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.

For Pete’s Sake

PETESEEGER5string

I’ve been thinking for several days now about what I could say about Pete Seeger that hasn’t already been said, seen, or heard. Certainly it is impossible to overstate his influence on my generation. “How to Play the Five String Banjo” – both the tattered red music book and ten-inch LP  from 1954- were as ubiquitous in the households of my youth as the Glenn Gould Goldbergs, the Ormandy “Messiah” recording with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Kind of Blue, if not more so.  His was the first concert I ever attended in my life…in the glorious trappings of a school gymnasium in Acton, (or was it Maynard? or Harvard?) Mass. in 1963. As part of the concert Pete led a singalong of “Froggy Went a Courting” just for us wee ones, and I remember it to this day.  (And was totally tickled when Springsteen chose it for his tribute album The Seeger Sessions.)

seegersessions

I’m certain it was the first time I had ever been invited to sing in my life. And decades later I joined the decidedly nonexclusive club of folks who have produced programs about Pete’s remarkable life.

But none of that is particularly new, unique nor noteworthy. What might be, however, is the saga of Pete Seeger the public television host: Before finally being “readmitted” to commercial television in the late ’60s, Pete made 39 episodes of a quirky, wonderful, and decidedly low-production-value program called “Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest.” Take a look at Episode 1, with Pete talking about his “distrust of this little magic box,” and then going on to teach us all at home how to play along, and join the chorus…

November Numerology: JFK and the meaning of 11/22

Think piece I wrote for WCRB Classical New England for this rather remarkable day on the calendar…\

November Numerology: JFK and the Musical Meaning of 11/22

Michael Jackson (The Beer Hunter) 1942-2007

In Himmel gibt’s kein Bier
So, trink das Bier hier ist

“In Heaven, there is no Beer, so drink the Beer’s that’s Here.”

Somehow those words from an old German beer-drinking song came to mind when I read of the passing of the “other” Michael Jackson (“My name is Michael Jackson but I don’t sing, don’t drink Pepsi, and but write about beer”). Oh man, did he ever. The World Guide to Beer or, really, any of his books, are as good a reference as you can find when the subject is suds. Check out the elegant appreciation in today’s Guardian (nobody writes a good obit like the Brits), and the the amazing out, er…pouring from fans around the world on the Beer Hunter blogsite.

Rostropovich R.I.P.


A lot of folks in the music world, including your humble correspondent, knew that Mstislav Rostropovich was gravely ill when his 80th birthday rolled around in late March. Hence the cheering in the media was probably a little longer and louder than it might otherwise have been — we knew that he wasn’t going to be around all that much longer. I for one feel very forunate to have seen Slava at the absolute apex of his conducting career – leading the National Symphony Orchestra in Moscow in 1990 (as described in my March 27th posting). His best days as a cellist were behind him by then, but on those occasions I did hear (or record) him, his performances were invariably passionate, warm-hearted, and musical. Of all the ink that’s been spilled on Slava in the past few days, I was especially touched by the appreciation penned by NSO pianist Lambert Orkis, writing for the Washington Post:

It was not only his musical personality that motivated me and my colleagues to give all our strength to the service of music. His warmth, friendship and love of life, as well as his irrepressible joy in music-making, invigorated us and will do so for the rest of our days.

Lambert’s words ring true foranyone that’s spent more than five minutes with Rostropovich. Amen. Farewell to Slava – a Soldier of Music.