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 named Best Arts Documentary in the 2014 Grierson Awards (John Bridcut is pictured holding the award, right, with Colin Napthine, film editor, and Cat Dixon, assistant producer).
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 is also a freelance 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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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".
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 on 3 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.
John Bridcut's new feature-length film for the centenary of Benjamin Britten explores 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).
Rostropovich: The Genius of the Cello and Nureyev: From Russia With Love have been screened in the Trans-Siberian Art Festival in Russia's third city, Novosibirsk. Both films have been shown in Moscow on previous occasions, but this was their first screening in Siberia, in the ambitious new festival curated by the violinist, Vadim Repin.
The history of the musical Requiem came to S4C on Sunday evenings in May. The three-part series (in Welsh) began on Sunday 4 May at 8.30pm, and told the fascinating story of the famous requiems by Mozart, Verdi, Berlioz, Brahms, Fauré and Britten, narrated by Mali Harries.
The Requiem films feature thrilling special performances by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, conducted by Edward Gardner, with singers Elin Manahan Thomas, Neal Davies and Annemarie Kremer. The unaccompanied choral singing is by the peerless choir, Tenebrae, conducted by Nigel Short. Also contributing to the series are Bryn Terfel, Bishop Rowan Williams, Sir Colin Davis, Huw Tregelles Williams, Gareth Glyn and Sally Harper. The Cardiff-made series was directed by John Bridcut and produced by Bethan Anwyl, and is a Bulb Films production in association with Crux Productions.