Monthly Archives: February 2016

Feb Fabs Top Ten – Part Two

[Preamble: For those who have visited my earlier post (Feb Fabs Top Ten – Part One) you will know the basis of this compilation of Part Two, namely, it will list the remaining five world class musicians who were born in the month of February and who I consider worthy of consideration.]

Part Two
Just two of them in Part Two are more contemporary compared to my Part One list of notables – they were born in the 1900’s and more or less about the same time as I was.

1) John WilliamsJohn Williams
One of the most popular and successful American orchestral composers of the modern age, John Williams is the winner of five Academy Awards, 17 Grammys, three Golden Globes, two Emmys and five BAFTA Awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Best known for his film scores and ceremonial music, Williams is also a noted composer of concert works and a renowned conductor. John was born on February 8, 1932 in New York and moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1948. There he attended UCLA and studied composition privately with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. After service in the Air Force, Mr. Williams returned to New York to attend the Juilliard School, where he studied piano with Madame Rosina Lhevinne. While in New York, he also worked as a jazz pianist, both in clubs and on recordings. He then returned to Los Angeles, where he began his career in the film industry, working with such composers as Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, and Franz Waxman. He went on to write music for many television programs in the 1960s, winning two Emmy Awards for his work

In January 1980, Williams was named nineteenth Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra since its founding in 1885. He assumed the title of Boston Pops Laureate Conductor, following his retirement in December 1993, and currently holds the title of Artist-in-Residence at Tanglewood. Williams has written many concert pieces, including a symphony, a sinfonietta for wind ensemble, a cello concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1994, concertos for the flute and violin recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, concertos for the clarinet and tuba, and a trumpet concerto, which was premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra and their principal trumpet Michael Sachs in September 1996.

His bassoon concerto, The Five Sacred Trees, which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic and principal bassoon player Judith LeClair in 1995, was recorded for Sony Classical by Williams with LeClair and the London Symphony. In addition, Mr. Williams has composed the well-known NBC News theme “The Mission,” “Liberty Fanfare” composed for the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty, “We’re Lookin’ Good!,” composed for the Special Olympics in celebration of the 1987 International Summer Games, and themes for the 1984, 1988, and 1996 Summer Olympic games. His most recent concert work Seven for Luck – for soprano and orchestra – is a seven-piece song cycle based on the texts of former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. Seven for Luck was given its world premiere by the Boston Symphony under Mr. Williams with soprano Cynthia Haymon.

John Williams has led the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra on United States Tours in 1985, 1989 and 1992 and on a tour of Japan in 1987. He led the Boston Pops Orchestra on tours of Japan in 1990 and 1993. In addition to leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, Williams has appeared as guest conductor with a number of major orchestras, including the London Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Williams holds honorary degrees from fourteen American universities, including Berklee College of Music in Boston, Boston College, Northeastern University, Tufts University, Boston University, the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of Massachusetts at Boston. On June 23, 2000, he became the first inductee into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

2) Lazar Berman
Berman was born on February 26, 1930 to Jewish parents in Leningrad. His mother, Anna Lazarevna Makhover, had played the piano herself until prevented by hearing problems. She introduced her son to the piano, he entered his first competition at the age of three, and recorded a Mozart fantasia and a mazurka that he had composed himself at the age of seven, before he could even read music. Emil Gilels described him as a “phenomenon of the musical world”.

When Berman was nine, the family moved to Moscow so that he could study with Aleksandr Goldenweiser at the Conservatoire. The following year he made his formal debut playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1941, students, pupils and parents were evacuated to Kuibishev, a city on the Volga, because of World War II. Living conditions were so poor that his mother had to cut the fingers from a pair of gloves to allow him to continue to practise without freezing his hands.
Lazar BermanHis playing of Chopin is well documented, in both a concert film and a DGG recording of the polonaises from the 1970s. He subsequently began to acquire a small international visibility. At the age of 12 he played Franz Liszt‘s La campanella to a British audience over the radio; in 1956 he won a prize at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Belgium, with Vladimir Ashkenazy; and in 1958, he performed in London and recorded for Saga records.

Although he was known to international music aficionados who had heard the occasional recording on the Russian Melodiya record label, as well as those who visited the Soviet Union, he was not generally well known outside Russia before his 1975 American tour, organised by the impresario Jacques Leiser. His now legendary New York debut at the 92 Street Y, where he played Liszt’s Transcendental Études, struck the music world like lightning. He became an overnight sensation. Before that, he had been generally restricted to the Soviet concert circuit, playing on old and decrepit pianos to audiences of varied degrees of interest. Invitations to tour outside the Soviet Union were ignored by the Soviet state concert agency, Gosconcert. He lived in a tiny two-room apartment in Moscow, with a grand piano occupying an entire room. But after his 1975 tour, he was immediately in great demand, with Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, and CBS vying to record him. He recorded the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with Herbert von Karajan, as well as broadcasting it on international television with Antal Doráti, to mark United Nations Day in 1976.

