Three kings and a fiery angel

In a 2003 interview with Simon Tait, Raymond Gubbay formulated that: “….people like tunes they can hum. They also like spectacle.”. In 1982, Gubbay in effect programmed the new Barbican Centre’s music offering single-handedly. So on this Saturday between Christmas and New Year, I will happily take my seat with my fellow human hummers at the Barbican for his “Piano Legends” – well, I’ll be damned, I spot Christopher Eccleston taking some pre-Shakespearean sustenance.

Not so fast: Gubbay left Raymond Gubbay Ltd in 2016, when it was partly owned by Sony Music. Earlier in this – soon to close – year, Sony took full control of the organisation.

Gubbay was not such a legend in the piano stakes himself. At the age of seven, he was entered by his musical parents for Grade I Piano, and failed. However, his grandmother used to take him to see D’Oyly Carte shows at the Golders Green Hippodrome, where they sat on wooden benches. Having left school at 16, he tried accountancy and working for Pathe News before (following a chance conversation between his father and the playwright Arnold Wesker) spending less than a year in apprenticeship with the music producer Victor Hochhauser.

At the age of twenty, Gubbay borrowed £50 from his father and another fifty from the bank, and set up on his own account, promoting touring choirs. Tait wrote:

“He, Hochhauser and Harvey Goldsmith now stand as the three most formidably populist music promoters, or as he likes to put it, “the kosher nostra”.”.

Goldsmith was born (in Edgware) a month before Gubbay and twenty three years after Hochhauser.

Victor Hochhauser was born in what was then Czechoslovakia. In 1938 his father, returning from a business trip to Switzerland, was stopped at the border and asked if his name was Jewish. He turned back and made for London, from where he sent for his wife, son and two daughters.

In 2017, a new joint venture was formed between Gubbay, Michael Stevens and Fiery Angel: Fiery Angel Entertainment. The Fiery Development Company was launched in 2016. Led by Hedda Beeby, its specific aim is to create and develop ambitious new work for the commercial market in the UK and internationally.

Fiery Angel is a theatrical production company headed by Edward Snape and his wife Marilyn Eardley, and Jon Bath. It produces and manages drama, comedies, musicals and event theatre in the West End, and on tour throughout the United Kingdom and internationally.

“The Fiery Angel” is a 1923 opera by Prokofiev, which was first presented in full performance, posthumously, in 1954. (Prokofiev died on the same day as Stalin, 5th March 1953.) When the Kirov/Gergiev live performance was released on CD in 1999, a “Gramophone” guest reviewer wrote of Prokofiev’s “indulgence in lurid sensationalism” in this opera. Elsewhere it has been written that “the story was considered very appropriate for Prokofiev’s dark and sarcastic style”.

The libretto was based on the gothic novel of the same name by Russian writer Valery Bryusov. It was first serialised in the Russian literary monthly Vesy between 1907-8, and then published in two volumes in 1908. The story depicts a love triangle and, it is now recognised, mirrors a real life situation between Bryusov, his fellow Russian Symbolist, Andrei Bely, and the young Nina Petrovskaya. It features the esoteric, the occult, religious hysteria, and the tension between sexuality and spirituality.

Now there’s a crowd pleaser.

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