The 2014 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, a signature program of Philadelphia's Gershman Y, runs November 1st through the 16th. The festival will showcase 17 films from eight countries, in seven different venues across the city.
On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday Nov. 1st, 2014, 5-6 pm... Letâ€™s face it, the harpsichord is an acquired taste. In popular culture, never helpful for appreciating the fine or unusual, the harpsichord is shorthand forâ€”at bestâ€”stuffy, rich, out-of-touch, let-them-eat-cake. Thatâ€™s at best. At worst, itâ€™s sinister. And that doesnâ€™t even count Lurch on The Addams Family.
The harpsichord is a beautiful instrument that has often been misapplied. It has a delicate, refined sound, yet can help to keep the players onstage together. Indeed, before we stood conductors on their feet in front of everyone, they were often in the middle of the orchestra, seated at and playing the harpsichord.
But placing that plucked keyboard in a large hall with many instruments will bury the sound. We are left to wonder: If we canâ€™t hear it, why is it there? The answer, of course, is that it shouldnâ€™t be. Even large harpsichords need smallish rooms and a modicum of company. Then we can really hear its capacity for nuance and, yes, power. Â
Johann Sebastian Bach understood this, as he did so many things, and basically invented the harpsichord concerto, mostly for concerts at the local coffee house, Zimmermannâ€™s. But calling them concerts doesnâ€™t quite catch the flavor. Bach ran (along with the music in four churches, a school, and much else in Leipzig) the Collegium Musicum, a student musical group. Bachâ€™s Coffee Cantata, the closest thing to an opera he ever wrote, was probably written for performance here.
Zimmermannâ€™s had two rooms, the largest, about 26â€™ x 32â€™, the size of a very ample living room. This is where the harpsichord concertos of Bach were premiered. Newer recordings of Bach take this to heart. We can hear the tang of the strings, the colors of the instruments, the roar of crescendos as cataracts of notes tumble up and down the keyboard.
Since the harpsichord has no sustain pedal like the piano, and since the inner mechanism plucks the strings with the same force regardless of how hard one hits the keys, the only way to make it louder is literally to play more notes at the same time. Listen for this in Bachâ€™s writing, and in these wonderful performances.
Bach cobbled together most of his harpsichord concertos from other works, rewriting other solo concertos into this format. Because some of his sons were still living at home and were excellent keyboardists, they may have played on some of these. The triple concerto (solo harpsichord, flute, and violin with string accompaniment) features the keyboard the most. The two-harpsichord concerto may be the only one that began life as an actual harpsichord piece. For the concerto of a quartet of harpsichords, Bach went not to his own music, but to Vivaldiâ€™s, which he loved and from which he learned so much. Itâ€™s a Baroque battle of the bands, with the players trading arpeggios back and forth.
Itâ€™s easy to imagine the sheer fun Bach had writing and playing these at Zimmermannâ€™s, alongside students, his sons, and a willing audience of coffee drinkers eager to hear the latest from the Leipzig Kantor. Now thereâ€™s a taste weâ€™re happy to acquire.
Let's have suites before Halloween on Now Is the Time, Saturday, October 25th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. A Prelude, Sarabande, Burlesca, and Gigue make up the Partita (just another name for suite) for piano by Anthony Iannaccone. Guitarist David Starobin loves playing the music of Paul Lansky for, besides being a wonderful composer, Lansky also plays the guitar and knows the instrument very well. The recipe for his Semi-Suite includes Putative Prelude, Aimless Air, Crooked Courante, Shameless Sarabande, Awkward Allemande, and Partly Pavane.
Philadelphia composer Harold Boatrite's Lyric Suite for Piano is from his piano and harpsichord CD of a few years back, Sonatas & Suites. Andy Teirstein boils down a work for multiple strings, written for an outdoor procession, to a string quartet, for the final work on our program, simply, Suite.
It has to be 30 years ago now; I was sitting in a cafe with composersÂ Jennifer Higdon, Rob Maggio,Â SylviaÂ Glickman,Â and a fellow in town from Minnesota, who was advising us on a composer organization start-up. He was already well-known in composer circles as the one who, with Libby Larsen, began in Minnesota what became the largest composer service organization in the world, the American Composers Forum.Â
His name was Stephen Paulus. He died at age 65 on Sunday, October 19th. He had suffered a debilitating stroke on July 4th, 2013, saddening musicians and audiences everywhere. Now we mourn.
At that table, his enthusiasm and positive energy were contagious, but I remember most of all his kindness.Â His music reflects that, too. A few months ago I programmed a short work, his Prelude No. 3 for piano, on WRTI's contemporary American music program Now Is the Time. "Sprightly" is Paulus's subtitle, and it encapsulates what I always hear in his musicâ€”be it choral, orchestral, operatic. From his more than 500 works, what I always hear is simplicity (even with complicated materials) and melodic openness.
David Ludwig is acutely aware of the importance of legacy. Born into a long line of celebrated figures in classical music, Ludwig is just the latest member of his immediate family to attend, and then become, a faculty member at the Curtis Institute of Music.
His grandfather and great-grandfather stand out in history as some of the foremost performers of their time on piano and violin, respectively. But more than just fame and talent, Ludwigâ€™s lineage instilled him with a commitment to both moral and artistic integrity.
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 performingÂ 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.
On Sunday, OctoberÂ 19thÂ at 5 pm, Philadelphia Music Makers on WRTI is hosted by Harvard- and Curtis-educated pianist GeorgeÂ Fu.
George has never suffered from a lack of ambition. At the age of three, he was so enamored with an electric piano that he attempted to hoist it home from a yard sale by himself, prompting his parents - both scientists - to enroll him in lessons.Â
Crossover takes its annual look at the Walnut Street Theatre's new season. Beginning itsÂ 206th season as the oldest theater company in the English-speaking world, the Walnut has always represented the best of Broadway in Philadelphia, but with a twist.
It's one voice among all on Now Is the Time, Saturday, October 11th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Two concertosâ€”the ultimate one vs. many formatâ€”bookend a lone flute on this week's program. Meditation and Caprice are the two movements of the engaging, mesmerizing Violin Concerto by Kevin Puts.
Robert Baksa's Soliloquy from 1997, and from a CD of his flute music, is subtitled "Krishna's Song," as the Hindu deity is often pictured playing the flute. The energetic and moody Clarinet Concerto of Paul Moravec features soloist David Krakauer. Moravec wrote this while he was in residence at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton.