Rodney Greenberg (1940-2020)

Humphrey Burton wrote in The Guardian of 17 Dec 2020:

“Rodney Greenberg, my friend and colleague, who has died aged 79, was an especially gifted director for BBC Television of classical music performances, notably the Last Night of the Proms, which he masterminded for a decade, and such favourites as Master Class, Young Musician of the Year and Andre Previn’s Music Night. In 1998 he published a valuable study of George Gershwin for Phaidon’s series devoted to contemporary composers.

Rodney was born in Manchester, the son of Lily (nee Price) and Cyril Greenberg. His father, a piano teacher, ran a children’s orchestra in which the young Rodney played a variety of percussion instruments. Later, he attended Bury grammar school and went on to read music at Manchester University, specialising in piano and composition and emerging with a BA and a BMus.

He could well have gone on to a career in film music but was headhunted to become a music producer in the BBC’s Manchester HQ. At the start of the 1970s he moved to London, to Bush House; eventually he transferred to Music and Arts at BBC Television Centre.

Rodney’s planning for the live Proms broadcasts from the Royal Albert Hall was always meticulous and his concerts were a distinctive musical pleasure. He prided himself on having directed 10 Last Nights and always enjoyed adding extra “cutaway” shots of those quirky characters who emerge in the audience.

In 1982 I enlisted Rodney to direct for Omnibus a special studio production of William Walton’s first symphony to celebrate the composer’s 80th birthday. These were still the relatively early days of colour television and Rodney had a good idea: each movement of the symphony would be washed in a different colour.

Walton told us on camera that the symphony was inspired by a doomed love affair he had had with a German baroness and the marking in the score “con malizia” (“with malice”) was how he felt about her when he composed the second movement. So Rodney presented the entire movement in a stunningly bilious green.

Over the following decade Rodney went freelance and made his name in many fields of classical music, including filming Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas at Teddington Studios and directing the live broadcast of Harold Prince’s spectacular production of Turandot from Vienna. He also did a stint at Glyndebourne. In the US he often worked with André Previn’s orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and he collaborated with the choreographer Jerome Robbins for NBC in New York.

By the turn of the century the world had become his oyster. For the impresario Reiner Moritz he directed symphony concerts from major concert halls. He delivered illustrated music talks, laced with wit, on Noble Caledonia’s river cruises, and gave fundraising talks for Jewish charities.

Rodney had suffered from ill-health since his 40s and recently had to undergo complex surgery after suffering a strangulated hernia in his stomach, from which he did not recover.

Rodney married Sue Cohen in 1968. They were divorced in 1981. He is survived by his sister, Myrna.”

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