A Summit Of Two Master Musicians

Friday, March 4, 2011
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Woodstock, 1969

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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Shoshana Johnson: Former POW

Thursday, February 24, 2011
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Mr. President: A Choral Tribute

By Brian McCreath   |   Sunday, February 20, 2011
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Feb. 25

Earlier this week, on Presidents Day, we offered a new set of choral pieces that pay tribute to several US Presidents through the words they spoke or wrote.  They were from a project dreamed up by Judith Clurman, conductor of Essential Voices USA, who was inspired to commission the series as a result of her commitment to music, to politics, and to education.

As we talked through this project here at 99.5 All Classical, I couldn't help but be struck by the dichotomy of the character of these pieces and the character of our current political climate.  The words Clurman found and the music they inspired are reminders that, in the midst of bitter political battles playing out in Washington, D.C, Madison, Wisconsin, Indianapolis, Indiana, and many other places around the country, there are and have been extraordinary people who have approached politics as a way to improve lives and create a better society.

I was also reminded of a few amazing resources about specific presidents that I've found valuable in making their impact and legacy more tangible.  I've listed them below, along with five of the pieces that you can listen to on demand.  See what you think, and feel free to add your own comments and suggestions for learning more about presidents.

And to hear all 16 of the pieces included in the project, on demand, along with interviews with Clurman and several of the composers, visit NPR Music's Deceptive Cadence.

George Washington - “I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.”
1st President: 1789-1797
Washington Round, by Michael Gilberston

John Adams - “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but the wise men ever rule under this roof.”
2nd President: 1797–1801
John Adams’ Prayer, by Jake Heggie

John Adams, David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Massachusetts's own John Adams, an incredible work in its own right, inspired HBO to create an equally incredible television biography of this vastly underrated president.  The series not only includes vivid portrayals of Adams and his wife Abigail by, respectively, Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, it also gives you a sometimes difficult to watch picture of life in colonial America.  For more info, visit HBO's John Adams.

Abraham Lincoln - “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”
16th President: 1861-1865
The ballet is stronger than the bullet, by Jason Robert Brown

Garry Wills's 1992 book, Lincoln at Gettysburg:  The Words That Remade America, is invaluable in many ways.  The 272-word Gettysburg Address is so ubiquitous as an item of history that it may occasionally lose its power, but this illuminating book reinforces the staggering work of genius the speech is by weaving in philosophy, history, and cultural practices of the time.  The number of words written about Lincoln over the decades is practically infinite, but for me, this one book is all that's needed to confirm him as our greatest president.

Dwight David Eisenhower - “History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”
33rd President: 1953-1961
Eisenhower Round, by Paul Moravec

A recent issue of The Atlantic featured an article entitled "The Tyranny of Defence Inc.," written by Andrew J. Bacevich, in which a sobering portrait is drawn of a Dwight D. Eisenhower as he left office.  More prophetic than even he himself knew, Eisenhower comes across as a man at once responsible for much of the dangerous state of our current geo-political situation, and wise enough to recognize that danger.  Ultimately, it's a complexity not often credited to Ike.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy - “The best road to progress is freedom’s road.”
35th President: 1961-1963
Freedom’s Road, by Robert Beaser

The First Recordings of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

By Brian Bell   |   Thursday, February 17, 2011
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Feb. 18

BSO on Record for this week, heard on Sunday, Feb. 20, at 2pm, is not exactly easy listening. But those who have heard this program in the past talk to me about it for months afterward.

The most recent recording in this show was made nearly 95 years ago, and so to call the hour "historic" is something of an understatement.  Some of these discs are one-of-kind, and several of them were not released for more than 75 years.

The bulk of the program consists of the complete surviving recordings of the Boston Symphony Orchestra with conductor Karl Muck (left, from Wikimedia Commons) made in October of 1917.  All but four of the nine sides (eight selections actually, as the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony finale is taken up by two 12" discs, that were recorded only on one side), were not released until 1995, when the BSO released the discs as part of the premiere issue of BSO Classics.

That's preceded by a rather noisy disc that is something akin to the Dead Sea scrolls. In 1912, an outfit in Boston, in evident violation of Edison's patents, made a series of recordings of BSO musicians, not sanctioned by the Boston Symphony. One of them was the concertmaster Anton Witek playing the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 for solo violin, which is exemplary musicianship in any age.

The hour begins with a series of discs that were brought to my attention in 2006.  The Boston Symphony Trombone Quartet discs were acquired by BSO Bass Trombonist Douglas Yeo, and the significance was ascertained when I discovered the listing in the Victor discography.  Immediately I had them transferred to CD for the most likely the first-ever broadcast on October 22, 2006.  There is a fabulous page Doug has put together, which I highly recommend.  Just visit his website.

But that's not all!  As soon as the broadcast took place, Thomas Vendetti e-mailed me about an earlier recording of a BSO musician, which indeed dates to the very earliest discs ever to emerge from what was to become the Victor Talking Machine company. It is 'cellist Alexander Heindl, who made recordings beginning in July of 1900. 

The really intriguing question is this:  is it the Alexander Heindl who apparently played Principal 'Cello in the Boston Symphony during the orchestra's first season in 1881 (that's him, to the left, courtesy of stowkowski.org), or his younger relative, who played in the BSO from 1900 until 1907?  (Was it a son?  A nephew?  It's unclear;  isn't history fun?  Oh, and inconveniently - for us - he's also named Alexander Heindl...)  Something to ponder as you listen.


Kevin Bales: Free The Slaves

Thursday, February 17, 2011
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