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?

Remember My Name: Courtney Lewis To the New York Philharmonic

lewis_courtney_225x168Nice to see 29-year old Courtney Lewis of the terrific Boston chamber orchestra Discovery Ensemble get an appointment as the Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic.   Seeing the Belfast-born Courtney in action – in our WGBH Fraser Performance Studio, in live concerts, and in interviews – I’m convinced he’s a great talent, and a genuine Good Guy to boot.  It seems the NY Phil Music Director Alan Gilbert

 “We discovered Courtney Lewis after an extensive audition process, and he emerged as a very promising future colleague as our next Assistant Conductor,” – 

Bravo, Courtney, and good luck in New York!  You can read the entire press release here.

And click here to hear Courtney lead the band in their season-opening live broadcast concert from October 2012.

Discovery Ensemble in Concert

 

Miscellaeneous Musings: the NY Phil, Howard Theatre, WYPR, No Depression, Pete Seeger…

Any resemblance to Mike “I Was Just Thinking….” Barnicle is purely coincidental….

  • Kind of amazing to hear the wall-to-wall media coverage of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea….startling and gratifying to hear snippets of the New World Symphony in the middle of network newscasts. Worth reading:  Anne Midgette’s column in the WaPo on this not being a case of bringing Great. Western. Art. to poor benighted souls behind the Bamboo Curtain….

But in Vienna, Austria, there is another image of them: as conducting students. The elite conducting class at the University of Music and Performing Arts there has trained no fewer than 17 North Korean students in the past decade.

  • Which reminds me of a similar history-making venture I helped to orchestra for NPR in 1999: The Milwaukee Symphony’s trip to Cuba, which was the first time a US orchestra had performed on the island since the Philadelphia Orchestra had been there in 1959.  ‘Course, it was a little easier for our NPR crew to move around the country than it was for the delegation traveling to North Korea this week…I remember that producer Laura Bertran even managed to lend some technical and logistical help to the struggling public radio station in Havana to broadcast the concert live on the island. (Oh yeah, they played Gershwin, too….the Cuban Overture, natch)  Click here to hear some of the music from similar symphonic excursions in the past,  and here for a similar Washington Post story on other “Diplomacy Concerts” of that past half-century.
  • On the other hand, for the same station to air during afternoon drive a six-month-old repeat of a Mario Armstrong “Digital Cafe”  feature?  About an Internet startup being Beta tested?   With a casual disclaimer that “some information may be out of date?”  Incredibly. Lame.
  • Pete SeegerIt’s nice to see Pete Seeger getting his props from PBS this week, with an American Masters portrait airing tonight on most PBS stations around the country. Except, that is, in DC, where despite Pete being on the cover of the Post’s TV Week,  the local pubtv powerhouse WETA inexplicably is running a show a three-year old show on Judy Garland.    Huh?   I’ll have more to say on Pete in a later post.

Business Plan, Back On Again

Thank goodness for The Onion-for-a-Day calendar!

The Onion

New York Philharmonic Hosts Open-Mic Night

NEW YORK—The New York Philharmonic Orchestra announced Monday that it will continue its popular open-mic nights throughout the 2005 fall season,…

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Up off the Canvas, PT II: The Classical Comeback?

il Divo: the future of classical music? From Slate comes an article about the surprising sales of Classical Music recordings in the last year. The lede is attention-getting: “Is classical music—a genre that has spent a seeming eternity on the commercial skids—staging a comeback? That’s the buzz on Nielsen SoundScan’s 2006 report card, which listed classical as the year’s fastest-growing musical genre. In an otherwise dreary year, sales of classical albums—a figure that includes CDs, LPs, and downloaded albums—increased by 22.5 percent, or 3.57 million units. That put the genre way ahead of such laggards as jazz (down 8.3 percent), alternative (down 9.2 percent), and rap (down 20.7 percent).” Holy Cow – up 22-plus-percent? What’s going on here? Are those Christopher O’Riley-plays-Radiohead CDs and New York Philharmonic iTunes downloads making that much of a difference? Well, yes, they are…a little bit. Classical musicians and organizations have gotten a lot savvier about the Net. But the vast amount of that growth is coming from a change in what the industry counts as “classical.” For years Billboard has maintained two charts: “Classical” and “Classical Crossover” (often as related as “jazz” is to “smooth jazz”) – and in 2006 Nielsen SoundScan (the back-end data collector of Billboard and a whole bunch of other folks) simply rolled ’em together. So: Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and Pierre Boulez are in the same category as Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo, and Josh Groban. And the latter three, who all released albums in 2006, combined for more than 4.6 million units of sales last year – just about the same margin of overall growth in the genre. Hmmm… But there a couple of nuggets worth paying attention to: Bocelli, Groban et al appeal most especially to women 36-50 years old – and most classical programmers aren’t realing paying attention to them as a demographic group. Two that are are Classic FM in the UK (who just happen to be the most popular classical radio station in the world), and WBKK in Albany, NY – a fascinating attempt at programming a classical public radio station a little differently. Worth a listen. (Full disclosure: WBKK PD Christopher Wienk is a colleague and RoeDeo‘s webmaster – doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fascinating experiment.)

Nugget No. 2 is the Songs from the Labryinth album by Sting …his hyper-produced interpretations of 17th-century lute master John Dowland. Turns out that was the biggest-selling “true” classical recording of 2006 – and tonight you can watch him do his Dowland thing on PBS. Bully for him – and if he does any Dowland during the upcoming Police reunion tour, double bully. But will that actually help fortysomethings (like that aforementioned Il Divo Demo) really discover Dowland? If only the album were better – and Sting sang “Flow My Tears” with the same conviction as he sings “King of Pain.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, the Guardian, the L.A. Times, etc. all loved it. I’m more in tune with Timothy Jarrett at Blogcritics.com:Seriously, there are vocal lines that sound as though they’re sung through dentures. Worse, there’s no variation to the vocal lines: the performances are note-note-note, with little or no vocal inflection and no phrasing. Then there’s the overdubbing. Awkward as the solo lines are, they sound like sheer genius compared to the same voice in two part harmony.