Chamber Music Fits Davies Symphony Hall

Chamber music is loved by many and ignored by others. That reminds me of the text on cookie packages: sold by weight not bulk. In case you do not frequent the cookie aisle, that means that if the cookies inside do not seem to fill the bag to the top, that does not mean you are getting fewer cookies! Chamber music has heft and impact. The concert on Sunday, December 18, is a good example. Stars of the San Francisco Symphony gathered to play Pastorales de Noel, by Andre Jolivet; Phantasy Quartet in F minor, Opus 2, by Benjamin Britten; and String Quartet no. 2 in B-flat major, Opus 87 by Felix Mendelssohn. it was an interesting program with seldom heard music which offered innovative composing.

Andre Jolivet, French composer, 1905-1974

Jolivet was part of a group of young French composers, La Jeune France, which included Olivier Messiaen. Their aim was to develop spirituality in music. Jolivet admired Schoenberg and Varese, but his own work evolved in other ways. He was the Music Director of the Comedie Francaise, an anchor of the French dramatic arts. He created “incidental music” for classic theater by Shakespeare, Moliere, and Greek dramas. Pastorales de Noel, composed in 1943, the opening piece on this concert, was something completely different from any expectations of “normal” chamber music. First, the combination of instruments was surprising: bassoon, flute, and harp. Each of the four pieces making the whole had a title referring to the Christmas narrative. There was “The Star,” “The Magi,” “The Virgin and Child,” and “The Entrance and Dance of the Shepherds.” Knowing the names of the images, one could imagine the star lighting the sky. The music for the Magi sustains a rhythmic processional; the creche scene is hushed and peaceful. The shepherds bring energy and a folk dance feeling which is exuberant but controlled. It is a lovely, inventive piece with its complexity well hidden behind the communication of Christmas images. The fine, sensitive performers were Catherine Payne, flute; Meredith Clark, harp; Steven Dibner, bassoon.

  Steven Dibner, Associate Principal Bassoon in the SF Symphony, introduced the program by explaining that many years ago, he convinced the SFS that they needed a Chamber Music series. In addition to offering the wonderful, extensive chamber music repertory, it also gives the audience a chance to get to know the players and see them better making music. He is right. It is a much more personal experience to see a small group of musicians taking over Davies Hall.

Benjamin Britten, composer, 1913-1976

English composer, Benjamin Britten, was beginning the process of becoming well known when he wrote Phantasy Quartet in F minor, Opus 2, 1932. He had written a Phantasy Quintet For Strings, in 1932. His interest in  “phantasy” compositions led him to create another one, this time three strings with an oboe. While it has 4 episodes which could be considered movements, there is a unity in the four that makes the sound flow like a ribbon. The music begins with unusual sounds coming from the cello with no particular rhythm. Then, the violin, viola, and oboe join the fantasy. The movements are Andante alla marcia ( like a march) —, Allegro gusto (with gusto)—, Con fuoco (with fire)—, Tempo 1: Andante alla marcia. Ending where the music began completes the sense of one fascinating, stream of music. It is something different that captures the listeners’ intellect as well as emotional and aesthetic pleasure. The future of Britten’s work and English music is beginning here. The musicians were James Button, oboe; Jessie Fellows, violin; Katie Kadarauch, viola; Amos Yang, cello. They delivered with aplomb the engaging Britten music with its newness.

Felix Mendelssohn, composer, 1809-1847

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat major, Opus 87, filled the second half of the program. This work energized the concert. The music opens as a dashing, romantic hero on horseback. Thrilling but never reckless; the Quintet explores its world, just as the composer explored his. These travels resulted in his Scottish Symphony and Italian Symphony. He made ten trips to Britain. He played for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Both royals played his music and thought of him as a friend. This Quintet includes two violins, two violas, and a cello. The opening movement, Allegro vivace, is so sprightly and energetic that Allegro alone is not enough. It needs the vivace to impress the musicians how lively it must be, and it was. There is a burst of inspiring energy from the first breath. The Andante scherzando, second movement, is an inventive approach. Andante means a walking rhythm, not running or jumping. A scherzo, a joke, could be played as something droll or satirical or even bitter. The performers found the depth in their interpretation. This drew the listeners into a musical mystery which would not let them go. The new direction for the Quintet is extended in the third movement Adagio e lento. The lento, meaning slowly, intensifies the slow adagio movement. Something is happening in this music; there is a change from the spirited beginning to these middle movements. Mendelssohn does not create music without a deeper philosophy. One feels the way through the cave of life, trying to find meaning in the darkness. A great artist, he knows dark and light and the need to express this truth. He does not despair or leave us there.  He ends with a brief, cheering lilt, all the  more meaningful because he has shown us the dark. The extraordinary performers included Jessie Fellows, violin; Nadya Tichman, violin; Katie Kadarauch, viola; Katarzyna Bryla-Weiss viola; Sebastien Gingras, cello.

