Posted on January 30, 2017
How to think of a world in which Carlos isn’t there? Surely he’s just gone out or gone away and will drift back into our lives at some time or other. That’s how he was.
Of course I wept buckets when I heard – he was an emotional man after all.
How did we first meet? Well it was John Chesworth who suggested I get in touch with Carlos when Ballet Rambert had a vacancy for company pianist and assistant musical director. I had only just started as musical director and was 24. I rang Carlos and we agreed to meet at Sloane Square. Neither of us agrees as to who was late for that meeting – I maintain it was he and he always said it was me… Whatever, the first five or ten minutes were rather frosty – Carlos could stand on ceremony. But soon that all melted as his Latin temperament somehow reached out and pushed its way past my Englishness to find that we had a real meeting point. We simply looked at music and dance in much the same way, and I think as a fairly recent arrival in London he rather liked this Englishness – he always referred to me as “dear boy”, and one of his favourite expressions was “perish the thought”. He agreed almost on the spot to taking the job, although he did demur at the salary offered (I think it was £35 per week) but then didn’t we all…
It was another couple of weeks before we next met up, on his first day in his new job. I went up to the studio with Carlos and introduced him to everyone (many of them knew him already as he had played for some company classes). His awesome reputation as a class pianist had preceded him. As I sat to listen I soon realised why. I knew little then about what constituted a good class pianist – I had only heard one who was OK but not very inspiring. Wow! Within minutes you could see and hear the difference, writ large on the faces of all the dancers, who were smiling as a much cherished piece of Schubert was deployed for pliés, some delicious Chopin for ronds de jambe, a finger-snapping bit of boogie-woogie for small jumps, and some grand Tchaikovsky for big jumps, all picked out at a second’s notice from his amazingly fertile and imaginative mind, and all accompanied by a fuggy cloud of Silk Cut. His repertoire was endless and endlessly surprising, inspiring and always absolutely just right for whatever daily exercise was being given. At the end the dancers were talking only of Carlos as they all went up to him to thank him and greet him. Suddenly I realised what a lifeline a really good class pianist can be to the dancers in their daily workout. It was a lesson I never forgot.
Carlos was a little more perplexed by the administrative tasks that we had to carry out together. I had warned him that there would be some, but had been deliberately vague on detail for fear of putting him off the idea of joining us altogether. Getting to grips with the finer points of the Musician’s Union’s handbook was not quite what he had in mind, and he always did have difficulty with mastering the intricate details of percussionists’ doubling fees. Not to mention booking musicians for the upcoming tour, and booking rehearsal venues and organising music stands for the music rehearsals. Somehow, much to my surprise, he took it all in very good spirit,
particularly after we realised we both liked the same things for lunch – delicious sesame bread and taramasalata or tsatziki from Adamou’s the Greek deli on Chiswick High Road, and occasionally a box from the KFC.
Our first week on tour was in Leicester, and for the first (and last) time we shared a room in the same digs. Oh dear! The landlady had insisted we take off our shoes on entering the house for fear of spoiling her pristine white carpets. On the first morning not only had I spilled my entire breakfast (which she brought us in bed) all over her carpet, but Carlos had also emptied the content of his bedside ashtray all over the floor. On the following day at breakfast Carlos engaged her on the subject of her recently deceased budgerigar, of which there were copious photos all over the place. When he tried to make a joke of how clever her budgie must have been, she exploded saying, “Carlos – my boodgie was a saint!” Carlos dissolved in uncontrolled hysterics at this point, which nearly ended up with our both being chucked out for lack of respect!
It soon became obvious that what Carlos really wanted to do at Rambert was compose. I was planning the first concert with the Mercury Ensemble (Rambert’s resident ensemble at the time) at the Round House with Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale, and so I commissioned Carlos to write a similarly theatrical piece to go with it. He came up with a wonderful score called Chuapi Punchapi Tutayaca, which, loosely translated, means “The night came in the middle of the day” and related the plight of Andes Indians during the Spanish invasion. It was an incredibly dramatic piece, for narrator (Carlos’ uncle Alfredo) and ensemble, including what we all came to recognise as Carlos’ trademark panoply of percussion instruments, Carlos immediately revealing that the theatre was his main stage. The performance was unforgettably exciting and was attended by Norman Morrice, who had stood down as director of the company on Carlos’ first day. Norman was smitten, both with Carlos himself and his music, and immediately decided to ask Carlos to write the score for his next work for the company, which was called The Sea Whisper’d Me. Thus began a relationship, sometimes turbulent and difficult, but extraordinarily productive and mutually enhancing, and one that continued, with long interruptions, right up to the day Norman died. They shared, among other things, a love of Baudelaire and Whitman, and they fed off each other during the long collaborative process that led to that ballet. Sadly the piece was not deemed a great success, either by the critics or the management (unjustly I think) and was soon dropped from the repertoire and never performed again. But their relationship was cemented.
As a result, Carlos was soon in demand by all the younger choreographers in the company who realised what a gold mine they had in their midst, and a wonderfully productive period of musical creation ensued. It started with another collaboration that was to have a profound influence on Carlos for the rest of his life – that with Lindsay Kemp.
The Parades Gone By was such fun – and such a different and refreshing piece to add to the repertoire. First performed at the Round House, its theatricality played on the marvellous actor-dancers that peopled Rambert at that time, Bob Smith as the director, John Chesworth (who could forget his Dracula shaking his watch in frustration when he realised his time was up), Lucy Burge, Marilyn Williams… And Carlos’ amazing pastiche score, a tour de force of collage and half-remembered
tunes, was in itself extraordinarily witty and amusing. No wonder it is still revived now, some 40 years later!
The summit of Carlos and Lindsay’s Rambert collaboration was Cruel Garden, with Christopher Bruce, also premiered at the Round House. This piece really tapped into the deep roots of Carlos’ Spanish-ness, his love of Lorca, his love of the old Spanish forms as well as the folk traditions, both flamenco and Sevillanas, its violence epitomised in the truly terrifying bull-fight, his empathy with the demi-monde. The music was at once startlingly original, often using the simplest of means, powerfully atmospheric, lovingly sentimental, wistful, brutal, earthy and gentle. More than anything it communicated to the audience with enormous intensity. He researched assiduously and used the small ensemble so creatively – we even doubled up as the five-part choir for the madrigal, including the conductor! Who can forget his beautiful reciting of the Lorca poems and the Buster Keaton episode? No wonder he was much sought after as an actor! And it was Carlos who managed to steer to the two temperamentally opposite characters of Chris and Lindsay through the often fraught rehearsal period.
When the time came for both of us to leave the company and go our separate ways, it was only natural that Carlos should gravitate to the exotically theatrical world of the Lindsay Kemp Company, where the theatrical instincts that inhabited every fibre of his being were given full reign. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mr Punch’s Pantomime, Cinderella, and Duende were just a few of the wonderful scores that underpinned Lindsay’s amazing theatrical creations.
He continued though to write music outside the theatre. He provided and conducted the score for the opening ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and I commissioned two works from him for BBC Radio 3 – a lovely little song setting “Quell innocente figlio” for a programme called A Schubert Songbook, and a lovely, understated instrumental piece “Del Amor Insomne Noche”, premiered at the City of London Festival in 2004 and recorded for BBC Radio 3 by the Galliard Ensemble, with Lucy Wakeford (harp) and Colin Currie (marimba). Carlos was busy writing an opera on Cinderella when he died – apparently he had written half an hour of music. How cruel that it will never be completed.
The last time I saw Carlos was in the summer of 2015, when he came over to London for a memorial event for John Chesworth. We spent a fantastic evening at our house, where his wit was as charming, direct and caustic as ever, his gravelly voice even gravellier and deeper, and we were once more completely taken under the spell of this entrancing human being whose love was wholehearted and all-embracing, and who in turn one could only love with abandon. Gosh I will miss him.
Carlos Miranda, born July 17, 1945; died November 22, 2016.
Photograph by ALAN CUNLIFFE, courtesy of RAMBERT.