After 34 years as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Glenn Dicterow will be stepping down at the end of this season. A native of Southern California, Dicterow has accepted a position as professor of violin at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. The New York Philharmonic has been honoring his service throughout the season.
As Dicterow explains, the concertmaster’s varied role goes beyond playing occasional orchestral violin solos. Within the violin section, the concertmaster determines bowings and helps to establish a uniform style of playing, based on the conductor’s musical vision. For section players, the peripheral sightline to the concertmaster is an essential part of playing cohesively. Additionally, concertmasters serve as an important link between the conductor and the orchestra. Under the best circumstances, a mysterious and instantaneous transfer of energy occurs between the conductor and the orchestra and between sections of the orchestra, resulting in chamber music on a large scale.
From my experience, the most successful concertmasters leave their egos at the door, are professional in demeanor, lead with a clear and unifying sense of rhythm, and foster an atmosphere of teamwork, mutual respect and cooperation.
Tradition and Renewal
Glenn Dicterow’s retirement comes during a period of unusually high turnover for the New York Philharmonic. A much needed renovation of Avery Fisher Hall also promises to bring significant change in the next few years. The lifeblood of any successful organization seems to be a healthy balance between tradition and renewal. Great conductors from Bernstein and Toscanini to Gustav Mahler have left their imprint on the sound of the New York Philharmonic over time. It will be exciting to see where the organization goes from here.
Dicterow Plays Brahms
While serving as concertmaster, Glenn Dicterow has remained active as a soloist and chamber musician. Through the years he has performed violin solos on movie soundtracks such as Beauty and the Beast(listen around the 0:45 second mark). Here is a live performance of Brahms’ Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8. Dicterow is joined by cellist James Kreger and pianist Craig Sheppard:
Romantic love, with its often irrational sea of complex emotions, has long been a rich source of inspiration in music. With Valentines Day just around the corner, let’s listen to a selection of love songs from the Renaissance to the present day. Most of these songs would have been considered popular music when they were first written. Sampling this list, I was struck by how many great love songs are tinged with melancholy. These songs serve as a reminder of the ability of music to communicate powerful and contradictory emotions which cannot be expressed in words.
[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]”Come Again” by John Dowland [/typography]
John Dowland (1563-1626) was an English Renaissance composer, singer and lutenist. Sting’s 2006 recording of Dowland songs (Songs from the Labyrinth) demonstrates the timelessness of this music. Listen to the way the melody expresses the text, especially in the breathlessly euphoric “To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die…” You can read the entire text here.
Here is tenor Paul Agnew and lutenist Christopher Wilson:
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Now let’s listen to Des Fischers Liebesglück, D.933 (The Fisherman’s Luck in Love) by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Listen carefully to the harmony and consider the feelings evoked by certain chords. Notice how the music alternates restlessly between minor and major. The first turn to major comes with the first reference to the “beloved.” Here is the text by Karl Gottfried von Leitner.
This recording features tenor Christoph Genz accompanied by pianist Wolfram Rieger:
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Next let’s hear Johannes Brahms’s (1833-1897) Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52. Musicologists speculate that Brahms’s infatuation with Clara Schumann’s daughter was the inspiration behind these waltzes.
The singers on this 1968 recording are Heather Harper, Soprano, Janet Baker, Mezzo-soprano, Peter Pears, Tenor and Thomas Hensley, Baritone. Benjamin Britten & Claudio Arrau play the piano part, which requires four hands.
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[quote]My soul trembles with love, desire and grief, when it thinks of you.[/quote]
-conclusion of Liebeslieder Walzer text
[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Songs of a Wayfarer[/typography]
Gustav Mahler’s (1860-1911) Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (‘Songs of a Wayfarer’) deals directly with the pain of love lost. It’s an autobiographical work, springing from Mahler’s unsuccessful relationship with the soprano, Johanna Richter. The text, based on Des Knaben Wunderhornwas written by Mahler. In a letter he explained:
[quote]I have written a cycle of songs which are all dedicated to her. She has not seen them. What could they tell her that she does not know already?[/quote]
-“Mahler” by Kurt Blaukopf
In Songs of a Wayfarer, the orchestra is not merely accompaniment but an equal dramatic partner to the singer. What moods and colors are evoked by the orchestration? Consider the emotional impact of the dream-like conclusion of the fourth song, a funeral march. Notice the way the music alternates between melancholy despair and transcendent moments of joy. Mahler’s first song cycle, Songs of a Wayfarer provided the seeds for his Symphony No. 1. Get more historical background here.
This recording is by Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic:
“Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht” (“When My Sweetheart is Married”) (0:00)
“Ging heut Morgen übers Feld” (“I Went This Morning over the Field”) (4:20)
“Ich hab’ein glühend Messer” (“I Have a Gleaming Knife”) (8:27)
“Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz” (“The Two Blue Eyes of my Beloved”) (11:47)
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[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]A Boy and A Girl[/typography]
American composer Eric Whitacre’s (b. 1970) A Boy and a Girl is a choral setting of a poem by Octavio Paz, 1914-1998. The poem paints three scenes, ultimately drifting into infinity:
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