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Friday, November 17, 2017


Approaching another birthday, and with the years advancing and the returns diminishing, it's time to look at a Bucket List. I do so publicly to give myself a bit more impetus to make things happen.
Have a swimmer's body? Eat whatever I want with no concern? Never need to excersise? Those boats sailed long ago. I look my age. I've earned it.


Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein 

I've always loved the elegance and craziness of Stein's text and her love for "Saints and Avila" combined with Virgil Thomson's Southern Baptist hymnal influenced music.

Stein and Thompson stressed clarity (!) You might not understand the text, but the worlds are clearly set. This is a witty and strangely moving opera. I would love to immerse myself in Thomson and Stein's worlds. 

Four Saints in Three Acts is worth knowing better.  I don't understand why this isn't done more often, certainly its perfect for colleges.

All I need is a venue, a cast, an orchestra and money. Who's talking to me?

Transformations by Anne Sexton and Conrad Susa

Anne Sexton's take on Grimm's fairy tales became an opera in the 1970s. Renee Fleming, in her excellent book, The Inner Voice, the Making of a Singer (should be required reading for any young musician) describes of production of this work in which she sang very early on.. She maintains this was one of he great events of her career.

There's a wonderful production of Transformations, set in a mental hospital. I've seen the video and I can't imagine a better staging. What a wonderful challenge this would be!

Both works have large casts and make no horrendous demand on young-or not young-voices. These could be two "community" projects.


Never been. I'd like to sit in San Marco in Venice where Monteverdi was maestro di capella. I'd like to go to Milan and say a prayer at Verdi's grave in the Casa di riposo. I'd like to take a day off form sobriety and have a grappa. I'll settle for a gelato. I'd like to wander through the Sistine Chapel. Can you wander there?

I'd like to see the faded image of Leonardo's Last Supper at the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Just to stand in front of it for a minute:


Yeah, I know. Yadda yadda yadda.

I'D LIKE TO START A CHOIR made up of autistic children who don't have language. Music is a path to language. I'm inspired by the story of a fine singer who had a devastating stroke that robbed her of spoken language. Her voice was unimpaired. Not only could she sing beautifully, but she could sing the words she had always sung. Having a day to day conversation became challenging, but she could sing Mahler or Strauss to knock you on your ass.

I heard about this and thought, Bingo! Use music to cultivate underperforming areas of the brain! And spend your time with kids. What's not to love?

....and I'm still working on this list!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Finally, I listened to a few recordings: DiDonato, Spyres, Yoncheva and Florez

The stack of new CD releases has been eyeing me with something like contempt for moths. I have scanned the walls of my office and am beginning to despair. What will I do with these shelves of recordings, many of which I've loved and cherished for years, when I'm no longer here? The days don't get longer when you reach 60, boys and girls.

But disposing of my collection is a problem for tomorrow.

For today, I want to talk a bit about a few recent releases.

Lately I've been listening to Scriabin.  The two poems, both divine and ecstatic. I'm enjoying the Boston Symphony's newly published complete Brahms symphonies with Andris Nelsons. I'm trying and not always succeeding in listening to artists who are still alive!

That's my rule for this post. For once, you can't be dead.

Arias by Handel, Purcell, Leo, Jomelli and Monteverdi

What a beautiful artist! Joyce DiDonato, like the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson leaves her own ego outside the stage door or the recording studio and subsumes herself into text and music. I couldn't keep my eyes off DiDonato during the recent Metropolitan Opera live-in HD Norma. Her Adalgisa listened and reacted in character to everything going on around her. Especially moving was her onstage support to Norma herself in the first act, long before Adalgisa has anything so sing.

This recording  gives us warriors and peace makers. There's Dido's lament and Handel's exquisite Lascia ch'io pianga. The warrior Sesto sings himself into avenging his father's murder. Monteverdi's Penelope cherishes the long awaited return of her husband Ulisse in Illustratevi o cieli. DiDonato uses a touch of chest voice which never interferes with the ability to float a gorgeous phrase. Listen to Purcell's They tell us that you mighty powers above for its shapely sweetness. For me the high point of the album is the aria from Jomelli's Attilio Regolo. DiDonato's brio and fearless coloratura remind me, of all people, of Beverly Sills.