A PERSONAL NOTE REGARDING MENDLESSOHN: When I was a very young piano student at the St. Louis Institute of Music, the teachers would give students a small bust of a composer if they played well or completed a section of learning. Did any of you collect those same little statues? I remember the teacher rattling off a list of the greatest composers. I think I asked her, though she may have volunteered the information, why Mendelssohn was not included? She explained to me that Mendelssohn was only a copyist. His music was not original and never could be because of his origins. Did she flatly say it was because he was Jewish that he could never create great music and only could be a parasite on the other, real composers? I do not remember that, but I soon learned that that was the way he was seen: Jewish and not very good. His statue in Leipzig was erected in 1892 in recognition of his efforts that made Leipzig recognized as a city of music. It was torn down in 1936. A city official who hated Jews and liked Nazis got together Nazi sympathizers to tear it down and hide or destroy it. The Mayor of the city, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, was out of town. When he returned, he tried to have it replaced, but it was never found. On October 18, 2008, Kurt Masur, the great conductor who had led the Gewandhaus orchestra for 25 years, spoke at the unveiling of the new Mendelssohn monument, a replica of the original. The Gewandhaus had been destroyed by bombs, 1943-44. Its rebuilding began in 1977 with Masur laying the foundation stone. Masur noted that on one side was the Gewandhaus, an institute made prominent by Mendlessohn, and on the other side the Thomaskirche where JS Bach spent most of his career. Mendelssohn was responsible for the “rediscovery” of Bach, especially accomplished by his performance of Saint Matthew’s Passion. Mayor Goerdeler had given the London Philharmonic permission to lay a wreath at the Mendelssohn statue. Now, the replica has this note written on stone: “May the language of music speak only of noble things.”

Leslie Friedman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joshua Bell & Peter Dugan@Davies Symphony Hall: SIMPLY GREAT

 

Violinist Joshua Bell’s recital at SF Symphony’s Davies Hall, Sunday, December 11, was astounding. With pianist Peter Dugan, Mr. Bell gave us the musical equivalent of a home run with the bases loaded. It was a stunning performance from every perspective: the program selections, the perfection of sound, the integration of violin and piano, the physical presence of Mr. Bell. What have I left out? If there is something missing from that list it is only because I am still envisioning the performance, and it is still breathtaking.

Ludwig Van Beethoven ( 1770-1827)

Since he is so well known, one might imagine the program Mr. Bell would perform would be familiar; instead he presented works that neither I nor the Hedgehog pianist and bass baritone knew. The opening work was a brilliant curtain raiser: Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Opus 12, no. 2. It was composed in 1797 or 1798 and published in January, 1799. It was a daring, innovative composition. The two instruments are equally featured and truly “play well together,” as a school report sent home might declare. Mr. Bell’s physical movements express the music and also gave him opportunities to turn toward the pianist and physically, visibly demonstrate their relationship. They were not playing the same notes or rhythm but interlacing each instrument’s music to make the music of the sonata. It was a delightful work from the engaging beginning to the middle section’s nostalgic, nearly despairing sound, and the final Allegro suggesting all is well — for the moment.

Pianist Peter Dugan

 

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Robert Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Opus 121 is a hurricane of sound, a stage 4 emotional storm. While the music could be said to crash like the ocean under the hurricane, the composer does not lose his way with his creation. He is in control of his ship. Schumann composed it in 1851, a year of tremendous productivity. He completed 18 works in that year, reworked his Symphony No. 4, plus three overtures, a piano trio, works for piano and violin, lieders; it is an amazing year. Early in 1854, he attempted suicide by jumping into the Rhine. He died in 1856, in an asylum in Bonn. Fortunately for him and us, he was able to create great works before the internal storms incapacitated him. This work also was a new sound for the Hedgehogs. It kept the audience leaning forward, awaiting the next tumult. Despite my descriptions of the Sonata as a hurricane, the work is not a single dimension. There is a graceful lyricism in the first movement and the third, Andante, has a touch of happiness. In all, the Sonata ends by turning toward a hopeful moment. This is an extraordinary way to experience Schumann’s depth.

Joshua Bell

The page for this recital in the program book shows in very small print, “Additional works will be announced from the stage.” Just seeing that one line created a thrill of expectation. In the second half of the performance, the personable, at ease Mr. Bell shone as he took a microphone to introduce the next pieces. It was remarkable to see his relaxed personality apparently talking with each person in the audience though he was talking to thousands of us.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918

The second half was to begin with Claude Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G minor (1917). It was another splendid selection which I do not think I had ever heard. I am grateful to Mr. Bell for choosing it. Debussy was suffering terminal cancer when he wrote it. He worked on it in 1916, put it aside, and finished it in 1917. It is a culmination of the beauties that one hears in Debussy’s music. It demonstrates how strong and lasting something transparent, light, and gentle can be. It could be light in terms of weight but also music as light; it is a real thing which one cannot ever touch. Debussy performed its premiere in Paris, May, 1917, and passed away less than a year later. Although the Debussy was the only work listed for the second half, Mr. Bell and Mr. Dugan actually began with Nigun from Baal Schem Suite by Ernst Bloch. When he introduced the piece, Mr. Bell noted that  Bloch was Jewish and, since Chanukah was only a week away, he was proud to present it. He paused exactly the right number of moments and then commented that Ye probably was not in the audience. Albert Camus reflected on the political essence of art; it was a completely justifiable addition to the Joshua Bell and Peter Dugan performance. The music was stunning; original and also embodying tradition, ways of living, ways of surviving. Nigun is said to be a pleading with heaven; Bell and Dugan achieved the effect of reaching deeply into one’s being. Bloch was Swiss, came to the US in 1916, became the Music Director of the Cleveland Institute of Music, then the Director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and joined the faculty of UC, Berkeley. This Nigun was a marvelous reunion of Bloch and the Bay Area.

Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

One more addition to the program was Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1. None of these additions were brief or light weight. The Bartok work and the Bloch and the Debussy all existed in different worlds of sound, rhythm, emotion. As one might expect the Bartok piece activated the strange music of the Romanian/Hungarian folk tunes and dances, but that does not mean that the music was as expected. Each section was diverse within the whole and each section had the wild heart of the villages stirring souls and hearing this wildness. Both musicians became completely someone else in each of these remarkable, peak performances. It was an amazing thing to see as well as to hear: a transformation and a musical life in perhaps ten minutes.

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Those pieces were considered part of the program. Then, there were the encores! We all must find out what Joshua Bell eats for breakfast and whether he and Peter Dugan prefer running or swimming. The focus of the performers and their energy was amazing. The first encore was Clara Schumann’s Romance #1. Clara Wieck Schumann, married to Robert Schumann with whom she had nine children, was recognized as the finest pianist in Europe. They fell in love when very young. Her father did not approve, but they married. This Romance is one of three, Romances, all fine compositions. This writer has heard it on a cd and on the radio, but it never touched me until hearing it not only live but performed by Bell and Dugan. It is graceful with an underlying power; the performance was eye opening, reminding the listener what Clara Schumann, who toured her performances across Europe, could do if she had had more time to write.

Scherzo-Tarantella by Henryk Wieniawski was the opposite of Clara Schumann’s Romance#1. This was fast and then even faster. It was a mad dance taking its name from the motions of one bitten by a tarantula. Another fantastic, seldom if ever heard piece, this one sent the giddy audience up to the roof top and down again. After sitting for  a couple of hours, I believe everyone present felt sure in their nerves and blood that they could prance, run, leap for however much time and music they could have. This concert was beautiful, powerful, and world moving.

