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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

This Weekend's Russian Festival with the Columbus Symphony

The Columbus Symphony performs a Russian Festival in the Ohio Theater  Friday January 9th and Saturday the 10th at 8 p.m. Your humble author (!) offers pre-concert talks in the theater one hour prior to every Classical series performance.

Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony in two programs of music by Russian composers in the Ohio Theater this weekend. We'll hear Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a Suite from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto 3, and Shostakovitch's Symphony 5. 
If these gray days of winter seem akin to the howling winds on the Russian steppes, it seems worth looking at the life of a musician in Russia over the past 150 years.
Shostakovitch lived and trembled under the Soviet regime. Rachmaninoff left Russia prior to the murder of the last Tsar in 1918. Tchaikovsky and Rimsky -Korsakov were the products of a society influenced by the Russian autocracy. Mussorgsky, who may have been the most gifted of all, died young from alcoholism, having spent most of his working life as a low level Russian bureaucrat.
Mussorgsky is an interesting case. His addictions and "day job" made it difficult for him to finish a lot of his music. Of his larger scores given today, only A Night on Bald Mountain is considered complete in the composer's own handwriting. Pictures at an Exhibition was begun as a work for solo piano, later orchestrated by Ravel. Mussorgsky's great opera Boris Godunov was re orchestrated after the composer's death by Rimsky-Korsakov, and later by Shostakovitch. Tchaikovsky, also emotionally fragile, was left to create and finish his own music.
Over the last thirty years musicians have returned to Mussorgsky's original scores. We hear a spare, sinewy and harsh orchestral color, very far from Rimsky-Kosakov, that master orchestrator. Did Rimsky improve upon Mussorgsky's music, or just get in the way? The fact remains that without the intervention of Rimsky-Korsakov and others, we would know less of Mussorgsky's music than we do now. And had Mussorgsky lived to maturity, and been blessed with better mental health, who knows what he would have accomplished?

And here is Mussorgsky's original:

Russian composers of the 19th century were subjected to the same market forces and critical perceptions affecting (plaguing?) composers today. If the people don't like your music they won't come to your concerts. If the news papers don't like your music people will stay away. Tchaikovsky did not have a strong enough ego to resist these forces, though his talent was obviously divine. Rimsky-Korsakov, known in his lifetime as a (great) teacher of music -Stravinsky was his pupil-had a healthy sense of his own worth and struggled on.
Russian musicians were influenced by the modes and melodies of the Russian church, and by the music making available to the eighty percent of the population living in want, if not slavery in the countryside. Peasants made there own music, filled with sorrow and joy. The intelligentsia listened, copied, expanded and gave a Russian language of music to the west. As vast as he country itself.
If the Soviet Union mean to enforce complete equality it also took away any vestige of artistic Shostakovitch had to write what the Politburo wanted people to hear. The influence of church music was verboten-if hard to eradicate. The countryside was fine, as long as the downtrodden peasants were uplifted. What would not do was free thought. 'Formalism' was a capital offense, writing or creating what you wanted. Shostakovitch was ruined when Stalin heard Lady Macbeth of MtsenskThis opera by the thirty year old Shostakovitch depicted Russian peasant life in its brutality, with music and on stage depictions often pornographic. Watch the clip and listen to the music. The characters are doing exactly what the music suggests they are doing.


For his sins all the knives went out for Shostakovitch. Hiding away was not an option. The Soviet world  literally put a gun to his head making it crucial that his next work, be what it may, delight the Soviet authorities. Indeed, a letter signed by he composer indicated his 5th symphony to be "A Soviets' response to just criticism." Shostakovitch's Fifth symphony was premiered in Leningrad in 1937. The success was immediate. The conductor Mravinsky held the score up above his head, like the gospels, as the audience roared its approval. 

Inevitably, persons began to assign emotion to this work. Was it a victory symphony over the Soviet bureaucracy? Was it an apology? Was the martial finale a call to arms or a victory march? Was the long, largo movement, meditative and enthralling in its beauty, a lament?
Shostakovitch could say nothing. Russian music had come full circle, with the market circumventing the
authority of the government, as it had in the days of the Tsars a hundred years before, The people-peasants?-heard what they needed to hear in a new work the composer needed to write. Statues of Stalin are being pulled down in the 21st century. Shostakovitch's music triumphs in Moscow, St. Petersburg, London, Paris, New York and Columbus.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Deborah Voigt


What's more interesting to me is What did you read? Please leave your favorites on this blog!

These are the books I read in 2015. I admit to having to review some of them, read many months ago, and have indicated a few notes in   (  ). 

I no longer have an iron clad memory. I knew enough about each * to remember loving the reading of same. + indicates an author interview.

My favorite books read in 2015:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The world evaporates and the survivors huddle together in makeshift communities. A touring company of actors perform King Lear for the survivors.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande A physician explores how we die. Is life at all costs worth it?

Bettyville  by George Hodgman A gay man leaves his life in New York to care for his elderly mother in North Carolina. I interviewed author George Hodgman for All Sides Weekend Books

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
T. Geronimo Jones

 Three students go to a buddy's hometown and are impacted by a terrible accident. Author interveiw for ASWB

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova A family is affected by a terrible, hereditary illness. And they don't give in. Nobody goes easily. 

The Wright Brothers by David McCullogh A close look at the intersecting lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright, with their formidable sister Catherine more than in the background.

Rosemary: The Missing Kennedy by Kate Clifford Larson The eldest Kennedy daughter was disabled by a lobotomy ordered by her father and spent sixty years out of the public eye. The story of a beautiful young woman whose limits the family could not accept. Author interview for ASWB

Did You Ever Have a Family? by Bill Clegg. The New York Times hated this book. The New York Times doesn't know what its talking about.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

*Can we talk about something more pleasant?  By Roz Chast

At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Boy on the Ice (Derek Boogard-hockey enforcer) by John Branch

Suspended Sentences: Three novellas by Patrick Modiano: Afterimage; Suspended Sentences; Fires of Ruin

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Not my Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

King’s Curse Phillipa Gregory

*Hand to Mouth Linda Tirano

The Tudor Vendetta  Gortner

Map of Betrayal Ha Jin

Digging for Richard III Michael W. Pitts

Call Me Debbie Deborah Voigt

*Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel

Offshore Penelope Fitzgerald

We were liars  e. lockhart

Still Alice Lisa Genova

Everything I Never Told You  Celeste Ng

Roland Hayes: Legacy of an American Tenor Christopher Brooks and Robert Sims

A Royal Experiment (George III and family)
      Janice Hadlow

Before He Finds Her Michael Kardos

Glen Campbell Life with my Father Debby Campbell

The Death of a President  William Manchester

The Gathering Anne Enright
All Gone  Alex Wichtel

The Good Son (JFK Jr.) Christopher Andersen

Stand Up and Sing Jessye Norman

The Sacrifice Joyce Carol Oates (Tawana Brawley)

*Being Mortal Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande

The Woman Who Wasn’t There Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo Guglielmo

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands Chris Bojalian

Revival Stephen King
*The Whites Harry Brandt (cop Billy Graves)

The Boston Girl Anita Diamant (Addie Baum)

Vivid Faces : The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland R.F. Foster

*A History of Loneliness John Boyne

*+Bettyville George Hodgman

My Father’s Wives Mike Greenberg

*Welcome to Braggsville  T. Geronimo Johnson

*The Red Badge of Courage  Stephen Crane

*Family Ties  John Boyne

+Mockingbird Next Door  Marja Mills

Frog  Mo Yan (Gugu mid wife)

*Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class  Scott Timberg

The Long Loneliness Dorothy Day
Thomas Menino Mayor for the 21st Century

The Absolutist  John Boyne

To Die For  Joyce Maynard (Pam Smart)

The Drop Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane

Lord of the Flies William Goldsmith

+The Phantom of Fifth Avenue (Huguette Clark)
Huguette Clark
Meryl Gordon

The Brothers  Marya Gessen  (Tsarnaev)

The Heist (Gardner Museum) Stephen Kurkjian

All Involved  Ryan Chattis (Rodney K LA riots)

Crippen John Boyne
***To Kill a Mockingbird  Harper Lee

*Inside the O’Briens    Lisa Genova (Huntington's)

The Residence Kate Andersen Brower

Mussolini and the Pope  David Kerzer

Hell and Good Company the Spanish Civil War and the World it Made  Richard Rhodes

The Fifth Gospel  Ian Caldwell

The Book of Joan Melissa Rivers

Love Anthony Lisa Genova (autistic boy)

Crane Death of Bob Crane Bob Crane Jr

The Girl on the Train  Paula Hawkins

A Vision of Voices: John Crosby  Craig A. Smith

Madeleine Kahn William V. Madison

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me  Jennifer Teege

Days of Rage: America’s Underground Bryan 

*Princes at War Deborah Cadbury

A Fine Romance Candice Bergen

Left Neglected  Lisa Genova

Our Town   Kevin Jon McEnroe (Joanna Moore)

Islands in the Stream  Ernest Hemingway

Stalin’s Daughter The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva Rosemary Sullivan

*The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

*Tchaikovsky by Alexandr Podiansky

*Muse Jonathan Galassi (Ida Perkins, poet Paul Dukasch publisher)

A Lucky Life Interrupted  Tom Brokaw

Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman Harper Lee

Tennessee Williams John Lahr

New York  Edward Rutherfurd

A Complex Fate: William L. Shirer and the 20th  Century Ken Cuthbertson

Our Man in Charleston Christopher Dickey
                                     (Robert Bunch Civil War)
The Speech  Bernie Sanders

The Bookaneer Matthew Pearl

Paris Edmund Rutherfurd

Act One Moss Hart

Can I go now? Sue Mengers  Brian Kellow

Persuasion Jane Austen

Strangler  Brian McGrory

Dazzler: The Life of Moss  Hart  Seven Bach

Stronger Jeff Bauman (Boston Marathon Chelmsford MA)

Northanger Abbey Jane Austen

Purity Jonathan Franzen
My First 100 Years in Show Business Mary Louise Wilson

Mr Smith Goes to Prison Jeff Smith

Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

Under the Same Sky Joseph Kim (NKorea)

*Mary McGrory by John Norris

*Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter   Kate Clifford Larson

The Missing Kennedy  Elizabeth Stroehler Pentacoff

The Taming of the Queen  Phillipa Gregory

A Common Struggle Patrick Kennedy

*Finale A Novel of the Reagan Years Thomas Mallon

*The Turner House  Angela Flournoy

Nixon Evan Thomas

Antonia Fraser

My History Antonia Fraser

Rebels of Ireland Edward Rutheford

RFK Jr. Jerry Oppenheimer
Emma Jane Austen

Great is the Truth: Secret, Scandal and the Quest for Truth at Horace Mann School  Amos Kamil

*Fellow Travelers  Thomas Mallon

****Did you ever have a family Bill Clegg

Truth in Advertising John Kenney

Razzle Dazzle :The Battle for Broadway Michael Riedel

The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients  Four Lives  Theresa Brown, RN

Lady Bird and Lyndon :The Hidden Story of the Marriage that Made a President   Betty Boyd Caroli

*The Washingtons Flora Fraser

The Man in the High Castle Philip K. Dick

Lost Illusions  Honore de Balzac

Creative Ohio: Transforming Communities

Creative Ohio: Transforming Communities

Yesterday I attended a day long conference sponsored by the Ohio Art Council, with help from the Ohio Humanities Council and Tourism/Ohio. There were just over two hundred participants form throughout the State.These were primarily arts professionals, administators and managers more than applied artists or performers.  Of course, many arts administrators have another life in any of the arts.

My observations are only that: observations. I did have two underlying concerns as the day progressed. The participants were 99.9 % white people on their best behavior. I saw few people of color-from throughout the state of Ohio. I asked a friend who worked "behind the scenes" at the conference. They may think 'what's in it for them, also many of the attendees come from rural parts of the state. Huh? Are their so few people of color in rural Ohio?

They keynote speaker was an expert in community building. Terms like "place holding" and "place making" were used throughout the day. I admit not to having heard of these concepts before, but they make sense. How do you transform a neighborhood into a thriving arts district and how do you keep it a thriving arts district. Our speaker came with an account of his impressive sounding travels throughout the world investigating such communities. The pictures were attractive and the stories of some interest, but not enough to investigate what is to me the heart of the matter.

What should any community want to be transformed? Who is an outsider to attempt to do this and does the transformation meet the needs of the community as it was before said transformation took place. This was asked in plainer words by an audience member. "In Columbus, artists  are priced out of the Short North. " True, that very attractive neighborhood tends to serve White people from the the suburbs, or people who can afford the inflated housing costs in the area.. If I could solve that, our speaker said, I'd be very rich. Indeed. But should the balance between economic growth and preserving the existing community be addressed? Are you intending to help nurture the creative class? I define such a class as creative people who create-music, dance, poetry, textile, theater, weaving, the fine arts, full time and live on ramen noodles because they can't conceive of doing anything else. NOT hobbyists. I mean gifted people who are committed to producing-and selling-what they do.

