Posted by Andrew Bell – adapted from a blogpost at The Full Catastrophe
As Hikaru & I talk to those who’ve been in the Eurovision cauldron – singers, commentators etc – there are a number of themes which just keep on coming up.
One of them is the absence of a live orchestra at the ESC.
It is a matter of some sadness all round.
There is a compare and contrast thing at work here.
Let me explain.
Pyrotechnics, gymnastics, crane shots and other flim flammery are fine and dandy, but can you really beat a great performer … and a great band ?
Having taken a looksy at the 2012 ”Festival della canzone italiana di Sanremo” (Sanremo Music festival) I am in total agreement with Barabara Cook’s sentiments. (And how good were the MSO BTW ????!!!!)
For sixty odd years Sanremo has been sticking to a tried & tested format and it still delivers.
It’s moved with the times somewhat, but never forgetting from whence it came.
Back in the mid-1950s, it was the template for the Eurovision Song Contest, but has – by some measure – stayed truer to its roots than the ESC.
As Eurovision developed, in atmospherics if nothing else, as some kind of a “Europe’s Got Talent X-Factor Masterchef” show, the Sanremo has never traded its soul.
It is STILL all about the music. (And the commercial breaks).
And while the ESC has long done away with such old hat as an orchestra, the Italians have stayed staunch.
In fact, it could be argued they were able to comfortably walk away from the Eurovision Song Contest on a couple of occasions because they had a home-grown event that better suited their purposes.
Whether it was a sulk or not is beside the point.
Italians had seen the ESC become a not always pleasing melange of schools spectacular, talent quest & 3am show at Mardi Gras.
Nothing wrong in that, but it didn’t quite “fit” for them.
The music was being marginalised as the “Total Entertainment performance Instance Demand” – TEPID for short – took over.
Meanwhile, back at Sanremo the basics were still honoured even as the mode of broadcasting the event changed.
It is, after all, a creation of electronic media – it started as a radio show before moving to TV – but the festival was deliberate in not falling for each passing technological fad or fancy.
“All that glisters” and all that.
The song remained paramount, with the place of the orchestra or live group not far behind.
And the existence of any kind of band does make a huge difference.
It offers succour to the singer and challenge to his or her performance.
When it works, a band exudes energy, drama, joie de vivre and even malice towards the singer.
A fraction of friction between singer and band can create musical pearls.
It’s the difference between the bland and the memorable.
Singer + orchestra/group = compelling.
And in never playing a song the same way twice, a band can goad the singer to go to places he or she wouldn’t dare to go to alone.
The pre-recording of backing & orchestral tracks allows for a reduction in the margin for error, but it also means reduced risk taking in what remains of the live performance.
So if the song is not allowed to fully flourish is it any wonder that it requires the audience to be distracted and/or diverted with various visual tricks and gimics.
Indeed, there are times when overblown visuals suggest a complete lack of confidence from the performers in the song they are (or should be) giving their all to.
The music seems to have been strategised until it has nary a heartbeat of its own.
It’s better with a band because it becomes daring.
That’s why it’s better with a band.
Therefore the campaign for the return of live music to the ESC is one deserving of proper consideration.
You only have immerse yourself in the pomp of the 2012 San Remo Festival to see its time has not passed.
And you only have to go back to a moment etched in Eurovision history to experience a singer & orchestra in harness to glorious effect.
Strike up the band !