From biography.com comes this missive on Mahler and Truthiness – “An uncanny face off between the fake news anchor and the 19th-century composer.“
Intriguing post in Choralnet the other day pointing out some famous faces who’s sung in their high school and/or college choirs. If you’ve got an entry to the list (and there are doubtless hundreds!) add ’em to the comments below!
Amy Adams, actress
Marcus Allen, football player
Ashton Kutcher, actor
Sugar Ray Leonard, boxer
Brad Pitt, actor
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. Army
Great love fest and concert last night for the ever-dignified and charismatic Harry Belafonte, the “High School drop out getting an Honorary Degree from Berklee.” At the age of 87, Belafonte stopped singing in public a few years ago,though you could spot him in the finale at least mouthing the words to “We Are the World,” the 1980s megahit for African famine relief that Belafonte brought in to being.
That’s just one of an incredible list of accomplishments recited by Berklee president Roger Brown before conferring an honorary Doctor of Music to the singer, songwriter, and activist, who noted that “Belafonte” literally translates as “fountain of beautiful things.” The tone and feel-good vibe of the event (not to mention some incredible performances by Berklee students) is nicely summarized in today’s Boston Globe:
No artist has worked harder on behalf of truth and social justice than Belafonte. He bailed out Martin Luther King Jr. from a Birmingham, Ala., jail; was John F. Kennedy’s cultural ambassador to the Peace Corps; and helped raise more than $50 million for humanitarian aid in Africa by organizing the recording of “We Are the World.”
That is how the current generation of Berklee College of Music students knows the singer, said Larry Watson, the professor who produced the show, introducing a rousing encore of the song. But to an earlier generation — long before Michael Jackson crowned himself the King of Pop — Belafonte was the “King of Calypso.” He was the first recording artist to sell a million copies of a single album, and he had enduring hits with “Matilda” and “The Banana Boat Song” (that’s “Day O” to fans of “Beetlejuice” or “The Muppet Show”), both of which were part of the program presented by four dozen or so colorfully attired students.
When it came time for Belafonte to speak, he was his usual poignant, gripping, and humorous self, recalling the first time he went onstage to sing at a jazz club in New York. The great jazz pianist Al Haig had agreed to let him work up a short set of standards, beginning with “Pennies from Heaven.” But, when the moment came, Belafonte recalled, “Up jumped Max Roach to sit behind the drums. And then Tommy Potter picked up a bass. Charlie Parker sat down with his sax. So I looked around at my backup band. And I haven’t looked back since.”
With all of the hoopla and remembrances this month about the 50th Anniversary of the “Beatles Invasion” of the US, I’ve been thinking about Paul McCartney’s post-Beatle, post-Wings, career as a budding classical composer. Which, it should be remembered, tended to veer towards choral works like the Liverpool Oratorio and the symphonic poem Standing Stone, featuring the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and New York Choral Artists.
The American premiere of Standing Stone was my first brush with Beatlemania, when I produced the live broadcast from Carnegie Hall for NPR…which the Fleet Street-inspired PR folks for McCartney hyperbolically declared the live web/broadcast as “The Single Largest Classical Music Event in History.” (Remember, this was 1997, folks, when a “Web Cast” was a totally new phenomenon!).
But I digress. Here’s the Macca quote, which I think is such a nice summation of why people can be freaky about singing in a choir:
As it happened, Standing Stone turned out to be the first of many shows I produced for NPR involving McCartney. One of the most successful I think was another choral program: A Garland for Linda, a “choral song cycle” written as memorial for Linda McCartney/benefit for The Garland Appeal breast cancer research fund.
The 2000 Garland, which featured contributions not only from Macca but such leading UK composers as John Tavener, Judith Bingham, David Matthews, (not to be confused with Dave Matthews), John Rutter, Roxanna Panufnik, Michael Berkeley, and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, was in turn inspired by the 1953 Garland for the Queen, featuring contributions from such composers as Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, and Arnold Bax. And there was an even earlier precedent, according to the British music blog The Land of Lost Content:
The Garland was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain, to celebrate the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1953. One wonders if that ‘quango’ would be active in anything so ‘establishment’ in our age? The ten poets and ten composers were bidden to create settings for mixed voices. The idea was to craft a 20th century ‘replica’ of the famous The Triumphs of Oriana (1601) which was presented to Queen Elizabeth I. The present series of songs is not a parody of the earlier cycle but it is certainly influenced by it. The madrigal is a creative inspiration for both of these composite pieces.