Most of his British appearances came in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In December 1976, he performed music by Sergei Prokofiev and Franz Liszt at the Royal Festival Hall.

On a personal note, I had a long association with Lazar starting in 1956 and in a blog posted last year I remarked on our interrelationship musically speaking (see www.azimmayadas.com for article dated May 1, 2015.)

Lazar Berman died in 2005, survived by his third wife, Valentina Sedova, also a pianist, whom he had married in 1968, and a son, the talented violinist and conductor Pavel Berman.

Mendelssohn3) Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Born on February 3, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany, Felix was three when his family moved to Berlin, where his musical training began. He was exceptionally precocious, making a public appearance as pianist on October 24, 1818.

By the time he was twelve he had written several symphonies, operas, and numerous other works, which were performed at Sunday morning musicales held at his home. When he was only 17, he wrote the Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In Mendelssohn is found a synthesis of the Classic and Romantic movements. He was along a profound admirer of Johann Sebastian Bach and on March 11, 1829, in Berlin, he conducted the Passion According to St. Matthew, the first performance of that masterwork since Bach’s own day. That concert was repeated and it was instrumental in the revival of Bach throughout the world of music. A few weeks later Mendelssohn paid his first visit to England, where from that time on he would be regarded with a veneration that country had accorded to no foreign musician since Handel (see Part One for Handel’s particulars.) He led the premiere of his new Symphony in C minor and was elected honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic.

In 1835 Mendelssohn was appointed principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and during his five years there he lifted it to a preeminent position among Europe’s symphonic organizations. In 1843 he helped found the Leipzig Conservatory and created an outstanding faculty there that included Schumann and Ignaz Moscheles.

Always delicate in health, his many activities sapped his strength and he died in 1847 at the height of his creative powers.

Among his principal instrumental works I have always enjoyed listening to his later symphonies and violin concerto. Also, as a child pianist, I loved playing many of his Songs Without Words (Lieder ohne Worte); and later on in my concert career his Variations serieuses ; Rondo capriccioso and Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op. 35, No. 1 (played here on YouTube by Rudolf Serkin.)

4) Niels Wilhelm Gade
Niels Gade
Born on February 22, 1817 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Niels Gade was a Danish composer, conductor, violinist, organist and teacher. He was the creator of the modern school of Scandinavian composers.

Gade was the son of a joiner and instrument maker. He began his career as a violinist with the Royal Danish Orchestra, and saw his concert overture Efterklange af Ossian (“Echoes of Ossian“) premiered with them in 1841.

When his first symphony was turned down for performance in Copenhagen, he sent it to Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn received the work positively, and conducted it in Leipzig in March 1843, to enthusiastic public reaction. Supported by a fellowship from the Danish government, Gade himself moved to Leipzig, teaching at the Conservatory there, working as an assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and befriending Mendelssohn, who had an important influence on his music. In 1845 he conducted the premiere performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. He also became friends with Robert Schumann. In Copenhagen Niels Gade became acquainted with the composer Cornelius Gurlitt, and they remained friends until the latter’s death.

At Mendelssohn’s death in 1847, Gade was appointed to his position as chief conductor but was forced to return to Copenhagen in the spring of 1848 when war broke out between Prussia and Denmark. In Copenhagen Gade became director of the Copenhagen Musical Society (a post he retained until his death) and, establishing a new orchestra and chorus, settled in to a career as the most prominent musician in Denmark. Under his direction, the Music Society reached its peak. He also worked as an organist; though he lost the prestigious position of organist at Copenhagen Cathedral to J.P.E. Hartmann, he served in the Church of Holmen in Copenhagen from 1850 until his death. Gade was joint director of the Copenhagen Conservatory with Hartmann (whose daughter he married in 1852) and Holger Simon Paulli. An important influence on a number of later Scandinavian composers, he encouraged and taught both Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen. He died in Copenhagen.

Among Gade’s works are eight symphonies, a violin concerto, chamber music, organ and piano pieces and a number of large-scale cantatas, Comala (1846) and Elverskud (1853) amongst them, which he called koncertstykker (“concert pieces”). These products, embraced post-1848 as works of Romantic nationalism, are sometimes based on Danish folklore. Apparently Gade never rated “Brudevalsen” (The Bridal Waltz), and assigned it to the waste paper basket from where, it is rumoured, it was rescued by August Bournonville, to become an essential part of a Danish wedding. He married Emma Sophie Amalie Hartmann, daughter of J. P. E. Hartmann, in 1852. He remarried in 1857 after her death.

