Concerto for Group and Orchestra - Back from the Dead

In part one of this article, I described how the orchestral score, the sheet music, for Jon Lord's musical masterpiece the Concerto for Group and Orchestra was lost at some point in 1970. It seemed that the Concerto would never be performed again. It was impossible for Lord to re-write the entire 45 minute score from memory.

And then, one day 30 years later, something of a miracle occurred. Not a miracle of the supernatural type, but a miracle of human ingenuity, perseverance, and love of music.

A New Composer

Early in 1999, Jon Lord's group Deep Purple was touring Europe. Shortly before their concert in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, a young Dutch fan called Marco De Goeij approached Lord with unbelievable news. De Goeij had re-created the score to the Concerto.

How was this possible? Incredibly, De Goeij had done it by watching the video recording of the 1969 concert, and listening to the CD recording, over and over and over again. Over a two year period, he painstakingly transcribed the notes he heard and saw being played by each instrument. As Lord later remarked, "It was a task of mind bending complexity. He had worked out the notes by looking at the positions of the violin player's fingers!"

Just stop and think about this task for a moment. You don't have to understand music composition to appreciate what an incredible feat this was. Working from nothing more than those 30-year-old recordings, De Goeij reconstructed, note for note, 45 minutes of music played by an orchestra with over one hundred musicians and a rock band! The only part he didn't attempt, apparently, was the drum solo (which was improvised during the concert anyway!)

A New Conductor

Paul Mann's uncle was a "roadie" for Deep Purple in the 1970s and Mann heard the original Concerto recording as a young boy at his grandmother's house. While other boys of his age were emulating their musical heroes by playing imaginary guitars, Mann was conducting imaginary orchestras while listening to Jon Lord's Concerto.

Paul Mann studied music and became a conductor. With a wealth of experience under his belt, having conducted many famous orchestras around the world, Mann approached Lord about performing the Concerto. But, of course, it was impossible. The score was lost.

And then it wasn't.

Lord, De Goeij, and Mann worked together to polish the new Concerto. It wouldn't be identical to the original, but it would be as close as it possibly could be. And, benefiting from another 30 years of experience, it would possibly be even better.

A New Orchestra

The new Concerto would be performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. And this orchestra, in contrast with the truculent and elitist Royal Philharmonic in 1969, were ready and eager to take part. Some of the musicians even brought their old Deep Purple records to rehearsals for the band to sign! Times have changed. The barriers between "serious" and "popular" music may still exist in the minds of many narrow-minded people, but they are beginning to crumble. And surely Lord himself, 30 years ago, by daring to combine musical forms, had helped to take down those barriers.

A New Concert

By one of those strange chains of events that you wouldn't believe in fiction, the restored Concerto for Group and Orchestra was performed 30 years, almost to the day, after the original. Two concerts were played, again at the Royal Albert Hall, on the 25th and 26th September 1999. Proceeds would again go to charity. Both performances were to packed houses. Deep Purple fans came from every part of the world. Europe, America, and who knows where else. People who had been fans of the band for 30 years. People who were not even born when the original Concerto was performed. People who had travelled thousands of miles to see a unique, and historic, event. And, in a blaze of media apathy, Jon Lord and Deep Purple made musical history for the second time.

Lord dedicated the new score to Sir Malcolm Arnold, and the conductor (now retired) who had made the whole thing possible 30 years ago was invited to the performance as guest of honour. Ill health kept him away, but he sent a message of thanks and best wishes. The LSO opened the concert with a recital of his Scottish Dances suite, by way of a tribute to the great conductor and composer.

In the first part of this article, I could only speculate on what the audience felt on the night of the performance in 1969. For this second part, I know perfectly well what they felt. Because I was there.

I'm trying very hard to keep the article factual and unbiased. I can't tell you what the experience was like. I daren't tell you. I don't know how to describe it without destroying my credibility as an unbiased reporter. It was, quite simply, the greatest musical moment I have ever witnessed. The world's most renowned orchestra, in the opulent surroundings of Britain's best-known concert hall, with five of the greatest rock musicians in the world, and an audience of several thousand enthusiastic, devoted, and broad-minded music fans, is an experience beyond anything . . . see? I can't do it! I'm starting to gush already. I can't say any more about it. You just have to imagine it.

The concert is available on DVD and CD, titled simply Deep Purple in Concert with the London Symphony Orchestra. Buy it now!

The Future

The Royal Albert Hall concerts were so successful that the following year saw Deep Purple take them "on the road". Working with different local orchestras (the cost and logistics of taking the LSO around the world being prohibitive), they toured South America and then Europe. The Concerto has now been performed several dozen times.

The tour actually ended this week, the week that I am writing these words. There has been some speculation that they will tour North America, but expense and logistical problems make that unlikely.

But if they should ever play anywhere near you, and if you are a lover of music, and if you are broad-minded enough to step outside the straightjacketed genres that people stuff music into . . . if you want to see music played as no one else has ever played, if you want to see some of the finest musicians in the world defying convention and playing music their way, for the sheer love of playing . . . in short, if you love music in all its forms, then go and see Deep Purple (and orchestra) performing the Concerto for Group and Orchestra. You won't be sorry.

Thanks for listening.


For further reading, I can recommend these fine Web sites:

The Highway Star, The official Deep Purple Web site:

The Deep Purple Appreciation Society:

The Malcolm Arnold Society Web site:

Deep Purple support the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre, and the Concerto performances raised money for the charity:

"Music therapists can use music to help children and adults with a wide range of needs arising from such varied causes as learning difficulties, mental and physical illness, physical and sexual abuse, stress and terminal illness. Emotional, cognitive and developmental needs can be addressed through interactive music making within a secure relationship offered by the music therapist."

Learn more at their Web site:

And for my personal review of the concert, you can visit this site: But I must warn you: it's a very personal, biased, emotional, and possibly incomprehensible account; written for people who are already fans of the band.

For more of my personal view of music, see my earlier article Live . . . In Concert.



© 2000 by David Meadows. All rights reserved.
14 November 2000