Green Mountains

 

GMCFA very nice 24 hours in Vermont, first having the honor of being the inaugural speaker in the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival’s Perspectives and Contexts series, and then joining morning host (and freshly-minted Managinr Producer) Kari Anderson on the air the next morning at Vermont Public Radio‘s classical service.

The GMCF is run by old friend Kevin Lawrence of the UNC School for the Arts in Winston-Salem, whom I’ve gotten to know through his participation in the “Music and Museum” series I program at the Bechtler Museum in Charlotte. Kevin and his wife Barbara are now steering the Festival – which takes place on the UVM campus in Burlington – through its 10th anniversary season.  It’s an intensive program for string students (generally ranging in age from 15 to 25), led by some first-rate faculty who also concertize a couple of times a week.

I didn’t have the chance to hear much music-making (except for the cheerful cacophony of walking past the all the practice rooms), but I was truly impressed by the smart, engaged students attending my talk, who peppered me with questions about classical music, media, and technology, which was the subject of the presentation. Truly a stimulating evening.  Very nice to visit in person one of the places we featured on one of our New England Summer Festivals programs as well.  You can check it out here.

 

 

Up bright and early the next morning to spin some platters with Kari, and talk up some bright young lights in the classical biz. In no particular order: Anderson & Roe (I’m already on record as being a big fan) with their own arrangement of Bizet’s Il Pergolese (“where jazz meets opera”),  the stunning Montreal period-instrument band Ensemble Caprice, with one of the zippiest recordings I know of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos.  As well as a new discovery: the Atlanta-based choral group called the Skylark Vocal Ensemble.

 

 

Meanwhile, there are some changes in the wind in classical radio in Vermont, as WVCT, the state’s sole remaining commercial-classical station (an increasingly endangered species), is due to format-flip on July 1.

 

Frühbeck the Magician…

My first introduction to the work of the legendary Spanish conductor, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (1933-2014) was a scratchy old recording of Carmina Burana – which was, and remains, one of the great interpretations of the Carl Orff megahit.

CarminaBurana

The Original 1966 release of Carmina Burana from Fruhbeck de Burgos and the New Philharmonia Orchestra

Coming back to Boston decades later, I quickly came to understand – and even witness first hand – the special relationship between Frühbeck and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He guest-conducted the orchestra at both Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood every year from 2000 until just last November, and his performances tended to be Big Momentous Events – like conducting the Mahler Symphony No. 2 on Tanglewood’s Opening Night in 2002, opening the Symphony Hall season with the Verdi Requiem that same year, last summer’s All-Tchaikovsky Opening Night at Tanglewood with violinist Joshua Bell.  But if I had to pick the most memorable performance of his during my time overseeing the BSO broadcasts, it would have to be his utterly idiomatic and captivating concert performance of Manuel De Falla’s La Vida Breve, with an outstanding mostly-Spanish cast that even included cantaor (Spanish folk singer) Pedro Sanz; flamenco guitarist Antonio Reyes, and the show-stopping flamenco dancer Núria Pomares Rojas

Nuria Pomares Rojas

Flamenco dancer Nuria Pomares Rojas

Oh, and on the first half of the program?  The Suite Española by Isaac Albeniz, a piece that was originally a suite for solo piano that Frühbeck himself orchestrated half a century ago!  And to top it off, the next night he was back on the podium to close out the Tanglewood season with the traditional performance of Beethoven’s 9th.

Part of the Frühbeck de Burgos mystique with the BSO was the fact that he apparently held the record for the longest stint BETWEEN appearances with the orchestra:  He made one brief guest appearance with the orchestra in 1971, and wasn’t on the podium again until almost 30 years later!  But what a difference a few decades make: legend has it that at the traditional end-of-season poll of the BSO players at Tanglewood, Frühbeck received the highest rating ever of guest conductors after his “return engagement” in 2000.  No wonder he was asked back every year after that!

Unfortunately, no video of Frühbeck to share with the BSO, but plenty of audio, including last summer’s Tanglewood Opening Night performance with Joshua Bell, as well as another gem: the following night’s reading of Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 3, with Anne-Sofie von Otter as the shimmering soprano soloist, the PALS Children’s Chorus joining the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and BSO Principal Trumpet Thomas Rolfs “pulling out the old Posthorn” for an incredible sound on a sweltering summer night.

And thanks to YouTube, you can see a clip of Núria Pomares Rojas together with Frühbeck and the Mariinsky Orchestra in the 2nd act flamenco from La Vida Breve.  

And there’s lots of terrific video evidence of Frühbeck’s work with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, where he was chief conductor for the past two and a half seasons….including his own arrangement of Granada from the Suite Espanola

RIP, Frühbeck.

