Monthly Archives: November 2011

Dancing at Ursinus

This Broad Land, my work for soprano saxophone and piano, will be featured in three performances Thursday to Saturday, Nov 17-19, by The Ursinus College Dance Company. This will explain its relation to Lincoln, Clapton, and Puccini, I think. New works from Ursinus faculty and New York choreographer Colleen Thomas are also on the bill. My thanks to Peter DiMuro and Meredith Lyons for programming this, to Cathy Young for the choreography, to all the spirited dancers, and of course to Holly Gaines and John French for playing it. I get to see it Friday!

Yannick in the WRTI studio

OK, here’s the photo. My glasses reflect the two computer monitors—on the left, holding pre-recorded spots and such, and on the right, holding all the documents to be read live, weather reports, and other items. The two pieces of paper on the desk are the half-hour live station I.D., and a live promo for Opera Saturday. Another paper is taped to the left monitor, the special “Yannick Week” promo. The monitors hide from view the program log and spot log printouts, and half of the broadcast console. The big box to my left holds three CD players we have in constant rotation, and a weather readout for monitors at the building (if we ever give you the barometric pressure, we get it from there). Jack Moore is just behind me, sending professional vibes my way, all of which are needed. Yannick is being brilliant.

Me, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, WRTI broadcast studio, 11/11/11, c.11:50 a.m.

Wrapping up Yannick Week at WRTI

Subbing on WRTI‘s Friday midday shift, I had the unexpected pleasure to chat in the studio with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. This photo on the Philadelphia Orchestra Facebook page captures us. (I’m the one with glasses. Just so you know.)

WRTI played many of his recordings and ran features on him during “Yannick Week,” coinciding with his return to town this season to lead two series of concerts. We talked on-air for about 10 minutes just before the news at noon.

Yannick, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Music Director Designate, is as energetic, passionate, and honest in conversation as he is conducting from the podium. He had wonderful things to say about the orchestra, its musicians, WRTI, and even a little bit about the rehearsal process. Discussing differences among concert-goers in different cities, he says that he can feel the Philadelphia audiences listening very carefully and paying close attention to everything going on. That, he says, energizes him and the players.

We’re just as energized to have Yannick here, in Philadelphia.

Lili Boulanger, Vivian Fine, Florence Price

Saturday, November 5th, 2011, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918). D’un matin de printemps (1918). The Women’s Philharmonic, JoAnn Falletta. Koch 3-7603-2. 5:05

Vivian Fine (1913-2000). Concertante for Piano and Orchestra (1944). Reiko Honsho, piano, Japan Philharmonic, Akeo Watanabe. CRI 692. 17:46

Florence Price (1887-1953). Symphony No. 3 (1940), movements 2, 3, 4. The Women’s Philharmonic, Apo Hsu. Koch 375182. 18:45

Nadia Boulanger is well-known to musicians, being the Parisian teacher of many American composers, most notably Aaron Copland. But her younger sister Lili excelled as a composer despite battling sickness most of her life. She eventually succumbed to Crohn’s Disease at the much-too-young age of 24.

In 1913 Lili Boulanger was the first female to win the coveted Rome Prize (which her sister never succeeded in winning), but which their father Ernest had won in 1835. In her last years, she produced a number of beautiful works, including D’un matin de printemps, Of a Spring Morning. The Fleisher Collection is putting the finishing touches on a new, critical edition. The music is a gorgeous and delicate example of her talent.

This work, along with Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3 and more than a hundred other titles, were given to the Fleisher Collection by The Women’s Philharmonic, which presented its final concert in 2004. In its two decades, the Philharmonic aggressively encouraged and promoted the work of women composers, instrumentalists, and conductors. Fleisher is proud to carry their legacy forward by making this music available for performance now and into the future. Composers such as Florence Price open a barely known window into the history of American music, as she was the first African-American woman to gain notoriety in orchestral writing.

Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, and many singers now know her songs, but the symphonic works are mostly unknown. This third symphony, like much of her music, hints at, rather than quotes, actual folk material. The hint, however, is undeniable and fresh. The third movement, “Juba Dance,” is catapulted by rhythm, the element Price considered essential to an understanding of the African-American experience in music. She is a finely balanced composer, though, strong in her handling of harmony and the orchestra.

Vivian Fine was an excellent pianist and composer, so it’s fitting to listen to her Concertante for Piano and Orchestra today. When she moved to New York City from Chicago in 1931, she supported herself by accompanying dance company rehearsals. She was soon writing dance scores and performing the works of Cowell, Ives, Copland, Rudhyar, Sessions, and many others.

Over her long career she composed in every form, including opera. She was never content to remain in any one style. The Concertante is tonal and almost romantic, but with a quirky humor that endears.

On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now nine years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, Harvest Home

My latest CD mini-review for WRTI, including podcast. You can read all my CD reviews here.

Harvest Home: Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, Nashville Chamber Orchestra

“Classical music” is not a single style, but an ever-widening variety. Because of this, classical audiences have the broadest tastes, and will happily listen to music on the borders of what others might consider “classical.” Take this CD by fiddler Jay Ungar and guitarist Molly Mason, which will also match the Thanksgiving spirit of any gathering you may be planning. The music blooms with the excellent Nashville Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Paul Gambill.

It’s a fusion of mostly-new music in a mostly-folk style, with salutes to Yanks, Cajuns, and Copland. It also includes one tune you may already know from the Ken Burns film The Civil War, “The Ashokan Farewell.”

Ungar wrote that tune as the closing song for the fiddle camp he runs in the Catskills. Its genius is that it sounds like it’s an Appalachian or Scottish lament, hundreds of years old. It’s a timeless melody, given a ravishing reading here with orchestra.

The Harvest Home Suite includes “Autumn,” with a re-imagining of “We Gather Together to Ask Our Lord’s Blessing,” a Dutch hymn-text translated to Latin by Austrian Eduard Kremser (who composed the tune), then to English by the New Yorker Theodore Baker, the originator of one of the standard music reference resources, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary. New Yorker Jay Ungar now folds this classic Thanksgiving hymn into this lovingly-played suite. Everything on the CD is performed with beauty and sheen. That’s something all classical audiences love.

Listen to the podcast…