Michael Spyres is a young American tenor enjoying quite a busy career, primarily in Europe. He already has an impressive discography complete with the robust tenor roles of Rossini that require a great deal of flexibility. I've enjoyed his work in Rossini's Otello, Guillaume Tell, and Le siege de Corinthe. In the latter he sings a role done in Italian versions (L'assedio di corinto) en travesti by  Shirley Verrett and astoundingly, Marilyn Horne.

Espoir is Spyres's tribute to Gilbert Duprez (1806-1896) supposedly the tenor who developed the High C delivered from the chest. The manly, squillante sound (ring) is greatly prized, and rare,  today.

Spyres sings arias by Rossini, Donizetti, Auber and Berlioz. Of special interest are two selections by Halevy, known today only for La juive, and that just barely. To all these he brings not only the aforementioned squillante, but a warm and attractive voice that combines sweetness with power. It's a wining combination and this disc is a winner.

SONYA YONCHEVA: Paris mon amour

If you'll be attending this season's live in HD presentations by the Metropolitan  Opera, you'll be seeing and hearing Sonya Yoncheva in Tosca, La boheme and Luisa Miller. So here's hoping that we'll all fall in love with Sonya, as the Met it seems expects us to do.

Paris mon amour pays tribute to the city of light, with selections from operas set in the French capital, many written during the belle epoque of the late 19th century. She sings arias by Massenet, Offenbach, Puccini, Verdi, Gounod, Messager and Lecocq

I appreciate the programming. Messager's Madame Chrysantheme lost its audience once Puccini wrote Madama Butterfly. Charles  Lecocq found himself competing with Offenbach in the light opera sweepstakes. The gentle waltz from Les cent vierges is captivating. yo gotta love a guy who writes an opera called The One Hundred Virgins.

Yoncheva's lovely voice suffers in comparison only to people like Scotto in an earlier time, whose recorded arias form La boheme, Le villi and La traviata broke your heart. Yoncheva does everything right. She's a light soprano, not a "juicy lyric" and she brings grace and style to a lot of this repertoire. What's missing is the dramatic tension and sense of the words that can elevate Massenet and Gounod. The arias from Sapho and Le cid  require more voice than Yoncheva can summon. This falcon repertoire is not the Yoncheva voice. Listen to Marilyn Horne or Grace Bumbry in the arias from Sapho and Le cid and you'll hear what I mean.
There's a lot of beautiful signing here but,  I don't hear the vocal chops for Tosca or Luisa Miller


Where's he been? Juan Diego Florez, our finest tenore di grazia was a fixture in New York. In recent years he's preferred to sing in Europe (where he continues to be very busy). He's expanding his repertoire away from the young man Rossini to Verdi's Duke of Mantua and Massenet's Werther. I hope he sings them in the States.

I was surprised to read that Mozart has never figured large in Florez's career. For a while he sang Donizetti and Rossini operas few others could or would. Mozart was well traveled. This new album of Mozart arias is a delight.  Florez's voice lacks the last bit of snap of Alfredo Kraus,  but he has all the flexibility and lovely tone necessary for this music.

 Idomeno's Fuor del mar opens this disc. Power? Check. Coloratura? Yes. It's fearless. I especially loved the selections from Cosi fan tutte  and Abduction From the Seraglio. The great concert aria,  Misero! O sogno K. 431 shows us that Florez is not leaving of a young man's charm in his singing, but adding the pathos and life experience of a mature artist. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Hate U Give

My daughter Kerry's take on the magnificent new novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