Helen Keller, Beethoven Fan?

HelenKellerRadioAstonishing post in the San Francisco Classical Voice about a 1924 letter that blind, deaf, and mute Helen Keller wrote to the New York Symphony (the rival of the New York Philharmonic before they eventually merged in 1928), recounting the experience of tuning in to a  broadcast of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on the radio:

Last night, when the family was listening to your wonderful rendering of the immortal symphony someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations. He unscrewed the cap, and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm.

 

What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibration, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! The intertwined and intermingling vibrations from different instruments enchanted me. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roil of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments! When the human voices leaped up thrilling from the surge of harmony, I recognized them instantly as voices more ecstatic, upcurving swift and flame-like, until my heart almost stood still.

 

Really? Congrats to San Francisco Classical Voice Writer Janos Gereben for this bit of sleuthing – the letter was apparently in the Helen Keller Archives of the American Federation of the Blind.  But I’m rather surprised that this story has never come up before – and the skeptic in me wonders is Ms. Keller did not indulge in a bit of a creative flight of fancy.  I don’t tend to think of a 1920s-era radio as capable of “surround sound,” but it sure is fascinating notion to imagine that someone who was doubtless as hypersensitive to vibrations as Helen Keller could actually pick out and detect a symphony that way.   Can anyone corroborate this?

A Rain of Tears – Anderson & Roe

As January snows give way to February rain, and as I start to think about an upcoming Concert Preview I’m doing at the La Jolla Music Society before a two-piano extravaganza with members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, time to feature my favorite piano duo: Greg Anderson and my “distant Korean cousin” Elizabeth Joy Roe.   Three stars in this video…you can also check out the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean that is part and parcel of every performance of the Shalin Liu Performance Center at Rockport Music. Enjoy!

 

PS – there’s also a great Fraser Performance Studio session with Anderson & Roe hosted by WCRB’s Cathy Fuller.   Check it out here.

 

A Winter’s Journey III: The Schubert – Chopin Connection

Revisiting a startling discovery from the Radio Chopin series

Take a listen to Chopin’s A Stranger Here Himself…

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“A stranger I came, A stranger I depart…” These opening lines of “Good Night”, the first song in Franz Schubert’s cycle, Winterreise, or Winter Journey resonated with Chopin. So much so that they spilled over into the manuscript for his Sonata for Cello and Piano.

A dead ringer, so to speak! In Schubert’s song cycle the anti-hero is a dying poet. Themes of banishment, lost love and icy despair pervade. Just as they did in Chopin’s life at the time he composed his Cello Sonata. It was winter. His health was in rapid decline. He was twice exiled: he’d left his native Poland for good, and George Sand had just evicted him from their nest with the publication of an exposé thinly-veiled as a work of fiction.

Which brings us back to the first movement of Chopin’s Cello Sonata. It’s problematic. It puzzled even his closest allies. Was it too intimate? Wasting in his deathbed, Chopin asked to hear it, only to find he could bear no more than the first few measures. He omitted the movement from the sonata’s 1848 premiere. Clearly, it had profound personal significance. Most likely because he turned to—and quoted—Schubert’s song at the time of his separation from George Sand, which she had publicly portrayed as entirely his fault. Was it regret? Or, as in the final stanzas in Schubert’s song, did the ailing Chopin recognize his fate was sealed?

These are the last words spoken
Soon I’ll be out of sight
A simple farewell message
Goodnight, my love, good night.

Jennifer Foster

Happy New Year!

Soprano Courtney Huffman and baritone Andrew Garland in Bach's wonderful "Coffee Cantata."
Soprano Courtney Huffman and baritone Andrew Garland in Bach’s wonderful “Coffee Cantata.”

A grand time had by all with Boston Baroque and conductor Martin Pearlman, ushering in 2014 with a live all-Bach concert at Sanders Theatre we’re sharing live with the nation via PRI.  Hard to believe that it’s my last radio production for the foreseeable future, so had to snap some “stage-side” shows to mark the occasion.    The audio for the entire program may be found below, thanks to the wizardry of online producer (and broadcast co-host) Brian McCreath, engineer Antonio Oliart Ros, and producer Alan McLellan.  Thanks, friends….let’s hope this great tradition continues!

Violinist Christina Day Martinson and recorder player Aldo Abreu are the soloists with Martin Pearlman leading Boston Baroque
Violinist Christina Day Martinson and recorder players Christopher Krueger and Aldo Abreu are the soloists in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 with Martin Pearlman leading Boston Baroque

 

Bows for conductor and soloists...

Post-Brandenburg bows for conductor and soloists …

WCRB's Cathy Fuller chats live with Martin Pearlman

WCRB’s Cathy Fuller chats live with Martin Pearlman