Allegro™ Films was formed in 1968, possibly the first truly independent television production company in the United Kingdom and one which has remained in the world-wide forefront of television music programming ever since. The founding members were Christopher Nupen (Producer/Director/Writer), David Findlay (Lighting Cameraman), Peter Heelas (Film Editor), Diana Baikie (Manager) and Michael Rosenberg (Production Assistant). Diana Baikie, Christopher Nupen's first wife, died in 1979, an immeasurable loss for us and for the world and Michael Rosenberg left to become head of Partridge Films, but the three founding members are still together today.
We made our first film together in 1966. It was made for BBC Television and given the unpromising title of DOUBLE CONCERTO. It featured Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim and the English Chamber Orchestra preparing for, and giving, their first public performance together. They played Mozart's concerto for two pianos at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon on the 12th of March 1966.
Thanks to the invention of the first silent 16 mm cameras in the 1960s, the film Double Concerto put images on the screen that had never been there before: intimate views of supremely gifted musicians enjoying their gifts and with enough youthful exuberance to keep the film flying. The film won the Prague and Monte Carlo prizes in the following year and, subsequently, had a decisive and seminal influence on television music programming both in Europe and in the United States.
Two prime factors lay behind the formation of Allegro™ Films, the invention of the first lightweight, silent, 16mm film cameras and our perception of what this new combination of silence and mobility could mean to television music programming.
Using the lessons which Christopher Nupen had learned in the internationally famed Features Department of BBC Radio, we sought to get away from the limitations of television studios by taking the new cameras to musical performers in their natural environment, where they are at their best and their most revealing.
In the words of Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the first Chief Executive of the innovative Channel Four Television network in the United Kingdom and later Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, "Christopher Nupen pioneered a style of filming musicians and music-making in which his excellence has rarely been equalled and never excelled. Of that genre he is the undoubted master. His films will endure forever as reference documents to the executant's art in the 20th century and as constant sources of musical delight."
Through close relationships with the artists and by showing aspects of music and music-making that are not generally accessible, even to the concert-going public, Allegro™ Films has been able to produce a series of intimate portraits of great performers that have come to be recognised as classics and which have a longevity that is rarely achieved by television programming.
One of our films, THE TROUT, with Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Jacqueline du Pré and Zubin Mehta, is probably the most frequently broadcast classical music film ever made. Twenty-five years after its first appearance, on its eighth broadcast in Germany (which may be a record for classical music films), it gained the largest audience of all classical music transmissions on the ARTE network during the whole of that year. Why? Because, in addition to its original virtues it has acquired, over the years, both an historic quality and the quality of nostalgia. In fact it has become an icon of a glorious time in music that is forever gone.
We then launched into home video and for more than five years, had the three top-selling titles in the Warner Brothers classical video catalogue (VHS and Laserdisc). The arrival of DVD then gave us another new impetus. We see it as an entirely new medium, unlike television and unlike home video as it was in the past. We won the DVD of the Year Award at Midem in Cannes in both 2005 (Jacqueline du Pré in Portrait) and 2006 (We Want the Light).
The hallmarks of these films are intimacy, exuberance and insights into musical experience that were previously the private preserve of the great musicians and their intimate friends. Sir Isaiah Berlin, the much loved and respected Oxford philosopher and historian of ideas, described some of them as being "At just about the highest level which television is capable of reaching".
All of this has flowed from happy historical accident - a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Many of the musicians were already our friends when the new cameras were invented and this fruitful constellation of unusual circumstances made a new kind of film possible.
The performers joined in with gusto and the results of our work together demonstrated convincingly that, once those self-blimped cameras had been invented, film became capable of remembering our performers in a way which had never been possible before and which not one of the other media is quite able to match.
In celebration of 25 years of Allegro™ Films, the innovative Channel Four in the United Kingdom, ran a retrospective of Christopher Nupen films at prime time on Saturday evenings. As far as we know, it was the longest retrospective ever devoted to the work of a single director, film or television, on British television.