The Garland program was a live broadcast from the cavernous Riverside Church on New York’s Upper East Side, featuring conductor Helen Cha-Pyo leading the excellent Riverside Choir. NPR’s Susan Stamberg and WNYC’s John Schaefer were the hosts…and we actually broadcast from the 3rd level “side aisle” on the right side of the church (click here for your handy glossary of cathedral architecture). The playlist for the complete program is here.…and posted below. It reminds me that someday I need to dig up the piece that I don’t think was ever recorded: the USA premiere of Peter Broadbent‘s arrangement of Four Songs for Chorus by Lennon & McCartney:
For No One; Here, There and Everywhere; And I Love Her; Good Day Sunshine
Don’t think it ever appeared on a recording. Peter was really the driving force behind the entire project, as I recall.
The Garland project actually turned out to yield a broadcast, a Bob Edwards interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, and even a CD, as we recorded a benefit concert at the Supper Club in NYC that featured a performance by the rather impromptuly-assembled Loma Mar Quartet of string-quartet arrangements of a few of the pieces. Alas, no chart action on Billboard, however…
Think piece I wrote for WCRB Classical New England for this rather remarkable day on the calendar…\
So, out of morbid curiosity upon becoming a semi-centurion (and not, the dreaded AARP mailing hasn’t shown up yet!), I wondered what other music types were born on Twelfth Night: This is what I found, mostly thanks to the so-called “intelligence aggegator” NNBD.com:
||Conductor||6-Jan-1903||22-Sept.-1993|| Music Director, Utah Symphony 1947-1979
|Syd Barrett||Singer, songwriter, guitarist
|Max Bruch||Composer||6-Jan-1838||2-Oct-1920||Kol Nidrei|
|Van McCoy||Musician||6-Jan-1940||6-Jul-1979||The Hustle|
|Johnny O’Keefe||Musician||6-Jan-1935||6-Oct-1978||King of Australian rock and roll|
|Earl Scruggs||Musician||6-Jan-1924||Bluegrass banjo pioneer|
||trumpet, arranger, composer, record producer||6-Jan-1944||Nightwatch|
|Alan Stivell||Musician||06-Jan-1944||Breton/Celtic harpist|
|Alex Turner||Singer||6-Jan-1986||Lead singer, Arctic Monkeys|
|Jack Varney||Banjoist, Guitarist
||6-Jan-1918||Aussie Jazz pioneer
|Kim Wilson||Harmonica, bass, vocals
|Malcolm Young||Guitarist||6-Jan-1953||Rhythm guitar for AC/DC|
Beyond music, a few other famous names jumped out at me, including (so some sources claim) the Benjamin that It’s All About:
|Gilbert Arenas||Basketball||6-Jan-1982||Washington Wizards|
|Rowan Atkinson||Actor||6-Jan-1955||Blackadder, Mr. Bean|
|John DeLorean||Business||6-Jan-1925||19-Mar-2005||Automobile designer and entepreneur|
|E. L. Doctorow||Author||6-Jan-1931||Ragtime, The Book of Daniel|
|Benjamin Franklin||Diplomat||6-Jan-1706||17-Apr-1790||American founding father|
|Khalil Gibran||Poet||6-Jan-1883||10-Apr-1931||The Prophet|
|Louis Harris||Business||6-Jan-1921||Pollster, Louis Harris and Associates|
|Lou Holtz||Football||6-Jan-1937||Head Coach, South Carolina, 1999-2004|
|Victor Horta||Architect||6-Jan-1861||9-Sep-1947||Art Nouveau architect|
|Joan of Arc||Religion||6-Jan-1412||30-May-1431||Visionary burned at the stake|
|Nigella Lawson||Chef||6-Jan-1960||UK’s domestic goddess|
|Anthony Minghella||Film Director||6-Jan-1954||The English Patient|
|Tom Mix||Actor||6-Jan-1880||12-Oct-1940||Old-time silent movie cowboy|
|Sun Myung Moon||Religion||6-Jan-1920||Head Moonie|
|Sam Rayburn||Politician||6-Jan-1882||16-Nov-1961||Speaker of the US House, 1940-61|
|King Richard II||Royalty||6-Jan-1367||14-Feb-1400||King of England 1377-99|
|Carl Sandburg||Author||6-Jan-1878||22-Jul-1967||Illinois poet, Lincoln biographer|
|John Singleton||Film Director||6-Jan-1968||Boyz N the Hood|
|Charles “Cane” Sumner||Politician||6-Jan-1811||11-Mar-1874||Anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts|
|Danny Thomas||Actor||6-Jan-1914||6-Feb-1991||Make Room For Daddy|
|Alan Watts||Philosopher||6-Jan-1915||16-Nov-1973||Zen beat counterculture sage|
|Bob Wise||Politician||6-Jan-1948||Governor of West Virginia, 2001-05|
Disclaimer: This is posted by a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation, now smarting over a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS…
Monday was a good night for Cleveland at the Jake and at the Ken Cen, where yours truly got the chance to see the fabled Cleveland Orchestra up close and personal. Not that they’ve been strangers here…their press dept. helpfully pointed out that the orchestra has played 57 times in DC, including 43 times in the Kennedy Center’s 36-year history.
And they are still as good as advertised: In his excellent NPR Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music my old friend Ted Libbey writes: “The Cleveland Orchestra is very nearly in a league of its own, a crack ensemble with an esprit de corps matched by only a handful of orchestras in the world. Its recordings are the discographic gold standard. ” Hard to argue with that assessment, on disc or in person. Monday night the orchestra had plenty of virtuosity on display, to go with usual crack ensemble playing and spot-on intonation. And, unusually, pride of place to the viola section, who were seated opposite the first violins, with the cellos and second violins filling in the middle around conductor Franz Welser-Most.
On the program: Mozart’s Symphony No. 28. Not a symphony you hear all that much, but with some absolutely propulsive outer movements with some feverish fiddling. You want a “discographic gold standard?” The October ’65 recording made by George Szell and the Clevelanders (reissued on CD in 2006) is still amazing. Clarity, balance, and speed – with no sacrifice in precision. When critics talk about Szell’s ability with Mozart as “chamber music for symphony orchestra,” they’re talking about recordings like this.
But the Mozart was merely a warm-up for what came next: The Guide to Strange Places by John Adams. I’ve blogged about Adams before and doubtless will again, and while I didn’t love everything about the piece (at 24 mins I think it’s about five minutes too long), it’s pretty damn cool, with cascading blocks of sound moving through, over, and around the orchestra. Or, in the words of the New York Times: “a jarringly turbulent piece, channeling its energy into shifts of clashing colors, both visual and emotive.” And a visual treat to watch the internal ballet of the stand-sharers in the violin section turning the pages for their stand partners as carefully-
and quickly- as they would for any virtuoso pianist.
But what really grabbed me was not so much a “Strange Place” but a location thoroughly familiar to us hardy Harpers Ferry residents. Adams’ inventive scoring includes a Doppler-effect freight-train rumbling through the brass and percussion sections….a sound I hear routinely as long freighters go rumbling into the night through the Harpers Ferry Gap.
Strange but true footnote: This piece represents a connection between the Pulitzer Prize- winning composer and the 2nd president of the US beside the fact that both were born in Massachusetts: The “Guide to Strange Places” was commissioned and first performed by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic at the Concertgebouw. And before he succeeded George Washington, the “other” John Adams was the first US ambassador to the Netherlands, where his efforts at diplomacy are seen as so significant that he recently merited a three-part series on Radio Netherlands called Adams in Amsterdam. And then I found out there’s a John Adams Institute in Amsterdam…“an independent, nonprofit foundation dedicated to furthering a longstanding tradition: cultural exchange between the USA and the Netherlands. Founded in 1987, the John Adams Institute continues to expose the best and brightest American writers and thinkers to audiences in The Netherlands.
Back to the concert…the Clevelanders closed out with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony (No. 6) that was everything as advertised. Ted Libbey again:
It is still fashionable for critics to dismiss Tchaikovsky as one of two things: a superficial manipulator or a self-absorbed boderline hysteric wallowing in his own emotions. He was neither…He managed to create worlds of feeling in his symphonies. Tchaikovsky biographer David Brown calls the Pathetique “The most truly original symphony to be composed in the 70 years since Beethoven’s 9th.”
As the first truly tragic symphony, concerned with loss, isolation, and despair, it projects a negative image of Beethoven’s triumphant aspiration, in place of spiritual transcendence, it seeks annihilation. This marks a fundamental turning point in the history of the symphony. Psychologically, the Pathetique symphony marks the beginning of modernism.
The Clevelanders did not disappoint. And the Kennedy Center audience behaved…no applause at the end of the third movement, to my surprise.
Lots of applause at the end, and no encore either. Now they’re off to Carnegie Hall and the Musikverein. And I’ll have more on Adams in a bit.
Postscript: The Washington Post review of this concert can be found here. Don’t know how the reviewer got the impression was a U.S. Premiere, however, since DC’s own National Symphony Orchestra played it on their East Coast Tour three years ago.