See Kerry's blog 

The Hate U Give I was up all last night reading "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas, recommended to me by my father. All I can say is, I am impressed by her writing. This book is told through the eyes of a young black girl who witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend, a young black man, by a cop on their way home from a party. This leads to outrage from her poor black "ghetto" community and demands for justice. The neighborhood quickly turns into a war zone and riots break out and the militarized police are sent in. Excuses are made for the officer who pulled the trigger, who insisted that the boy was a drug dealer and a gangbanger, and that he was only attempting to protect himself. Chaos ensues when the officer is dropped of all charges, repeating that he was simply fearing for his own safety. I don't want to give too much away, all I want to say is that this book is highly recommended. And it's sad, but true, and shows how much farther we still have to go. Had it been a white kid that the officer had shot, he most certainly would have done time. I can hardly understand the feeling. I am a young woman with pale white skin of Celtic and Nordic descent. No, I don't know what it's like to fear for my life every time I walk out of my house. I can walk, run, or drive down the street without fear of getting shot by a cop. However, I most certainly have heard black men as being quoted as saying that "they fear for their lives every time they walk outside." Literally. And it wasn't that long ago that black men were actually hung simply for sport. There is a sickening picture in my Homeland Security textbook taken not too long before my parents were born...of a crowd laughing and cheering at the hanging of two black men. Like at a basketball game today. There are couples on dates in that picture. Our professor-who is white as well as military, law enforcement, and government, mind you-said that it made him sick and we still have such a long way to go. I also wanted to point out that, as a Criminal Justice major, I still of course believe that "Blue Lives Matter." It's corrupted officers like this who give all police a bad name. I believe that at police academies, more in-depth training should be done to weed out the ones who are more likely to "shoot first, ask questions later." It may take some thinking to figure out how to do it, but something should be done.


Children's Books, What's Your Favorite?

RECENTLY I put a call out on Facebook, asking my 'friends" to name their favorite children's books. This was in preparation for an ALL SIDES WEEKEND/BOOKS broadcast.

My guests were WOSU's wonderful book critic Kassie Rose, Ryan Buley, Youth Services Manager at the New Albany branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, and Melia Wolf, owner of the Cover to Cover bookstore.

Author Ben Hatke joined us on the phone. his latest graphic novel is a re-telling of Jack and the Bean Stalk: Might Jack


You can find the show archived at

I had over two hundred replies!
Here's the list of people's favorite children's books.

* = multiple votes

I'm delighted that so many titles I loved 50+ years ago are still loved and read today.
I also found several titles I forgot I had loved.
It was like being re introduced to beloved old friends after a long time.

Such are the gifts and emotional ties of books!


Favorite Children’s Books
For an ALL SIDES WEEKEND broadcast (August 18, 2017) on children’s books, I asked my Facebook friends to share their favorite titles.
I got lots of responses-thank you!-that is a good problem to have.

Here we go!

*Charlotte’s Web 

Emil and the Detectives
Goodbye Mister Chips
*The Secret Garden
Goodnight Moon
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Giving Tree
*The Phantom Toll Booth
Winnie the Pooh and the A.A. Milne books

The Wind in the Willows (my favorite)         

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

*A Wrinkle in Time

The Little Engine That Could
*The Hardy Boys series
*Nancy Drew series
*Johnny Tremaine

*Where the While Things Are and all Maurice Sendak

*Dr. Seuss

Curious George series
Pipi Longstocking series
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
James and the Giant Peach
The Snowy Day
Harriet the Spy
We Shook the Family Tree
The Wizard of Oz
The Velveteen Rabbit
Good Dog Carl
Brave Cowboy Bill

*The Boxcar Children (Margaret Warner)

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret (Judy Blume)
Momo and the Yellow Umbrella
*Alice in Wonderland
Prince Caspian
*Narnia Series
*The Black Stallion

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
Jan Brett books
The Castle of Grumpy Grouch
The Stinky Cheese Man
Honey Bunch Series

*The Little Prince

Stand Back Said the Elephant, I’m going to Sneeze!
Black and Blue Magic
The Treasure of Alphoneus T. Winterborn
Betsy Tacy Series ( Maude Hart Lovelace)

*All of a Kind Family series
*Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
Beverly Cleary books: Henry Huggins, Ramona

*Make Way for Ducklings

Marjorie Morningstar

Grimm Fairy Tales

Geraldine Belinda
Treasure Island

Robin Hood
*Black Beauty

The Happy Hollisters  

The Way Things Work

The Princess and Curdie
Ginger Pye

John Henry
Lad, a Dog
The Monster at the End of This Book (with Grover)
The Pokey Little Puppy
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Ferdinand the Bull
In Beyond Zebra (Seuss)
Huckleberry Finn

Cheaper by the Dozen

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The Puschcart War
The Red Balloon

Alexander and the Magic Mouse
Danny Dunn series
Little Women
The Little Princess
Mr. Bear Squash You all Flat

Bartholomew and the Oobleck
A Series of Unfortunate Events
My Father’s Dragon
Peter Rabbit


Friday, May 05, 2017


St. James Episcopal Church
Six meetings were held at St. James Episcopal Church in Columbus, from late February until last night, called Interfaith Meeting with Muslim Neighbors and St. James.

