Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Double Header!

This blog will be a double header since we saw one concert tonight (Tuesday) and we have a matinée tomorrow.

Tonight's concert was led by the incredible Jane Glover conducting Music of the Baroque in a concert entitled "The Family Bach". It featured music by Johann Sebastian and three of his sons, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Johan Christian.

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As is always the case, Johann won.

The concert opened with his Sinfonia from Cantata No. 42. Jane Glover somehow can get 25 or so musicians to perform and sound like a single voice. Very expressive, sensitive playing is the norm with this group. They are so well rehearsed and conducted that it as if a single person was doing the playing. Wonderful.

This was followed by Adagio and Fugue for 2 Flutes and Strings in D Minor by Wilhelm Friedemann. A charming but light-weight work by Bach's eldest son.

Then came Johann's Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major. This is a sensational work and was very well played by concert mistress Gina DiBello.

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After the intermission we heard C.P.E.'s Flute Concerto in B-flat Major. Mary Stolper was the soloist for this. It's not that interesting a work by Bach's second son.

 The concert ended with Symphony in G Minor, Op.6 No.6 by Johann Christian, the 'English' Bach.

Bach obviously produced a family of good musicians but he reigns supreme as the Master.

And Jane Glover brings every bit of his genius to the fore through her wonderful understanding of his music. Brava!


Wednesday's matinée was Massenet's Don Quichotte at the Lyric Opera House.

Ferrucio Furlanetto was sensational in the title role. His rich, easy basso soared the heights and depths of the role both vocally and emotionally.

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Clémentine Margaine was his Dulcinée. A rich voiced mezzo with a wide range, she portrayed a much more elegant, though no less sexy, woman from The Man of La Mancha roleI would love to hear her Carmen, which is one of her many roles.

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Nicola Alaimo was Sancho Panza. His agile baritone voice work well in this role.

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Other singers were Diana Newman as Pedro,Lindsay Metzger as Gervais, Alec Carlson as Juan, and Jonathan Johnson as  Rodriguez. All sang very well and are fine singing actors.

The sets were designed by Ralph Funicello and were exceptional.  The stage at the Lyric Opera has been there for a long time and does not have all the mechanical devices of the Met or of Broadway shows. Therefore, everything needs to be moved by hand. This was done fairly swiftly and the look of the sets was very fine.

Sir Andrew Davis was the conductor and led his band of musicians beautifully.

I must say a word about the acoustics in this hall. From where we were seatd in Row F they were perfect.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bach to Bach

I recently heard an organist play the Bach Prelude and Fugue in E Flat on a recital. It made me think about the many ways I have been taught to play Bach on the organ over the years. The rest of the program was forgetable.

My first organ teacher, Helen Roberts Scholl, taught an ultra-legato style of playing Bach. In the 1950's this was they way you did it. So that's what I did.

In 1950 I went to New York City to attend Columbia University and studied at first with the flamboyant Claire Coci. She was the female Virgil Fox of that era and played sensational recitals, in every respect.

Once when in mid recital she reached over to pull out a stop on the organ; it came off in her hand and she threw it over her shoulder without missing a beat and kept playing. She gave me my pedal technique. She also had me start Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue on the Voix Céleste. I thought it was swell.

I then studied with Vernon de Tar who never forgave me for studying with Claire and got rid of the Voix Céleste on the Passacaglia.  Everything was still a dead legato

Vernon became a life-long friend. I interviewed him for my book How to Make your Arm into a Wet Noodle, a study of the techniques of Théodor Leschetizky. (Available at my website. He had studied with a student of the master, as had I.

About this time I did master classes with André Marchal and Finn Videro and began to learn there were other ways of playing Baroque music. I played a Suite of Clérambault for Videro, he praised my playing and then said, 'of course, the French play it differently', never explaining how differently.

Then I met Melville Smith and went to Europe on an organ tour with him and began to learn about notes inégals in French Baroque music. Melville won the Grand Prix du Disc for his recording that year of the organ music of de Grigny.

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Then I studied harpsichord with the fabulous Gustav Leonhardt who really taught me what to do with French, Italian, Spanish, and German baroque music. It was a revelation. One of his reviewers called him the greatest keyboard artist of the time!

I also did a master class with André Isoir, the great French Baroque expert. He taught me how to use the 'Baroque' legato, which is much different from the ultra legato I had used.

For years I played German, Spanish, Italian, and French Baroque music on my recitals which took me throughout the USA, the West Indies, and Europe. I played Clérambault in Haderslev and Copenhagen, Denmark, Hamburg and Berlin, Germany, and Vienna Austria. I played Vierne at the Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Paris. Dear Daniel Roth pulled stops for me and at one point lifted my hands from one manuel to another in mid piece.We had very little time to practice on the organ and he said 'I'll take care of everthing'. He did- but it was quite a surprise to me!

In short my evolution as a performer of Baroque music evolved over a number a years.

In 1965 and 1966 I twice performed the complete organ works of Bach, first in my church in Red Bank, NJ and then 14 concerts in 15 weeks at St. Paul's  Chapel, Columbia University, where I had been Associate University Organist and Choirmaster.

The recital I heard recently did none of the above things. Messy playing, too legato, odd hitches in rhythm- well- I remember why I have stopped going to organ recitals.  

Friday, November 18, 2016


Tonight David and I had dinner at one of our favorite places in Hyde Park, The Lake Shore Cafe, just off Lake Shore Drive.

In addition to a great open buffet, complete with a large salad bar and lots of desserts, they offer Dixieland Jazz.

We've been there several times. The band is JJ and the Jazz Masters. JJ is 84 years old and plays the drums. It's great to watch him smiling as he drums away. There is also a Sax player, a bass, a pianist and a terrific Vibraphone player. Tonight we also had Gina Gibson, a very good jazz singer. 

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My friend from years ago, Rita Avram, used to call this kind of jazz 'two-beat', which it really is. These guys know how to improvise around any tune and Gina can match them with her vocal ad libs.

 In 1950, when John and I were first in New York City, we used to go down to Nick's in Sheridan Square to hear Phil Napoleon and his band. One time, on my 21st birthday, one of our friends got them to play Happy Birthday to me in two-beat. It was a great night.

So was tonight. We'll go again, I'm sure.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Back in the Windy City!

I'm back in Chicago for the winter months except for January when we will be in Albuquerque.

Saturday David and I attended an interview with Trevor Noah of the Daily Show. We both enjoy watching this program. I especially enjoy seeing it in Chicago since it airs at 10:00 pm rather than 11:00 as it does in the East.

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Trevor is a very bright, witty young man who has written a book about his growing up in apparteid South Africa with a black mother and a white father. 

This was a part of a book tour he is making throughout the country. He had many amusing and wise things to say about our recent disastrous election, comparing it to politics in South Africa. An interesting afternoon.

Last night we saw King Charles III by Mike Bartlett at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. This play was written, rather oddly, in iambic pentameter  and concerns a plot by the real William and Kate to get the Prince of Wales to abdicate in their favor after the death of Queen Elizabeth.

I doubt very much that Her Majesty was amused!

It is difficult to accept  a contemporary play about real persons that is written in blank verse with the odd rhyme at the end of an important speech. For one thing we have seen and read about these people for years and this distorted image of them did not ring true.  

Possibly behind the scenes this sort of plot is being hatched. I have heard rumors that many in Britain would prefer to skip over Charles in favor of William but I don't think the Government is actually planning to follow this procedure.

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The large cast was headed by Robert Bathurst as King Charles III, Kate Skinner as Camilla, Jordan Dean as William, Amanda Drinkall as Catherine, and Alec Manley Wilson as Harry.

The last contemporary play I saw that was in blank verse was The Lady's Not For Burning, by Christopher Fry in 1950. It had a Medieval setting about a witch and starred Richard Burton and Claire Bloom. Fry was a much better poet! I also put on The Coming of Christ by John Masefield (blank verse) with music by Gustave Holst at the Red Bank, NJ Methodist Church in 1958. Also a better poet.