5) Andres Segovia
Andres SegoviaBorn on February 21, 1893, Segovia, was a virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist from Linares, Spain. Regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, he is seen as the grandfather of the classical guitar. Many professional classical guitarists today are students of Segovia, or students of his students.

Segovia’s contribution to the modern-romantic repertoire not only included commissions but also his own transcriptions of classical or baroque works. He is remembered for his expressive performances: his wide palette of tone, and his distinctive musical personality, phrasing and style.

His teaching style is a source of controversy among some of his former students, who considered it to be dogmatically authoritarian. One of Segovia’s most celebrated former students of the classical guitar, John Williams, has said that Segovia bullied students into playing only his style, stifling the development of their own styles. Williams has also said that Segovia was dismissive of music that did not have what Segovia considered the right classical origins, such as South American music with popular roots.

In recognition of his contributions to music and the arts, Segovia was ennobled on 24 June 1981 by King Juan Carlos I, who gave Segovia the hereditary title of Marqués de Salobreña[2(English: Marquis of Salobreña) in the nobility of Spain.

Andrés Segovia continued performing into his old age, living in semi-retirement during his 70s and 80s on the Costa del Sol. Two films were made of his life and work—one when he was 75 and the other, 84. They are available on DVD called Andrés Segovia — in Portrait. His final RCA LP record (ARL1-1602), Reveries, was recorded in Madrid in June 1977.

In 1984, Segovia was the subject of a thirteen part series broadcast on National Public Radio, entitled Segovia! The series was recorded on location in Spain, France, and the United States. Hosted by Oscar Brand, the series was produced by Jim Anderson, Robert Malesky, and Larry Snitzler.

Segovia died in Madrid of a heart attack at the age of 94. He is buried at Casa Museo de Linares, in Andalusia.

References:
Wikipedia; Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen

 

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas
 

Feb Fabs Top Ten – Part One

Let’s clear the air first. The top ten covered in this two-part series are all musicians and all were born in the month of February. They include a world-class violinist (February 2) and a world-renowned opera composer born on a Leap Day (February 29.) The selection is mine alone based on my lifelong appreciation of the art and craft each brings to his or her boundless talent. Unfortunately there is only one woman represented here, namely the legendary figure, Dame Myra Hess. Through no fault of mine, I have no control on the horoscopes of those happily born in the second month of the calendar year.

arrauPart One
1) We may now cut to the chase, opening with a remarkable South American from Chile. Claudio Arrau (born in Chillan on February 6, 1903) was a prodigy who gave his first concert when he was five. Financed by the Chilean government, he studied in Europe where he attended the Stern Conservatory in Berlin as a pupil of Martin Krause. He made his Berlin debut at 11. Two years later he won the Ibach Prize and later the Liszt Prize (twice), the Schulhoff Prize, and the Geneva International Prize.

His American debut took place in New York on November 14, 1923. In 1935 he presented a series of 12 concerts in Berlin and Vienna devoted to the entire keyboard literature of Bach. From 1925 to 1940 he was professor of the piano at the Stern Conservatory, and in 1940 he founded a piano school in Santiago, Chile.

He returned to the United States for a tour in 1941 and established his permanent residence in America. Since my move from India to New York in 1975 I had several opportunities to attend Mr. Arrau’s rewarding recitals. In particular, I recall his performance in Detroit where my organization was fortuitously having its annual conference. His rendering of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata was truly insightful, and since it has been a staple in my own development as a concert pianist around the world I cherished his classical interpretation with just a hint of personal give and take in the concluding movement.

Hess2) Dame Myra Hess (born in London on February 25, 1890) attended the Royal Academy of Music on a scholarship, from 1902 to 1907, a pupil of Tobias Matthay. She then made a sensational debut in London on November 15, 1907, as soloist with Thomas Beecham’s orchestra, the Beecham Symphony, which he’d founded in 1905.

After extended tours of Europe, Myra Hess made her American debut in New York on January 17, 1922. In 1936 she was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of her position as one of the leading women pianists of the world.

With the outbreak of World War II, she organized concerts at the National Gallery in London to help maintain civilian morale. By the time the war ended she had arranged 1,698 such concerts in which over a thousand artists had participated. For such services she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)  by George VI in 1941. On October 12, 1946, she returned to the American concert stage after an absence of almost eight years. Her signature ‘song’ was her own version of Bach’s timeless Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring played here in this recording on YouTube. (This happened to be the very first piece of Bach I played as a child pianist back in the day!)

