Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Yes I know, Prince and George Michael but they are globally appreciated and their passings are widely mourned. 

Here are outstanding figures in classical music, artists who gave, and gave, and gave to the benefit of us all, who may have had less reach but touched so many:

For Columbus and the World

Anne Melvin, philanthropist

Donald Harris, teacher, composer, 'Uncle figure' former Dean of the OSU College of The Arts

Bill Conner, Impresario, CEO of CAPA, mensch

Donald McGinnis, clarinetist, teacher, artist, OSU music administrator

...and for the rest of the world:

Pierre Boulez, composer and conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano

Gilbert Kaplan, financier and conductor
Denise Duval, Poulenc's muse

Aurele, Nicolet, Swiss flautist

Saulius Sondeckis, Lithuanian violinist and conductor
Ulf Spoderblom, Finnish conductor
Louis Lane, American conductor
Steven Stucky, American composer
Robert Baustian, American opera conductor and teacher
Otto-Werner Mueller, German born American conductor and teacher
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Austrian conductor

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, British composer
Gegham Grigorian, Armenian opera singer
Royston Nash, British conductor
Elsie Morison, Australian soprano
Brian Asawa, American counter tenor
Gustav Meier, Swiss-born American conductor
J. Reilly Lewis, American conductor
Alberto Remedios, British tenor
Edoardo Muller, Italian conductor
Maralin Niska, American soprano
Gregg Smith,m American choral conductor and composer
Einojuhanni Rautavaara, Finnish composer

Patrice Munsel, American soprano

Johan Botha, South African tenor

Sir Neville Marriner, British conductor

Peter Allen, Canadian born American radio announcer and past host of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts

John Del Carlo, American bass baritone
Pauline  Oliveros, American composer
Russell Oberlin, American counter tenor

Gigliola Frazzoni, Italian soprano
Karel Husa, Czech-American composer
Heinrich Schiff, Austrian cellist

60 members of the Russian Red  Army Chorus, killed in a plane crash

Thanks to the peerless critic, writer and friend of music Tim Page, for this list.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Books Read in 2016

Every year as a tip of the hat to my OCD nature I keep a list of all the books I've read.
This does come in handy hosting the occasional book show on WOSU.
Even better, I'm just nosy and I really want to know what everybody else has been reading. It becomes I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours.

So where's my list this year?
I've lost it (!)
New computers, new configurations, forgot to save some files, whatever.
OCD and senility.

But I do remember several of the titles that I Most enjoyed in 2016.

I still want to know what YOU have been reading.
Can you share on this blog?

My favorite reads of 2016:

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Nearly a fairy tale in the beauty of the writing, but the depiction of war and he aftermath of war makes it vivid and troubling.

Moonglow Michael Chabon

A man sits with his dying grandfather and wonders ensue!

Eileen Otessa Moshfegh

She has no redeemable qualities but Moshfegh is a writer who makes you care about and root for Eileen 

The Heavenly Table Donald Ray Pollock

Great characters, completely authentic diction and locales. Another winner from Donald Ray Pollock. So much fun to cheer on the bad guys!

Patient HM  Luke Dittrich

Part memoir part horror story. A troubling page turner.

The Underground Railroad  Colson Whitehead

You ARE there !

Hillbilly Elegy J.D. Vance

What it is to be poor fifty miles from where I am typing these lines, where drugs are a way out and a death sentence

Evicted: Politics and Profit in the American City Matthew Desmond

On my ten page per day journeys in 2016 I read

The Pickwick Papers Charles Dickens

The Idiot Fyodor Dostoevsky

Middlemarch George Eliot

and am hoping to begin Tom Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again

 C'mon what did YOU read and love this year:

Monday, December 19, 2016

Classical 101's 2016 Holiday Programming! Merry Christmas***Happy Chanukah***Happy New Year

Late addition! The 2016 Lessons and Carols from St. Joseph Cathedral, Columbus airs at 8 PM Christmas Night on Classical 101..

Classical 101 presents the world's finest music "all day, every day"and all night too, and all through the holidays. Make Classical 101 a part of your family this Christmas, in the days leading up to December 25 and "all day every day".  We're proud to present local favorites: Columbus Symphony Holiday Pops, Carols for Christmas from First Community Church plus holiday favorites from around the world.

Listen locally at 101.1 FM or on line from anywhere, any time:

Here are some of our 2016 holiday specials:

Monday, December 19

8 PM Advent Voices: Advent is a time of quiet contemplation and waiting.  It's waiting for darkness to become light and for hopes to be realized.  Throughout the centuries Advent has been observed musically in sacred and secular ways.  Join Lynne Warfel for an hour of the most beautiful vocal music inspired by and written for Advent.

Tuesday, December 20

8 PM Welcome Christmas! The perennial Christmas favorite from VocalEssence, one of the world's premiere choral groups.  An hour of traditional carols and new discoveries.

Wednesday, December 21

8 PM A Chanticleer Christmas A one hour program of holiday favorites, new and old, presented live in concert by the superb 12-man ensemble known as "an orchestra of voices".

Thursday, December 22

8 PM The Rose Ensemble live in concert; Christmas in Malta The Rose Ensemble's celestial voices team up with a Baroque band to present this unique seasonal program of glorious 17th century music from Italy, preserved in the Cathedral archives on the Island of Malta, and now being heard for the first time in hundreds of years.  Imagine the splendor of the great Baroque churches of Venice and Rome, resounding with choral music as opulent and ornate as the buildings themselves.  Now imagine that same music lost forever in Italy but miraculously preserved for centuries on the Island of Malta. The Rose Ensemble takes us on a fascinating journey to celebrate these musical treasures in a seasonal program featuring lush harmonies, prophetic poetry, a tender lullaby, and shepherds' songs bursting with exaltation.  Joined by a band of period instruments the voices of The Rose Ensemble invite us to spend Christmas in Malta, and welcome the season with Baroque majesty and joy!

Friday, December 23

8 PM A Handel and Haydn Society Christmas:  Celebrate the season with this hour-long special featuring Christmas choral music from America's oldest continuously performing ensemble, Boston's Handel and Haydn Society. Founded in 1815, the Society is celebrating their bicentennial season, including their 400th performance of Handel's Messiah. Join host Cale Wiggins for this program featuring music from the late 15th century to the late 20th; a Christmas for all times.


10 AM A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: A great favorite, and a long standing tradition for our listeners, live from King's College, Cambridge

7 PM Columbus Symphony Holiday Pops: A Columbus area favorite, recorded in the Ohio Theater a few weeks ago. The Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Columbus Symphony Chorus conducted by Ronald Jenkins, with the Columbus Children's Choir, dancers from Ballet Met Academy and a special appearance by Santa! Your favorite carols, and music by Biebl, Respighi, Britten and our own Craig Courtney.

9 PM Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir


12 NOON A Chanticleer Christmas

1 PM        Welcome Christmas!

2 PM St. Olaf Christmas Festival

4 PM Carols for Christmas from First Community Church: Boyce Lancaster hosts this annual presentation from Columbus's s First Community Church, conducted by Ronald Jenkins

8 PM Lessons and Carols from St. Joseph Cathedral, Columbus with the Cathedral Schola conducted by Richard K. Fitzgerald (recorded December 10 2016)

Monday, December 26

8 PM Candles Burning Brightly A one-hour celebration of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, with an exploration of Chanukah foods and traditional activities, and plenty of music


11 AM New Year's Live from Vienna: Gustavo Dudamel will lead the Vienna Philharmonic from the Golden Hall of the Musikverein for this traditional kick-off of the new year.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sensory Friendly Holidays: New Albany Symphony Dec 17 and More!

The New Albany Symphony offers a sensory friendly holiday program this Saturday December 17 at 11:30 a.m. at the McCoy Performing Arts Center in New Albany.

A 45 minute concert of short holiday tunes with lots of clapping and audience interaction.  Perfect for young children, those of the autism spectrum, and our friends with dementia or Alzheimer's. Includes cookies and Santa! Tickets $12, $15.

I'm proud of this excellent community based orchestra, lead by Heather Garner and Luis Biava, who have been at the forefront of introducing sensory friendly performances .

What do I mean by sensory friendly?

There are people who find too much sound, too many lights, a lotta of movement and stimulus hard to take. No such caveat for pizza or chocolate in my view, but for many sensory over load is a problem. More and more we are hearing of 'sensory friendly offerings'.

Locally, movie theaters at Polaris, Crosswords and Lennox Town Center offer films with the volume turned down, the lights dimmed not darkened and  walking around and  welcomed for those who find longer than a few minutes to be a long sit.

The Columbus Children's Theater has long offered sensory friendly performances.

Opera Columbus, Ballet Met and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra have all offered sensory-friendly performances, as has the Columbus symphony. Attach sensory friendly to any web search and you'll find untold riches! Perfect opportunities for kids and their friends who benefit from a little more show and a little less 'surroundings'.

And come to New Albany Saturday morning!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Celebrate the Holidays in Columbus: Music, Drama, Dance

"Too much of a good thing is wonderful" said the late Mae West.

Mae would have loved Columbus, Ohio especially during the holidays.

I'm delighted to offer information on holiday offerings in our area. This list is by no means all inclusive. I have attended and enjoyed a number of these presentations in the past but am not
intending endorsements here (well.....) Please be sure to regularly check listings in the Columbus Dispatch or Experience Columbus dot com.

For tickets and further information simply google the events of your choice.

New Albany Symphony SENSORY FRIENDLY PERFORMANCE of Holiday Music Saturday Dec 17 11.30 a.m.

New Albany Symphony Holiday Spectacular Sunday December 18 3 PM
     both at the McCoy Performing Arts Center,  New Albany

Chanukah Across Columbus find Facebook page of same name


Columbus Symphony Holiday Pops: Columbus Symphony and Columbus Symphony Chorus all conducted by Ronald J. Jenkins. Traditional holiday favorites. Audience carol singing. Dancers from Ballet Met, and a guest appearances by Santa and Mrs. Claus You'll hear everything from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Deo Gracias from Britten's A Ceremony of Carols, to Biebl's exquisite Ave Maria. This is rte proverbial "something for everyone" program. Quality is very, very high every year.  Ohio Theater Friday, December 2 at 8 PM; Saturday December 3 at 3 and 8 PM; Sunday December 4, 3:00 PM

Ballet Met: The Nutcracker What's not to love? Sugar plums, Chinese princesses, Christmas Trees, a magical Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky's music, the Columbus symphony and the glorious Ballet Met choreographed by Artistic Director Edwaard Liang. December 9-24 Ohio Theater.

ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and Lancaster Chorale Saint-Saens Christmas Oratorio  Handel Messiah (excerpts) Vaughan Williams Variants on Dives and Lazarus with Peggy Kriha Dye, soprano; Katharin Danzmayr, soprano; Laurel Semerdjian, mezzo-soprano; Benjamin Bunsold, tenor; Aaron Waddell, baritone. David Danzmayr conducts

Saturday December 10 5.30 PM Worthington United Methodist Church; Sunday December 11, 7 PM, Southern Theater

The Ohio State University: 24th Annual Music Celebration Concert. This is a terrific annual event showcasing all ensembles, large and small from the OSU School of Music. The OSU Symphony, Choruses, Men's Glee Club, Jazz Ensembles, flute troupe and chamber ensembles. This concert is NOT a holiday themed program, but is always a fun evening of great music making.  Friday December 2 8 PM Mershon Auditorium

Capital University Christmas Festival 2016 . This unabashedly IS a Christmas concert. Choral and instrumental ensembles from the Conservatory at Capital university. Always fantastic. December 1-4 Mees Hall Capital University.

Magpie Consort Christmas Echoes music by William Billings, Craig Hella Johnson, Hugo Ditler plus plainchant and carols form around the world. Magpie Consort is a mixed choir perfromnig mostly a capella. Artsitic Director is Christopher Dent. 

Wednesday December 7 7, 7:30 at Indianola Presbyterian Church, 1970 Waldeck Avenue; December 9, 8 PM Trinity Lutheran Church, 404 S. 3rd St., Saturday December 10 8 PM, St. John's Church, 700 High St., Worthington; Friday December 16, 7 PM Franklin Park conservatory

A Christmas Carol at the Columbus Civic Theater. Richard Albert and his colleagues do great work bringing theater to Clintonville from their intimate space on Indianola Avenue. Civic Theater's annual production of  Dickens's A Christmas Carol .  December 1-18 at 3837 Indianola Avenue

CATCO IS KIDS A Seussified Christmas Carol , get the kids out of the house during school break. CATCO is  KIDS  at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Avenue, December 2-11.

A Service of Lessons and Carols St. Joseph Cathedral, Columbus Sunday  December 11 3 PM

A Service of Lessons and Carols First Congregational Church, Columbus Sunday December 20 4

Clintonville Community Band and Choir Sunday December 4  3 pm. Whetstone High School, 4405 Scenic Drive. Free. Canned goods requested for Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center.

MESSIAH- Handel:

St. John's Church 59 E. Mound St., Columbus Sunday December 4 10:15 .a.m Offering taken. St. John's Festival Choir , Chamber Orchestra and soloists conducted by May Schwarz.

ProMusica Chamber Orchestra YOU ARE THE CHORUS "Side by Side Messiah Sing a long."David Danzmayr conducts Friday December 9 7.30 PM Southern Theater

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Columbus Symphony "Last Notes"

The Columbus Symphony conducted by Rossen Milanov performs Mozart's Overture to Die Zauberfloete, Steven Mackey's Four Iconoclastic Episodes and the Symphony number 6, Pathetique by Tchaikovsky, November 18 and 19 at 8 PM in the Ohio Theater. Pre-concert talks at 7. Come early. I'm a hoot.

Steven Mackey born in 1956,  is Chair of the Department of Music at Princeton University. I'm hoping he will join me for this weekend's pre -concert talks, so we can all meet him and hear about Four Iconoclastic Episodes. I do know that this work, written in 2009 for the Irish Chamber  Orchestra and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, is a concerto for orchestra, violin and electric guitar. The electric guitar is Mr. Mackey 's primary instrument. He'll be on stage with the Columbus Symphony and violinist Anthony Marwood.

Here's Steve Mackey talking about Four Iconoclastic Episodes.

"I am fascinated by the sensation of movement in music. Journey metaphors are often aptly applied to my music, and I'm interested not only in the illusion of travel and arriving, but in delineating topographies and viscosities of the medium traveled through. a desire for transformation, for a sense that something-the material, me, the listener is changed by the journey. As a result, my music tends to be a one way trip"

Mr. Mackey is a composer worth knowing better:

Rumors, rumors! You conduct the first performance of your latest work, a sprawling symphony called Pathetique then die unexpectedly nine days later and the world calls your final work a forty minute suicide note.

About that term, Pathetique. The composer agreed to it. A catchy name is good for sales. He withdrew his consent the next day, but the plates had already been prepared, so the score was given to the world as the Pathetic symphony. Tchaikovsky understood this term as "passionate" or "emotional", certainly not as pathetic as we use that word today. Tragic some of the overtones may be, but pathetic? Pitiful, pitiable, piteous, moving (maybe) distressing"...not on your bloody life.

And why would Tchaikovsky commit suicide? We know he died of cholera after drinking a class of unboiled water in a St. Petersburg restaurant.  A Russian musicologist called Alexandra Orlova suggested in the late 1970s that Tchaikovsky had a liaison with a young nobleman who was a member of the Tsar's private guard. When this became known Tchaikovsky was told to kill himself to avoid public scandal, and did  so. Michael Steinberg doesn't buy it and that's good enough for me.
(I'm indebted to Steinberg's The Symphony, pp. 635-641)

This four movement symphony begins with a hushed figure for solo bassoon over tremolo strings. at Classical 101 we have to throw the pots up to the max) Then comes the first big tune, and no big tune is ever wasted:

The second theme of the first movement contains a four note figure rooted in the Orthodox Requiem, E,G, F#, A which has come to be called his 'crucifixion' theme, thus feeding the rumors.

There's a  flowing but off kilter waltz in 5/4 instead of 3/4 and the third movement is the famous march. At the end pf which people applaud vociferously and reach for heir coats. Except this is not the finale.  Keep your coat off. The finale is adagio lamentoso, not a big finish, but a dying away.
Don't leave early. This, after the brazen third movement, is not a fade down but a loving fade-out:

And no, Tchaikovsky did not consider this Symphony to be his final work. At his death fresh sketches were found for a third piano concerto. He fully expected to go on working and living.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Columbus Symphony Beethoven Festival

The Columbus Symphony presents a Beethoven Marathon in the Ohio Theater,
November 11 and 12.  Come early and stay late.
Today, more than ever, many of us need this music.
And there's never a bad time to hear Beethoven.

Here's the rundown for both evenings:

6 PM  Beethoven Quintet for Winds, Op. 16
7 PM  CP, that would be me, talks about Beethoven
8 PM  Columbus Symphony conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson

           Symphony 2 in D, Op. 36
           Concerto for violin, cello and piano in C, Op. 56

              with Alicia Hui violin; Luis Biava, cello and Caroline Hong, piano
Symphony 7 in A, Op. 92

10 PM:  String Quartet in c sharp minor, Op. 131 with Joanna Frankel, Robert Firdman, Karl Pedersen and Pei-An Chao

Joanna Frankel is the Columbus Symphony's new first chair violinist, or concertmaster.

Conductor Peter Stafford Wilson says,  "No matter how often I visit these works, I always discover something new in them music of Beethoven.. I think  its as relevant now as when it was written. And what a treat to explore the Triple Concerto with Caroline, Alicia and Luis!"
Beethoven's Second Symphony was completed in the summer of 1802. By this time, the composer was thirty two years old. He had been complaining of a roaring in his ears, and the idea of impending deafness weighed heavily. Beethoven made his living as a pianist/conductor/composer, as had Mozart and Haydn. A deaf composer can still write down what he hears in his head. What he cannot do is perform with other musician. Thus an important avenue of public acclaim and money was becoming unavailable. Difficulties with the publisher Breitkopf and Hartel continued. Composers made their money from sales of their music. Chamber music sold because it was perfect for home use. Symphonies brought applause, but little money.

The Heiligenstadt Testament is a letter Beethoven addressed to his brothers. He had come to this village outside Vienna on doctor's orders, thinking that quieter surroundings would treat his troubled hearing. Such was not the case,

  "Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to withdraw into myself, to life live alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, oh, how harshly was I flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing. Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, "Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf."

In the midst of despair came the rollicking Second Symphony. Beethoven was still able to step outside of himself to craft music that may have been devoid of Mozart's elegance, but which possessed a stronger kind of grace and proportion. It is wrong to call Beethoven a romantic. He was still bound to the traditional forms Haydn loved. Still, the muscular textures of Beethoven's music looked forward.

The second movement, the larghetto (not as slow as slow!) of the second symphony was encored at the first performance. This was a monster concert, given in Vienna on April 5, 1803. Beethoven conducted his First symphony and his oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, along with the Third piano concerto.

The final allegro molto begins with a loud, syncopated figure. It's been called a hiccup, and worse:

   "Beethoven's gastric problems, particularly in times of great distress, like the fall of 1802, were legendary. It has been understood almost since the day of its premiere that this is what this music is about . Beethoven never refuted it. In fact, he must have encouraged it. Otherwise, how could such an interpretation become common coin? And common coin it is."--Robert Greenberg  author, musicologist, San Francisco Conservatory of Music

One critic wrote, "this symphony is a wounded, writhing dragon that refuses to die, but writhing in the last agony, in the final movement, is bleeding to death." This critic needed to get over himself. The D Major symphony is filled with dance, light and humor. OK, there's along, dark and wonderful intro to keep us off kilter, but tinta here is one of delight.

The piano trio is a much loved genre in chamber music, not least by Beethoven. The Triple Concerto, Op. 56, for violin, cello and piano was completed in 1803 and introduced the following year. I find this a more intimate work than the symphony. The dialogue, a sort of "catch the ball" between the cello, violin and piano humanize the music for this listener. The finale is alla polaca-a Polish dance movement in 3/4 used in a later generation by Chopin.

The Seventh Symphony was completed in 1813 has been called the symphony of rhythm more than tunes.There are tunes a-plenty, but they are almost beside the point.  This A Major symphony is all about forward momentum. From a lesser composer, this 'race to the finish' would be a bore. Beethoven infuses it with drama, not least from moving through keys distant to A Major. Michael Steinberg writes, of " great harmonic spaces....The excursions to C and Fare entered upon with startling bluntness"  "The forward momentum becomes evident the first big tune. The contrasting allegretto-lively, not really faster than fast-does a lot with one note and repetition. It's like watching a flower slowly bloom and prosper. It was cheered to
the walls by the first audience in Vienna. An encore was demanded.

Composer Ludwig Spohr was a young violinist who reproved from the first night of Beethoven's conducting, "At a sforzando he tore his arms with great vehemence asunder. At the entrance of the forte, he jumped in the air!"

 As for the wild finale, its good to recall the words of conductor Thomas Beecham "What can you do with this? It's like a lot of yaks running about!"

What can you do? Peter Stafford Wilson and the Columbus symphony will know. join them this weekend and find out.

Friday, November 04, 2016

About Mrs. Roosevelt: An Interview with Blanche Wiesen Cook

The third and final volume of Blanche Wiesen Cook's Cook's biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, The War Years and After, 1939:1962 is now out from Viking.

Ms. Cook is distinguished professor of history at John Jay College and Graduate Center, City University of New York. In addition to her biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, her other books include The Declassified Eisenhower and Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution. 

Eleanor Roosevelt volume I was a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and both volumes
were New York Times bestsellers.

I spoke with Ms. Cook yesterday from her publisher's office.

CP: Should I call you professor Cook or Doctor Cook, how would you like me to address you?
BC: Call me Blanche
CP: That makes it easy. Could you tell me what your initial attraction was to Mrs. Roosevelt?

BC: Joe Lash said Eleanor Roosevelt is infinite. She never stopped growing and changing. Her vision of the needs of the people was prescient, and enduring.

For me I was most moved by the fact that she identified with the people in want, in need, in trouble. People like her own family.

Blanche Wiesen Cook
Her mother died when Eleanor Roosevelt was eight. Her father died of alcoholism at the age of thirty-four when Eleanor Roosevelt was ten. And you really have to pause and think, how much you'd have to drink, to die at the age of thirty four of alcoholism. This was really was formative for Eleanor Roosevelt. She wanted to make life better for all people. And devoted her life to trying to do that. Education for all. Heath care for all. Housing for all. Dignity for all.

"Men hate women with power"

CP: I was very surprised that during her lifetime, during her work she was very often unpopular and reviled. Here was someone who was trying to get health care and housing for everyone and people called her a socialist. A lot of people did not like her. That's hard for me to grasp.

BC: J. Edgar Hoover hated her. He called her the old cow, and the old hen. He monitored her phone. He bugged her hotel rooms. He always called her a communist because she was against racism. The largest proportion of her file, which is over 3000 pages, is everything she said against lynching, against degradation.

I think we need to pause to realize that all integrationists in the 1940s and 50s were called Communists. Everybody who wanted civil rights was called a communist. Eleanor Roosevelt's commitment to ending segregation, and for building a civil rights community was particularly reviled. Also, Eleanor Roosevelt would say, "Men hate women with power". And Hoover, in particular, hated Eleanor Roosevelt. And her women allies who campaigned for more democracy and decency for everybody.

My Day

CP: She wrote a newspaper column for may years called My Day. It began as I understand it as kind of a diary. But eventually it became an outlet for her. How important was that daily column?

BC: It was very important. It started out by her writing these letters to great friend Lorena Hickok as to how she spent her day. I think this became her therapy. She really needed to write and express herself, and Hick said, Why are you sending me all these letters? The whole world wants to know how you spend your day. From 1936 to the end oh her life, she wrote a daily column. It was widely syndicated, in newspapers around the country. And then after 1946 around the world. People read her column in which she talked about the issues of the day, as well as her own day. It became very popular and influential, and then she became the first lady of radio. She had a radio program. Spoke all over the country and then all over the world. She had really a very important voice in which she called for civil rights and human rights.

From the 1930s on she does something called trouping for democracy. She really believed we needed to build movement for social change.  One politician and allies are not going to do it. We need movement. And that was her goal.

Marriage of Eleanor and FDR 

CP: The marriage of the President and Mrs. Roosevelt was troubled. FDR had an affair with Lucy Mercer. Do you think if there had been no Lucy Mercer and everything had been copacetic, she would have had the same kind of career?

BC:  I think she probably she would not have had the same kind of career. She would have been much more the handmaiden to FDR. But the fact that they had two separate courts, she had a lot of freedom. FDR trusted her to go around the country and be his eyes and ears. He really had great respect for her. He said, people are willing to tell anything to my wife.. So he really trusted her to go around and get information, and bring it back to him, and support his programs, She always believed they shared an ultimate vision. Even when she didn't approve of his priorities or compromises . She always believed they shared an ultimate vision for what was good and right . They were really partners and allies.  But I think the fact that they led two separate lives gave her a lot of freedom  to do what she wanted to do.


CP: My mother loved Eleanor Roosevelt. I was a little kid when Mrs. Roosevelt died but I remember my mother sitting in front of the TV being upset, and talking about Mr.s Roosevelt. What is Mrs. Roosevelt's legacy today?

BC: It's so immediate. Eleanor Roosevelt would always say she's rather be chloroformed than run for office. What she meant was that women at the time were not yer organized to run for office. And Eleanor Roosevelt wanted equal pay for equal work. She wanted equal citizenship, equality for women and equal power for women.

Her legacy is, okay, now we're more organized, now we understand, that we need to build a community of activism to support the things we care about, and the women in leadership we believe will make the country a better place. And restore democracy.


CP: Lastly, I;'m sure everyone is asking you this, what would Eleanor Roosevelt make of the current presidential election?

BC: I think she;d be heartbroken. That we have a man who speaks with such hate. Who is calling for violence. For people who are calling to disrupt the peace of election polling places and is a racist. I think she'd be appalled. And I think she'd fight for what she fought for all her life, which is dignity,  justice, civil rights, and human rights.  FDR said in 1940, We will have the triumph of democracy , or we'll return to the dark ages.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Sidney Homer and Samuel Barber: Letters to a Young Composer

I'm reading Barbara Heyman's magisterial book about Samuel Barber, a must -read for anyone who loves music and wants to know about process.

Barber (1910-1981) best known for Adagio for Strings, Knoxville Summer of 1915, Essays for Orchestra, School for Scandal Overture, the operas Vanessa and Antony and Cleopatra,  and magnificent concerti for piano, for violin and for cello, was the nephew of the great contralto Louise Homer (1871-1947).

As much as an influence as 'Aunt Louise' must have been, she was Toscanini's Orfeo at the Met, it composer and educator Sidney Homer (18965-1953) that young Sam Barber found a nurturing influence. Heyman's book features many letters from 'Uncle Sid', filled with the kind of advice, encouragement and occasional kick in the pants any young person would be lucky to have from a mentor.

Don't miss Barbara Heyman's book. Sidney Homer's autobiography My Wife and I is a wonderful look at top level music making a century ago. There's alsoa  good discussion of Louise Homer's career in Andrew Davis's The American Opera Singer. Not to be missed is Anne Homer's biography of her mother, Louise Homer and the Gold Age of Opera. 

I can't date these letters from Sidney to Sam. Barber wrote to his Uncle from age 10 until shortly before Sidney Homer died in 1953.

Letters to Samuel Barber from Sidney Homer
c. 1925-1945

From Samuel Barber, the Composer and his Music  by Barbara Heyman

There are three things you must aim for definitely. The first is the development of taste that should, in time, amount to a passion for the best music in all forms.  Your whole life will be influenced by the forming of your taste in the next few years.

Taste is formed by coming into close and intimate contact with the great works of the masters. The way to do this is to look ahead and see what programs are to be given can't attend all the concerts, therefore you pick the best. Suppose for instance, the Flonzaly Quartet is going to play a Beethoven Quartet. You get your ticket and you buy a copy of the quartet beforehand. You then learn more in an hour at the performance than you possibly could learn in any other way in a year.

Everything depends now on the development of your taste and the refinement of your sensibilities. If you think of music from the point of view of sensationalism and publicity, your work will show it. If you learn to love the poetic undercurrent and the subtleties of beauty  and spirituality which have been expressed in music, your work will show it just as much.


The wonderful thing about art is that a man can conceal nothing; it reveals him as naked and unadorned...Sincerity and beauty seem to stand the test, but love for mankind and willingness to serve humbly seem to fill the world with joy.


You don't need opinions. A little praise is pleasant if you don't have to go too far out of your way to get it, but you will have to learn to get along without opinions.  Opinions don't change a note of add to your stature. If you can give pleasure, well and good. Your work is your own affair and yours only.  Depending on opinion means less independence in your work. It also means laying yourself open to pinpricks which may be boresome. It can result in uncertainty. Even too much praise can do things, introduce a smirk and too much gush in your style.

The paucity of titles in the musical world is alarming. It indicates a lack. Perhaps language is inadequate. If so, then young men like you must invent something and not go on serenading and suite-ing.


I can imagine how Beethoven felt when they stormed at him for writing the third symphony. If he believed all they said he could feel like a criminal, a debaser of public taste. I do not know a single man who hasn't had rocks in his life. Brahms had plenty. A good deal depends on how we handle them. They may not be so serious in themselves, but if we get flustered and lose our heads we can force them to do us considerable harm...Poise, equanimity, philosophy, a sense of proportion, gratitude for what we have, a "calm center", fixed determination and an inflexible purpose are all to the good.

Resentment, impatience, self pity, exaggerated self deprecation, an intense consciousness of the need of making good in the eyes of others, a lack of grit in meeting emergencies, a general complaining of spirit and weak sporting blood are all to the bad.

Take some boy you know and put him in your place. He wrote your sonata, and your serenade, and struggled with your concerto. How do you regard him, dispassionately? Do you congratulate him on his gifts and what he has achieved and feel that, with good sense and intelligent self-control, he can carry his powers to a high state of development, or do you feel that he is a broken reed, a cracked canoe, smashed on the rocks of a difficult concerto, a hopeless wreck because his teacher does not agree with his opinion of his latest work? Take a sincere, objective view of your friend and make up your mind how  you wish him to feel and proceed. Then act accordingly. Don't dodge. Be as strict with yourself as you would be with him.


There is one thing that I want to make clear  to you and that is that resentment does not get us anywhere. It only eats the heart out of the resenter, and what good is there to that? I often think that a good friend could have saved Bizet's life at the time Carmen was produced. Patience and a sense of humor are wonderful lifesavers...Through it all a rhinoceros hide is a good thing. The bigger the talent the tougher the hide, say I....Resentment eats the heart, but philosophy is an armor that protects the source of future work which is the one thing that must be kept inviolate.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Mother Teresa

Watching the canonization mass for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I realize there are many who do not think well of her. She took money from dictators.. She did not provide adequate medical care. She traveled the world fostering her own cult of personality and left the destitute behind her. I've heard these things said about her, and worse. In particular there are medical personnel who have been appalled at the conditions at the House of the Dying in Calcutta. The Church in desperate need of positive PR has glommed on to her.

I've never been to Calcutta and what I know about Mother Teresa I've heard from sympathetic reports. It has never been my understanding that Mother Teresa intended to take the dying destitute off the streets and cure them. In 1949, there were no cures. Except the need of a cure for poverty and loneliness, and we are still not there. Instead, I always thought Mother Teresa's goal was to insist that all persons when they come to die do so in love.

I have worked in hospitals and I have worked among the dying. It is often sad, exhausting, messy, gross and disgusting work. How many doing this work have been repelled, even as they work so hard toward compassion?

Mother Teresa got the most unloved people in India off the streets, into shelter and in surroundings far better than they would ever had had. Far worse than most of us can imagine, but far better than the streets to which they had been abandoned. People were washed and fed and cared for. Was this revolutionary in India, anywhere in 1949?

Her point was not medical cure but spiritual comfort. That's hard to understand but I believe this to be at the center of her mission.

It's a comfort to know that Mother Teresa herself struggled for years with doubt an loneliness. Acknowledging these doubts may have allowed this tiny woman to persevere. I'm not sure I believe in saints, or heaven, or sometimes even in God. Maybe I have that in common with Mother Teresa. I can't imagine what she'd make of being called a saint.

But somehow she was energized to do what no one had done before in taking in that first dying man .
She found mission where others found abhorrence. She channelled despair of her own crises of faith into service. And she kept doing it until she died, and she got others to do it, and continue doing it. Call it sainthood or call it charity or call it nuts. I watched the canonization of Mother Teresa with a full heart.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Too Twisted or Twisted Too

(The spell check is busted!)

They put a mic in your hand and a film crew behind you. You are told to go into the crowd and ask people, random passersby, quesitons that will lead to pithy remarks promoting Twisted 2. What would you ask people? I have to do this on Frday, so any pointers would be helpful.

Central Ohio mavens may remember Twisted, a wonderful production from the Columbus Symphony, Opera Columbus and Ballet Met, given at the Ohio Theatre two years ago.

Now, it's time for Twisted 2:

Ohio Theatre

September 22 7.30 pm
September 23 8 pm
September 24 8 pm
September 25 8 pm

The original production sounded wonderul of course, but my God it looked fantastic, too.
I was the host/emcee/circus barker, clad in a tux expertly fitted on portly me by the wonderful Ballet Met wardrobe staff. Only one snarky remark about my avoirdupuis (awesome word, yes?) and that NOT from wardrobe, those tactful and gifted people.

Twisted 2 opens with the Ride of the Valkyries with me on a white horse and chain mail...not. There'll be selections from Schonberg's Verklarte Nacht, music by Smetana and Haydn, selections form Turandot, Barber of Seville, Carmen and Porgy and Bess.

Even better, the fabulous Columbus Symphony conducted by Rossen Milanov-I'm agog to hear them in wagner, finally-and nothing-but beautfiul Ballet Met, thank you Edwaard Liang. Opera Columbus's Peggy Kriha Dye formulates the perfect program to have the ommunity humming-literally-and returning to the box office.

Me? I get to open and close the show. Hello, thank you slam bam thank you all. What's different is the video produciton. This Friday I repair to the Gateway plaza near OSU, WOSU's expert TV staff in charge, to ask you kiss a tenor?...could you do a jetee?....what the hell (I have to say hell, not ...well...) is a jetee?....Can you name three operas, not counting Phantom.....If I told you the orchesrta includig a crumhorn, maracas and a virginal, would you be inclined to go?

I'm told CD 10-something (are there other radio stations in Columbus? I wasn't aware) will be at a beer garden at the Gateway Friay night. That'll make for intersting ambient sound, but a liquored up random passerby is not a bad thing.

C'mon down to Gateway plaza near campus Friday night around 6 and be part of the show. We'll
talk aobut the Columbus Symphony as a perfect date night, how in most operas everyone shtups the wrong person and everyone usually dies-great music, too-and how the ballet looks more beautiful than anything you've seen this side of a newborn's tush.

See you Friday. More important, see you in the Ohio Theatre in September.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A New Blog to Check Out

This blog emphaiszes equal opportuniy for all.
It's a passionate rerad, updated often.
Of interest to anyone who has ever been told 'No' despite best efforts.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Columbus Symphony May 20, 21 2016: Latin America! Piazzolla, Golijov, Ginastera

Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony in two concerts of music by composers born in Argentina, Golijov, Ginastera and Piazzolla in the Southern Theater, Friday May 20 and Saturday May 21 at 8 PM. Violinist Bella Hristova joins the Orchestra in Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

Pre-concert talks one hour before each concert. This is the 2015-2016 season finale.

Osvaldo Golijov
Tango! The duple meter dance craze that European and african traditions sent to Argentina in the mid 19th century! I've had more than one friend born in Latin American tell me that all music made south of he border is intended to be danced. Latins don't sit and gaze into space in concert hall.Their music came from Africa, from Spain and from Italy. Rhythm and color are more important that tunes or contemplation.This weekend's Columbus Symphony concerts feature music by the master of the nuevo tango, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), by his teacher Alberto Ginastera (1916-1982) and by Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)

Of the three,  Piazzolla became a Latin American wide sensation, a popular star. He was the true successor of Carlo Gardel, whose sexy tango singing made him a heart throb on three continents before his untimely death in a place crash in 1935. Indeed, the young Piazzolla was encouraged by Carlo Gardel, who went so far as to invite the boy to tour, and its a very good thing Astor didn't get on that plane.

Piazzolla was born in Argentina but spent his formative years in New York.  He was known as a brawler, a ladies man and as an exemplary musician. Not wishing to by typed as a popular entertainer, Piazzolla studied with Ginastera and later went to Paris to work with Nadia Boulanger. That auguste lady, mentor to Stravinsky and Copland, was unimpressed until he played her some original tangos. The lady sent him packing. There is your future. Go and pursue it. He did.

Piazzola wasn't afraid to incorporate the rhythms and the sounds of the waterfront dives of New York and Buenos Aires into his music. Estancios Portenas The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,  was written between 1966 and 1970. The composer did not intend the works to be played together. He enjoyed performing and riffing on these pieces with his own ensemble, with guitar, piano, rhythm, sometimes flute and always Pazzolla on the bandoneon.

The four seasons were knitted together into one piece after Piazzolla's death by Leonid Desnyatikov.   You'll hear delightful references to Vivaldi's Four Seasons buried in Piazzolla's fire and smolder. I'll bet Astor Piazzolla, who wanted to study counterpoint with Boulanger, would have been delighted.

Osvaldo Golijov, of Argentine, Jewish and Arab background, wrote Last Rounds  for string ensemble in 1991. He had just heard of Astor Piazzolla's debilitating stroke, leading to his death the following year. Piazzolla was a known pugilist, hence the title 'Last Rounds' in his honor. For Golijov, Piazzolla had been a national hero, and his death marked an ending point,  a "we'll never see the likes of him again" in Argentina's music. The second section of Last Rounds, lentissimo,  subtly quotes Carlos Gardel's Mi Buenos Aires Querido.

Alberto Ginastera
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) became an international figure. His opera Don Rodrigo opened the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center in 1966, starring a chubby Spanish tenor called Placido Domingo. Ginastera came to the U.S. in 1945 to study with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He was always very good at 'netwroking' and wasn't shy about self promotion. Ginastera often used the dance rhythms of Latin America in the most modern musical forms. His music is often astringent but grabs the listener with its vitality. He is never dull. Of our three composers, Ginastera was probably the most sophisticated and sometimes the least audience friendly.

Variaciones Concertanes comes from 1953. This is similar to the orchestral suites of Bach and Haydn. We are presented with  a theme that is later explored by small orchestral ensembles featuring a solo instrument. We begin with Harp and cello, and later feature the flute, clarinet, trumpet and horn. Finally, there's a wild 'perpetual motion' for violin' and a concluding rondo for orchestra. This is the popular Ginastera, leading into a period where he favored the twelve tone method and looked toward ultra-modern music. But that's another story.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Columbus Symphony April 22 and 23: A Scandal Concert and Mozart!

Rossen Milanov conducts Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony no. 1; Liszt/Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy and Mozart's Symphony 41, Jupiter Southern Theater, 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday in the Southern Theatre. Pre-concert talks at 7. Stewart Goodyear is piano soloist.
Stewart Goodyear

The Columbus Symphony 's Vienna Festival continues this weekend with a more than century trajectory of music this weekend. We'll be moving from Mozart's last symphony, not performed in his lifetime, to a synthesis of a Schubert lied which grew into a fantasy for solo piano and was refigured by Franz Liszt, on to what Rossen Milanov refers to the "Mt. Everest of romantic music", Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony 1.

WHEW! Fasten your seatblets.

Let's start at the end. Arnold Schoenberg  (1874-1951) produced a concert in Vienna on March 31, 1913, to introduce some of his own music and that of his pupils, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. This was the Vienna where Mahler had recently died, and the Vienna of Sigmund Freud. Thoughts turned inward were finding their way into deeply personal, often highly chromatic music. The older order passeth, the old Emperor, the waltzes, the pretty tunes and pretty sensations became earthy, dangerous and Schoenberg.

Schoenberg had been working in a rich, heavily romantic style, writing music of well cushioned
Rossen Milanov
beauty mixed with eroticism. His expansive lines nevertheless embraced conventional tonality, providing the listener points of rest and direction throughout. This was about to change.

The Kammersymhonie presented by Schoenberg that night in Vienna is scored for fifteen instruments and runs about twenty minutes. There are tunes, there are points of reference. But such points are presented in short bursts, and seldom repeated. Later on Schoenberg was to say that musical motifs/melodic gems/tunes needed to fulfill their function quickly and move on. This deprived the listener of a road map. Listeners willing to explore get carried away by rapidly shifting sounds and themes. They may sound chaotic at first, but begin to make sense as you listen further and expect more:

About that Scandal Concert. The audience rioted on hearing two of the five Altenberg Songs by Alban Berg. Composer Oscar Strauss was sued for slugging a music critic. Said critic went on to write that the punch was "the only good sound in the entire evening".

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) lived half as long as Beethoven and was twice as prolific, maintaining an astonishingly high quality. The Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano, was suggested by Der Wanderer, Schubert's song to a text by Georg Phillip Schmidt. A lot of romantic poetry, reflected in music, has to do with sehnsucht, or yearning. This can be sexual, or it can mean moving toward a goal, an ideal-- and failing to arrive. That which we love and need the most in unattainable. Such seems to be the thought behind Der Wanderer. 

The piano fantasy flows from one movement to the next, each "riffing" on a different section of the lied.

The adaptation for piano combines sonata form and sets of variations. The adagio part of the song becomes the adagio movement of the piano fantasy. The finale is such a killer that Schubert himself couldn't play it. "It's the devil's own music" he said.

Franz Liszt (1811-1876), classical music's first mega-star who wasn't a castrato singer, adapted the Wanderer Fantasy for piano and orchestra in 1851. Liszt was an old hand at putting his own spin on other composer's music, while not neglecting his own. Rossini, Schubert and later Verdi were favorite subjects. I doubt any of these composers would have minded. They would have appreciated Liszt's ear and his skill at the keyboard, along with his notoriety. Getting those tunes out there was good box office.

Will Mozart's music be a relief as it ends this weekend's programming? It fascinating to work backwards, from Freud's Vienna with his seeming chaos nearing war, to Mozart's expert soothing classicism. Never forget that Mozart had no problem considering himself an entertainer. He didn't set out to make grand personal statements in his music. He set out to write the best music, and he did. The Jupiter was Mozart's last Symphony. It was not played in his lifetime. It is the product of the astonishing summer of 1788, where he wrote his final three symphonies in quick succession. Astonishing too is that fact that Mozart, was passe by 1788. His music was no longer in favor. The nobility who supported to him were off fighting wars. Mozart's final three years, which saw two more operas among several magnificent works, were lonely, difficult and poor. Yet hear what he accomplished in that summer. Even Woody Allen said in Annie Hall "the slow movement of the Jupiter symphony makes life worth living!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

And Here's to Mahler!

Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony this weekend, in Mahler's Symphony 4, Johann Strauss's Fruhlingstimmen and Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by Osvaldo Golijov. Dawn Upshaw is the soloist. April 15, and 16 8 p.m. in the Ohio Theater.

Mention a Mahler symphony to anyone who has never heard a Mahler symphony and the reactions run the gamut from interest to running from the room with horror. Listen once and you'll find them addictive. A good addiciton. A life giving addiciton. I promise.

Gustav Mahler (180-1911) was a big personality who worked in large forms. During his lifetime he was one of the most celebrated conductors in the world. Before his early death, he had served directorships in Hamburg, and been music director of the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Hofoper, the New York Philharmonic, and with Toscanini was the dominant musical personality at the Metropolitan Opera. Mahler's musical word was law, wherever he worked. Add to this a difficult marriage to Alma Schindler and the death of two young children and its a miracle he lived as long as he did.
As a composer, Mahler is remembered today for his enormous symphonies and his volumes of songs. There is no chamber music, there are no opera and no sacred music. There are nine numbered symphonies, part of a tenth, and his final work Das Lied von der Erde often classified as another symphony.

What about the Symphony number 4?

It's a curious work. This symphony is the spring time Mahler. He seems less mired in the struggle between life and death, light and dark, breath and no breath . Work began in the summer of 1900. When else was he going to write music? On the train between conducting gigs all over Europe (yes) ? But Mahler counted on idyllic summers in the Austrian Alps for his work. When a local band began practising within earshot, the composer thought he'd have to bid farewell to the Symphony until he could move. One day the band left. Three days later work began and three weeks later the symphony was complete.

Almost. We have a first moment that opens with sleigh bells and offers a soaring early theme for the violins. A second movement he-I imagine gleefully called a dance of death, with he violins a scordatura, tuned higher than the other instruments, giving a rough, almost nasty sound. Then the most sublime adagio. Richard Strauss told Mahler, I could never ave written music like that. Mahler himself imagined "St. Ursula, the most serious of the saints, presiding with a smile."
Mahler's obsession with larger forms brought him literally to the heavens. It was as if he had no other way to out write himself, in the time he he had left.

Mahler intended to end his third symphony with a child's vision of heaven, a poem from the German folk collection, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. 

The Third went a different way. But there's a lovely interlude with three angels

Three angles sang a sweet song...they shouted joyfully the whole...that Peter was free from sin...

But there's a theme here Mahler used again in the Fourth: Du sollst ja nicht weisen/Ach komm und erbarme dich uber mich:  Thou shall not weep/O come and have mercy on me...becomes the refrain in Das himmlische leben:  Saint Peter looks on...The Angels bake bread!....Saint Martha must be the cook!  The angelic voices cheer the senses, so that all awake to joy!

Mahler needed a finale for his fourth symphony. The work began larger, ran into a raucous dance, and settled into that gorgeous adagio. The finish was provided by another setting of the Wunderhorn songs, which he had completed ten years earlier. It is not an anti climax, but a pendant. A child's vision of heaven, Das himmlische Leben, The Heavenly Life

The Fourth became the most accessible of the Mahler symphonies. At just under an hour it is the shortest. It does not predict the end of the world. Instead, after a storm it suggests peace, with a child's smile.

Osvaldo Golijov was born in La Plata, Argentina in 1960. He studied there, and later in Israel an the States. Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra are part of the composer's output written for soprano Dawn Upshaw. Golijov has a sophisticated background, but his tone it seems to me is more at home with the Wunderhorn songs of the Mahler Fourth than the high drama of the later Mahler Symphonies. Golijov brings to his music the influences of the Far East, French sophistication and downtown grunge. What he also has is a gift for the sublime.  He can create music which is not slow, but timeless, as if time  is  unnecessary, the music filling every need:

Golijov spent a week at OSU a few years ago. He was a charming and modest gentleman and very generous with his time. I found him happier discussing the other people's music than his own. Still, I was about to discover for myself his terrific klezmer themed The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, and his oratorio La pasion segun San Marco. The St. Mark Passion was recently heard on Classical 101s Musica Sacra. I was lucky enough to catch a performance of his opera Ainadamar in Boston, another work written for Dawn Upshaw. (Note to composers:If Dawn Upshaw want sing to sing your music, DO NOT SAY NO)

Lua descolorida are verses by the Galician poet Rosalia de Castro (1837-1885)

 Moon, colorless, like the color of pale gold; though you see me, I'd like you not to see me from the heights; Take me in your rays, silently, to the space where you travel

The other songs in this set are How Slow the Wind to poetry by Emily Dickinson, and the lullaby Night of the Flying Horses, Close Your Eyes by Sally Potter, sung in Yiddish and used in Potter's film The Man who Cried. There's a sense of space, time and culture in all of Golijov's music, along with a healthy entertainment-quotient. He transcends the tango, the downtown grunge, and yiddischkeit.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Elijah, Get Thee Hence, Elijah

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus present Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah in the Ohio Theater April 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. Your humble author gives pre performance talks in the theater at 7 p.m. Ronald J. Jenkins is conductor of the Columbus Symphony Chorus. Rossen Milanov,  Music Director of the Columbus Symphony, conducts both performances.

If you were a composer in mid 19th century Germany it would be easy to get lost between the death of Beethoven in 1827 and the death of Brahms 70 years later. Schubert does well. Robert Schumann holds his own. I sometimes worry about Carl Maria von Weber ( 1786-1826) and Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Weber's operas Eurytanthe and Der Fresichutz should be performed more often. Mendelssohn might have the same problem as Haydn:  a prolific composer who excelled in every genre. It's less a question of what to perform then where to begin.

Elijah is one of Mendelssohn's last works, and is probably his best loved today. It was commissioned by England's Birmingham Choral Festival, which had been the musical home of Handel's oratorios in the hundred years since that composer's death. Birmingham was a choral society in the best sense, open to member of the community from every class and station, as long as you could hold a tune and probably sing loud. We're told the Society made a lot of sound, and went for splendor in its performances. No bad thing this, since Mendelssohn was a true romantic. He loved program music. His overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was premiered when the composer was just 17. It was an instant hit and made the young mans' name.

Mendelssohn at the piano with Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort
The oratorio had been in decline since Haydn's The Seasons and The Creation were introduced in the beginning of the 19th century. Schubert's Lazarus was left incomplete. Liszt was toying off and on with Christus, but Mendelssohn had had a success with St. Paul. But gone were the days when Handel would produce a new biblical-themed choral extravaganza every year. The last, The Triumph of Time and Truth was written in 1757.

Mendelssohn, one day reading the bible,  came across tales of the prophet Elijah in the first book of Kings. In 1838 Mendelssohn wrote to his friend Julius Schubring

    I picture Elijah as a grand and mighty prophet of a kind we would do well to have in our own day.
Powerful, zealous but also harsh and angry and saturnine; a striking contrast to the court sycophants  and the rabble; in antithesis, in fact virtually to the whole world, yet borne on wings of angels.

Schubring assisted Mendelssohn in putting together a German language libretto based on the Old Testament. The years over which the composer worked on Elijah saw him as the music director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and serving as de facto music director for the new German Emperor. There was a lot of administrative work and a lot of "court sycophants". Mendelssohn's regular trips to England, where his music was loved,  must have been a refreshing change. Likewise the admiration of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, who attended Mendelssohn's concerts and entertained him at Windsor.

Mendelssohn was no stranger to oratorio. He grew up on Palestrina as a child in the Berlin Singakademie. He singlehandedly brought J.S. Bach out from academia with his performances of the St. Matthew Passion, a work long neglected. Suddenly Bach was recognized as the father of Western music. St. Paul had been sung brilliantly in Birmingham, and a triumphant return to a fine chorus with a new work was too good to resist. Elijah, conducted by Mendelssohn had its premiere on August 26, 1846,  two weeks after he complete ed the score. It was hoped that Mendelssohn' s colleague Jenny Lind would sing. She did not, then. Nevertheless Elijah was a crowd pleaser then and now. Mendelssohn set Schubring's German texts from the Old Testament, I and II Kings and some of the Psalms. At the same time, an English text was prepared by William Bartholomew. The premiere was sung in English, the German text used at home.

The best one word description I can come up with for Mendelssohn's music is melodic. The man knew how to write a tune.  He also had an uncanny dramatic sense. Elijah opens with a granitic recitative for the prophet, establishing immediately who is boss. Then there's a symphonic overture The chorus begins with the cry Help Lord! Why have you forsaken us?

Go to the concerts this weekend if you want to hear more. Elijah himself is musically isolated with slow, dark music. The soprano,  tenor and mezzo each have splendid, lyrical (tuneful ) arias to relieve the dramatic tension.

My favorite moments in the score come toward the end of part 1. Elijah and the followers of Judah get into a shouting contest with King Ahab and the followers of Baal. Which god can relieve the drought? Elijah jeers on the Baalites, whose god does not respond. Call him louder!

The only down side to the Elijah premiere was the appearance of the composer himself: thin, bald and stooped. He died a year later. He had endured the death of his beloved sister, the composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. Not even a happy marriage and five children got him over this shock. Mendelssohn died on November 4, 1847, sixteen months after Elijah's first performance.

"We were horrified, astounded and distressed to read in the paper of the death of Mendelssohn, the greatest musical genius since Mozart, and the most amiable man."

So wrote Queen Victoria, who was known to love a good funeral. More to the point, in thirty- eight years,  Felix Mendelssohn accomplished more than many a monarch.