Archive for the ‘Orchestral Piece’ Category

Meeting The Maestro

Friday, March 24th, 2017

A while back – four years ago – I wrote about the Civic Music concerts my sister and I attended with my mom for maybe five years during the mid-1960s: About five times during each school year, we’d put on our Sunday clothes – nice dresses for Mom and my sister and dress shirt and pants with a sport coat and (clip-on) tie for me – and head over to St. Cloud Tech High School for a classical performance.

Those performances were almost always concerts, though once or twice the Civic Music organization offered a performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to end the season. Several times the last concert of the season was by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra). And as I wrote four years ago, I recall the piano duo of Stecher & Horowitz and the Robert Shaw Chorale, and there are a few other performers whose names do not come immediately to mind but whose programs are tucked into my old scrapbook.

(In that piece four years ago, however, I ascribed performances by pianist Van Cliburn and by the Vienna Boys Choir to Civic Music; after some thought and some digging, I’ve decided those two concerts likely took place at St. Cloud State.)

I’ve noted several times in various posts here that among the performers who came through St. Cloud was Mantovani, who brought his orchestra to Tech High sometime during the 1965-1966 season, when I was twelve. I don’t have the program from that concert, but I do have an autographed postcard, one that I found a while back as I dug through that scrapbook. As was customary after the concert, Mantovani spent some time onstage while a cluster of urchins and some older folks gathered to talk and to get autographs. Mantovani, ca. 1965 As you can see, the maestro was not at all concerned with legibility. That was okay, though. I have a very clear memory of the man – his full name was Annunzio Paolo Mantovani – standing in his tuxedo near the piano, sweat beading his face as he smiled, chatted and scrawled his name on card after card.

I doubt if Mantovani said anything to me as I got to the front of the cluster of folks at the piano. From what I remember, he was smiling as he chatted with others in that cluster. (Performers weren’t always genial during meet ’n’ greet sessions after Civic Music concerts; I recall a few who seemed downright surly as they dealt with after-concert duties.) But I do not remember that I got any particular attention from Mantovani other than a smile as he handed me the signed postcard.

Even though I’ve always been a fan of easy listening music from the 1960s and 1970s, Mantovani and his cascading strings have never been among my favorites. Ray Conniff and Paul Mauriat were my easy listening guys, more or less, when I was buying vinyl. (I’m not certain if Al Hirt and Herb Alpert fall into easy listening or not, but there was a lot of their stuff on the shelves, too.) Since the advent of digital music, I’ve added Percy Faith, Enoch Light, Larry Page, Franck Pourcel and a lot of others to the list of folks whose music I seek out and whose music I listen to when I need to remember how the Sixties often sounded on Kilian Boulevard.

I have collected a little bit of Mantovani’s stuff, too, but just a bit: fifty-five tracks out of the 91,000 that now clutter the RealPlayer. It’s not that hard to find, and I imagine I’ll get some CDs from the public library and see if I want to add any more. But as I noted above, the cascading strings – Mantovani’s signature sound – isn’t my favorite.

Every once in a while, thought, it’s a nice change of pace. One of the pieces I like most among the Mantovani tracks I have in the collection is one that we very likely might have heard that evening more than fifty years ago. The concert was, if I recall correctly, mostly classical pieces as filtered through Mantovani’s arrangements, and his take on Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dance No. 2” would have fit right in. It was first released, I think, on the 1963 album Classical Encores.

My Russian Fascination

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

At the top of my reading pile these days is The Zhivago Affair, the tale of how Russian author Boris Pasternak came to write the novel Dr. Zhivago, how he came to have the novel first published in 1957 in Italy (to the absolute dismay and anger of Soviet authorities who wanted it not to be published at all), and how the United States’ CIA used the novel as an anti-Soviet tool.

I’m about halfway through the book, written by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, and I find it fascinating, as I do many books, movies and pieces of music that have any connection with Russia. That fascination has endured for many years, built on a number of things, including (but likely not limited to) watching and reading the news of the Cold War centered on Moscow and Washington during my childhood; playing the many pieces of Russian and Eastern European music that my orchestra director at St. Cloud Tech High School selected for our repertoire; seeing the 1965 film version of Dr. Zhivago not long after it came out; spending six days in 1973 in Moscow and the city that was then called Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg, as it was at its founding in 1703); and learning (and watching as an adult) the arc of Russian history from ambitious empire to Soviet linchpin to chaotic democracy to today’s authoritarian state.

