Conductor Julius Rudel passed away yesterday at the age of 93. He will be remembered most for his 22-year leadership of New York City Opera, beginning in 1957. Sadly, the once innovative company, known as the “People’s Opera,” filed for bankruptcy last October. During Julius Rudel’s tenure, the opera gave 19 world premieres and vigorously promoted American works. This 1966 clip of Placido Domingo singing Senor del person from Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo will give you a sense of the City Opera’s adventurous programming.
Rudel established a close partnership with soprano Beverly Sills and helped launch the careers of countless singers. Between 1979 and 1985 he served as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic. His memoir provides an account of his escape from the Nazis as a 17-year-old and his success in establishing one of the word’s most influential opera companies.
I remember playing under Rudel once for a summertime outdoor performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. He produced an inspiring performance and exuded the calm, politely authoritative aura of a veteran maestro who knew exactly what he wanted to hear from the orchestra.
This interview provides a fascinating overview of his life. Here is a tribute from the Buffalo News.
Rudel conducts the Finale of Act 1 of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritan:
This Wednesday, May 7, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Michael Christie will be performing at Carnegie Hall as part of the final Spring For Music festival. Since 2011, Spring For Musichas showcased North American orchestras and innovative programming. After this year the festival will end due to lack of funding.
The RPO’s decision to present a concert performance of twentieth century American composer Howard Hanson’s opera, Merry Mount, is significant. Hanson (1896-1981) was the long-time director of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. He is widely credited with building the school into one of the world’s finest music conservatories. Industrialist George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Company, established the Eastman School in 1921 and founded the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra a year later.
As a composer, Howard Hanson’s conservatism made him a rebel. At a time when dissonant, atonal music was in style with the establishment, Hanson wrote music rooted in melody and harmony. His Romanticism blended the Nordic sounds of Grieg and Sibelius with the wide open spaces of America’s Great Plains (Hanson was born in Nebraska). As a result, Merry Mount, based on a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne about Puritan oppression, was enthusiastically received by the Metropolitan Opera audience in 1934 (a Met record of 50 curtain calls), but was panned by most critics. Listen to a suite from the opera here and listen to a rare excerpt from the February 10, 1934 Met production here. Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony recorded the complete opera for Naxos.
With Hanson’s Merry Mount, the Rochester Philharmonic revives a neglected score and honors its rich history, which includes such notable conductors as Sir Thomas Beecham, Fritz Reiner, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman and Sir Mark Elder.
The facade of the Eastman Theatre bears the inscription:
For the Enrichment of Community Life
The words are a reminder that orchestras and music education belong to everyone. The joy of hearing a full orchestra never goes out of style. In each community, our challenge is to create, preserve and build on legacies such as George Eastman established in Rochester.
Symphony No. 2 “Romantic”
Here is the first movement of Hanson’s Symphony No. 2, performed by Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony. The piece was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony in 1930. Pay attention to the way Hanson mixes the instruments of the orchestra to create unique colors (the expectation-building opening is a good example). Throughout the piece, you’ll hear conversations between voices (the horn, flute and clarinet 1:57-2:14 in the last movement).
Hanson’s music seems to have influenced Hollywood film composers (John Williams drew upon the last movement for E.T.), but it shouldn’t be dismissed as “movie music.” Listen carefully and you’ll hear music which deserves to be taken seriously:
Here are the second and third movements from Leonard Slatkin’s equally excellent recording with the Saint Louis Symphony. Common motives and themes are developed throughout all three movements. For example, you’ll recognize the motive from the first movement at 1:40 in the second movement. In the climax of the final movement, themes from the entire symphony are blended together.
Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 can be described as a celebration of harmony and orchestral color in all of its subtle beauty. Out of style in the mid-twentieth century, Hanson’s music may come to be appreciated more with time.
Charismatic conductor, educator, writer and music enthusiast Benjamin Zander is coming to Richmond. At 7:00 on April 28 he will join the Symphony Musicians of Richmond (the musicians’ association of the Richmond Symphony) for a concert/talk which will benefit the United Way. Learn more details here and listen to this radio interview with Zander.
Zander conducts the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and Youth Orchestra. He is also the author of The Art of Possibility.
As a motivational speaker, Zander’s message is enthusiastic and simple: classical music is for everyone. Almost six million people have viewed his 2008 TED talk, The Transformative Power of Classical Music:
Here are a few quotes from The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life:
In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.
Life is revealed as a place to contribute and we as contributors. Not because we have done a measurable amount of good, but because that is the story we tell.
It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said, ‘I have a dream. Of course, I’m not sure they’ll be up to it.
Renowned Italian conductor Claudio Abbado passed away yesterday at the age of 80. You can read about his life here.
The greatest conductors know exactly what they want the music to sound like. Through unwavering conviction, they inspire the musicians of the orchestra to share their vision. Great conductors don’t practice in front of a mirror to put on a show. Every gesture embodies the essence of the piece in an honest way. All of this is on display in this clip of Abbado rehearsing the Berlin Philharmonic:
Here is Abbado conducting Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. The orchestra is the Lucerne Festival Orchestra:
0:55 – Traeurmarsch. In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein