Remembering Hitchcock

The Master of Suspense's silent films maintain their dynamism.

Reels containing the first 30 minutes of the first film Hitchcock worked on- The White Shadow- have been discovered at the New Zealand Film Archive. They had been in the hands of Jack Murtagh, a keen collector who used to work as a projectionist. After he died, his private collection of nitrate film prints were sent to the national archives by his grandson, Tony Osborne.

The White Shadow 1923 is a silent film, in which American actor Betty Compson stars as a pair of twins. Copies of the melodramatic film are being made and will be sold in America.

Before the discovery was made, the BFI launched the "Rescue the Hitchcock 9" campaign, which aimed to restore what were Hitchcock's only nine surviving silent films. These date from 1925 to 1929 and include Downhill and The Manxman. Downhill is about a star student, Roddy, who is wrongly accused of getting a young woman pregnant. His reputation in tatters, Roddy takes on a lonely existence, becoming a paid companion to lonely rich women. Shot in a small Cornish fishing community, The Manxman tells the story of two childhood friends who fall in love with the same woman. This was Hitchcock's last silent film.

The BFI has announced that Hitchcock's silent films will be accompanied by newly commissioned orchestral scores as part of the London 2012 Festival - the finale of the Cultural Olympiad. One-off live performances across London will include esteemed British musicians Nitin Sawhney, Tansy Davies and Daniel Cohen.

Another effort helping to preserve Hitchcock's memory is The Alfred Hitchcock London Locations Walk, led by Sandra Shevey. The walking tour lasts 3 hours and includes segments of an interview with Hitchcock from 1972. Shevey uses period photos and storyboards to compare the current locations with Hitchcock's re-interpretations, used in for example, Frenzy and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.