In 1929, an unusual work by a versatile 20th-century French composer premiered at the home of his wealthy patrons. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, this piece, still unique in the classical repertoire, is part piano concerto and part ballet, in a chamber music setting.
Since its founding in 1900, The Philadelphia Orchestra has had four music directors whose tenures have lasted more than a decade. Today, as WRTI's Jim Cotter reports, there is one member of the ensemble who has played under all of these great conductors.
When violinist Herbert Light won his audition for the Orchestra in 1961, it was his second job offer in a week.
Over the past decade or so, it has become increasingly difficult for overseas musicians without well-established reputations in the U.S. to get permission to travel here for work. However, as WRTI's Jim Cotter reports, when a powerhouse such as The Philadelphia Orchestra wants a particular soloist, they usually get their man, or woman.
Jazz vocalist, author, and playwright Suzanne Cloud spent about eight months researching Dizzy Gillespie’s life, and writingLast Call at the Downbeat: The Dizzy Gillespie Story. The production debuted in 2013 at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, 5 to 6 pm, we celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616, and well-apparell’d April (Romeo and Juliet, act 1, scene 2) being the very month he was born, approves our dip into Fleisher’s Shakespeare list once more.
The Free Library of Philadelphia is celebrating the Bard’s birth (find all the events here)—our whole city is much bound to him (Romeo and Juliet, 4, 2)—so we’re happy to join in the great coil (Much Ado About Nothing, 3, 3) with more of the many Fleisher works inspired by Shakespeare. To discover all such titles in the Fleisher Collection, only send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the list will fly swiftly to you with swallow’s wings (Richard III, 5, 2).
One year, 1861, saw the completion of two of the works on the program today. One is the Overture to King Lear by the Russian Mily Balakirev. That a composer known for energizing the Russian nationalist school of music would write a work connected with an English playwright is interesting. But Balakirev’s horizons were broader than the mere use of folksong.
Tellingly, he also supported the career of Tchaikovsky (when other Russian nationalists were grumbling about the European—meaning non-Russian, meaning German—sound of his music). Tchaikovsky, of course, loved Shakespeare. Balakirev’s early Overture to King Lear shows that the composer, although largely self-taught, knew the “European” orchestral style well. Even though he finished the work in 1861, he revised it 40 years later, after a long withdrawal from the music world.
It could hardly be more appropriate than to have music about the Danish Hamlet by the Danish Niels Gade, the most important musician in his country at the time. Nationalism was also in the air in Denmark, and early in his life Gade studied Danish folk traditions. But he went to Germany, taught and conducted there, and when he came back to Copenhagen his style was more international: this, in 1861, is the sound of Gade’s Hamlet.
Carried with more speed before the wind (The Comedy of Errors, 1, 1), we fly a century later to music from the 1964 film Hamlet by another Russian, Dmitri Shostakovich. He wrote prodigiously for the concert stage, but went back to film music often during his career. One reason for this was his on-again, off-again relationship with the Soviet regime. Many of his artist colleagues were imprisoned because of putative sins against the government, some were killed, and for most of his life Shostakovich was haunted by the fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night.
But film music was an approved outlet. Shostakovich’s sometimes-violent voice seems tamer on film, but hearing the music removed from the visual is a bright reminder of his genius. That Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, and Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, could release this for us, approves celebration of this day with shows (King Henry VIII, 4,1).
Once upon a time, in the world of classical music, there lived the "Big Five." The term was used to lump together the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and our own Philadelphia Orchestra as the finest performing orchestras in the U.S.
But, over time, as other orchestras gained stature, both in performance and finances, the term became passe and no longer indicative of the American orchestral scene.
The Big Band side of the influential baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan will be featured on Big Band Jazz this Sunday, April 13 at 7 pm. An arranger with Gene Krupa, Elliot Lawrence, and Stan Kenton in the '40s and '50s, to his own Concert Jazz Band in the '60s, it's an 87th birthday tribute to the one-time Philly resident.
Join us for an all-Rachmaninoff program this Sunday at 1 pm, on the radio at 90.1 FM and around the world at wrti.org. The Philadelphians perform Rachmaninoff’s choral-symphonic setting of Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting poem, The Bells, which received its U.S. premiere here in Philadelphia in 1920 with Leopold Stokowski conducting.
So done with March and feeling like a new start, we've got all preludes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 5th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Stephen Paulus writes comfortably in every genre; we start the program with a short, sassy work played by pianist Lara Downes, his Prelude No. 3: Sprightly. Guitarist David Starobin and composer William Bland go way back to their school days. Starobin loves playing Bland's music, and we'll hear six of a projected cycle of 48 Preludes.
Then we return to the piano for the 12 Preludes of Bernard Rands, covering a wide landscape of emotional and tonal range. Included are two movements in memoriam of composer colleagues of Rands, Luciano Berio and Donald Martino.