 

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9: Nine Cheers for Life

It was a stroke of luck to be in the San Francisco Symphony’s audience on Dec. 3 to experience Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The music acknowledges struggles, yearning, even hints at despair and still it expands into a universe, a glorious affirmation of life. I read another writer call this music an “old warhorse;” I could never think that. There are good reasons why everyone cherishes it – mostly everyone. Sometimes a person gets a Vitamin B shot. Sometimes it takes a Jacuzzi. This symphony is what works every time. It opens the world, lets the listener feel part of it, realize how all life can befriend other lives, and feel the joy propelling us through this phenomenal experience.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, Dec. 16,1770 – March 26, 1827

The concert’s opening selections were both enjoying premier performances at the SF Symphony. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade, Opus 33, written in 1898, was the composer’s first big, prestigious presentation. The Three Choirs Festival invited Edward Elgar to present a short piece for orchestra, but he was too busy. He recommended the young Coleridge-Taylor as “he is far and away the cleverest fellow going amongst the young men.” The Ballade is lyrical and uses interesting back and forth themes and rhythms trading from one section to another. It is a delightful rondo. The listener thinks she has caught the pattern just before there is a shift in the part of the orchestra expressing the energetic song. It is a delightful piece of music. Sadly, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died, age 32. from a combination of over work and illness. His star had shone brightly for too short a time.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor August 15, 1875- September 1, 1912

Emerge, by Michael Abels, is a fascinating narrative in music of what happened to musicians and what they did about it during the pandemic. It was a bonus to hear the recorded voice of the composer describing the progress from individuals playing music on their own – do you remember videos of musicians playing great music alone in their kitchens and sometimes a whole ensemble all playing in separate places but somehow making the music together? Then, in Emerge, they gather to play together. Blues phrases happen but in a canon instead of musicians playing together. There are scales from the strings and wind instruments and, the composer has written, “When the brass get involved, the strings are finally able to play a melody all together in unison… The scale volley becomes faster until it finally comes together…” The music absolutely does what the composer intends. It is full of a happy kind of energy. Music can be made again, full out. There is a feeling of rejoicing and dancing forward. Mr. Abels has won many awards for his music. The SFS audience wanted to give him another one that night

Michael Abels

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Opus 125 (1824) is huge from any perspective. It lasts about 65 minutes. It employs the entire orchestra plus four solo vocalists – Gabriella Reyes, soprano, Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano, Issachah Savage, tenor, Reginald Smith, Jr., baritone/bass, and a grand chorus of singers. The SFS Chorus includes 32 professional and more than 120 volunteer singers. Together these artists embody a population, a world. The conductor, Xian Zhang, was a revelation. Her deep knowledge of the music and her dedication to bring out for all of us what Beethoven put in were visible. She encompassed all the music and the musicians in her own being through her energetic, compelling leadership of the orchestra. She is exciting to watch; more than that, she made each sound matter, and, by the way, matter is energy, too.

Conductor Xian Zhang

This symphony is a journey for each of us and all of us together. I really do not like the constant use of “it’s a journey” for everything, but being moved by this music takes us on a journey from dense darkness to brilliant light. Even knowing the light will break through because one has heard this music before, it comes as a surprise. At the very beginning, one cannot say what is happening or what is surrounding us. Then, the enormous sound of the D minor takes our breath away. Immediately we hear different themes pelting us with more blows pounded by the timpani. Once in a quick while, we hear what might be tiny paws running past us while a Beethoven parkland message is played. The Adagio movement flows gracefully around us. It seems to promise a peaceful presence which has not yet arrived. We may hope for it, but there is no promise that it will come. This quiet sound, almost like breathing, is interrupted by the orchestra. Is it a new setting, a new way of being? Or has all we have traveled through: fear, failure, feelings beyond mere sadness changed us? The music presents more variations until the bass singer announces, a capella, Beethoven’s own message; “Oh, Friends, no more of these sounds!/Instead, let’s strike up a song that’s more pleasant,/And more joyful.” We are rewarded with the most uplifting of moments hearing the great sound of the Chorus and Orchestra together. Schiller’s poem praises Nature which gives us “kisses and grapevines,/a friend, faithful unto death./Pleasure was given even to the lowly worm,/And the cherub stands before God.” Human lives and the lives of worms all feel joy. There is frequent carping against this poem, and yet, in it Beethoven found what he was looking for: a statement including all life. No wonder the audience literally jumped and cheered.

photo credits: Michael Abels, by Eric Schwabel; Xian Zhang, by B. Ealovega

ENDURING VIET NAM, by James Wright

This article was published in January, 2018, by the Institute for Historical Studies. I want to share it now in honor of James Wright, former President of Dartmouth and History Professor Emeritus. He passed away only a few weeks ago. In addition to a fine author and historian, he was a great guy. His service to the USA began when he was 17 and joined the Marines and, in his leadership and generous spirit, his service continues.

STILL ENDURING VIET NAM

In 1966, I got on a bus to Oakland at San Francisco Airport. I had never been to SF and don’t think I had previously heard of Oakland. I had taken a Youth Fare ticket to San Francisco to surprise my parents in Oakland. I relied “on the kindness of strangers” to find out how to get there. Three servicemen coming back from Viet Nam were the only others on the bus. They spoke in short phrases that seemed to choke them. I remember one telling about a buddy who had gotten killed and mostly eaten by a tiger. They exchanged abrupt reports about the jungle, bad food, heat, bugs, fear. In 1967, my friend L.E.L was drafted out of his Marshall Scholarship at Oxford. He went to Ft. Campbell, KY. His basic training buddies wanted to write home but needed him to show them where to put a stamp on an envelope. He went to Saigon, reviewed intelligence, and wrote reports for colonels. The colonels did not like the reports and changed them before sending them to the generals. “Sponky,” red-headed, football star two years ahead of me in high school, was the first one I knew who was killed. That’s how I remember him.

In 2017, when I heard that my college friend Susan’s husband had published a book about Viet Nam, I was perplexed. I had, thought I had, a read-no-Viet Nam-books policy, but I wanted to read Enduring Viet Nam, by James Wright, because he is married to my friend. He is also President Emeritus of Dartmouth College, Eleazar Wheelock Professor Emeritus of History. This fine book led me to remember, relive, and learn more about those war years. The names were as real and close to me as people I had lived with growing up. Try this one: Mel Laird. Is he part of your life, too?

Reading the book, I recognized that despite the boycott I thought I had lived by, I had read many Viet Nam books. I read Bernard Fall’s Hell in a Very Small Place in the mid-‘60s and knew the story of Fall’s death; Schell’s The Village of Ben Suc, Herr’s Dispatches. There’s one with newspaper pictures of the war, another with pictures of people tracing names on the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial wall. Jean Lacouture’s biography of Ho Chi Minh, more.

Last year, KQED’s many ads proclaimed VIET NAM was coming soon and “Viet Nam continues.” I thought, “Watching it will not make it end differently.” I saw Ken Burns, the film producer, on TV. He said people would be surprised as he was that Ho Chi Minh had once admired the United States. I live with the knowledge that Ho went to Paris and worked washing dishes in order to try to speak to Woodrow Wilson. He believed in Wilson and was convinced this American leader would help Viet Nam to independence. Ho was not allowed to approach Wilson or the place where the Versailles Treaty was being created. Acts of arrogance and bigotry: future, horrible wars.

A great aspect of Wright’s book is his reliance on interviews with veterans and their families. The soldiers and families are excellent witnesses of the war, of the imprint it left on their lives, and thus of its reshaping of American society.**

Wright’s book is eye opening in many ways, not least because it breaks from a wide spread idea that American soldiers lost the war, that our generation was thrown an opportunity for glory and we all balked. His interview subjects talk about wanting to serve their country to match the service of fathers and uncles. It was impossible for any of them to know what experiences awaited them. Reading this book and looking back, I know that their lives are intertwined with my own. Their history is also mine.

     Enduring Viet Nam reminded me that every individual’s life is bent this way and that by history unfolding near or far. Reading tales of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon saddled with Viet Nam, in some instances welcoming it, in others torn to illness by it, gives me anxiety I may try not to re-visit, but I need to know.

Around 1980, a co-worker found a Marine’s camouflage green jacket. Was it for ammunition? Was its slender padding meant as protection? I hung it from the molding in the front hall of my apartment. It is my memento mori. Despite grand geo-political, economic issues, I opposed the war because I didn’t want those grunts on the bus to die.

Read Enduring Viet Nam: An American Generation and Its War, by James Wright, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York: 2017.

** The only other book I can think of that relies on such interviews, hundreds of them, is Daring Young Men, by Robert Reeves, Simon & Schuster, 2010. The Berlin Airlift came out of an urgent crisis and lasted July, 1948-May, 1949, very different than the Viet Nam war which trudged through mud and bodies for 16 years.

 

AMAZING NIGHT AT THE SF SYMPHONY: ESA-PEKKA SALONEN, YUJA WANG, SF SYMPHONY, NEW CONCERTO BY MAGNUS LINDBERG…

The San Francisco Symphony presented an amazing evening of music, October 13, 2022. Esa Pekka Salonen, Music Director, still seems new since the pandemic separated him from his audience. Now that he and the SFS are back performing full seasons, the excitement of his leadership and creativity is nearly tangible in Davies Symphony Hall. The program on the 13th was the premiere of Piano Concerto #3 (2022), by Magnus Lindberg performed with the stunning piano soloist, Yuja Wang. The concert opened with Helios Overture, Opus 17 (1903), blissful music by Carl Nielsen. Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (1943, rev. 1945) was the beautiful and mysterious closing event.

Composer Carl Nielsen

Helios Overture swept the audience away. It is a self-contained, 13 minute, inspired beauty. The SFS performed with conviction and the musicians’ invisible but superb technical prowess. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen seemed to breathe in concert with the music by the brilliant Danish composer, Carl Nielsen. We arrived in our seats with only moments to spare. This meant that I did not open the program book and learn that there is a subject to the Overture and that it was the sun. At first, I thought it was the ocean. Nielsen had debated the use of programmatic themes in music. Should there be a suggested story or image? He preferred not. And yet, on a trip to Athens with his wife, the heat and sun enveloped his musical imagination. His note on it in a letter to another Danish composer, Thomas Laub, explains his careful steps to program-light. Pun not intended, but it will stay. “My overture describes the movement of the sun through the heavens from morning to evening, but it is only called Helios and no explanation is necessary. What do you think?” What the audience and this writer thought was “Why do I not already know this music?”  Listening, one feels in touch with the universe, caught up in the power and peace of light. Thinking back to Thursday, I think I heard the audience catch its breath and sigh.

Composer Magnus Lindberg

Magnus Lindberg and Esa-Pekka Salonen are both Finnish, were born only 3 days apart, and were close friends while studying composition in the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki. Mr. Lindberg established a reputation for fine compositions of great complexity. He explores extreme rhythms played on top of one another. In order to make his music continue to raise the bar for  intensely complex sound and timing, he invented computer programs to go beyond what humans perceive on their own. In some ways, the Piano Concerto #3 approaches classical ways, but they are Lindberg’s translation of classical.

Yuja Wang, Concert Pianist

There is no doubt that his decision to write the Concerto for Yuja Wang to perform was important to the identity of the music. Ms Wang plays the piano with strength. In her performance, it was clear that she was catching all of the directions of the changing and over lapping rhythms. It seemed as though she kept a beat in her head and others in her fast fingers and even in her feet which were dressed in high heel shoes with pom poms on the toes. Yuja Wang presents herself as a devil may care fashionista beauty. She can do that because she is the absolute Ace of pianists. I cannot imagine this Concerto without her. In their onstage conversation after the end of all of the performance, Mr. Lindberg and Ms. Wang offered more descriptions to the audience. They had made edits in the score during their rehearsals. The Piano Concerto #3 could actually be three concerti as each of the three movements are distinct in their sound and structure. It was fascinating, thrilling music performed with the height of musical intelligence. Mr. Lindberg says that the orchestra is his favorite instrument. He certainly uses all of it in every way through unknown dimensions. We need to hear it again!

