirsk, where the Trans-Siberian Art Festival was enjoying its second season under the artistic direction of the violinist Vadim Repin. At the opening Festival in March 2014, the Rostropovich and Nureyev films were screened in Novosibirsk. Repin's vision for the Festival is that events should ultimately be held along the full length of the Trans-Siberian railway.
The 2014 Grierson Award for Best Arts Documentary has been won by Colin Davis In His Own Words. The award was presented to John Bridcut at the Grierson Awards ceremony in London in November. The jury, chaired by the film-maker Richard Alwyn, praised the film for “its integrity, its intelligence and its form. This film did what all good documentary film-making can do: it transcended its subject matter. It was more than just an illuminating film about an artist and their craft, it was a deeply moving portrait reflecting on their impact and the passing of their life.”
The Grierson Award follows the Gold Award won by the film at the French documentary festival, FIPA, in January 2014. In November the film travelled to Brazil, where it was screened at TELAS, the Sao Paulo Television Festival.
Twenty-five years after his death, the conductor Herbert von Karajan still excites controversy about the quality of his music-making. In John Bridcut's new profile, Karajan's Magic and Myth, musicians who worked with him in the Philharmonia Orchestra in London after the war, and during his long stewardship of the Berlin Philharmonic, explain how Karajan made music. "I don’t know what it is about Karajan", says the flautist Sir James Galway; "he had this sort of magic, or this allure – he had something very special." Other contributions come from Placido Domingo, Jessye Norman, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Sir Neville Marriner and Anne-Sophie Mutter.
The film, produced by 1212 Productions, was shown on BBC Four on Friday 5 December. Radio Times billed it as its 'Documentary of the Week', and went on to call it "one of the best docs about classical music the channel has ever aired".
|Meeting Nelson Mandela in Swaziland in 1990 for Donald Woods's 'Return of the Native'||Meeting Robert Mugabe in Harare in 1998 for David Dimbleby's series, 'Rebellion!'||Meeting Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in 2000, for 'HIllary's New York Adventure'|
John Bridcut's feature-length film for the centenary of Benjamin Britten explored the composer's creativity in the face of death. Those closest to Britten watched anxiously as he raced to complete Death in Venice in defiance of medical advice, tackling an edgy subject which resonated with his own life. His eventual heart operation after years of stress and illness left him incapacitated and prematurely old and frail, yet somehow he rediscovered his creative urge to produce two late masterpieces.
Nine years after John Bridcut made his award-winning Britten's Children for BBC Two, this is a rich and poignant film about the final years of a surprisingly insecure composer, and the impact of what Britten's partner, Peter Pears, called 'an evil opera'. After preview screenings in London and Aldeburgh, it was shown on BBC Four in November 2013.
Specially-filmed performances by John Graham-Hall (pictured above) as Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, Allan Clayton, Sarah Connolly, Xavier Phillips, BBC Concert Orchestra (conducted by Paul Kildea), the Fitzwilliam String Quartet and Schola Cantorum of Oxford (conducted by James Burton).