Rossini

3) Gioacchino Rossini (born in Pesaro on February 29, 1792) was an Italian composer whose immortality rests exclusively on his operas. Nevertheless, his overtures to some of the famous ones have found a permanent place on present-day concert programs. A prime example is La Cenerentola written when he was 25 years old and followed the success of The Barber of Seville the year before. La Cenerentola, which he completed in a period of just three weeks, is considered to have some of his finest writing for solo voice and ensembles.  The light, energetic Cinderella Overture has been in the standard repertoire since that opera’s premiere.

What is most exciting is the way Rossini creates unforgettable crescendos that  make the audience rise to the occasion – literally and physically in their seats! – as the overture reaches its climax. I still recall viscerally that a full four decades ago our orchestra’s guest conductor that year, the unforgettable Romanian Sergiu Comissiona, almost dropped to his knees on the podium before rising imperceptibly, ever upward and onward, to imbue his musicians with enormous yet controlled inner energy to attain the fortissimo that he needed them to achieve without strain, rawness or ugliness – fantastico! At the post-concert reception at my house, I told the maestro that our musicians really loved playing under his baton. However, I learned later that he would be moving from Europe to the U.S. to take up the music directorship of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Why not listen now to the YouTube recording of the La Cerenetola (Cinderella): Overture performed here by the State Hermitage Museum Camerata with conductor Saulius Sondeckis – enjoy!

GFHandel4) George Frideric Handel (born February 23, 1685 in Halle, Saxony)was a German, later British Baroque composer who spent the bulk of his career in London, becoming well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. Handel received critical training in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in 1712; he became a naturalized British subject in 1727. He was strongly influenced both by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition.

Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with works such as Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks and Messiah remaining steadfastly popular.

5) Fritz Kreisler (born February 2, 1875 in Vienna, Austria) appeared as a child prodigy in his hometown, then attended the Conservatories of Vienna and Paris.

KreislerIn his twelfth year he received the Grand Prix for violin at the Paris Conservatory. One year later he toured the United States in joint recitals with the pianist, Moriz Rosenthal, making his American debut in Boston on November 9, 1888. After returning to Vienna, he abandoned music and studied medicine at the Vienna Academy. Then, tiring of medicine, he went into the army and served for a year as an officer of an Uhlan regiment.

However, in 1899 he returned to his first love, although his return debut in Berlin did not get the recognition he desired. It was back in the U.S. over the period 1901 and 1902 that he won acclaim with his grace and charm, musical perception and humanity.

World War I interrupted his music career as he served with his Austrian regiment. He returned top the concert stage with a recital in New York in 1919 and for the next two decades he maintained his status As one of the world’s most highly honored and beloved performers.

Kreisler wrote a library of charming pieces for violin many of which have become staples in the repertory. They are too many to list here, but here is a romantic example of the great violinist’s popular compositions – Liebesfreud – in which you’ll feel Love’s Joy while listening to this performance by Mikhail Barash on YouTube.

Dear Readers,

You number over 21,000 since January 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
 
It would mean a lot to me if you would consider making a donation of US $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
 
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
 

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

Spring Break in Spring Lake

‘Twas a month before the Spring Equinox, yet the thought of visiting our favorite holiday haven on the New Jersey Shore – Spring Lake – was irresistible this past weekend when the Weather Channel forecast temperatures there in the 50’s (!)

We took off Saturday morn in our charabanc and headed for The Breakers on Ocean Drive in bright sunshine and after installing ourselves in a room overlooking the endless blue waters, we sauntered out on to the refurbished boardwalk across the Drive.

Stone CaptionThe sand on either side of the boardwalk was unspoilt except for one spot, which bore the imprint of what appeared to be an indeterminate barefoot and other depressions.

And lo! in one of those was embedded a gleaming oval stone. Seemingly dropped out of a clear cerulean sky, it lay there with the inscription in cursive script reading:

Our Father
Thy Kingdom Come
Thy Will Be Done

 

BoardwalkerThe backdrop from the boardwalk was too seductive to ignore and Lolita succumbed to my insistence on providing the foreground like any tourist abroad. Italian, no? Indian, yes!

Not to be outdone was the view of a surfer’s paradise. The waves rolled in incessantly, and there was quite a large contingent of sturdy surfers clad in wet suits. Each member was determined to show off his mastery of the derring-do skill to make the most of the incoming waves.

We moved on to permit me to take a vivid video of the ceaseless sea in all its magnificence. Here goes – and I do hope my amateur effort will not detract from its awesome majesty!