Composer Bela Bartok, 1927

Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra has a dramatic “back story.” Bartok was in his native Hungary. The fascist governments in Europe had taken over. He wanted to leave but remained to take care of his mother. When she passed away, 1939, he and his family left for America as soon as possible. He arrived in 1940.  In America he was broke, and his health began to go downhill. He had leukemia. His condition and his poverty meant he had to stay in a hospital. Two of his Hungarian friends, Joseph Szigeti, violinist, and Fritz Reiner, conductor, were also in the US. They urged Serge Koussevitzky, Boston Symphony conductor, to help Bartok, and he did. He offered $1000 as a commission for a new work. Bartok would not accept it as charity, but Koussevitzky was smart. He told Bartok that he had to give him $500 before the piece was written and the other half when a new piece was completed. It worked to put Bartok, now terribly weak, back to work. A concerto for an orchestra may seem a contradiction in terms as the usual concerto singles out one instrument playing solos intermittently, with or against the full orchestra. Bartok structured this work so that many instruments of the orchestra would be featured, often  in “couples.” He employed the sounds and individuality of the bassoons, oboes, flutes, trumpets, clarinets to create the architecture of the music. As one would expect, the final composition is completely his own. Bartok apparently was not a fan of Shostakovich, but the Russian composer was much in favor in the US, in part because of the alliance between Russia and the US. In the fourth movement, Interrupted Intermezzo: Allegretto, what Bartok called “brutal band music which is derided, ridiculed by the orchestra. After the band has gone away, the melody resumes its waltz–only a little bit more sadly than before.” This piece became an enormous success, loved by audiences and musicians. It has five movements and his “night music” appears especially in Elegy, the third movement. This Concerto has a sense of mystery running through it, beautiful music but with a touch of off center, ill at ease uncertainty. The journey through all the movements ends with an uplifting, positive feeling of celebration. The audience at the premiere cheered him. According to Bartok, Koussevitzky said it was “‘the best orchestra piece of the last 25 years.'” The music is pure magic.

 

 

 

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: CELEBRATE!

Beginning in 1996, The Lively Foundation presented annual concerts honoring Women’s History Month. Through many years, Lively’s concerts, HEROIC, BELOVED, were the only concerts honoring Women’s History Month. Artistic Director, Leslie Friedman, noticed that she had choreographed dances about women, about specific, historical figures, and dances set to texts written by women and music composed by women. That work became the first repertory of dances and music. Each year new works would be added often featuring guest artists. Subjects of the dances included Harriet Tubman, with a text by her and a song created about her by Higher Ground, a singing group from Oakland,; the Bronte sisters, using texts from Charlotte Bronte and music by Chopin; Clara Schumann, composer and pianist, with music by her life long friend, Johannes Brahms; Willa Cather, American author, using text from her book, My, Antonia, and premiering music by Jon Deak, music by African-American composer, Undine Smith Moore.

Opera singer Pamela Dillard was one of our first guest artists. She performed classical music songs and others One of her songs was Come Down, Angels, music by Undine Smith Moore. Ms Friedman accompanied Come Down, Angels with a premiere dance.

Pictures from two Heroic, Beloved performances: L-R:Leslie Friedman, Opera singer Marnie Breckinridge, SF Supervisor Reverend Amos Brown; on right side: Pamela Herndon (L) and Sarah Moss (R) dance in the SF Civic Center Garden before their premiere performance of Muse News, music by Bach; choreograhpy by Leslie Friedman.

Peter D.L. Stansky: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Peter Stansky! Frances and Charles Field Professor Emeritus of modern British History, he joined the Stanford University History Department in1968. He served as Chair of the History Department for 7 years. He is the author of many, many books* and internationally honored as the shining light of his field, On Jan. 15, 2022, Stanford honored him with a Symposium on topics of his special interests: William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement in England; Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group; George Orwell. On Jan. 17 a gathering of students, many now distinguished professors and authors themselves, and friends from across the US and the world thanked him for his friendship, encouragement, enlightenment, and lively verve. Beginning today, Hedgehog Highlights on the livelyblog will feature reviews of his recent books. Thanks to The Institute for Historical Studies and its editor, Maria Sakovich, for permission to re-publish the reviews that appeared in TIHS publication which were written by Leslie Friedman, one of Professor Stansky’s Stanford Ph.D.s.

*Books by Peter Stansky include: Ambitions and Strategies, England since 1867, William Morris, Redesigning  the World, On or About December 1910, Another Book That Never Was, From William Morris to Sergeant Pepper, Sassoon, The First Day of the Blitz, Edward Upward, Twenty Years On. Books by Peter Stansky and William Abrahams: Journey to the Frontier, The Unknown Orwell, Orwell: The Transformation, London’s Burning. Book by Peter Stansky and Fred Leventhal: Leonard Woolf: Bloomsbury Socialist.

Stanford’s Company of Authors: Butterflies Talk!

