Noted November Birthdays Redux

[Remembering three brilliant musicians, whom I recognized here two years ago – Aaron, George and Benjie!]

This has nothing to do with the upcoming, long Thanksgiving Weekend – the magnet each year for marketers of all stripes who woo the masses to visit countless American retailers. No, on a musical level, it permits me to sit back and heave a sigh of relief as I recall fondly three of my favorites in this blog amongst a slew of friends and erstwhile colleagues: I give them thanks for sharing their great gifts with such mere mortals as this writer and those in the world around us – in the USA, UK and India.

In chronological order according to their birth dates, I’d like to list them below: you will see later on that each of the gentlemen played some part in my own part-time career as a composer, pianist, musician and orchestra manager for two of them were world-famous composers and one a  brilliant pianist.

Aaron Copland b. 11/14/1900 d. 12/2/1990 – Met up in Rochester, NY (1976)
Jorge Bolet b. 11/15/9014 d. 10/16/1990 – Met up in Miami, FL (1978)
Benjamin Britten b. 11/22/1913 d. 12/4/1976 – Met up in New Delhi, India (1956)

Aaron_Copland_1970Aaron was, in my opinion, at his most brilliant as a conductor of his own works. When he was the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s guest artist for a week in the summer of 1976 and as part of the ArtPark Festival near Buffalo, he led my orchestra through some of his most enduring works, those that have stood the test of time and consecutive generations.

Soon after arriving in November 1975 in Rochester as its Assistant General Manager, I bought a Buick four-door sedan, which my family and I immediately nicknamed Black Beauty. It was the vehicle I used to pick up guest artists from the airport or the railway station, as well as to squire them around on our many run-outs with the orchestra members trailing us in two coaches: yes, I always arranged for two – one for the “saints” or non-smokers and the other for the “sinners” or you-know-who without my having to elaborate upon their social habits or life choices.

On another run-out, the RPO was on tour through a number of stops along the interstate highway right up to the extreme end of the North Country – Ogdensburg! Aaron was always a wonderful companion to have on our hours on the road and never seemed to tire: he was as fresh as a daisy after a quick clean up and refreshment or two before appearing on the concert stage. A few lucid, homey, non-technical words to the audience about the program, and he’d be ready to start the concert. People always loved the rendition of his own well-known compositions, particularly, the music to his ballets, Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo. Other than those was my favorite, which you can hear here via YouTube – Fanfare for the Common Man with Conductor Alsop and The Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra at the London Promenade Concerts in 2012.

I recall on one occasion, we’d just concluded a sold-out concert performance in which Billy the Kid brought the audience to its feet in rapturous applause. After we’d bundled into Black Beauty for the journey back to Rochester, Aaron soon required some sustenance and I pulled into the parking lot of a brightly lit diner. As we walked in the door, there was a startling round of applause, much to Aaron’s amazement. It turned out there were a number of people there who’d just been to his concert. In response to his quizzical look, I whispered to him, “Billy the Kid’s in town!” and that was enough for him to grin mischievously and bow sweepingly to the diners before we settled down to some much needed pick-me-ups and victuals.

Jorge (“George” to Anglophiles) I got to know and admire when I was the Florida Philharmonic’s General Manager in Miami. Just before then, in 1974, he’d come to national attention at the age of 60 with an amazing recital in Carnegie Hall. Later on I lost touch with him as he left for Philadelphia to head the Piano Department at the Curtis Institute where he himself studied as a child prodigy on a scholarship. He soon made his American debut in New York in 1933. One year later, his country, Cuba financed a European tour. In 1937 he received the Naumburg Award, and in 1938 the Josef Hofmann Award from the Curtis Institute.

During World War II he served in the United States Army. Resuming his concert career after the war, he became one of five American musicians invited for a four-week tour of Western Germany as guests of the German Republic in 1954, the first time a foreign government served as host to American artists.

Jorge was best known for his romantic repertoire that included the works of Liszt, Chopin and Schumann. His performance of the Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s dedicatory song Widmung reflects to perfection his soulful, songful genius: Listen now to his interpretation of Schumann-Liszt “Widmung” and judge for yourself…….

Benjamin Britten 1968Benjamin (addressed as Ben or, more fondly, Benjie!) was quite another kettle of fish – and a brilliant one at that! Remarkably gifted in music from childhood on, he completed major works by the time he was sixteen – a symphony, ten piano sonatas, and six sonatas. Some of the melodic material form this juvenilia was gathered into his Simple Symphony in 1934.
Here’s the second movement performed by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and enjoy the freshness of youth in its light and joyful interpretation: II Playful Pizzicato
From 1930 to 1933 he studied at the Royal College of Music in London, where his teachers included John Ireland and Arthur Benjamin.

In 1939 he visited the United States and lived there three years before returning to his native land. However, during his time Stateside, Aaron Copland and he got to know each other well and corresponded on musical matters and on the business of music.

aaron with benjie

Of several letters archived in the Library of Congress, a copy of a missive from Aaron to Benjie is displayed alongside.

aaron-benjieBen often composed with particular performers in mind. His most frequent and important muse was his personal and professional partner, the tenor Peter Pears. As a celebrated pianist and conductor, performing many of his own works in concert and on record, he also performed and recorded works by others, such as Bach’s Brandenburg concertos,
Mozart symphonies, and song cycles by Schubert and Schumann.

Together with Pears and the librettist and producer Eric Crozier, Britten founded the annual Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. In his last year, he was the first composer to be given a life peerage.
The Delhi Music Society, of which I was a member, in collaboration with the British Arts Council in the capital, was successful in bringing the Britten-Pears duo to the capital for a series of song recitals. They not only performed in the local concert hall but also in the Gymkhana Club – the erstwhile watering hotel for the Brits of the lost Empire! There, Ben and Peter mixed congenially with the embassy crowd as well as the hoi-polloi scattered around the ballroom converted into a recital hall. That task was delegated to an army of turbaned and red-costumed ‘bearers’ who after completing their physical chore of moving furniture and seats reverted to their real occupation of ensuring that the milling crowd were well-served with drinks and finger-food when given a chance in between servings of Brittenesque songs delivered lustily by the renowned tenor and his life partner at the piano. I’m not sure how the duo took to the unusual setup, but they were not deterred from giving a fine account of their combined talents on the quasi-stage.

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