The goal was to build bridges, to get beyond the nosiy political rhetoric, to meet and know PEOPLE.
Speaking for myself, I learned a lot and indeed, met some wonderful people.
Contact info is included here. Go build a bridge.

Here are some of the people we met:

Last night MAY 4

MYProject USA runs a food pantry and thrift shop on Sullivant Ave. Zerqa spoke to us  of her concerns regarding Somali children being lost to gangs, on the dangers of addiction, human trafficking,  and the difficulties plaguing the poor and displaced.

Her immediate need is for $5,000.00 to expand a door way in her shelter building facilitating easier-and more-food delivery. Does anyone know a company that would do this work  gratis or at a reduced rate? $5,000.00 could feed and clothe a lot of people. I’ll be looking around. Maybe you will , too?

One of our members from St. James asked if all of our speakers “asked for something”. They did not. He then said, “Well, it makes it easier to know who to help!”
Zerqa and her programs need our help.

  Jeri converted to Islam. She offered a very personal view of a Christian’s women’s conversion.

Nabeel Alauddin was my first meeting when I began setting up these talks. He came to our first session and recited to us from the Qur’an. He also gave a wonderful presentation on the Qur’an , particularly enlightening for those of us with no knowledge at all.
Note that the Muslim Student’s Association at OSU provide bag lunches for the homeless being served In the Garden at Trinity Church in downtown Columbus. Zerqa last night also spoke to us of the MSA’s help on Sullivant avenue.


Nahla is a college professor and sociologist. Her research covers the role of Muslim women now living in this country. She spoke to us of the cultural challenges these women encounter. The point was made that Islam insists on the dignity of women. The Qur’an does not prohibit women working outside the home and does not mandate the veil. The latter remains a personal choice. The point was made that Muslim men, now living in this country can admit to needing help supporting the family. Thus, women leave the home and go to work. A step for them toward equality.
Members of the Muslim Student’s Association returned for this meeting. It was great having them! The talk covered  relationships and we learned about one of several APPS that facilitate Muslim dating!


Professor Payind is Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Center at OSU. For many of us, Shar’ia law mans the horrors we see on CNN. Professor Payind gave us context.

Director · Columbus, Ohio

Horsed Noah brought some young  people with him. He shared with us his own journey in coming to this country with his family.  He directs an Islamic Center on the West Side and my impression is that he is a very gifted mentor/father figure. His perspective for us was one of teacher and leader.

AAIC is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual, non-sectarian, diverse, and open community committed to full and equal participation and involvement



Nicol Ghazi from the Noor Islamic Ctr sent us two of their board members, Faouki Majeed and Noorgul Dada. People had asked to learn more about the depiction of Jesus and Mary in the Qu'ran.
Noorgul recited from the Qur’an. More than one person told me later they could have listened to him all night. Me too. In the Qur’an Jesus is named Isa and Mary is Maryam.

From Wikipedia:

Mary (Arabic: مريم‎, translit. Maryam‎), the mother of Jesus (Isa), holds a singularly exalted place in Islam as the only woman named in the Qur’an, which refers to her seventy times and explicitly identifies her as the greatest of all women,[2][3][4] stating, with reference to the angelic saluation during the annunciation, "O Mary, God has chosen you, and purified you; He has chosen you above all the women of creation."[5] In the Quran, her story is related in three Meccan chapters (19, 21, 23) and four Medinan chapters (3, 4, 5, 66), and the nineteenth chapter of the scripture, the Chapter of Mary (Surat Maryam), is named after her. The Quran refers to Mary more than the entire New Testament.[6]

According to the Qur’an, divine grace surrounded Mary from birth,[7] and, as a young woman, she received a message from God through the archangel Gabriel that God had chosen her, purified her, and had preferred her above all "the women of the worlds."[7] This event, according to the same narrative, was followed by the annunciation of a child who was to be miraculously conceived by her through the intervention of the divine spirit while she was still virgin, whose name would be Jesus and who would be the "anointed one," the Promised Messiah.[7] As such, orthodox Islamic belief "has upheld the tenet of the virgin birth of Jesus,"[7] and although the classical Islamic thinkers never dwelt on the question of the perpetual virginity of Mary at any great length,[7] it was generally agreed in traditional Islam that Mary remained virgin through the entirety of her life, with the Qur’an's mention of Mary's purification “from the touch of men” implying perpetual virginity in the minds of many of the most prominent Islamic fathers.[8]

The Quran refers to Mary more than the entire New Testament. According to the Qur'an, divine grace surrounded Mary from birth, and, as a young woman, she received a message from God through the archangel Gabriel that God had chosen her, purified her, and had preferred her above all "the women of the worlds."

Thanks to NICOL HAZI Outreach director at Noor Islamic Ctr.,  nicol ghazi  She is a great resource for anyone wanting to know more.

That’s it. For now. Let’s build bridges and keep the dialogue going. Again, thank you.

And thank you particularly to our Muslim speakers and guests.

Thank you Emily Wendel for the refreshments.

Thank you St. James Episcopal Church for the use of the hall!

Christopher Purdy

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

C'est Thais! Really?

As I continue my rush into decrepitude, I enjoy looking back and using opera recordings to cite benchmarks in my life.

I can find no such benchmark for the RCA Red Seal production of  Massenet's Thais, recorded in London in 1973 and published as a three LP set a year later.

What I do remember is the exhaustive PR campaign surrounding this release and the incredulity once the recording was released.

Thais has a luscious high calorie score by French composer, bon vivant and amour des femmes  Jules Massenet (1842-1912). It's based on a novel by the same title Anatole
France, published in 1890.

Thais is lovely Catholic porn, yummy to the abbes and their friends running around between holy orders in the Parisian Cafes. Even Notre Dame closed at night.  Le coupole never did.

A grande horizontale, a courtesan in first century C.E. Alexandria is rescued from her life of debauchery and spirited away to a convent in the desert by a crazed holy man called Athanael. There she dies peacefully, with vision of the deity and his/her angels while Athanael orgiastic ally confesses his own lust for her. Curtain.

What's not to love? We have Massenet with his velvet jackets, sophisticated tunes and atelier complete with sopranos Sybil Sanderson (from Sacramento, California) and Mary Garden (Aberdeen out of Chicopee, Massachusetts). Sybil became a celebrated Manon and created Massenet's Esclarmonde.
Sybil Sanderson as Thais

Thais was also a vehicle for La Sanderson, known for her dazzling upper range. F above high C was her party note. She was a beauty, and Thais fit with her reputation for gambling, booze and morphine. Sybil succumbed to all of these at the age of 38. Mary Garden, who thought Massenet made love like a slob, lived into her 90s.

Mary Garden as Thais

Today, Thais is best known for its lovely Meditation for violin and orchestra, played to the curtain between scenes 1 and 2 of the second act. The rest of the opera is every bit as beautiful. This ain't exactly Cosi fan Tutte or Carmen, but Thais has a rich orchestration, some colorful choral orgies (literally) and a superb final duet for soprano and baritone. In every way, Thais is stage worthy.

In my youth this was an onstage vehicle for Beverly Sills in late career.  It was a mistake.  The lady retained her stunning coloratura but by the late 1970s the long, elegant lines Massenet required were a memory.

Beverly got there second. Thais had lived on the edge of the repertoire and no closer for a generation leading up to the 1970s. It was then that RCA decided Anatole France's whore-nun was the perfect vehicle for American soprano Anna Moffo.

To be fair, Anna Moffo (1932-2006) had been a star for RCA Red Seal since the late 1950s. Check out her recordings of Rigoletto, La traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Luisa Miller and La rondine and you'll hear lots to enjoy. She was a gorgeous woman. That's not much help on records, but Moffo recorded sexy. Her physical charms and dramatic gifts made her an audience favorite. Anna Moffo was the real deal.

