Sep 22, 2014 Updated: 12:14 PM
By Benjamin K. Roe | Monday, November 14, 2011
How to describe the impact of this itinerant lumberjack-turned-construction worker-Navy seaman-trapeze artist-carpenter-encyclopedia salesman-diving instructor-commercial artist-actor-ad salesman ... (and I’m probably forgetting something) … who eventually found his calling behind the microphone? Let’s leave the capsule description to the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame:
Robert J “as he became known, was, arguably, the most recognizable classical music voice in New England broadcast history. His idiosyncratic style of DJ’ing and news reporting, his calm voice and often long pauses, plus his extensive knowledge of music (he himself had had no “classical” music training) helped establish WGBH as a significant, essential radio service. Morning pro Musica, ran for nearly 30 years (1971-2000). For 23 of those years he was on the air seven mornings a week, five hours a day. The program was also syndicated throughout in New England. His signature opening pieces, one for each day of the week, were accompanied by his personally made recordings of chirping birds, suggesting the show (which began at 7 a.m.) as virtually the first thing his listeners heard each day.
Robert J. has been gone for more than a decade now, but his influence is felt every day that Classical New England is on the air. Every weekend morning still begins with the “Dawn Chorus” of birdsong. Not a week goes by without a Sunday morning performance of a Bach cantata on The Bach Hour. And it bears remembering that Robert J. Lurtsema was a vital part of the history of both WGBH and WCRB, where he was the host of Folk City USA, for five years.
And to think…it all began with a cloudburst. Growing up in what he called a “decidedly unmusical family,” Robert J. once recalled that the first classical piece he heard was ''Cloudburst,'' from Ferde Grofe's ''Grand Canyon Suite.'' ''That is about as graphic and approachable as a classical work can be,'' he said. ''I was completely taken.''
The rest, as they say, is history. And I cannot help but consider that history as we celebrate Robert J’s 80th birth anniversary today with a mixture both of his favorite pieces of music, and some of the memorable daily themes.
I, too, was the one of the legions of students in the “Lurtsema School of Music,” where waking up to Morning Pro Musica was invariably more reassuring than going to sleep to another late-night loss by the Sox on the west coast. To be sure, Robert J. had his fans…and he had his detractors. But as we carry on his legacy at Classical New England, I can only marvel at his signal accomplishment: Robert J. Lurtsema made classical music on the radio consequential. What he programmed, what he said, where he went mattered to a population far beyond the practice rooms and the concert halls. That’s an inspiring – and occasionally daunting! – legacy.
Robert J. Lurtsema died before his time at the age of 68. But not before fulfilling his frequently-cited admonition of Horace Mann, etched on a plaque at his Boston University alma mater: “Be ashamed to die until you have achieved some victory for humanity.”
To hear an Robert J. Lurtsema with violinist Isaac Stern on Morning Pro Musica, click on "Listen" above.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Boston Lyric Opera opens its 2011-2012 season with Giuseppe Verdi's first Shakespeare adaptation, Macbeth. The Italian composer was fascinated with the English author, and would later compose Falstaff and Otello.
For information about performance dates and more resources, visit Boston Lyric Opera.
David Schweizer, who directed last season's triumphant BLO production of Viktor Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis, collaborated with designer (and 2011 NEA Opera Honors recipient) John Conklin to create a new production of Macbeth that magnifies the psychological descent and depravity of Lord and Lady Macbeth through stark staging and costumes with a timeless look.
Classical New England's Brian McCreath spoke with Schweizer and soprano Carter Scott, who sings the role of Lady Macbeth in her BLO debut:
By Brian McCreath | Wednesday, November 2, 2011
|U.S. Chamber of Commerce display (source: AP)|
What motivates someone to move to or settle in New England? That’s the question posed by Scott Kirsner in a recent column in the Boston Globe (registration required). As a piece for the Business section of the paper, it originated in Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog, and his angle is that, for the most important industries in today’s economy, Boston isn’t doing as well as it could or, apparently, should.
I’m certainly in no position to argue with Kirsner’s reading of the data when it comes to Boston’s place in the worlds of technology, retail, financial services, or defense contracting. In all of these areas Boston is, according to Kirsner, second-tier, and what’s worse is that he attributes that rank to a sense of entitlement that overshadows what’s necessary in our global economy: a need not only to retain the great talent that goes to college in New England, but also to attract that talent from elsewhere.
