Posts Tagged: arrangement

Where is this Pirelli?

The Ballad of MTI’s Ass-Hat Arranging Department goes something like this: in January, Anno Domini 2013, I read this very article published by no less venerated an institution than the New York Times, wot made me think, natch, “I should like to program, perform, and conduct one of these Sondheim Suites myself!”

Flash forward to two 1/2 months ago when I opened the box from the publisher and found music proudly bearing the following title:


And that was just the beginning.  Wrong and misspelled notes, nonsense articulations, pointless doublings, shoddy orchestration, useless transitions – and all of that illegibly copied.  At every level, this arrangement, by Don Sebesky, was a Hack Job.

What’s a girl to do?  I scrapped the Sebesky arrangement and wrote my own from scratch.  Mine includes “The Ballad of SweenEy Todd”, “My Friends”, “Green Finch & Linnet Bird”, “Ah Miss”, “Joanna”, “A Little Priest” and closes with a reprise of the “Ballad”.  It is superior to MTI’s house arrangement in every conceivable way.  I conducted it in concert yesterday, so to The Man, I say, good luck getting me to cease and or desist.

Who the hell is this Don Sebesky in the first place?  Well, according to this book, he wrote orchestrations for the 1983 revue Peg, Cy Coleman’s The Life, and his own 1989 Prince of Central Park.

I hate to judge a guy by his resume – there are plenty of people out there doing quality work in obscurity.  But really, is this the person to whom we want to entrust an orchestral arrangement of Sweeney fecking Todd??  It’s quite possible that he’s decent at writing for a Broadway pit band, but writing for a regulation-size symphony orchestra is a different beast altogether.

Otto_NicolaiI feel a little like Otto Nicolai who, legend has it, had to single-handedly found the Vienna Philharmonic just to ensure quality performances of Beethoven’s works in Vienna.  Perhaps that’s a ridiculous comparison, and I should just let Sondheim and his music fend for themselves (or at the very least not insult other arrangers and their publishers in catty blog posts) but it’s just, I feel like I’ve got to do SOMETHING, you know?

Norman Ludwin: Scape-grace

In a few days’ time I will conduct a concert featuring the first movement of Giovanni Bottesini’s second concerto for double bass and orchestra, which truth be told is not much of a piece, but it’s better not to mention it since bass players have so little anyway.

This piece, I’ve come to find out, does not exist in an orchestral form handed down by the composer – if there ever was an original orchestration, it has been lost.  All that remains to posterity is a piano transcription (which may or may not actually be from the composer’s pen).

It would seem there are as many arrangements of this piece as there are recordings, however, the only arrangement I was able to come by was written by a bassist/orchestrator named Norman Ludwin.

Mr. Ludwin’s biography indicates that he is currently employed as an orchestration teacher.  If this piece were a freshman orchestration assignment, I would give it an F.  Not one chord is voiced correctly, nor is there any attempt made at logical voice leading.  Bars have been copied and pasted willy-nilly between parts with no regard to register or playability.  Enharmonic spellings are but a sick joke.

One such page of this drivel with my extensive corrections

How many ways can I dis-repudiate this mingle-mangle of an orchestration?  It is a hack-job by a scape-grace.  It is the work of an author who could not tell a perfect fifth from a pig squeal, nor an E-flat from an earring.  It is slap-dashery of the highest order.

A glance at his biography tells us that Mr. Ludwin, after a long career as a professional bassist, decided to return to school to better his skills as a composer/orchestrator in 2003, finally earning a doctorate in the field in 2007.  His imdb profile profile even indicates that he worked as an orchestrator on two superb film scores (John Carter and Super 8, both by the brilliant Michael Giacchino) (though, on films with Music Departments dozens-strong, who knows exactly what that means.)

Here I am even willing to give Mr. Ludwin the benefit of the doubt: perhaps this arrangement represents an effort made prior to his advanced education.  But if this be the case, the only honorable thing is for Mr. Ludwin to remove such an offensive work from his catalogue until he brings it up to his current standards.  I would not want to be judged professionally on work that I found sub-par, and have gone to strenuous lengths to improve my earlier works.  It is up to Mr. Ludwin to do the same.

Until that day may come, I offer two challenges:

1) I hereby offer my services as an arranger free of charge to anyone who would like an original orchestration of the Bottesini bass concerto, if only in the hopes of siphoning away funds from this street mountebank.

2) Should Mr. Ludwin choose to defend his work, he will have to do so on the field of honor, for I hereby challenge him to a duel, with pistols, at dawn on a day of his choosing.  I do so in defense of the dignity of the musical arts.