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Ennio Blows

September 9, 2011

"Gabriel's Oboe," Ennio Morricone's haunting theme from the 1986 film The Mission has a special place in my heart as an oboist. The melody is so beautifully written for the instrument. It soars, it beseeches and it engulfs the senses. When someone asks me to 'give 'em a tune' in passing, more often than not, "Gabriel's Oboe" will be the piece they ask me to play.

So I was interested to discover yesterday that Morricone has enlisted the 24 year old soprano Hayley Westenra to write lyrics for "Gabriel's Oboe" among some of his other film score hits.

The new version of the piece is subtitled "Whispers In A Dream" and it's just about the most mawkish song I've ever heard. Not only are the lyrics insipid, but Westenra's voice, which has been autotuned (or whatever) into a state of loose-vibratoed ordinariness, cannot remotely compete with the oboe's plaintive, characterful call. In short, the interpretation is a disaster.

The video for the track, which mostly features the singer gazing into middle distance in a variety of modish European settings as in a perfume ad, is equally laughable. Watch and listen to "Gabriel's Oboe (Whispers In A Dream)" here.

P.S. I attended the opening night of the San Francisco Symphony's 100th anniversary season on Wednesday. It feels silly to complain about the state of gala audiences, who are there to see and be seen rather than do any listening. It is a gala after all. And the same goes for the programming, which is invariably all about giving people what they know and like rather than shaking them up with anything radical or new. But at a certain point, it's got to be about the music, even at a gala. As it was, the first five minutes of Copland's Billy the Kid Ballet Suite was lost to shuffling, whispering, ballgown-trussed forms. And even Lang Lang, though on his usual pyrotechnic-inducing form, couldn't transform Liszt's Piano Concerto No 1 into something different from the crowd-pleasing warhorse that it has become.

P.P.S. It feel very strange to be an arts journalist amongst a crowd of Knight Fellowship reporters who cover things like drug wars in Mexico, corruption in Serbia and immigration issues in Ecuador and get their kicks by walking across America. I am in good company.


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