The films were shown at 9.05pm every Saturday evening for four months from September to Christmas and when it was over Channel 4 described it as their biggest success of the year, not in arts broadcasting but over the entire range of their output. That was convincing proof, contrary to certain pronouncements by some television networks, that public interest in well made music programmes is still strong. Further proof of public interest in work of this kind was provided by the response to our first DVD Jacqueline du Pré in Portrait which became the top-selling classical music DVD of the year within 8 weeks of its publication date.
Composers & Performers
The performers that have appeared in Allegro™ films include Andrés Segovia, Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Nathan Milstein, Isaac Stern, Murray Perahia, Placido Domingo, Gidon Kremer, Marc Neikrug, Cristobal Halffter and Evgeny Kissin among others.
We have also made films about composers and thinkers, concentrating on the work, rather than the lives, of Georges Bizet, Ottorino Respighi, Modest Mussorgski, Johannes Brahms, Jean Sibelius, Marc Neikrug, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Cristobal Halffter, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Arnold Schoenberg, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Franz Peter Schubert and Niccolo Paganini.
Our most recent film, WE WANT THE LIGHT has won four international prizes; Best Editing at the New York Film and Television Festival 2004, The Jewish Cultural Award for Film and Television 2004, (a prize which in 2003 went to Steven Spielberg and Roman Polanski and in 2004 to Daniel Barenboim, Maxim Vengerov, Christopher Nupen and three others), and the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik. (The prize of the German recording critics).
Christopher Nupen began his broadcasting career in the Features Department of BBC Radio when he made HIGH FESTIVAL IN SIENA in 1962 for the BBC Third Programme at the invitation of Laurence Gilliam, a radio documentary of a new kind about the extraordinary summer music school of the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, where Nupen studied with Andrés Segovia and Alirio Diaz.
As a result of his radio programmes, he was invited by Huw Wheldon to move to television where he became the originator of a new kind of intimate classical music film - made possible for the first time by the invention of the first silent 16mm film cameras in the 1960s. His first film (DOUBLE CONCERTO) made in 1966, at the invitation of Huw Wheldon and David Attenborough with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Daniel Barenboim won two international prizes (Prague and Monte Carlo) and became a seminal work.
Nupen has been described by Sir Jeremy Isaacs and Sir Denis Forman as the undoubted master of the genre he pioneered and one whose work is an enduring source of musical delight.
- Much of his work has been built on intimate friendships with leading musicians, among them Jacqueline du Pré, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Nathan Milstein, Andrés Segovia, Isaac Stern and Evgeny Kissin.
- Maker of THE TROUT, probably the most frequently broadcast classical music film ever made.
- Probably the first truly independent television producer in the UK and still going strong. He has made more than 80 television productions, all shown on major networks both in the UK and in Germany.
- In some ways, his later work is more adventurous than ever. His two latest films, both of a kind which he had never made before have, between them, won five international prizes.
- Worked with the same lighting cameraman, David Findlay and film editor, Peter Heelas from his first film until now.
- Given the longest retrospective that has ever been shown on British television, sixteen consecutive Saturday evenings on Channel 4 at 9.05 p.m. from the beginning of September until Christmas - described by Channel 4 as their biggest success of the year, overall.
- Maker of the top-selling classical DVD title of 2004, JACQUELINE DU PRÉ IN PORTRAIT.
- Winner of DVD of the Year Award in Cannes two years in succession (2005 and 2006) with his second oldest film, JACQUELINE DU PRÉ IN PORTRAIT, and his second newest one WE WANT THE LIGHT.
- Through his work, Christopher Nupen has demonstrated convincingly that film and television are able to remember the artistic persona as nothing else can do and his films rank among the most enduring work that has yet been done for television. The Oxford philosopher and historian of ideas, Sir Isaiah Berlin, described some of them as being "At just about the highest level which television is capable of reaching".