It’s always a special occasion when Philadelphia native Sarah Chang appears with The Philadelphia Orchestra. And she’ll be here on May 7, 8 and 9 for performances of Antonin Dvorak’s Violin Concerto, conducted by the Philadelphia Orchestra's Conductor-in-Residence Cristian Macelaru.
On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday May 2nd, 5-6 pm... It’s a symphony from 100 years ago, from someone not known for writing symphonies. Or is it even a symphony? Richard Strauss calls his own 50-minute work An Alpine Symphony, and the composer ought to have some authority here, but he referred to his earlier Domestic Symphony as a tone poem. In 22 continuous movements, not four separate ones, An Alpine Symphony certainly sounds like a symphonic poem, and not a symphony.
He did write two symphonies, No. 1 when he was 16 and No. 2 when he was 20, but they hardly saw the light of day. When he was in a position to record his own music, he never bothered with them. As he became older and more adept at using larger and larger orchestral forces, Strauss looked for newer means of expression, often referring to “the symphony” as outmoded. The tone poem, with its literary and philosophical underpinnings, each one with a form unique to itself, became his signature. The sunny From Italy led to Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration, then Macbeth and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, then his monumental grapple with Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra. They all poured out in less than 10 years. Don Quixote followed, then the autobiographical A Hero’s Life and Domestic Symphony.
Strauss created operas and many, many other works during this time, but by 1915 he was able to work on this, the final version of the Alpine Symphony. He had begun sketching it in 1899 and seems to have wanted to make it into an actual symphony, but described the process to a friend as “torturing.” Then he came up with the idea of making it a picture—with philosophical undertones—of a hike up and down a mountain. It depicts an 11-hour excursion, from night through sunrise, forests, meadows, pastures, a wrong turn, a glacier, the summit, a storm, a hurried descent, sunset, and night again.
Major themes work their way through it but what is most arresting about An Alpine Symphony is Strauss’s mastery of the orchestra. He calls for a gigantic ensemble about twice the size needed for even large orchestral works. At one point, an offstage band mimics a hunting party going by—its music has nothing to do with the onstage music and it’s never heard again—but that alone requires an extra 16 brass players. There’s a wind machine, thunder machine, cowbells, and if that were not enough, an organ.
Strauss, recognized by all as the consummate orchestrator among his colleagues past, present, and future, joked that he finally learned how to orchestrate with this piece. He would live to 1949, but this would be the last purely symphonic work he ever composed.
So whether it’s a symphony or not, An Alpine Symphony, from 100 years ago, is in many ways a summit in the career of Richard Strauss.
Eric Owens has come a long way from Philadelphia's Central High School. This once-fledging oboe player has evolved into a bass-baritone who has opera productions built around him. One is Opera Philadelphia's current Don Carlo, where he's singing the role of lonely, powerful King Philip, but took time to share trade secrets with The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns.
In the 1940s, when jazz singer Billie Holiday was at the height of her power and artistry, she always performed wearing at least one white gardenia in her hair. WRTI's Meridee Duddleston visits Drexel University professor and fashion scholar Alphonso McClendon, who looks at the meaning behind that statement and fashion in his book Fashion and Jazz: Dress, Identity and Subcultural Improvisation.
The songs, or standards, known to us today as "The Great American Songbook" flourished from the mid 1920s to about 1950. Singer Carmen McRae popularized the term with her 1972 album, The Great American Songbook. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, a new book on the subject shines light on the role of jazz in the rise, fall, and rebirth of these great American songs.
A native of Bohemia, Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was a minority in the Austrian Empire and in the classical music world. But he had risen to the top of it all when a millionaire patroness hired him to direct the brand-new National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. It would train all students without regard to race or ability to pay. There, in 1893, Dvořák’s eyes were opened to the possibilities of an "American" music.
The tango spins and snaps to a halt on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 25th at 9 pm. If there’s a meaning behind Mean Old Pony Tango by Michael Kurth, we’ll let it go by to revel in the string quartet antics, and Adrienne Albert combines rock energy with the smooth ride of L.A. Tango Nuevo. A solo piano is overcome with romance in Robert Elkjer’s En-tango-ed, and James Adler gnarls a Twisted Tango with his own self at the piano, accompanying saxophone.
Ingrid Arauco’s Divertimento for an unusual trio includes a tango among its movements. Kenneth Froelich has no obvious tango in Clockwork Automata, but do we detect its spirit among the spinning and clicking? Finally, a string quartet returns to play Tanguori by Jeremy Cohen, snapping the program to a close.
Our Jazz Appreciation Month celebration continues during the week of April 20th by shining the spotlight on artists right here in our region. Our jazz hosts present their favorite recordings from a local jazz artist each night at 7 pm, 9:30 pm 12:30 am, and 5:30 am.
Bob Craig, Zivit, Bob Perkins, Jeff Duperon, Maureen Malloy and J. Michael Harrison have some great tunes cued up for you! Here are some of their favorites:
1. Jeff Duperon: Orrin Evans - Don't Fall Off the L.E.J - Captain Black
Pianist Charles Abramovic speaks about, and performs, Chopin's Nocturne in C Sharp minor.
His own piano teacher told him he wouldn’t get into Curtis, but that he ought to audition anyway, for the experience. So, two weeks after traveling from Pittsburgh with his mother to play for Rudolf Serkin and Eleanor Sokoloff, Charles Abramovic received a letter from the Curtis Institute of Music. He was accepted.
Abramovic has been surprising people his whole life, and it’s easy to see why. His family had almost no interest in music of any kind, let alone classical, although he does remember a Dave Brubeck record in the house. What did he like most about the LP? The bass player.
He did begin piano lessons at age six after his kindergarten teacher noted that he reacted to music “differently” from the other kids, and four years later was playing in the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. Playing double bass, that is, although he would take on symphonic piano parts, too.
By this time he was studying piano with Natalie Phillips, whose husband Eugene was a violist and violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as well as composer, and whose sons Daniel and Todd would one day be renowned violinists in the Orion String Quartet. Abramovic remembers private lessons morphing into coaching and chamber music soirées with the Phillips family. Before long he was playing the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini on a Pittsburgh Symphony Young People’s Concert. It was clear that music was calling him.
Or maybe it was psychoanalysis. His “light reading” in eighth grade, he confesses, was The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud. But Abramovic decided against that as a profession and went with music, although he later discovered that a large part of private teaching is helping students of all personality types and backgrounds. He wonders if it may have produced another benefit, as he did marry the daughter of a psychoanalyst, the cellist, conductor, and composer Heidi Jacob.
After Curtis (where he also played double bass in their orchestra) and Peabody, he earned his DMA at Temple University, with the music of Croatia as his research topic. The Abramović (pronounced Abramovich) family is from that area, and the music fascinates him.
Abramovic as pianist with Mimi Stillman’s Dolce Suono, here playing Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango:
He loves, and plays, the standard piano repertoire, but Abramovic likes to take surprising paths. A favorite is Charles Ives. He’s performed the monumental Concord Sonata (which hardly anyone will attempt), but knows the entire Ives catalog, which has inspired another surprise: Charles Abramovic, composer. His piece Unanswered Hands, for three pianists—piano six-hands, that is—throws in “as many musical memories from childhood” as he could fit. In the same way that Ives uses hymns, marches, and everything else in a piece like The Unanswered Question, Abramovic “out-quotes Ives,” he claims, in a work filled with nostalgia and humor.
He has been a professor at Temple since 1990, and enjoys a career in Philadelphia and beyond as a sought-after soloist, accompanist, chamber musician, and recording artist. One of the most affable and humorous of musicians, he nevertheless cannot hide a ferocious talent that has left not a few shaking their heads over the ease with which he negotiates the most blistering piano writing.
Whether it’s Ives, Babbitt, tango, jazz, rags, new music, his own music, or simply making the impossible look easy, Charles Abramovic is ever full of surprises.