The classical music programme maker Rodney Greenberg has died aged 79, after an illustrious career in which he produced and directed over 300 TV music programmes in Europe, America and Israel.
He was noted for directing The Last Night of the Proms for his BBC Masterclass series with celebrated soloists, and for an award-winning film about the cellist supremo Pablo Casals. He also directed opera performances in Europe and America, as well as Glyndebourne opera relays.
Rodney Greenberg was born in Manchester, the son of Cyril Greenberg and Lily (née Price). He was educated at Crumpsall Lane Primary School and Bury Grammar School for Boys. He joined Manchester University’s Music Faculty in 1960 specialising in piano and composition, and graduated with honours in 1965.
He began his career as a music producer at BBC Radio, writing radio portraits of Broadway composers narrated by Steve Race. In 1970 he joined the BBC TV Music and Arts Department as executive producer of the televised Promenade concerts. He directed The Last Night of the Proms eight times and also produced a BBC Masterclass series which included Paul Tortelier, Jacqueline Du Pré, Julian Bream and Yehudi Menuhin, among others. In addition he produced a programme of masterclasses with Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau.
Greenberg’s film, Pablo Casals, Master of the Cello won the Broadcasting Press Guild Best Arts Programme Award. He won First Prize at the 1976 Budapest International TV Music Directors Competition, and Emmy Awards of live NBC Telecasts in New York. He also directed Glyndebourne opera relays, Gilbert & Sullivan videos, and in Vienna and Chicago, the Harold Prince staging of Turandot and Madame Butterfly.
At the invitation of American violinist Isaac Stern, Greenberg held training seminars for TV music directors at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim. He also trained music directors at the BBC. In Israel he produced programmes with singer Aled Jones, violinist Shlomo Mintz, conductor Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic.
Greenberg was also the author of an illustrated biography of George Gershwin, commissioned by Norman Lebrecht and published by Phaidon. A talented pianist himself, Greenberg’s own compositions were performed at London’s Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Room. He produced programmes with international music stars, such as Pinchas Zuckerman,Yitzhak Pearlman, Daniel Barenboim, André Previn, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Georg Solti, Alice and Raffi Sommer, and was also a regular guest music presenter on Danube river cruises.
He was also an occasional contributor to the JC arts and books pages and enjoyed presenting his slick audio-visual shows, such as The Glory of Gershwin, From Babylon to Broadway, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, to various community groups.
Organisations which benefited from his presentations included Spiro Ark, Jewish Book Week, synagogues and the University of the Third Age (U3A). He was also guest performer at a charity event hosted by Lady Rosa Lipworth, CBE.
In a JC tribute, Norman Lebrecht described Greenberg as a television director —“who set a gold standard for filming the BBC Proms. With Rodney at the controls, artists could step with confidence into the bearpit of the Royal Albert Hall, knowing that if there was any embarrassment — a slipped strap or a runny nose — Rodney’s cameras would find a point of interest somewhere in the upper balconies until the matter was resolved.
“Vastly erudite, he was one of the self-styled ‘JB boys’ who watched John Barbirolli conduct the Hallé and came down to London knowing music from the source.”
Lebrecht went on to describe Greenberg as — “the unsung master of the Proms until the BBC cut back on culture. Watch any of his Proms on YouTube and you will see how far the BBC’s sound and vision quality has fallen since.”
Greenberg was due to give a piano recital for a fundraising event at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford where he was treated, but sadly this never came to fruition. Although divorced from his wife Sue Cohen, whom he married in 1968, the couple remained close. She was a constant supporter during his long illness. She survives him with his sister Myrna and niece Aviva.
Rodney Greenberg: born December 26, 1940. Died November 18, 2020