Did we like it?
Initially it was like gazing hopelessly into an impenetrable fog with a sporadic glimpse of shining cufflinks, pompous miens, quivering cellos and, as this is a reality show, the odd tear. But gradually we became more indoctrinated into the twilight world of classical music. Bravo!
What was good about it?
• Unlike most reality shows, so far Maestro is an unassuming exhibition that seeks to educate you about the intricacies and skills of conducting an orchestra rather than inflicting a series of ‘tiresome’ journeys on us. A caveat to this praise, however, is that the show goes ‘live’ from next week, but will hopefully avoid the disfiguring plague that afflicts X-Factor and Last Choir Standing in similar environments. Bravo!
• At first, the whole process of conducting an orchestra was utterly bewildering. Even in the initial lessons each student heeded, we still didn’t have a clue what was going on. However, once the mentors to the students arrived, the little details became more apparent. We learned how the ostensibly random arm waving affects the peaks and troughs of the orchestra, heightening crescendos or clipping some meandering strings as well as tapping out the all important rhythm. Bravo!
• This was most obvious when the students conducted the orchestra in order to qualify for the next programme. Bradley Walsh led the orchestra for Dance of the Night (AKA The Apprentice theme tune), and wasn’t bad but he was followed by Peter Snow. And what a moment that was. Bravo!
• Whereas Walsh had managed to conduct a recognisable and coherent performance, Snow’s incompetent baton waving resulted in a rendition that crumbled so rapidly it could have soundtracked Georgia being squashed under the imperialistic jackboot of Russia. In the audience, Snow’s mentor couldn’t watch while those beside him giggled and some members of the orchestra simply stopped playing so bamboozled were they by his aimless windmills. Bravo!
• He was so bad that it begs the question why his musically superior cousin Jon Snow was not chosen to take part – we can only think it was either that it would have meant too many ‘foreign’ newsreaders, along with ITV’s Katie Derham, or that Snow was the X-Factor first round acts, chosen purely for their appalling absence of talent. Bravo!
• The remainder of the aspiring conductors were thankfully bereft of reality TV parasites. Bradley Walsh’s main accomplishment was to charitably sweat copiously; Katie Derham was quite good but was deliciously told that her inherent jauntiness and a perma-grin were of no use to her in this arena; David Soul was endearing and bumbling; Jane Asher was elegant and talented; and Sue Perkins was a bit rigid caused by her schooling in the piano as a child. Bravo!
• The two musicians were Alex James and Goldie. James didn’t start with much of an advantage over his peers as he fulfilled the Andrew Ridgeley role in Blur; he now has a paunch and his black locks resemble Jimmy White’s hair transplant. Bravo!
• Goldie was the best of the bunch. He has very little of the po-faced repression of the classical music elite, and this was picked up on by the judges. But he overcame this with an intuitive understanding of the music he was conveying to the orchestra, acting to the true meaning of the word conductor in that he was visibly communicating all the passion and emotion from the music into his epileptic twirling, which audibly improved the performance of the orchestra. Bravo!
• The best music in amid all the classic classical tunes was the piece that accompanied Alex and Peter being hooked out of the audience as they scored lowest, and their fate was then decided by the orchestra and their keypads. It was the taut anthem to the climax of 28 Days Later that itself aped the superior East Hastings by Godspeed You! Black Emperor from earlier on in the film. Bravo!
What was bad about it?
• The four pieces of music picked for the eight students to share – Dance of the Night; Bizet’s Carmen; Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King; and The Blue Danube by Strauss – were the kind of populist classical tunes that aficionados of the genre would sneer at in the same way that we might sneer at X-Factor contestants performing Angels, You Raise Me Up, Beautiful and the rest of the rancid refuse you’ll see further mutilated this Saturday.
• And while on first, and probably second, listen the anthems were still rousing, by the eighth or ninth listen they’d begun to pall, and were really quite dull.
• The judges mostly offer expert comment without the usual froth after some producer-type has told them to embellish their words, but Zoe did say, “They’re being taken out of their comfort zones”. ‘Comfort zones’ don’t exist in the real world, only in the world of television.
• Katie Derham isn’t half as annoying as you might imagine (although we can’t abide the way she simpers alongside the world’s smuggest creep, Alastair Stewart on the news), but she did berate the orchestra (“Come on! Come on!”) as though they were a nervous pony that had already twice refused to jump a fence at the Badminton Horse Trials.
• Watching, it was almost impossible to judge how good or bad each of the students were in their final performance (except Peter Snow). This meant a slight sense of estrangement from proceedings as you had to scrutinise the faces of the mentors and judges for signs of good or ill rather than focus on the performance itself to make your own rudimentary assessment.