Okay sure, if you want to sell your work you are going to have to have some savvy and serve some commerical intrests. But if any long term studies or conferences are going to be held I hope in the future making a community for artist to live and work permanently with the influx of new blood always possible, will be paramount.

There were four break out session, each given twice.

The Infrastructure of Place Making
Traveling the Crooked Road to Southwest Virginia
The Art of Partnerships
Evolving Downtown's Transform Communities

I attended Partnerships and Evolving Downtown

The Evolving downtown panel was the best part of the day. The session was set up as a conversation with the audience. I didn't know there was a cultural center in Hamilton, Ohio. I didn't know there was a Hamilton Ohio!  The Fitts Center is run by a hunky Australian new to the job. I wonder if his accent and bravado got him friends or not. He set up a promotional photo shoot of his artistically interesting men's room complete with standees. It got him some nasty blow back and a big tick UP in subscribers! He lamented that is theater is too small to host local orchestra, ballet and choral performances, but the guy is gung ho inviting them anyway and thinking of solutions.

When the director of the Toledo Arts Comissison said he was able to claim a large vacant downtown building for use I asked how he did it. I loved his answer. I went around and asked. I went all through the community knocking on doors. And one property owner said yes.. Another point worth mentioning, go into your community and find the cultured deviants! Th people who are considered weird in the area and who may be bizarre enoguht to join you and help. "Embrace those who want to help"

Asked what their most urgent wish is all four replied Funds fora permanent endowment.A revenue stream.

I know Stuarts Opera house in Nelsonville. I was shocked to learn that it sat empty  for 50 years, into the 1990s. The Diretor of the Opera house made it very clear. He worked in the poorest  county in the State. Yet the newly resorted theater anchors a small but attractive downtown square and  stands out amidst the surrounding blight. People come for shows and concerts. People send their kids there. Everyone wants to do more for kids. Everyone, as did the a.m. speaker, uses enthusiastic crowd isn the streets and the participation of kids as a measure of success.

So what did I learn:

Go as a guest....if you are visiting in someone else's community, be a good guest.
Invite people IN
Don't be afraid to ask. The worse people can say is No. Use that as a chance to change their minds...but know when to back off
Creative communities require people...and places to it down and visit...shops, green spaces, coffee houses, restaurants. Don't forget public performances and public art.

Don't take it too seriously. A little silly or off the wall is good,

Find balance. Drive the economic machine without shutting down the people already there


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Columbus Symphony: Britten, Mozart and Beethoven w. Milanov and Morales! Nov. 20 and 21 2015

REMINDER: David Thomas and his CSO colleagues play Mozart's Clarinet Quintet K. 581 immediately following the Saturday night program, so stick around!

Rossen Milanov conducts The Columbus Symphony this weekend in the Southern Theatre. Ricardo Morales is the soloist for Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, K. 622. Also on the program are Benjamin Britten's Simple symphony, and Beethoven's Symphony 4 in B flat, Op.60 Friday and Saturday 8 pm, November 20, 21.

Ricardo Morales

We're in the Southern Theatre this weekend for a program of nothing but beautiful music.

What are you talking about? Of course its beautiful music.Last week we had a great ride with film scores by Max Steiner, Maurice Jarre , Bernard Hermann, Elmer Bernstein. The evening culminated in a performance of Prokofiev's cantata Alexander Nevsky, fire and ice and one of the finest performances I have e'er heard in the Ohio Theater, if not any where. And I've been around.

If you want to be comforted and soothed and cuddled (musically) Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and Beethoven's 4th Symphony are for you.

First of all, clarinetist Ricard Morales is our soloist this weekend. No kidding, this guy is the real deal. He was practically a kid when named first chair clarinet to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He moved 90 miles south to the same first chair, this with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I've never met him but some facebook correspondence an my inane questions about what the hell is a basset clarinet have been answered with friendliness and humor. You need to hear this guy float a Mozart adagio. Like butta:

Mozart's Clarinet Concerto k. 622 was his final completed orchestral work. Its inspiration was the composer's friendship with fellow Mason Anton Stadler.Biographer Wolfgang Hildesheimer-has descirbed Stadler as a leech and a hanger on. Indeed Mozart loaned Stadler significant amounts of money-. But Stadler's gifts both as a clarinetist and his development of the instrument itself made him a perfect match for Amadeus's sole concerto for the clarinet.  Stadler had worked on La clemenza di Tito, Mozart's 1791 opera for Prague. He had done a great deal to popularize the clarinet and without his concerts and virtuosity we may have waited longer for the instrument to take its important place in the orchestra.

As for beautiful music, what can be more beautiful then the second movement of Mozart's Clarinet concerto. At the time it was written Mozart was still writing exuberant letters to his wife, following the progress of  Tito, and watching his latest-and last opera The Magic Flute attain hit status Vienna. He had two months to live.

Not so cheery are the letters of Beethoven twenty years later! In 1806 he was working on his opera Fidelio.  "This opera business is the most tiresome affair in the world" thundered the composer. Plus ca change.

Later in that year Beethoven wrote the fourth piano concerto, the three quartets Razumovsky, the Fourth Symphony, the Violin Concerto, the Coriolan Overture, the C Major Piano Variations, the Fifth Symphony, the A major Cello Sonata and the Ghost Trio*

The Fourth Symphony has been called Beethoven's Cinderella, or lyrical, calm, lovely, endearing. It doesn't storm the heavens, and might be an emotional antidote to the Eroica. That said it lacks nothing of Beethoven's flair for drama:

The principal key is B flat Major, described by Nicolas Slonimsky in Lectionary of Music as

"...the key of the universe...Most machines of modern industry, electric motors, fans and washing machines-buzz, whir and hum on the 60 cycle B flat, corresponding to the lowest note of the bassoon....and then there is that glorious uninhibited sweep of the clarinet-in b flat of course, that opens Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue...Can there be a special psychological reason in Mahler's exclusion of B any of his symphonies...Was he inhibited by its aggressive character?"

Prince Karl Linchowsky didn't hold a grudge
The Fourth Symphony was commissioned by the fabulously wealthy Count Franz von Oppersdorf. Beethoven and Oppersdorf had met at the home of Prince Karl Lichnowsky, the composer's patron. The visit did not end well: His worship kept asking the composer to play something and Beethoven kept refusing, finally driven to yell, "There are many princes but only one Beethoven!" before stomping out into the dark and stormy night. Prince Lichnowsky did not hold a grudge. Oppersdorf got his symphony, Beethoven got just  about US$ 10,000 and so we have the Symphony number 4. Lovely and lyrical indeed!

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) completed his Simple Symphony in 1932, at the age of 19. Already at that young age he had a store house of tunes he recycled into a delicious four movement work for strings. Songs and piano sonatas by the lad Britten were retooled into the 18th century dance movements favored by Bach and Haydn:  A boisterous bouree and the slow sentimental sarabande. But you'll be especially grabbed by the playful pizzicato of the second movement:

*As listed in Jonathan D. Kramer's Listen to the Music, A Self Guided Tour Through the Orchestral Repertoire.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Harmony Project on All Sides Weekend

UPDATE: Thank you to David, Michelle, Sandy and Hannah for a great interveiw. The program is archived at

All Sides Weekend is heard Fridays at 11 a.m. on WOSU 89-7 NPR News. The program is archived at and is televised by Ohio News Network.  Book and Arts based programs are hosted by WOSU broadcast manager Christopher Purdy

Friday November 13 at 11 a.m.: THE HARMONY PROJECT

Guests: David Brown, Harmony Project Founder and Creative Director, 
Michelle Hermann, OSU Professor of English and creative Writing and HP Member, Sandy Frey, LEED Green Associate and Hannah Powell, Principal KIPP 

Don't miss Michelle Hermann's essay of Harmony Project, and more in her new collection, Like A Song, published by Outpost 19, San Francisco

I've been a fan of HARMONY PROJECT since my writer-teacher-diva mamaleh Michelle Hermann wrestled me to the ground and insisted I listen to HP sing. I did. Very nice. Then I learned more. Harmony Project's 200 voice choir is an important part of the organization, but not the whole story. Membership requires joyful singing and a commitment to make Columbus better. HP members volunteer in programs citywide benefiting the homeless, the ill, the neglected, the lonely and anyone whose live can be improved with an friendly hand, a smile and music.

In other words, Harmony Project helps people help other people using music as a catalyst.
What's not to love you may ask. Nothing apparently. Just try to get in to one of their concerts or even join the choir. Sold out houses and waiting lists are heartening. So many people want to sing and want to help.

I met David brown for coffee a few years ago. The man burns to make music and connect with others. His need may come from many areas, personal and professional. It's a need that brings talent and energy to many to give to many others. I understood why people will leap tall buildings in a single bound or give up chocolate for this man.

THIS JUST IN: The Arts Innovation Fund of The Columbus Foundation has awarded a Columbus Performing Arts Prize to David Brown, founder and Creative Director of The Harmony Project to support a dynamic multi cultural finale at its performance at the Ohio Theatre on December 1 2015..... 

Columbus Symphony Takes us to the Movies

Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in music for the Cinema by  Max Steiner, Bernard Hermann, Maurice Jarre and Elmer Bernstein. The program includes Prokofiev's cantata Alexander Nevsky based on Prokofiev's score for Sergei Eisenstein's film of the same name. 

Pre-concert talks by yours truly one hour before each performance. Ohio Theater, 8 pm.
November 13 and 14. (Talks at 7)

What was your first movie? I mean the first time you went to a movie theater complete with popcorn. Mine was Lawrence  of Arabia and had I paid my way in I certainly would have gotten my money's worth. Alas, it was 1962, I was five years old and the baby sitter cancelled. A night out was a night out and I was brought along. Five is too young to appreciate a three hour plus movie filmed in Technicolor-Egyptian splendor, and I can't say I recall the first run of Maurice Jarre's music, much less Peter O'Toole. I do remember a scene where a young man drowned in quicksand.Not much else.

I can catch up this weekend, at least with Maurice Jarre (1924-2009). He was born in Lyons, and had a gist of color in music necessary for his Oscar-winning scores to Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India and Mad Max, Beyond the Many. I was ready to say Jarre was not interested in simple romance when he could have the pyramids, the gulag or outer space, but it is Maurice Jarre's music featured in Ghost. Love music got complicated in his scores to Fatal Attraction, The Mosquito Coast and The Year of Living Dangerously. 

Bernard Hermann's (1911-1975) scores Psycho for Alfred Hitchcock. He went on to compose for Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone.  Hermann was a staff conductor for CBS in New York by 1935. As conductor of the CBS Symphony, Hermann introduced music by Franz Liszt, Charles Ives, Herman Goetz and Niels Gade. He worked with Orson Welles during that star's radio years -including The War of the Worlds  broadcast that panicked America. Other film scores by Bernard Hermann were for Citizen Cane, Jane Eyre, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, North by Northwest and Taxi Driver.

Max Steiner (1888-1971) became the Haydn-Mozart-Wagner of Hollywood. He won Oscars for his scores to The Informer, Now Voyager, and Since You Went Away. Born in Austria, Steiner outgrew his child prodigy years and went to Hollywood in 1929-just in time for the talkies! (singies?). Steiner's godfather was no less than Richard Strauss. He had success composing and conducting operettas, but sound was coming in and for young Max operetta was going out. How much do you need to know about the man who wrote the music to King Kong?

Steiner joined Warner Brothers in 1937, and wrote film scores for that studio's reigning diva. Jack Warner told the composer, "When Bette Davis walks into a room, I want audiences to know that Bette Davis had walked into a room."   It was good advice. Steiner wrote the scores for The Letter, Dark Victory, A Stolen Life and Now Voyager.

But Steiner had already immortality when he wrote this score, which still has people nearly saluting the flag:

Sergei Prokofiev didn't need much from Hollywood. In fact I doubt he would have fared well on the coast. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman and Max Steiner had European cred to match Prokofiev when they went to Hollywood and Sergei pursued a parallel career composing and performing.  

In 1937  Stalin's Soviet films turned to Sergei Eisenstein, who had flopped on Hollywood, for a film base on Russian history. Said film must have relevance, use to 1937 audiences. The choice of Prince Alexander Nevsky was brilliant. Alexander had routed the German Teutonic knights out of old Rus'. Stalin was still making nice with the fuhrer, but one never knew. Eisenstein's German knights wore sinister metal helmets. The Russian people were a great unwashed, winning a glorious battle on the ice

When Germany and the Soviet-Union signed a non aggression pact, Alexander Nevsky was taken out of circulation. Not for long. The are jubilant choruses exhorting the Russian people on to victory, either in 1242 of 1937. And a magnificent prayer for solo contralto, The Field of the Dead. 

