Rick Phillips is one of many well-known CBC radio announcers, broadcasters and reporters, in the same league as the late Jurgen Goth, Michael Enright, Anna Maria Tremonti and the new opera commentator, Ben Heppner. For fourteen years, Phillips hosted and produced Sound Advice, a weekly guide to classical music broadcast on CBC Radio One and CBC Radio Two. A Seniors club in Pickering was fortunate to have him as a guest speaker to talk about the role of classical music in movies.
A Paul Giamatti look alike with a mellifluous voice reminiscent of a blend of Donald Sutherland and Morgan Freeman, Phillips engaged the seniors group with a very entertaining hour of incisive and intelligent commentary relating to ‘Classical music in motion pictures.’
He began with an examination of the movie Amadeus and the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart reinforcing his points with musical excerpts.
The older adults audience immediately recognized the theme music from Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey 2001. Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz seems so perfectly suited to be background to the rotation of the space station in the movie’s opening scenes. Today, few adults can avoid visualizing the spinning station in the blue black sky when they hear the rich, luscious tones of the Blue Danube waltz being played somewhere.
Next up, Apocalypse Now, Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle opus and Robert Duvall’s declaration about nothing finer than the ‘smell of napalm in the morning.’ The helicopters were almost visible flying above us as we listened to the thunderous Ride of the Valkyries.
Then, nearly every member of the audience sat up in instant recognition of the well-known John Williams’ work which was the theme music of Star Wars. As Phillips explained, Williams was simply following in the musical footsteps of Richard Strauss, Gustav Holst, and Igor Stravinsky each creating music as appropriate thematic background to war and combat movies.
Some composers created music strictly for the movies, but their pieces were so beautiful, they became classical hits in their own right. Ralph (Rafe) Vaughn Williams’ work, Sinfonia Antarctica is an example, explained Phillips. Then he played Mozart’s piano concerto, The World Rose, to reinforce his point. Everyone immediately recognized the work as the more commonly named, Elvira Madigan.
Phillips closed with music from Woody Allen’s 1979 film, Manhattan. Allen’s musical composer of choice for the movie was George Gershwin and Gershwin’s sweeping instrumental flourishes enhanced the film beautifully. His music evoked images of the New York skyline and the hustle bustle of downtown Manhattan. Everyone present visualized being in downtown New York. Phillip’s final musical piece was ‘the Big Tune’ from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, a romantic, emotional piece, again recognized by nearly every adult who has lived in North America over the past half century.
Rick Phillips’ years at a CBC mike were very evident throughout his talk; clear, precise enunciation, diction which would do any English drama teacher proud. But the delivery had mettle founded by years of working with classical music. This man not only knows his stuff, he also knows how to showcase it wonderfully.
Kudos and bravos Rick Phillips !!! You were terrific !!