In the late 1960s there was a high profile divorce and a very high profile courtship and marriage to Robert Sarnoff of the RCA family. Wags suggested that this marriage was responsible for the spate of Moffo recordings dating from this period, as her voice rapidly eroded.

(The Sarnoffs were happily married for 25 years until his death in 1996)

RCAs production of Thais meant to be a spectacular come back for a much loved diva in distress. How could this lose? If the lady needed careful editing, she'd get it. The rest of the cast was magnificent. The French baritone Gabriel Bacquier lent authenticity and a fine voice. Jose Carreras had a supporting role in this, this first major recording. The golden honey of that voice was a joy. Justino Diaz, still quite young but no slouch himself was cast along with an authoritative conductor,  Julius Rudel. The maestro's production of Massenet's Manon with Beverly Sills remained a top tourist attraction in New York into the 1970s.

What happened? Magazines, newspapers and billboards everywhere carried a full length portrait of Anna Moffo in harem pants and Cleopatra wig hailing l'essence de Thais! RCA had her on the Merv Griffin-Mike Douglas talk show circuit. She flashed her engagement ring with its Volkswagen sized diamond. She was still lovely and everyone still loved her. There was little talk about Thais, or Massenet, or music, or opera (that's a shame, Anna Moffo was a Curtis trained musician) There were plenty of cheesecake photos, with a somewhat jowl-y lady. It wasn't even camp. It was tragic. And it was everywhere.

After the exhaustive and ridiculous PR campaign, RCA's recording of Thais, starring Anna Moffo, Gabriel Bacquier, Jose Carreras and Justino Diaz, conducted by Julius Rudel, was published with lurid cover art intact (To be fair the back of the  LP box had Miss Moffo costumed as a nun).

Eventually you had to listen to the records. The press was unmerciful. The PR assaults couldn't save a recording with a heroine whose performance was pieced together in bits of tape and over dubs. She crooned, she sighed and she shrieked. She rarely sang. The men were wonderful. But Thais with no soprano was like kissing your sister. This recording was not going to get you laid. Callas could get you laid. Tebaldi and Corelli could get you laid.  RCA's tug rag art stimulated no one.. 

Now in 2017, eleven years after her death, Anna Moffo's recording of Thais has been digitized for the first time and is back in circulation. The RCA catalog has reverted to SONY. I suspect no one at SONY has any idea of the history, controversy and sorrow of this recording. I'm sure its been digitally remastered and sounds better than ever. We can only hope the labored, desperate singing does not sound better than ever. Amazon calls this Moffo's "controversial" recording and adds, "Perhaps its time for a reassessment?"

I'm going to buy this. Even after all "that". I began to understand show business and fun house mirrors when this LP was new. The men sound great. Rudel was a wonderful conductor. I like Thais.
I've always loved Anna Moffo, a crush of my callow young manhood. Mowing lawn money bought me her recording of Madama Butterfly. She's in heaven now, hopefully forgiving us all for listening to Thais, and for even enjoying it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Columbus Symphony Klezmer Showcase Jan. 13-14

The Columbus Symphony presents A Klezmer Showcase, with David Krakauer, clarinet and conductor Rossen Milanov, Friday and Saturday, January 13 and 14 at 8 PM in the Southern Theater. 

Csardas from Ritter Pasman by Johann Strauss is on the program, along with Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody 2. David Krakauer plays selections from Golijov's Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind, his own music and arrangements, and the Klezmer Concerto written for Krakauer by Wlad Marhulets.

Pre-concert interview with David Krakauer one hour before each concert.

Klezmer music, as understood by this elderly Irish boy from Boston, is the music if dance and the music of joy. It is the music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. There's an influence form the Romany people of Romania. It's music for weddings, for celebration and bolts of light in what ca be a nomadic existence in a loveless world.

I was thinking of this music when recently watching Sidney Lumet's 1960 TV production of The Dybbuk. I don't think there's much in the way of klezmer music to be heard, but the village celebrations, even as done in a cramped NYC TV studio over fifty years ago, shouted for joy. I wonder if there are parallels with the African-American spiritual. Joy coming out of sorrow. There's happiness and laughter in the klezmer music I've heard, but tears are never far away.