On April 24, 2021, Leslie Friedman presented a talk about her latest book, The Story of Our Butterflies: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View, on Stanford’s program, Company of Authors.

The speakers for the program were in groups of 3 or 4 speakers. The recording of the talks shows all 3 speakers in Leslie’s group.  Professor Paul Robinson introduces the first speaker; she speaks for about 4 min. 8 seconds. Then Prof. Robinson introduces Leslie. Her talk is about 8 minutes long (each speaker was allowed 10 minutes). After Leslie’s talk, Prof. Robinson makes a few comments praising her talk. Then, he introduces the final speaker, Professor Peter Stansky who talks about his most recent book, Twenty Years On, on modern British History. Prof. Stansky is the founder of Company of Authors.

Here is the link:     https://vimeo.com/546631058

Thank you for your interest!

 

BOOKS FOR THE BEACH! Butterflies & Gardens & 1967

Vacation time returns! Vaccinated and raring to go? Pick up beautiful books from The Lively Foundation to read and enjoy while out in the sun at home or farther afield. Lively books now on offer include The Dancer’s Garden and The Story of Our Butterflies, by Leslie Friedman with photos by Jonathan Clark & Leslie Friedman and OTTAWA: 1967, a collection of photographs by Jonathan Clark of the small town in Northern Illinois where he grew up.

OTTAWA: 1967 is an outstanding collection of photographs taken by Jonathan Clark, internationally renown, award winning photographer. Together these images capture the essence of lives in a time that is gone. The place is still there, but so much has changed. Published by Nazraeli Press, these images will light up your imagination and memory giving you an entry to what could be a foreign country though it is not so far away.

THE DANCER’S GARDEN, by Leslie Friedman with photographs by Jonathan Clark and Leslie Friedman. Comments on this book are full of praise: “I love it. It is a perfect book, in conception and execution. You are a marvelous writer, as I expected, and I am particularly fond of short essays. The scale and layout are just right…”Diana Ketcham, HOUSE & GARDEN, EDITOR (ret.), Books Editor, THE OAKLAND TRIBUNE (ret.) “There is so much delight and poetry and wisdom to be found in the garden and in your book!” S. Abe, CA Academy of Sciences (ret.)

THE STORY OF OUR BUTTERFLIES: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View, “This is a wonderful book and I look forward to sharing it with the rest of the staff here.” Joe Melisi, Center for Biological Diversity, national conservation organization, Tucson, AZ; “Leslie Friedman is an historian, a dancer and choreographer, and now a perceptive writer about nature….in a second splendid work she takes wing into the world of butterflies….One is grateful for this delightful book, so well written and illustrated.” Peter Stansky, Author, Historian, Professor Stanford University.

I WANT THEM! HOW DO I GET THEM?

OTTAWA: 1967 is available from The Lively Foundation. These books are from the artist’s own collection. Cost: $50 plus $6 for mailing. Please mail your check made out to The Lively Foundation to The Lively Foundation, 550 Mountain View Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94041-1941. If you need to use a credit card, please see instructions for PayPal below.

THE DANCER’S GARDEN is available from Bird & Beckett Books & Records, San Francisco, and from The Lively Foundation. Stanford Bookstore currently sold out of it. You can contact the Stanford Bookstore and request it. Cost is $42; $45 which includes mailing.

THE STORY OF OUR BUTTERFLIES: MOURNING CLOAKS IN MOUNTAIN VIEW is available from Bird & Beckett Books & Records, The Lively Foundation, and Stanford Bookstore. Cost is $29.95 plus $5 for mailing.

Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 415/586-3733; 653 Chenery St., SF 94131; eric@birdbeckett.com; Hours: Tues-Sun Noon-6 p.m.

Stanford Bookstore, 650/329-1217; Lasuen Mall/White Plaza, Stanford Univ. CA 94305; stanford@bkstr.com; Hours: Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri & Sat 10 a.m.- 7 p.m; Sun 11 a.m.- 6 a.m.

The Lively Foundation, livelyfoundation@sbcglobal.net, 650/969-4110, 550 Mountain View Ave, Mountain View, CA 94041- to buy with a ccard from Lively, please go to the landing page of this blog, scroll down to see the PayPal logo, click on that to pay with ccard. Please add $1.15 to credit card purchases. Thank you!