Spring Lake Ocean View

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

Echoics 1981-82

Image result for echo symbol35 years ago, I started a collection of what were essentially “echoics.”  It began with, as I recollect, a (minor) collision on a wintry highway between Rochester and Buffalo, NY.Image result for echo symbolThat was the first time I had heard the prosaic-cum-Pinteresque term “fender bender” used, and to my mind it somehow epitomized what had happened in a nutshell. Other well-known echoic phrases in common  parlance are such “echoes of the past” as culture vulture, hither thither, legal eagle, mumbo jumbo, rumble tumble, and super duper – you get the general drift.

It wasn’t much later that I began jotting down more up-to-date echoics that I picked up here and there, including some that are purely my invention (marked by AM) – or so I fondly think! Below is a sampling for your delectation – or not!!

ECHOICS
ADDRESSEE               Letter getter (AM)
ADOLESCENT           Baby may-be
A LA MODE                 Fashion passion
ANIMAL TRAINER    Creature teacher
ARSONIST                  Candle vandal
BABY’S BOTTLE       Nipple tipple
BAR HABITUE           Snifter lifter
BARTENDER              Mixer fixer
BELLHOP                   Ringer stringer
BIDDER                       Tender sender
BIRD SHOT                Partridge cartridge
BLEAT                          Butter stutter
BOAT RACE BET      Cutter flutter
BORE                           Huffer duffer
BOX OFFICE              Ticket wicket
BRIEFCASE                Folder holder
CATERWAUL             Kitty ditty
CATTLE RANCHER Lower grower
CLAXON/BEEPER   Scooter tooter
COP                             Hooker booker
COWBELL                  Cattle rattle
COWL                          Abbot habit
CREAM TART            Custard mustard
CREATIVE
FINANCE                Budget fudge-it
CRUISE LINE            Tripper shipper
DEVELOPER              Acre breaker
DRINK                         Liver giver
DRINK FIXER            Jigger rigger
ECONOMIST             Saver raver (AM)
EFFECTIVE BOARD Able table
FALSE FRIEND          Phony crony
FALSEHOOD             Fiction diction (AM)
FAT CAT                      Flabby tabby
FETTERS                    Shackle tackle
FRENCH POODLE   Froggie doggie
FUR GLOVE               Kitten mitten
GALOSHES                Weather leather
GIDDY GOAT             Silly billy
HANKY                        Crier drier
HARD DRINKER      Wizard gizzard
HIGH-AND-LOW     Pimple dimple
HOT-AND-COLD     Iberia Siberia
HOLIDAY                    Leisure pleasure (AM)
HOT DOG                  Better setter (AM)
HOT SHOT                Dapper zapper (AM)
IRISH FATHER         Paddy daddy
IRONS                        Shackle tackle
JOLLITY                    Rafter laughter
JOLLY GERMAN     Merry Jerry
LAPDOG                    Clover rover
LIGHT SHAVE          Laser razor
LITTLE ANGEL        Cutie beauty
MAN-ABOUT-
TOWN                     Padder gadder
NOVICE BAKER      Simon pieman
OBOIST                     Reedy needy
PARENTS                  Pater mater
PATRIOT                   Fervor server
PEDOMETER           Jogger logger
POINTER (DOG)     Marker barker
POLLEN                    Nectar sector
POTENT PANSY     Flower power
‘PRO’                         Randy candy
PROFESSIONAL    Handy dandy
SALES TALK            Bargain jargon
SEAMSTRESS         Nimble thimble
SPEEDOMETER     Racer pacer
STREAM/RILL        Sliver river
STROLL                   Amble ramble
TALL AMERICAN  Lanky Yankee
TRAGEDIAN          Slayer player
WAILING WALL    Mourner corner
XMAS SALE           Winter-minter
YEARBOOK           Annual manual

Image result for echo symbolEXAMPLE OF ECHOICS IN ACTION
Taken from Azim’s annual manual of 1981-82 echoing a touching incident as told to him.     Image result for echo symbolThe other day my pater mater gave me some money so that during the 1981 season freeze-in I might buy a pair of kitten mitten. I went to the local Mall and tried not to be led astray by the bargain jargon of the shop floor assistants.

Indeed, I looked pimple dimple for something casual in a nearby winter-minter and ended up with a cheap though smart fashion passion cowled coat.

Back home, ever the cutie-beauty, I gave my Paddy daddy a Russian crush-in and gratefully kissed my Merry Jerry mother on both cheeks. Rafter laughter filled the air, but when I tried on the coat, the nimble thimble back in Taiwan had not been very adept and the abbot habit came apart at the seams, so that I flushed Iberia Siberia.