But here’s where I want to know more. If the ranking of a city within a particular industry, especially those on the cutting edge, is important, as Kirsner says, what else accounts for the choices of today’s most knowledgeable, skilled, and talented people?
In another of his blog entries (registration required), Kirsner scratches the surface of the answer. He tells of asking a class of Harvard undergrads what they’ll be looking for in a city as they start their careers. Sure enough, these best and brightest do, in fact, value a city more highly if it’s an epicenter in the their chosen fields.
But right there, ranked third, is “Culture” (with cost of living slotting in second). Culture is a broad term, so it’s hard to know exactly what that small sample set is really thinking of. It’s safe to say, though, that on the whole, Boston and New England hold their own culturally with any other region of the country. (OK, maybe a specific flavor of culture can be more fully experienced in San Francisco or Seattle or New York, but let’s stick with the broad averages for now.)
Broadly defined, the arts and culture economy has already proven to be a vital force in New England in its own right. According to a September 2011 report from the New England Foundation for the Arts, “every $1.00 spent by a Massachusetts nonprofit arts and cultural organization became $2.20 in sales for businesses in Massachusetts, and every job provided by a Massachusetts nonprofit arts and cultural organization became 1.6 jobs for workers across the state.” (NEFA's report is an excellent source for a statistical deep-dive, as is the ongoing Boston Indicators Project of The Boston Foundation.)
In light of Kirsner’s Innovation thoughts, how does that economic force intersect with the recruitment of the best minds and talent for life sciences, digital marketing, green technologies, and other cutting-edge industries? It’s a question I’ll be looking into in the coming weeks, so watch this space. And in the meantime, feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below.
By Laura Carlo | Tuesday, October 25, 2011
My father was facing surgery early one April many years ago and was dismayed that just before he had to go into the hospital his order of a dozen-plus heritage rose bushes was delivered early - too early to plant for our Boston gardening zone. Dad had specified that they be delivered two months later ... but things can go wrong with mail order....and now he had to deal with all these roses.
It was important that these rose bushes were saved because roses are very important to us as a family. When we children were born my father picked a rose from his own prize-winners every day and placed it in a vase near our cribs. He kept that up the whole first year of our lives: Red for his first-born, rosy-cheeked me, yellow for my fair little sister and healthy pink for his strapping son---so that the first thing that his "babies would see when they awoke was a rose.”
I returned the favor when Daddy turned 65---66 ruby red long stemmed roses (one to grown on)!
Now what to do with all these bare root rose bushes scrunched up in a soggy set of cardboard buckets left by the delivery man on the cold front stairs? Even though Daddy was a master rose gardener it was a huge task for one person, and given his impending surgery and the time of year there wasn't any time to waste, so I volunteered to help him.
I had never planted a rose bush before, but my father was very patient with me as he showed me step-by-step how to prepare the planting holes, test and amend the soil with organic compost and materials, carefully part the roots and plant and water just so. He showed me how, and just as important, he carefully explained "why" for each step. My usually quiet father was inspired to share with me how much he had loved roses from when he was a little boy. Although he often went hungry in war-torn Italy, and he was frightened of the sounds of war as a youngster, his mother kept pointing out to him that there was still beauty to be found in the world, including the exquisite, perfumed roses of Rome. He never forgot how roses came to symbolize all things hopeful and beautiful.
We worked quietly, then, side by side, and saving those rose bushes took us most of that day. When we were done my father surprised me by hanging a little sign that he had had a local hardware store make that read “The Laura Rose Garden,” something he was intending to do all along. He secured it to one of the larger front rose bushes for all passersby to see.
I have been winning trophies and ribbons and accolades my whole life but no prize ever meant so much to me.
No, not the naming.
The chance to plant roses with my father.
Rest in peace, my Daddy Carlo.
By Brian McCreath | Tuesday, October 25, 2011
By Cathy Fuller | Thursday, October 20, 2011
With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt coming up Oct. 22, now is a good time to reminisce about the great Liszt performances I've had the pleasure of hearing at Classical New England.
Liszt is still a misunderstood figure. He's often dismissed for being nothing but a flashy virtuoso, but that's not really a fair judgment. In a piano lesson with Liszt, a student was playing the famous A-flat Major Polonaise by Chopin. At the moment when the left hand begins its relentless march in octaves, Liszt burst out: "Do I care how fast you can play your octaves!? What I wish to hear is the canter of the horses of the Polish cavalry before they gather force and destroy the enemy!"
