Testing the brain cells

We take part in the BPI's annual Nordoff Robbins classical music quiz

Testing the brain cells
Nordoff Robbins BPI Quiz

Which string quartet is named after a literary horse? To which football club did composer Michael Nyman dedicate a work? And what was the profession of Benvenuto Cellini in Berlioz’s opera?

These were just some of the questions that had members of the classical music recording industry scratching their collective heads last night (22 November). The occasion? The British Phonographic Industry’s (BPI) third Nordoff Robbins classical music quiz – in aid of the music therapy charity, we were all invited to subject ourselves to torture by tough question over a couple of hours in the basement of the Phoenix pub on London’s Cavendish Square. Around 20 teams took up the challenge including BBC Music Magazine. As reigning champions, we had a certain honour to defend.

That the quiz seems set to become an annual tradition is definitely a good thing. Quite rightly, the evening began with a presentation by Nordoff Robbins itself, accompanied by a video hosted by Alexander Armstrong (of Pointless and occasional baritone fame), about what the charity actually does. In the company of a young lad called Genesis, Armstrong both explained and demonstrated how music can help people with impairments to communicate where other means fall short. It was inspiring stuff but, as always, the message was clear – admirable charities such as this can only continue their excellent work if they receive our support. You can read more about Nordoff Robbins here.

Onto the quiz itself, it soon became evident that holding onto our crown would be a tough ask. Answers to the opening listening round, in which we were asked to identify pieces of music with place names in their titles, proved strangely elusive, as they also did in the following ‘Name the string quartets’ and ‘Identify the voices singing Catalani’s La Wally’ rounds. Eek. Our score was starting to look ominously low. And as if to add to our concerns, across the room loomed the sight of our much-loved magazine rivals Gramophone – having seemingly been content last year to turn up and happily sniff the daisies, this time round saw them arrive at the Phoenix with a renewed sense of purpose and a boffin-in-a-jacket added to their armoury. They clearly meant business.

But there is, as they say, no point worrying about the opposition. Much better to concentrate on one’s own game. And as the evening wore on, confidence was boosted by a couple of easier rounds and, admittedly, a couple of beers to help them on their way. Unscrambling the anagrams of the names of musicians proved a comparative doddle, as did identifying performers by pictures of their eyes. Less palatable, though, was the food-related picture round. Peach Melba and tournedos Rossini aside, our knowledge of the musical menu was found sadly wanting. We really must learn to eat more. Enthusiasm was high, though, and debate often earnest. A round on organ transcriptions was quickly dispatched with glee by the editor, while the imaginative 'Spot the names of musical works in the narrative of a story' round was great fun.

In the end, however, our woeful pudding identification inadequacies were to prove our downfall, and we saw our brief reign as champions come to an abrupt halt. A big hand, instead, to Presto Classical who finished top by one point – worthy winners indeed. We, in the meantime, had to settle for second place, a slot we shared with, yep, Gramophone. We look forward to resuming (amiable) hostilities next year.

That said, no-one was really too worried who won and who came last. A large sum was raised for Nordoff Robbins – and that, after all, was the point of the whole evening.

Jeremy Pound, deputy editor of BBC Music Magazine

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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