Mimi Stillman discusses how history can inform innovative music making in this in-depth interview with Susan Lewis.
The Philadelphia-based chamber group Dolce Suono is known for exploring historical connections while pushing its art form into the future. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, Dolce Suono Founder Mimi Stillman believes that music is an integral part of life.
Lewis: In 2005, Stillman founded Dolce Suono, which she likens it to a repertory company.
Stillman: We form into different ensemble configurations, combinations, depending upon the repertoire we’re playing. One of our main ensembles is our trio of flute, cello, and piano with Yumi Kendall and Charlie Abramovic. We do music with flute, strings, and harp...we’ve been very active commissioning work for peirrot ensemble, which is a mixed grouping of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and percussion.
Lewis: To Stillman, who is also a music historian, music is more than notes and dynamic notations, however beautifully, or provocatively, arranged. It reflects a history – and history informs her performance.
Stillman: I think it's part of an approach to the world - not seeing every piece of music or every composer, every musical style in a vacuum. It's part of a rich tapestry of music, visual art, culture, the world of ideas.
Lewis: This year, Stillman and her ensemble are exploring the music of Debussy.
Stillman: It always enhances our performance to be approaching music from the most micro – what am I going to do with that note, that phrase? – to the most grand, sweeping –what is the context of Debussy and what do we want to say about that?
Lewis: Stilllman herself is in the midst of her year-long commitment to play Debussy’s short piece Syrinx, each day in different circumstances and venues, which she documents in videos online.
Coming up...Dolce Suono in concert at the Trinity Center for Urban life in Center City, Philadelphia, joined by Anthony McGill, principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera, on Sunday, February 17 at 3 pm.
LFC: For more on how history can inform innovative music making, listen to Susan’s interview with Mimi Stillman at WRTI.org.
The early 19th-century Italian composer Giochino Rossini composed nearly 40 operas before he turned 40. Later in life, he turned to other forms. And near the end of his life, he wrote a solemn mass for the dedication of a private chapel. As two local ensembles prepare performances, WRTI’s Susan Lewis explores Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle.
Lewis: In some ways, the work summarizes Rossini’s entire art, says Matthew Glandorf, artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia.
Glandorf : You get these beautiful, lovely, soaring, natural melodies that you would know from his operas, but you also see somebody who has an absolute mastery of interesting harmonies.
Lewis: Glandorf says you can see that Rossini was studying the music of his contemporaries.
Glandorf: Or shall we even say possibly the next generation. You really find that he's saying, hey look, I can also compose a fugue like the best of them....
Lewis: Choral Arts will perform the work on Saturday, February 9th and is engaging soloists who specialize in period vocal performance, among them Julianne Baird.
Lewis: Another interpretation will be offered later this month by the Philadelphia Singers, which Glandorf welcomes.
Glandorf: I’m hoping that that might open up a dialogue to say there are infinite number of possibilities to approach the interpretation of music, and actually that its radical to approach music differently.
The term "Endangered Artifacts" is most associated with objects from ancient civilizations. Yet, in Pennsylvania, as WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports, there’s now an effort to track down some of the state’s own most vulnerable historical treasures.
Listen to Jim's interview with Ingrid E. Bogel, Executive Director of The Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts from the start of the competition.
Discreetly tucked away on the second floor of an office building in Center City, Philadelphia is a conservation studio and digital archiving facility for some of the nation most valuable works on paper. On the day we visit among the rare books and delicate watercolors by world-famous artists, the original, hand-written constitution of PA, and the notebooks in which Bruce Springsteen jotted down his most famous songs were being pored over by teams of skilled conservation professionals.
It is from here - The Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts - that a call has gone out to libraries, museums, historic sites ,and archives to help locate Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts. Ingrid E. Bogel, executive director of the Center says the project aims to save important drawings, paintings, manuscripts, rare books, maps, photographs and other objects.
We’re certainly talking about those kinds of materials, but I’m even thinking about things that perhaps just have a wonderful story. And that might be just as exciting as something that has a George Washington signature on it.
The initial nominations will come from organizations, historical societies, museums and the like who have these items in their collections.
We are really thinking very broadly. We would like to have representation from the smallest all-volunteer institution if they have something great that they want to share. We’re also looking for geographic reach; we would love to have people nominate artifacts from all over the state.
The deadline for nominations is April 13th after which members of the public can vote for their favorite most endangered Pennsylvania Artifacts at a dedicated website.
Today, many orchestras around America are experiencing extreme financial problems. Yet, as WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports, one ensemble is bucking the trend.
Strikes, lockouts and deficits. Throughout the past year in particular, tales of rancor between musicians and management, financial shortfalls, and dwindling audience numbers have been the dominant headlines about classical music.
Though agreements have been reached in Philadelphia, Detroit, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, locked out musicians at The Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have yet to begin their seasons.
There are some bright spots: The New York Philharmonic, now the world’s most industrious orchestra, is reporting a bumper year for fundraising while the National Symphony in DC quietly negotiated and signed a new four-year agreement with its musicians.
The most notable good news, though, comes from the Cleveland Orchestra. In the final months of 2012, it saw a remarkable 47% increase in attendance at Severance Hall, much of it made up of younger concert goers. In addition, the orchestra is reporting a year-on-year increase in revenue of 24%.
The Cleveland Orchestra’s chief marketing officer is Ross Binney. He says this upswing is not just about good marketing.
We’re certainly having some fun on the marketing side, but I think we’re seeing a slight pickup in the economy, perhaps, and our diversified programming is certainly at the forefront of that regeneration.
In addition the orchestra has made a concerted attempt to attract music students from local schools, colleges and conservatories
We’ve employed some student ambassadors who are promoting us heavily.
Meantime closer to home, classical audiences in the first state were relieved to be able to return to the concert hall as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra recently began its season after a three month delay.
German composer, performer, and conductor Felix Mendelssohn would have turned 204 on February 3rd. While he was acclaimed during his short life of 38 years, only a fraction of his works continued to be performed after his death. WRTI’s Susan Lewis looks at Mendelssohn and his musical impact.
Lewis: His violin concerto is one of the works that survived the centuries. Yet his contributions to music, says Mendelssohn biographer R. Larry Todd, were much more significant than many people realize:
Todd: He was, of course, one of the great pianists of his age, arguably the leading organist of the entire century. He was also – it’s not well known - a violinist and violist. He could pick up a part in his own octet and play that, and of course he was one of the seminal conductors of the 19th century. He was one of the first conductors to conduct using a baton.
Susan Lewis talks with R. Larry Todd about the genius of Mendelssohn.
Lewis: Mendelssohn’s performance of the St. Matthew Passion at its 100th anniversary in 1827 helped spark the 20th-century Bach revival, says Philadelphia Singers Music Director David Hayes.
Hayes: Most people thought Bach was a composer you studied – he was an intellectual composer. The idea of performing Bach, was, sort of, you know, crazy. Why would you perform Bach? But Mendelssohn was the first to really turn around and say, hey, these great works of Bach - the St. Matthew Passion –we should perform these works.
Lewis: Mendelssohn’s own compositions included symphonies, concert overtures, concertos, chamber music, choral works, piano and organ music, and songs. But Todd says that after Mendelssohn died, much of this music was not performed due to anti-Semitism and changing musical tastes.
Music lives on a leafy street in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood, where a former Philadelphia Orchestra percussionist and longtime teacher continues to share his talents as a musician and craftsman. WRTI’s Susan Lewis visits percussionist Alan Abel:
Lewis: Abel’s basement was long ago transformed into a studio where he teaches current students, and coaches former students for orchestra auditions.
Abel: I bought a five octave marimba to accommodate the students and auditionees. This came in pieces... Now, the timpani, that’s another story...This is an old old xylophone ...that’s an interesting bass drum.. and my bass drum stand, which I invented in the early to mid '60s.
Lewis: Today, orchestras all over the world use Abel’s suspended drum stands – as well as the triangles he began manufacturing 50 years ago. In a backyard workshop, Abel teaches groups of students to create triangle HOOKs – from coat hangers, plastic tubing, and fishing line – that hold the instrument just so.
Abel: I’ll show you what happens when you suspend it...Now I can play faster rhythms...I can also play rolls.
Lewis: Three of the four members of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s current percussion section studied with Abel, including Principal Chris Deviney.
Deviney: Jan, his wife, offered you tea, and then you’d go down into the basement, or we’d call it the dungeon sometimes, and you’d have your lesson, and you felt really kind of like you were an extension of his family.
Lewis: Although he retired as a full time member in 1997, Abel continues to play with The Philadelphia Orchestra when it calls.
Dave Burrell talks with Susan Lewis about his jazz composition; how he got started composing, and how he approaches his commissions for the Rosenbach Museum and Library.
Internationally known jazz musician Dave Burrell is composer-in-residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where he’s working on a multi-year project focused on the Rosenbach’s collection of civil war artifacts.
Each year has a theme: the first was Civil War Heroes, the second, Civilian Life. This year, Burrell’s compositions interpret turning points in the war. WRTI’s Susan Lewis explores Dave Burrell's journey in jazz composition.
You know it when you hear it. This week, WRTI pays special attention to the historic expansion, 323 years ago, of the woodwind family - the addition of the clarinet.
DUDDLESTON: The unmistakable sound of the cat from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf speaks to young and old. But without the inventiveness of a German instrument maker named Johann Christoph Denner back near the end of the 1600s, it would not have been heard.
Professor Emily Threinen of Temple's Boyer College of Music and Dance says there were reasons the sound of the clarinet was so novel.
THREINEN: What was different from other wind instruments at that time was that it had a single reed on a mouthpiece, unlike the oboe which has a double reed.
DUDDLESTON: In the next century it evolved from a single low-register instrument to one with two. But it took some time for the clarinet to move up in the musical world. Originally, the woodwinds didn't have the status of the strings.
THREINEN: Wind instruments and wind players in the early forms and early design of wind instruments themselves were really attributed to more of the common person, or someone who was just sort of an entertainer and would pull out their flute and play "folksy-type" music around the pit fire.
DUDDLESTON: Today, the modern clarinet in the hands of a jazz or classical musician is a completely different proposition.
THREINEN: Right now clarinets can play very bright and shrill quite easily, but to produce a really dark, resonant, beautiful quality of sound itself is, I think, the greatest challenge of the instrument.
Philadelphia Museum of Art Curator of American Art Kathleen Foster talks with Susan Lewis about artist Alexander "Sandy" Calder.
One family name spans three generations of Philadelphia’s artistic heritage; each with an artist who has left his own mark on the city. WRTI’s Susan Lewis looks at the impact of three Calders – all, incidentally, named Alexander.
Alexander Milne Calder crafted over 200 figures for City Hall, which is topped by his 23-ton, 37-foot tall statue of William Penn. During a cleaning in 2007, conservator David Cann took us to the very top of Penn’s hat:
CANN: And we can pop the top off so you can see how he’s built in sections...there are 47 sections of casting that are flange bolted together on the inside, so they could put him up here … they couldn’t put it up here in one piece...
From what was for years the tallest point in the city, one can look down at Logan Square’s Swann Fountain, whose figures were sculpted by Calder’s son, Alexander Stirling Calder. Looking up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the home of the large mobile Ghost, created by his grandson, Alexander "Sandy" Calder. Sandy Calder also created what are, in effect, tiny sculptures...jewelry:
FOSTER: He grew up in this legacy of sculpture...he couldn’t help it, he was making stuff out of everyday objects and scraps. All of them, in a way, are very interested in public art, and Calder grew into that, coming out of his background as an engineer and a kind of playful sense of art as part of daily life.