Monday, August 02, 2010

Mitch Miller July 4, 1911 – July 31, 2010

BECAUSE THE BASSOON was my instrument through high school, and my best friend Merton played oboe, a fascination for the double-reed instruments pursued me, or I it, for a number of years afterward. One of the first LPs I bought — second-hand, needless to say, there was never a lot of money around in those days — was a ten-inch Mercury disc featuring Mitch Miller playing the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto and a Pavane and Gigue arranged from vihuela music, I suppose, by Luis Milan. Miller was A&R man for Mercury and this must have been one of their first LPs; the serial number is 10003.

Miller died three days ago, not quite a month after his 99th birthday. He must have been a marvelous conversationalist, and he knew his way around all sorts of music — the "Sing Along with Mitch" tv series eclipsed what were, to me, finer aspects of his musicianship. My copy of the Vaughan Williams is scratchy and hazy; I played it a lot in the 1950s and '60s. I think the Oboe Concerto is one of VW's best scores, neoclassical, not the romantic-English-pastoral vein too often mined by this curious composer. Miller's playing is clear, in tune, beautifully expressive. How I wish he'd recorded the Strauss concerto!

You can download a copy of the VW concerto, how legally I do not know, here; there must be a slew of obituaries online by now, and of course there's always Wikipedia. I wish I'd known Mitch Miller; I bet he was a much more interesting and rewarding acquaintance than any of these references suggest.