I let out a childish butter stutter and rushed out of the room to my favorite mourner corner, where dear old litter sitter brushed aside my baby may-be tears with a crier drier. My kitty ditty stopped when I was given a yummy custard mustard made not by  Simon pieman, but by a real handy dandy.

I was even happier, when Mom and Dad came into my room and gave me a surprise Xmas gift – a warm cuddly clover-rover, full of fun and ramble gambol.

MORAL
Budget fudge-it is all very well, but you can’t become a padder gadder without breaking the shackle tackle of convention – and even then it’s the family that counts: its ties are the most dependable source of comfort and well-being.

 

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

 

Borodin – The Polymath of St. Petersburg

Borodin

As I approach the 27th of February, I cannot help but turn for inspiration to the life and music of Alexander Borodin, the Russian composer, who died on that day in his place of birth, Imperial St. Petersburg, in 1887.

Borodin from an early age had a love of music and science in seemingly equal proportion – something that mirrored my own proclivities, but with widely different outcomes. He, though unusually precocious in music, did not plan to become a professional musician and went on to graduate in 1856 with highest honors from the Imperial Medical–Surgical Academy. Indeed, he went on – after six years away mainly in Europe – to become professor of chemistry back at the Academy.

Music as Avocation, not Vocation
“As a composer seeking to remain anonymous, I am shy of confessing my musical activity… For others it is their chief business, the occupation and aim of life. For me it is a relaxation, a pastime which distracts me from my principal business, my professorship. I love my profession and my science. I love the Academy and my pupils, male and female, because to direct the work of young people, one must be close to them. – Borodin

A turning point in Borodin’s trajectory came about due to his friendship with Mily Balakirev, another polymath, who was instrumental in firing his older compatriot’s ambition to write national Russian music.

As an aside, a turning point in my own career path from an industrial gases general manager and avocation as pianist-cum-composer to a vocation as an orchestra manager came about as a result of my representing the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra (where I was the Honorary Concert Manager) at the Annual Conference in San Diego, CA, of the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) in the summer of 1974.

It was my first visit to the USA and in between sessions on orchestral governance I happened to meet the contingent from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) that was on the lookout for a conductor and an assistant general manager. Before returning to Calcutta, I was prevailed upon to fly via Rochester en route to India so that I could be  interviewed by the RPO Board for the AGM position. I took the bull by the horns – I happen to be a Taurus! – and presented myself to the Board with Robert (Bob) Strassenberg in the Chair. It was a hastily arranged meeting due to the fact that earlier in the summer the Board had been voted out of office at the instance of two heavy hitters, who represented the two major Rochester industries and supporters of RPO – Kodak’s Chairman and Xerox’s Vice-Chairman. The latter two were both present, and I must assume that because of my own unlikely twin background in both industry and music I was voted in with the promise that I’d be back in Rochester no later than by end-November although the pay was modest even by Indian corporate standards.

And so it was that kismet (destiny) brought me and my family to these shores on a permanent basis to serve in the ‘classical music industry’ that is so instrumental in enlivening most metropolitan downtowns in the USA.

Borodin’s Compositions
Borodin completed his first symphony in 1867 that was successfully premiered in St. Petersburg under Balakirev on January the 16th that year. Thereafter, Borodin divided his energies equally between science and music. As a scientist he lectured, taught, translated treatises, and did valuable research. As a composer, he identified himself with the national group, “The Russian Five,” producing music whose roots were deeply embedded in the soil of Russian folksong and dance. The four other composers were Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Balakirev: they banded together with the common aim of creating music a la Russian folk songs and dances.

On May 24, 1867, Balakirev led a concert in St. Petersburg devoted to the music of Borodin and of the other four aforementioned composers: it was a memorable occasion and inspired the Russian critic, Vladimir Stassov, to dub them “The Mighty Five.” Like his colleagues, Borodin was best in writing music with a text or program which absorbed stylistic traits of Russian folk music. But unlike them he like to blend his Russian idioms with Oriental rhythms, melodies and instrumental colors.

Borodin died of a burst aneurysm on February 27, 1887. His untimely death meant that he left behind manuscripts of unfinished compositions, and it was left to some of his colleagues, mainly Rimsky-Korsakov but – outside “The Russian Five” – also Glazunov (who despite being a traditionalist remained faithful to the national principles of The Five, interrupted their own musical output to finish as best as they could some of what are now a central part of romantic orchestral literature.