Why the thunderous reaction? Because Liszt deplored empty virtuosity. He was inspired by the communicative power of music, not by the deadening, hollow effect of technical facility on display. And he was determined to bring his students into his imaginative universe.
It's true that during his years of intensive concertizing (roughly 1839-1847), an emotional hysteria developed in Liszt's fans, and "Lisztomania" set in. But I'm more intrigued by the mesmerizing effect that Liszt seems to have had on his audiences. Biographer Alan Walker describes one scene in which Hector Berlioz and a small group of colleagues succumbed to Liszt's playing in a drawing room. The fire was nearly out and the lamplight was dying. Critic Ernest Legouvé accidentally turned the wick down instead of up and the room went nearly to black. Liszt began playing Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata. It was too much for Berlioz, who couldn't control his emotions. The others could barely move.
Many accounts of Liszt's playing describe a strange magic, a hypnotizing focus. He wasn't presenting egotistical theatrics. He brought the audience to a new level of listening and put them, not him, on a higher plane. In such a state, listeners were given the chance to absorb his creations — new music that would belong more and more to the future, ultimately presaging the intricate coloristic effects of impressionism, and even evocative flirtations with atonality. His audiences also had a greater chance to absorb the works of composers he championed (Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata, for instance).
More astounding still is the fact that Liszt's gift for performance came with other unfathomable talents. He created the symphonic poem and the piano recital. He conducted, taught, transcribed and edited. His hundreds and hundreds of pieces reflect his love of life on Earth, his intimate experience with deep sadness and a fundamental yearning for God.
I'm happy that this year's focus on Liszt has encouraged a deeper look into the radical adventurer that he was. Here are some glimpses of Liszt's genius in piano performances captured by our Classical New England engineers here in Boston.
"Adelaïde" (Beethoven, arranged by Liszt)
Minsoo Sohn, piano
Liszt's devotion to Beethoven drove him to transcribe a huge number of works for solo piano so that more of the world could experience Beethoven's genius. The poem "Adelaïde" by Friedrich von Matthison features a text that yearns for an unattainable woman – a concept that resonated with Beethoven. Korean-born pianist Minsoo Sohn came to Boston to study with Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory. He plays this transcription with the warm, singing sound Liszt was definitely after.
"My Joys" (Chopin, arranged by Liszt), and "Ave Maria" (Schubert, arranged by Liszt)
Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin grew up listening to Liszt's music. His father, an amateur pianist, had an abiding love for the captivating playing of the golden age pianists. "My Joys" is a gorgeous melody from the Six Polish Songs by Chopin. "Ave Maria" is an intricate elaboration of a Schubert song and presents interesting challenges. It's written on three staves with the tune in the middle, requiring the pianist to deploy some tricky fingerings to get a three-handed effect.
Spozalizio; Petrarch Sonnet 47
Roberto Plano, piano
Liszt once expressed in a letter his love for Italy and its art, mentioning that "Raphael and Michelangelo helped me to better understand Mozart and Beethoven." "Sposalizio" (Marriage) was inspired by Raphael's serene painting "The Marriage of the Virgin," and the Sonnet springs from a beautiful love sonnet by Petrarch. Italian pianist Roberto Plano plays these homages to his own country with a sense of loving connection.
Petrarch Sonnet 47
Les jeaux d'eau
Gilles Vonsattel, piano
Swiss-born American pianist Gilles Vonsattel has what it takes to make the piano sparkle and sing. Writer Alan Walker reminds us that Liszt's fountains (jeux d'eaux) are spiritual: "Liszt turned his streaming fountains into mystical symbols, associating them with the verse from the Gospel According to St. John (4:14) which he quotes in the score: '... the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.'"
Ballade No. 2
Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano
Liszt wrote this Ballade shortly after finishing the Sonata in B minor. Its many moods are held together through the transformation of a single gesture. Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi plays with tremendous strength and focus. He creates enormous contrast between what is ominous and what is sunny in Liszt's dramatic world. And like Liszt, Pompa-Baldi is a sought-after teacher, attracting talented students to the Cleveland Institute of Music and to master classes around the world.
Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch
Cyprien Katsaris, piano
If you've never heard this Funeral Prelude and Funeral March, prepare yourself! Liszt's late pieces that contemplate death can have a terrifying modernity. The unique French-Cypriot pianist/composer/teacher Cyprien Katsaris was making his Boston recital debut and spent hours in our studios unleashing stories and music of all kinds. Like Liszt, Katsaris is blessed with a mind-boggling mastery of the keyboard.