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.

Play in Subway, Win Pulitzer…

Joshua Bell in the DC metro Not quite one year to the day it was published, funnyman writer Gene Weingarten‘s celebrated story about Joshua Bell busking in the Washington Metro wound up as one of six Pulitzer Prizes won by the Washington Post today – an impressive and near-record haul. Even though the little social experiment was in itself something of a failure (hardly anyone recognized who it was playing underneath that Curly W cap, and even fewer chucked in any change); the story itself was a PR bonanza for Bell — and now, it seems, for the author.    BTW, you can hear Bell’s entire subway performance  here.

And if the past is prologue, I’ll bet that the “Joshua Bell Pulitzer” will get a lot more attention than the “official” Classical Music Pulitzer for 2007: The Little Match Girl Passion, by David Lang, commissioned and premiered at Carnegie Hall by Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices ensemble.

My piece is called The Little Match Girl Passion and it sets Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Match Girl in the format of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion, interspersing Andersen’s narrative with my versions of the crowd and character responses from Bach’s Passion. The text is by me, after texts by Han Christian Andersen, H. P. Paulli (the first translator of the story into English, in 1872), Picander (the nom de plume of Christian Friedrich Henrici, the librettist of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion), and the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. The word “passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering. There is no Bach in my piece and there is no Jesus—rather the suffering of the Little Match Girl has been substituted for Jesus’s, elevating (I hope) her sorrow to a higher plane

Nothing against Lang or his work, which sounds interesting enough, t’s just that invariably these Pulitzers go to pieces that have been played once in often out-of-the way locations.  Back in my NPR days, tracking down the actual *recording* of a Pulitzer-winning-composition – and doing it in time for the morning news! – invariably involved a combination of detective work, browbeating, and more than a little luck.

Not so in the Internet age, however.  Want to hear Lang’s piece – or even download it?  Get it here– direct from the Carnegie website.     For that matter, this may be the most information-rich Pulitzer ever — you can even hear an interview with Lang about the creation of the work.

Oh, yeah, and there’s one more musical Pulitzer today – a Special Citation for Bob Dylan – for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

See the complete list of Pulitzer winners here.

PS – nice to see another Hans Christian Andersen piece set to music to some acclaim.   Throughtout his career the Danish writer/poet/playwright collaborated with and was inspired by a number of notable composers – including Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Wagner.     And Lang is just the latest of a long line of musicians who have in turn found inspiration in Andersen’s words.