Examples of that collaborative effort abound. His most important instrumental works include 3 symphonies, the tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia, 2 string quartets, and the Petite Suite for piano. The wildly popular Polovstian Dances, a series of dances for orchestra from his opera, Prince Igor, that occur towards the end of Act 2, when Khan Konchak, ruler of the Polovtsi, entertains his captives, Prince Igor and the Prince’s sons, with tribal dances. The Overture to Prince Igor alone is well worth listening to, if you have the time. (All of the above examples I’ve given are to be found on YouTube.)

On a personal note, I was a college student in London in the 1950’s when I attended a memorable and ravishing performance of the arena-style opera performance  of Borodin’s Prince Igor at Earl Courts Exhibition Centre already made famous by its lavish presentations of well-known operas like Carmen and Aida. This time it was the famous Kirov Theater Opera and Ballet company from St. Petersburg that was on stage, and it made a lasting impression on me. It also made me explore later in life Borodin’s other works of note, including his chamber music. Before returning to India, I had occasion to spend time in that enduringly beautiful Imperial-era city when I visited the Kirov Theater.

One of my Borodin favorites has been his String Quartet No. 2 in D major, which is at its best in the third movement, a Nocturne (Andante). Its expressive twenty-four bar melody is stated by the cello against syncopated chords. The rest of the Quartet is lyrical and pronouncedly national. In the scherzo movement, the composer uses an infectious waltz melody in thirds for the violins.

Borodin-Bust

Borodin was buried at the Tikhivin Cemetery in St. Petersburg. There I saw the heroic monuments erected in the memory of not only Borodin but my other favorite composer, Tchaikovsky. The former’s striking bust is shown alongside backed by a part transcription of one of his compositions.

Afterword
Borodin’s fame outside the Russian Empire was made possible during his lifetime by Franz Liszt, who arranged a performance of the Symphony No. 1 in Germany in 1880, and by the Comtesse de Mercy-Argenteau in Belgium and France. His passionate music and unusual harmonies proved to have a lasting influence on the younger French composers Debussy and Ravel (in homage, the latter composed in 1913 a piano piece entitled “À la manière de Borodine”).

The evocative characteristics of Borodin’s music made possible the adaptation of his compositions in the 1953 musical Kismet, by Robert Wright and George Forrest, notably in my favorite song “Stranger in Paradise” (starring Ann Blyth and Vic Damone.) In 1954, Borodin was posthumously awarded a Tony Award for that show.

References
My Diary of 1959-69; Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen; Wikipedia

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

Kalimpong Karma

Kalimpong SceneTapestry of Vibrant Kalimpong Dancers
Photo: Azim Mayadas (click it to enlarge)

Long before my proposal on bended knee, I had visions of an Himalayan honeymoon: from my standpoint as a Calcutta denizen in West Bengal, India, friends and relatives there had touted the merits of the Queen of the Hills, Darjeeling, as the most ‘suitable’. That, at first blush, sounded the most inviting, especially as my late mother had attended St. Helen’s Convent , Kurseong , in the Darjeeling Hills  and still remembered decades later the area’s pristine air and solitude and scenic surroundings, to boot, as some of its most inviting assets.

Nevertheless, I thought I should examine places further afield, or more accurately further up the Himalayan chain, say, Bhutan. Then, out of the blue, Kalimpong came to mind – why I’m not quite sure, but was it karma? After checking out with the local travel bureau I decided that by using a combination of air, rail and bus connections the journey there would be well worth our while.

So it was that 56 years ago approaching St. Valentine’s Day in February 1960 – and armed with travel paraphernalia – my newly wedded wife and I set out into the great unknown, in more ways than one.

guest houseThe weather was crisp and cold atop Deolo Hill where the warm and comfortable Guest House lay. Situated at a height of 5,500 feet, Deolo is the highest point of Kalimpong. The view from the Hill is truly fantastic. On one side, one can see the entire town, with the magnificent  snow-capped Mt. Kanchenjunga, the surrounding villages and Relli valley, and on the other, the rushing Teesta River.
Without doubt, the Hill is one of the most
popular destinations of Kalimpong insofar
as the breathtaking vistas it offers the visitor.

We were the only House occupants for the first few days, and we soon got to know our
way around the town below. On clear days, Kanchenjunga  was visible to the naked eye in all its majesty.

On one of our early visits downtown, we were greatly amused to find a bookstore on the main drag displaying a large-lettered notice that boldly declared “LOLITA JUST ARRIVED” – nary truer words had been so aptly uttered … er, I mean printed… and we celebrated by repairing to a tea shop down the road for a hot cuppa Darjeeling tea while daring to take a peek at Nabakov’s controversial novel.

Kalimpong’s nurseries attract people from far and wide for their absolutely stunning collection of cacti. Below is a striking example of the species:

kalimpong cactusIt’s also India’s major production center of gladioli and orchids, which are exported to many parts of the world.
kalimpong orchids

Before hiking back up to our Deolo aerie, we couldn’t resist the temptation of going to a flower shop and grabbing a bouquet of gorgeous orchids for adorning our bedroom for the remainder of our stay.

It wasn’t long after that work beckoned us: I had to get back to my manager’s office in the managing agency house of Bird and Co., and Lolita to her teaching job at the Calcutta School of Music. So after Valentine’s Day in mid-February we headed back to the plains.

Afterwords
1) In November 1960 we welcomed our first-born into this world – a bonny girl with ruddy cheeks and jet-black hair! Some people put it down to karma. I, for one, had more personal reasons for that miracle of life.
2) In November 1985 we installed the tapestry (top) in our Englewood guest bedroom, and it has since become a conversation piece at the dining table as to its provenance.

References
My Diary of 1959-69; Wikipedia

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

You can do everything…..

Guess who said that about an Austrian composer born this day, January the 31st in 1797? Antonio Salieri, and the subject of his praise was none other than Franz Schubert.

Western musicians love to encapsulate their favorite composers by the first letters of their names: the obvious front-runners are the three B’s Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. All of them were German-born.

schubertBut I’d like to suggest another trio, dear to my heart, namely the three S’s Schumann, Schubert and Strauss. Robert Schumann and Richard (not Johann!) Strauss were German-born, Franz Schubert was born in Austria. And it is the second of that trio I’d like to write about today in celebration of his birthday anniversary. Salieri’s famous quote about his pupil ends with the words, “…..for you are a genius.” And that gets me going into some facts  that justify the Italian composer’s claim.

As a child, Franz received instruction on the violin, viola and organ; also in singing and thorough bass from his schoolmaster father, his brother, and a local choir-master. From 1808 to 1813 he attended the School of the Imperial and Royal Court Chapel where he completed a symphony, several chamber music works, and numerous songs and piano pieces.

In 1814 he wrote an opera, a Mass, 2 string quartets, and many smaller compositions including his first song masterpiece, Gretchen am Spinnrade (“Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” sung by Renee Fleming on YouTube.) In 1815 he completed 2 symphonies, 2 Masses, an opera, 4 operettas, 4 sonatas, some piano pieces, and 146 songs including the celebrated Der Erlkonig, sung here by the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

In 1817 Scubert abandoned teaching as a livelihood and devoted himself to composition. Despite his brilliant output of masterworks over the next decade that included songs, symphonies, sonatas and string quartets, he couldn’t earn a living to keep body and soul together, but his sheer genius kept his creativity intact.

On March 26, 1828, the first concert made up entirely of Schubert’s works was given in Vienna and generated a great deal of enthusiasm. But by then Schubert was mortally sick: he died November 19, 1828 and was buried near his hero Beethoven.

Though Schubert had technical shortcomings, his sheer lyricism enchanted the listener, particularly as expressed in the vocal field – that of the lied, or art song. Many of his songs appear in concerts of instrumental music through transcription and adaptation. Franz Liszt transcribed many of Schubert’s best-known songs for the piano, notably the delightful “Hark! Hark! The Lark!”, performed here by Natalia Katyukova on YouTube.

Afterword
On a personal note, I was introduced as a boy to the 1921-22 Bosworth Edition’s Schubert Album, which included a piano selection of such pieces as Ecossaises, Moment musicals, Impromptus, Marche militaire, Scherzos, Ballet from Rosamunde, and the Unfinished Symphony. The last intrigued me from the very beginning, and led me to hear the original orchestration as well as to Schubert’s other symphonies: among them my favorites have always been No. 5 in B flat major, No. 7 in C major and, of course, the Unfinished Symphony No. 8 in B minor, the first movement of which is performed here on YouTube by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. By the way, the Fifth Symphony (D485) can be found on Nimbus Records with Roy Goodman directing The Hanover Band on original instruments – a rarity, but quite realistic in capturing the exhilaration of Schubert’s music and the clear bright sonorities of his orchestral textures.

Nowadays, I rarely perform or listen to any of his piano works, as too many are too prolix to my mind – and ear! Notable exceptions are: His sonata Op. 147 (D575)  in B major, which has a sterling recording made in 1966 of the Aldeburgh Festival performance by Sviatoslav Richter; and the posthumous sonata masterworks, D959 in A major and D960 in B flat major.

References
Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen; Keyboard Music edited by Denis Matthews; Bosworth Edition No. 1119, London & Leipzig.

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas