Harry Rabinowitz, conductor and arranger – obituary


Harry Rabinowitz, who has died aged 100, was the unique conductor for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats; he additionally organized the primary theme tune for Prime of the Pops in 1964 and oversaw the British entries to the Eurovision Tune Contest.

He was concerned to various levels within the music for dozens of movies, together with Chariots of Fireplace (1981), Shirley Valentine (1989) and The English Affected person (1996).

“Exploiting sentiment” within the music was the important thing to profitable listeners’ hearts, he mentioned. His success in doing so was recognised when he was invited to conduct the thirty fifth anniversary celebrations of the movie firm Service provider Ivory at Carnegie Corridor in September 1996. Gracie Fields, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Barbra Streisand had been among the many family names to profit from his musical skills, which, he claimed, included with the ability to grasp a brand new rating in half the time it took his contemporaries.

Some Eurovision finalists most well-liked to work with their very own musical director, that means that Rabinowitz’s appearances within the contest had been usually restricted to the Tune for Europe choice spherical. In 1964, nonetheless, he was requested to accompany Matt Monro, the “singing bus driver”, to Copenhagen for the ultimate, the place Monro along with his I Love the Little Issues got here second to the 16-year-old Gigliola Cinquetti from Italy.

Two years later Rabinowitz carried out Kenneth McKellar’s entry, A Man With out Love, in Luxembourg. Rabinowitz recalled how on the final minute McKellar insisted on carrying a kilt to carry out, including that “the Yugoslav delegation thought the music was superb, however the girl who sang it was slightly butch”. Ultimately McKellar got here ninth, which on the time was Britain’s least profitable entry within the competitors’s historical past.

Rabinowitz would inform how his profession had been saved within the early Fifties by Sid James, the star of the Carry On movies with whom he had served within the South African Military and who had been his finest man in 1944. Rabinowitz had come to Britain from South Africa after the struggle to review music, however his profession had been within the doldrums till the pair met by likelihood on the streets of London.

James was by now properly established in Britain and, listening to of his former comrade’s predicament, marched Rabinowitz straight into the workplace of Jack Hylton, the bandleader and impresario, from the place he emerged with a contract in his hand. As he instructed Kirsty Younger on Desert Island Discs in 2015: “Life started once more after 17 minutes.”

Harry Rabinowitz was born in Johannesburg on March 26 1916, the eldest of three sons of Israel and Eva Rabinowitz. Israel had educated as a pharmacist in Russia however had been denied permission to practise when he emigrated to South Africa. Harry recalled how his father had resorted to wrapping parcels in shops to make ends meet, including: “All the pieces he touched turned to dross.”

Inspired by a pleasant neighbour, younger Harry began studying the piano from the age of 9. He was educated at Athlone Excessive College, Johannesburg, and skim politics at Witwatersrand College, the place he accompanied native jazz ensembles. His first job was promoting jewelry, however he was fired after 24 hours. He then turned his hand to enjoying sheet music in a division retailer to draw potential clients – however that lasted solely six weeks earlier than administration observed that gross sales had not elevated. “Possibly I took off a little bit too fancifully,” he mirrored in 2008.

He visited Europe in 1937 to discover the musical potentialities that had been on supply, together with seeing Jascha Heifetz and Sergei Rachmaninov carry out reside. With struggle on the horizon he returned residence and, in 1942, signed up for Military service, reaching the rank of corporal. He was quickly working with the Leisure Unit, coaching black troopers on no matter devices had been out there, although he recalled how their ensembles needed to rehearse in secret. He additionally detested how, as a white NCO, he needed to write permission slips for grown males to be out of their properties after 10pm.

He joined the South African Broadcasting Firm and was assigned to play the piano for George Black’s musical Strike a New Observe. Throughout one efficiency he observed a discrepancy in timing between the singers on stage and the musicians within the pit. Grabbing a rolled-up newspaper – his first baton, he would later say – he shortly introduced actors and orchestra collectively, later declaring that this event marked the beginning of his conducting profession.

Returning to Britain in 1946, Rabinowitz studied on the Guildhall College of Music and Drama and in 1947 made his radio debut on the BBC Gentle Programme as a pianist on Selection Bandbox, a present that helped to launch the careers of Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock and Peter Sellers. He carried out ice spectaculars on the Empress Corridor, in west London, and picked up some occasional radio work, however quickly his prospects had been trying bleak.

Someday, after “padding the moist streets of London with holes in my footwear”, he visited the Spanish gallery on the Nationwide Gallery in Trafalgar Sq. the place, he insisted, the topic of Velázquez’s portray The Rokeby Venus “spoke” to him, reassuring him that every one would prove properly. Quickly after this encounter he had his assembly with James, and when Lerner and Loewe’s musical Paint Your Wagon opened within the West Finish in 1953, he was within the pit.

He joined the BBC that 12 months as a employees conductor, directing the BBC Revue Orchestra in live shows of sunshine music and in selection reveals comparable to Educating Archie, Past Our Ken and The Goons. All had been broadcast reside within the Fifties, and “on the finish you set in your jacket, had a beer and went residence,” he recalled.

He moved to tv in 1960, conducting televised musicals comparable to Kiss Me Kate and The Mikado and composing for programmes comparable to The Charlie Drake Present, in addition to being concerned within the UK’s Eurovision entries. The Benny Hill Present, The Johnny Darling Present and the 1964 version of A Christmas Night time with the Stars all bore his musical imprimatur. In 1968 he moved as head of music to London Weekend Tv, the place his musical credit included Frost on Sunday, Upstairs Downstairs, Black Magnificence and The Larry Grayson Present.

By 1977 Rabinowitz had constructed up a considerable freelance profession, composing and conducting movie music, arranging scores and directing live shows of sunshine music at venues such because the Barbican in London and the Hollywood Bowl. His many different movie credit embody Lord of the Flies (1990), The Stays of the Day (1993) and The Gifted Mr Ripley (1999). He recalled how, on the opening night time of Cats in Could 1981, simply as he was taking his bow, an IRA bomb scare meant that the theatre needed to be evacuated and the pavements outdoors had been quickly crowded with skimpily clad dancers dressed as felines.

A request for him to look on Desert Island Discs in 1952 was by no means adopted up, however that was rectified 63 years later when, aged 99 and as agile as ever, he was Kirsty Younger’s visitor, telling her that he nonetheless performed the piano each day and was working “as quick because the satan will permit me”. The important thing to his longevity, he mentioned, was little sugar, no white flour – “and generally I am going days with none alcohol in anyway”.

He was appointed MBE in 1977 and made a freeman of the Metropolis of London in 1995. Latterly he spent his summers in Portland, Oregon, and his winters in Provence, southern France. Regardless of his many many years of conducting, Rabinowitz claimed by no means to have purchased a baton. “Working within the studios there was at all times some jerk of a conductor who left his pencils, erasers and baton,” he instructed The Portland Tribune in 2008. “So all via my skilled life I’ve used findings.”

In 1944 he married Lorna Thurlow Anderson, with whom he had a son and two daughters. That marriage was dissolved and in 2001 he married Mitzi Scott.

Harry Rabinowitz, born March 26 1916, died June 22 2016


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