"Joy" seems to be the operative word. The term klezmer means 'instruments of music' ;kli means tool or utensil and zemer, making music, or the tools for making music.

Klezmer music came to this country via the great wave of immigration from Eastern Europe . Its improvisation style made a connection American jazz inevitable. I often wonder just how much jazz, or klezmer music is truly improvised, of if part of the special talent to make this music involves making it sound completely spontaneous.

I'm saying "I wonder" a lot, because I don't know. I'm not doing a lot of reading up before these concerts. Instead, I'm listening to a lot of music I have not encountered before now.

David Krakauer will be joining the Columbus symphony this weekend. He's a clarinetist of such phenomenal technique that he can play anything. He's also a composer, and his on Synagogue Wail for Clarinet Solo is on the program

The clarinet was not an feature of the earliest klezmer music. Jews at the time were forbidden to play loud instruments. The violin was the dominant instrument, with added strings, a cymbalom, maybe a xylophone. By the 1850s the prohibition against loud instruments had been lifted-or people stopped caring-and the clarinet took its place as the voice of klezmer music. An instrument fully capable of tears and laughter.

We'll be meeting to composers at these concerts. Saad Haddad was born in Georgia in 1992 and raised in California. Manarah had its first performance on April 1, 2016, with the American Composer's Orchestra at Carnegie Hall conducted by George Manahan. The work is scored for two digitally processed antiphonal trumpets and orchestra.  I've heard it elsewhere. Manarah, indeed, makes a joyful noise.

We'll also hear a Klezmer Concerto by Wlad Marhulets. 
"Klezmer music came into my life when, as a sixteen year old living in Gdansk, Poland, my brother Damian brought home a CD by a band called Klezmer Madness, featuring the clarinetist David Krakauer. This was music that was so boldly Jewish,. so full of wild energy that a kind of madness enveloped my senses as I listened to it. And even though at the time I had high hopes of becoming a successful visual artist, I decided to become a musician on the spot."

Marhulets wrote his Klezmer Concerto for David Krakauer, who gave the premiere with the Detroit Symphony conducted by Andrew Litton on December 1, 2009.

The composer writes, "Numerous musicians combined klezmer with free jazz, hip-hop, drum and bass, concert and folk music. Hence, klezmer is not a distinct musical style but rather a mixture of multiple influences, It constantly evolves and reinvents itself."

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Columbus Symphony Russian Festival January 6 and 7 2017

The Columbus Symphony performs a suite from Prokofiev's Romero and Juliet, the 1947 edition of Stravinsky's Petrushka, and Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D on Friday and Saturday January 6 and 7 in the Ohio Theater at 8 Pm.

Rossen Milanov conducts, with Elena Urioste, violin.

Pre concert talks one hour before each performance.

Most people enjoy their honeymoon. Tchaikovsky fled his. The composer married Antonia Miliukova on July 18, 1877. He described her as "a woman with whom I am not the least in love." Clearly, Tchaikovsky's was succumbing pressure to marry, and considered Miliukova little better than a stalker. Reminds me of my cousin Kathleen, who married her boyfriend of 20 years just to get rid of him. But that's another story.

Tchaikovsky fled Russia within weeks of this marriage. He never lived with his wife and seldom saw Kotek. The two enjoyed making music, and the latest hit from Paris, Lalo's Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra as a great favorite as the two passed the time playing music with Tchaikovsky working to recover his spirits.

her again. He went to Switzerland, where he was soon joined by his pupil, the young violinist Josef Kotek.

Dabbling with the Lalo work made Tchaikovsky admire his French colleague all the more, and led to a revealing comment: "It has a lot of freshness, lightness of piquant rhythms, of beautifully harmonized melodies. He, in the same way as as Leo Delibes and Bizet, does not strive after profundity, but he carefully avoids routine, seeks out many new forms, and thinks more about musical beauty than about observing established tradition as do the Germans.

(That was me adding the bold type.)

This may be another way of saying that Schumann, Brahms and certainly Wagner were always in their music striving for more. Listeners were meant to be moved, charged and overwhelmed, to take the listening experience with them. There were expectations of the audience.  Tchaikovsky, like Verdi and Bizet was writing to music to uplift, yes, but also to entertain. They wanted to tell stories.

Josef Kotek (l) with Tchaikovsky
Sight reading Lalo;'s music with Kotek led to some discussion and finally a planned concerto for violin and orchestra, Tchaikovsky's first (and last). There was a first draft that became his popular Souvenir d'un lieu cher the title perhaps a reference to the comfort having young Kotek nearby.

The Violin Concerto in D was completed in 1880 and dedicated not to Kotek but to Leopold Auer. It was not a successful dedication. "I don't know whether Auer was flattered by my dedication, or that despite his sincere friendship for me, he never wanted to master the difficulties of this concerto, deemed it too difficult to play..."

(A dedication to the young Kotek, gifted he may have been , would not have guaranteed performances)

Auer thought the piece was poorly written. He disliked what he considered the slashing and banging required of the solo instrument against a rumbling and fiery orchestra. The premiere went to Adolf Brodsky, in 1881 in Vienna. The audience cheered and the critics raged. Eduard Hanslick,  then the most influential music journalist since Berlioz, nailed the coffin shut: " The violin was not played but beaten black and blue."

This concerto to me is a celebration, a joyous one, between the violin and orchestra. I hear little of matching tones, of playing musical catch. I do hear drama, and virtuosity and pure entertainment. This concerto dazzles and rages along, with a second movement that sings, leading straight into the finale.

The two ballet scores on this program, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and Stravinsky's Petrushka give us music not to be heard but to be watched.

Romeo got Prokofiev into hot water with the soviet authorities and the literary world in general. He insisted the story should have a happy ending. Juliet would revive before Romeo takes poison, and rather than die graciously in each other's arms, they would dance off into the night. The composer was convinced that a tragic ending "could not be danced." " Live people can dance, but the dying can hardly be expected to dance in bed. " (Somewhere there is an opera where that happens, trust me)
The composer lost, at least with the ending. The young couple dies, graciously, but there;'s plenty of dancing throughout the two act spectacle.

As with Tchaikovsky's violin concerto being deem unplayable, so Prokofiev's music was decreed bloody well undanceable. The ballet's premiere was not in the Soviet Union, but in Czechoslovakia. Prokofiev had already fashioned three orchestral suites from the complete, two hour score. Still, it didn't do much for the Sophie author ties to have such a high profile premiere given outside of the Soviet Union. Romeo and Juliet  was introduced to Prokofiev's homeland at the Kirov Theater on January 10, 1940. The leads were f danced by Konstantin Sergeyev and Galina Ulanova

Petrushka brings us into Diaghilev territory. Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) was the consummate showman, impresario, spendthrift, charlatan and genius. He knew what the public wanted and he gave it to them. Sometimes he gave the public performances and music they didn't know they wanted, but by and large the public was convinced. His choreographers were Nijinsky, Fokine, and Massine. His designers were Picasso, Benois and Bakst. His composers were Satie, Myaskovksy, Prokofiev, Ravel and Stravinsky. He was either rich or flat broke and never let a creditor get in his way. Diaghilev's Ballet Russes owned the world until his death, just after the market crash in 1929 (just in time?)

Petrushka is a Punch and Judy show complete with puppets, put on at a Shrovetide Fair. The puppets are the ballerina, the Moor and Petrushka himself. Petrushka loves the ballerina who loves the Moor, who opens a coconut and, convinced this is a God begins to worship...the coconut.

This doesn't keep the Moor from flirting with the ballerina.

Petrushka was first danced in the Theatre Chatelet in Paris on June 13, 1911. Diaghilev produced the premiere with the Ballet Russes, Nijinsky danced Petrushka, Michel Fokine was the choreographer and Alexandre Benois did the designs. Nijinsky was the star. Stravinsky, with his humorous blend of rhythm and color-he gives the ballerina a cornet!-made the first real sensation of what became a long career, and an influence in music and art equal to Mozart and Wagner.

By the way, the film Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky is on youtube, and is well worth a look, especially as it recreates the scandalous opening of The Rite of Spring