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Sarah Mesko, mezzo -soprano in Classic Film Scores November 13 and 14 Ohio Theater.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Columbus Symphony: Beethoven, Brahms and Bermel

The Columbus Symphony presents Beethoven's Piano Concerto 1 in C, Op. 15, Brahms Symphony no. 2 in D, Op. 73 and Derek Bermel's A Shout, A Whisper, A Trace in The Southern Theater, Friday October 30 and Saturday, October 31 at 8 p.m. Columbus Symphony Music Director Rossen Milanov conducts, with Shai Wosner, piano

Derek Bermel (b. New York, 1967) was unknown to me until this week. That only proves my Bermel ignorance. Bermel is a composer, impresario, clarinetist and musician who produces concerts and writer in an  idiom embracing funk and world music. Bermel trained at Yale as an ethnomusicologist. He follows composers like Bartok-a model for A Shout, A Whisper, A Trace who went about the Carpathian mountains ninety years ago writing down the songs he heard wherever he stopped. Taverns, churches, cat houses with no cats, Bartok had an ear for music hungry to get back to the earth.Mr. Bermel's travels have taken him throughout Central Europe and South America,. His interests and influences (dare I say) include the Brazilian caixxi, the Thracian folk style of Bulgaria, and even the uilean pipes from my people in Dublin.
Derek Bermel
advanced age. I need to get out more.

A Shout, A Whisper, A Trace was written in 2009 for the American Composer's Orchestra and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. The scoring is for 2 flutes, 2 horns, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 clarinets, strings and percussion.The rhythmic propulsion make this an accessible piece. The use of layering, of laying one sound atop on another keeps our attention.

Beethoven (1770-1827) moved to Vienna in 1892. Mozart had just died, not long after encouraging he younger man,  telling the doubting Papa Beethoven, "Your son will make a great noise in the world." The elderly Haydn, newly freed from his elegant indenture in Esterhazy was accepting pupils in Vienna. They young Beethoven made his way to Haydn's influence, where he was no doubt reminded to revere Mozart as well.

Young Beethoven
If in 1792 the young Beethoven was untried as a composer, nobody doubted his sublime gifts as a pianist. One assumes he was not the unkempt and unwashed angry man of his later years. He would have gotten nowhere fast among the Viennese nobility.  It was a pianist that Beethoven introduced himself to Vienna.. His gifts at the keyboard aroused enough interest for him to play his own C Major Piano Concerto, first in Prague (Boston to Vienna's New York) then in Vienna in 1798.

I suppose its necessary to tell you that this concerto, labelled number 1, was the third the composer wrote. Number two was first and there was one more, a piece of juvenilia not published. Never mind. Beethoven thought very highly of this work.. He kept it from being published until 1801. He wanted it for his own concerts, a calling card useful in announcing his strong new talent to new audiences.

The C Major concerto owes a lot to Haydn's tight sense of structure and Mozart's grace. Still, original touches begin with the solo entrance, two and a half minutes into the first movement, playing a theme unrelated to the orchestral introduction. Nevertheless, Beethoven at this point wasn't afraid to use a Mozartian delicacy in his writing, even if he couldn't always match that master's subtlety. The second movement is understated compared to later Beethoven, but offers a loveliness that would have kept the public from going off the rails

As for Brahms, always remember to take your summer vacation! Brahms would repair lakeside in the mountains outside Vienna-as Mahler did a generation later-using his down time away from teaching, conducting and performing to create new work. In 1876 he wrote the felicitous Symphony number 2. The tortured fifteen years it took to get a first symphony out of the composer are here nowhere evident. This is the work of a mature man who is happy to be set in his ways. He knows his craft, and he knows how to please an audience. Not for nothing has this 2nd symphony been compared to Beethoven's 6th, the Pastorale.There's a serenity in Brahms's, D Major Symphony. Shafts of light bleed through the sometimes thick orchestration. Brahms loved his doubled and tripled brass and winds. He liked a thick texture where a lot was going on. Here, the writing is more grateful to the ear, with an immediacy that says "go ahead, enjoy!"