When that fascination was developing, in the late 1960s, I tried to read Pasternak’s novel and found it confusing and not a little boring. For years, as an adult, I had a leather-bound copy of the novel on my shelf and never read it. That copy is gone now; I evidently sold it during the lean years of the late 1990s. And as I read The Zhivago Affair, I’m tempted to try Dr. Zhivago once again. I’ll also likely take another look at the David Lean film. I ordered it several years ago from Netflix but for some reason never finished watching it; what I did see confirmed my long-standing impression of it as sprawling but likely easier to digest than the novel itself.

With the movie, of course, comes the music: Maurice Jarre’s soundtrack, for which he won a deserved Academy Award. During recent late evenings, I’ve been using the expanded version of the soundtrack as background music for The Zhivago Affair just as I once used Tchaikovsky’s music – including, of course, the “1812 Overture” – for a long-abandoned reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Another book I need to try again, I guess.) Jarre’s themes and motifs echo Russian music; the real thing also comes out of the speakers here frequently, from Tchaikovsky to Borodin to Glinka to a scavenged collection of maybe 300 Russian folk songs and the two-CD set The Best of the Red Army Choir.

The listening is easy. Reading, of course, takes more time (and sometimes much more effort). There are Russian books beyond Tolstoy’s masterpiece that I need to read, including a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment that was signed and dated by my dad in 1948. And I need to accelerate my reading of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, at which I’ve been poking for years. (Fortunately, Solzhenitsyn’s account of the Soviet forced labor camps – and of the various government agencies that sent millions to those camps – is more anecdotal than narrative, so reading bits and pieces at a time is an approach that seems to work.)

So is this fascination of mine with things Russian – especially with the period from, oh, 1900 through 1950 – just a historical interest? I don’t think so. It feels deeper than that, like the grip that Stonehenge has had on me over the years. I think that the soul I carry through this life – or that carries me, more fittingly – knows Russia well. That’s all I can say. Would I like to be able to say more? Well, yes, but the best I can do is guess at this point. And beyond indulging in a little bit of supposition over a beer with friends, I’m better off finishing The Zhivago Affair and then turning my attention to other works that might enlighten me, helping me to know (once again, I think) the history and culture of a place that seems so alien and yet so familiar.

Here’s Maurice Jarre’s “Main Title” from the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago.

Cleaning House

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

No, I’m not changing staff here. Odd and Pop – the two tuneheads who inform my musical sensibilities – are safe (if sometimes unproductive). Rather, I’m truly cleaning house. We have company coming tomorrow evening for our annual hosting of what called a “Circle Dinner” as part of our membership in the St. Cloud Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Now, the house is not a mess, but we are casual in our day-to-day living, and some pick-up is required.

And that’s why any further thoughts on the Everly Brothers in the wake of Phil Everly’s death last week will have to wait until next week. I’ve spent a good portion of the last few days listening, reading, remembering and pondering the brothers and their influences. So there will be something more in this space than the post from earlier this week.

In the meantime, I offer you a “house” song. Here’s the Nirvana Sitar & Strings Group from 1968 with a twangy cover of “The House of the Rising Sun”

Nothing With Lyrics

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Even after a little bit of digging, I’m not much closer to knowing anything about “Cabbage Head,” except that I’ve heard versions by bluegrass legend Doc Watson and New Orleans legend Professor Longhair (and a hilarious and fine live version by a Virginia group called the Whitetop Mountain Band). Nor am I much closer to feeling much better. So cabbage heads and Andrew Greeley and anything else will have to wait for a while. Perhaps Thursday.

It doesn’t help that it was ten years ago this week that my dad passed on. I miss him.

I noted once here, talking about music that brings me comfort, “If I’m really in sad shape, I head for my small classical library. I don’t want anything with lyrics on really bad days.” Among the classical pieces I mentioned was Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s Vltava, an 1874 symphonic piece composed and titled in tribute to the great Bohemian river. The piece, one of six pieces Smetana gathered into a collection called Má vlast  (“My homeland”), might be more commonly known by its German name, Die Moldau.

So here, with a portrait of the composer and scenes of Prague (a city I’d dearly love to visit someday) is Bedřich Smetana’s 1874 Vltava.