On this day in classical music: Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen was born in Helsinki in 1958. Music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 to 2009, Salonen gave more than 120 world or American premieres during his 17-year tenure. Among the world premieres he conducted in Los Angeles were works by John Adams, John Corigliano, Arvo Part, Roberto Sierra and Steven Stucky. Salonen commissioned more than 50 works during his tenure and is the longest serving music director of the orchestra. Salonen is now principal conductor and artistic advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. Listen to Salonen conduct the final two movements of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR3tJspIqlw
On this day in the musical theatre: The original London production of “Oliver!” opened in 1960. Based on the novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, this stage musical feature book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. It proved to be an enormous hit, running for 2,618 performances in London, 774 on Broadway and 1968’s Hollywood film. The film earned six Academy Awards, including one as best musical. It would be another 34 years before a musical film took the best picture Oscar (“Chicago”). The Broadway stage production earned three Tony Awards, including one for Bart’s tuneful score. Among its standouts are “Food, Glorious Food,” “Where Is Love,” “Consider Yourself,” “As Long as He Needs Me” and “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.” Watch part of a production featuring the rousing “Food, Glorious Food.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5DvrSP0Nd0
Musical musings: If he had written only “Oliver!,” composer Lionel Bart would have earned an honored place in the history of British musicals, but he was far from a one-show wonder. His other work included shows such as “Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be” and “Maggie May,” plus many pop songs including “Living Doll” (Cliff Richard’s first No. 1 hit), Tommy Steele’s “A Handful of Songs,” Anthony Newley’s “Do You Mind?” and Matt Monro’s “From Russia With Love.” He epitomized the start of the Sixties in Britain, which he uniquely captured in song and spirit, and he was one of the few composers to deal uncondescendingly with the working classes, transposing their life styles and vernacular to the musical stage. “Nobody tries to be la-de-da or uppity, there’s a cuppa tea for all,” sings the Artful Dodger to Oliver. Bart also epitomized the Sixties in a less happy way — like many who flourished in that era, he was seduced by sudden success into a world of drink, drugs and hedonism, squandering his money and his youth. Cameron Mackintosh, who successfully revived “Oliver!” at the London Palladium in 1994 and gave him a percentage of the profits, said, “Of all the people I know in this business who have had ups and downs, Lionel is the least bitter man I have ever come across. He regrets it but, considering that everyone else has made millions out of his creations, he’s never been sour, never been vindictive.” – From Bart’s obituary in The Independent.
On this day in classical music: Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik was born in 1914. He graduated from the Prague Conservatory in 1933. In 1950, Kubelik succeeded Artur Rodzinski as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. During his three seasons in Chicago, Kubelik made several recordings for Mercury Records, including the top-selling “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Mussorgsky. He also recorded Smetana’s “Ma Vlast,” Bartok’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste,” Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphoses” and Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces for Orchestra.” After leaving Chicago, Kubelik served as music director of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden from 1955 to 1958. Watch Rafael Kubelik conduct Smetana’s “Die Moldau.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfnGDZG8gSI
On this day in the musical theatre: “Doctor Dolittle” opened in London in 1998. Based on the stories of Hugh Lofting and the screenplay for the 1967 film musical starring Rex Harrison as the man who could talk to animals, “Doctor Dolittle” featured a charming score by Leslie Bricusse. The production closed just shy of its first anniversary. Philip Schofield performs an excerpt from “If I Could Talk to the Animals,” taken from the London production of “Doctor Dolittle.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BZrLmt1_yc
Musical musings: He talks to animals in 498 different languages but has no adult friends to speak of except for a cat food salesman. He is a failed quack who learns how to quack and he appears to be in love with a parrot called Polynesia. On the face of it, “Doctor Dolittle” wouldn’t appear to have much in common with the modern rigours of mass market entertainment in 1998. Still, it seems that Hugh Lofting’s idiosyncratic tales, written as a form of escapism from the horrors of the trenches in the First World War, are inching their way back into acceptance. Yet what worked so well as internalized Twenties fiction, and to a far lesser extent as a its effects above its musical Hollywood vehicle, doesn’t entirely translate to the spectacular apron of the Apollo, despite the undoubted fact that the 92 animatronic beasts concocted by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and the often awe-inspiring sets of designer Mark Thompson, are guaranteed to amuse children of any age. – Max Bell writing in London’s Evening Standard.
On this day in classical music: Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim was born in 1831. At age 12, Joachim performed Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto” in London with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. In the 1850s, Joachim befriended Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The latter dedicated his “Double Concerto in A Minor” for violin and cello to Joachim and Robert Hausmann. Listen to violinist Julia Fischer and cellist Daniel Muller-Schott perform the Andante movement of the Brahms “Double Concerto.” Christoph Poppen conducts the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrucken. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oB_w6jRgfU
On this day in the musical theatre: John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Steel Pier” closed after a 76-performance run in 1997. Based on the dance marathons of the 1930s, “Steel Pier” was set in Atlantic City and focused on several couples vying for the cash prize. It marked the Broadway debut of Kristin Chenoweth who played a character known as Precious. “Steel Pier” was nominated for 11 Tony Awards but failed to take home a single trophy. Most of the awards that year went to “Titanic.” Watch the cast of “Steel Pier” perform “Everybody Dance” on the 1997 Tony Awards broadcast. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3B5Zl-GZ8w
Musical musings: Dance marathons reached their frantic height, or perhaps depth, in the early 1930s. In the Depression’s atmosphere of desperation, couples danced for days trying to win prize money. Frequently, they would grovel for coins thrown by spectators in interludes that were called floor showers. Popular dances of the time thread through “Steel Pier” as if they themselves are characters. With the boxy fox trot, the quickstep, the sexy grind snake and many more, the show dances virtually from beginning to end. – Hilary Ostlere
On this day in classical music: Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg was born in Helsinki in 1958. He first received recognition for two works completed in 1982: “Sculpture II” and “Action-Situation-Signification.” The clarinet concerto of 2002 has become one of Lindberg’s most popular scores. During the 2009-10 season, Lindberg was composer-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic. For his inaugural concerts as the orchestra’s new music director, Alan Gilbert premiered Lindberg’s “Expo.” Listen to Lindberg discuss his 2010 work titled “Kraft.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SswOOiNoStU
On this day in the musical theatre: The 1968 musical “Hair” was given a full-scale revival in 2009 and ran for 15 months. It closed in 2010. Very much a product of its era, with plot elements centering around the draft, recreational drugs, sex, nudity and friendship, the 2009 revival of “Hair” put to rest any concerns about how it would play four decades after being written. Galt MacDermot’s score, which featured lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, threw off numerous hit singles, from “Aquarius” and “Easy to Be Hard” to “Let the Sun Shine In” and the driving title song. The 2009 production won a Tony Award for best revival. The 2009 Broadway revival cast performs “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In” on the David Letterman show. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPLg5gA-9ck
Musical musings: Anthony Tommasini covered Alan Gilbert’s first concert as music director of the New York Philharmonic in September 2009. This “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcast featured the world premiere of Lindberg’s “Expo.”
(Gilbert) began with the premiere of “EXPO,” an urgent, inventive 10-minute piece by the Philharmonic’s new composer in residence Magnus Lindberg. The last time the orchestra included a new piece on an opening-night program was in 1962, when it inaugurated Philharmonic Hall, as it was then called. Leonard Bernstein conducted the premiere of Copland’s “Connotations” on that occasion. Opening night is supposed to be a gala event. But what could be more festive, in a deeply musical sense, then beginning the season with a new piece.
Yet as Mr. Lindberg, a pragmatic composer, surely realized, this occasion did not warrant a gnarly, intimidating modern piece. Not that “EXPO” was some easygoing crowd pleaser. It is an intense, complex and elusive piece, yet somehow celebratory.
After a whip-crack from the percussion section to get things (perhaps including the Gilbert era?) going, the strings break into an extended passage of softly bustling figurations and busyness. Then, without warning, the brasses and woodwinds play a deceptively somber and harmonically murky chorale. And the piece continues to alternate quick bursts of strangely ominous fiddle-faddle with contrasting episodes of sonorous, thickly chromatic harmonies.
The musical language is quasi-tonal for long stretches. The contemporary edge comes from the thick layering of textures to make each chord, however grounded, diffuse. Mr. Lindberg is Finnish. But I picked up bits of Americana in his piece, including Coplandesque modal harmonies and hints of “Rhapsody in Blue” in a passage for muted trumpets and soulful clarinet.
Mr. Lindberg has said that he wanted the piece to capture the sense of expectancy that Mr. Gilbert’s coming to the Philharmonic represents. But the expectancy that this thick-textured, restless music captures is unsettling. The future looks enticing, but who knows? So let’s embrace the adventure.
On this day in classical music: American composer Jacob Druckman was born in Philadelphia in 1928. Druckman studied with Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin at the Juilliard School, and later with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. Druckman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his first large orchestral work titled “Windows.” He was composer-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic from 1982 to 1985. Druckman taught at Juilliard, the Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood, Brooklyn College, Bard College and Yale University. His students include Robert Beaser, Michael Daugherty, Aaron Jay Kernis, Cindy McTee, Christopher Theofanidis and Augusta Read Thomas. Listen to a performance of Druckman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Windows.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6Ue0va2vKg
On this day in the musical theatre: The original Broadway production of “Man of La Mancha” closed in 1971. Based on the novel Don Quixote by Cervantes, this was a tale of an actor and author who acts out his story of a befuddled knight while awaiting a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. “Man of La Mancha” ran for nearly six years and earned five Tony Awards, including one of best actor (Richard Kiley as Quixote) and best musical. “Man of La Mancha” has since been translated into countless languages and has been performed around the world. The musical’s stirring score produced the hit “The Impossible Dream.” Listen to Richard Kiley sing “The Impossible Dream.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xStXix7VDCU
Musical musings: Although he spent most of his career teaching at universities, most notably the Yale School of Music, there was little that could be called academic about Mr. Druckman’s music. He was best known for his vividly scored and viscerally dramatic orchestral works. His professional approach to composition and his belief that young composers should be out in the field working with orchestras, writing large pieces for large audiences, had a major impact on his many students, several of whom, like Michael Torke, Aaron Jay Kernis and David Lang, have achieved significant success. – From Druckman’s obituary in The New York Times.
On this day in classical music: Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” was given its premiere at the Paris Opera in 1910. Gabriel Pierné conducted the premiere which thrust the composer into the international spotlight. Based on Russian folk tales about a magical bird that is both a blessing and a curse to its captor, “The Firebird” marked the first collaboration between Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The work’s success led to the premieres of “Petrouchka” and “The Rite of Spring,” both of which featured the Ballets Russes. Today, “The Firebird” is frequently heard in the concert hall. Stravinsky created three suites from the ballet which date from 1911, 1919 and 1945. Here is some rare footage of the composer conducting the “Lullaby” and “Finale” from “The Firebird.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tGA6bpscj8
On this day in the musical theatre: The musical “Chess,” which was inspired by the hugely popular British concept album that featured music by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and lyrics by Tim Rice. The plot centered on two world champion chess masters, one American and one Russian. A woman who managed one player falls in love with the other, thus creating an awkward love triangle. Played out during the days of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, “Chess” was transformed into a British stage musical that ran for three years. A much revised version closed on Broadway following a brief run of 68 performances. The enormous popularity of the score has since prompted numerous revivals but no definitive script has resulted. The Broadway production marked the penultimate musical headed by David Carroll, one of the musical theater’s finest voices. Carroll went on to star as Baron von Gaigern in “Grand Hotel” but had contracted AIDS and died while recording the original cast album. Brent Barrett replaced him on the recording. “Chess” has since been mounted in Australia (1990), in a concert performance in Sweden (1994), on a Danish tour (2001) and in another concert version at London’s Royal Albert Hall (2008). The latter starred Josh Groban and Idina Menzel. Listen to Carroll sing the powerful “Anthem” from the Broadway production of “Chess.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhqud-xjAi4
Musical musings: The legend of the Firebird is among the oldest in Slavic mythology. The ogre Kastchei, too, is often encountered in Russian folklore. But only in Fokine’s conception do we find the ornithological vision of loveliness coexisting with the malevolent monster. An enchanted feather and a villain’s soul reposing in an egg — any music that could make such notions theatrically viable has to be special. Stravinsky’s is. It has the romantic yearning, the sweet tenderness and the expressive power with which to make the wildest fantasy credible. And orchestrally, its iridescence is as blinding as the richest Rimsky rainbow. Make no mistake: “The Firebird” is a certified masterpiece. – James Lyons
On this day in classical music: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Symphony No. 5” received its premiere by the London Philharmonic in 1943. The best known of the British composer’s nine symphonies, the fifth features musical themes drawn from his opera “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” It is dedicated to Jean Sibelius. Listen to the “Romanza” movement from Vaughan Williams’ “Symphony No. 5.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AP_desQX68
On this day in the musical theatre: The musical bio “Lovemusik” closed on Broadway after a 60-performance run in 2007. Based on the lives of composer Kurt Weill and his wife Lotte Lenya, “Lovemusik” spanned 25 years, from their first meeting to Weill’s death at age 50. Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy, the distinguished actors who played the noted couple, both earned Tony Award nominations for their roles. Watch a trailer from the 2007 Broadway production. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0x1whl5coQ
Musical musings: Buoyed by his overriding interest in British folk music, Vaughan Williams started writing scores that he hoped would spearhead a national movement. Two of them — the three “Norfolk Rhapsodies” and “In the Fen Country” — attracted a great deal of attention in 1906 and 1907 respectively. But Vaughan Williams felt that he needed more study and decided to take some lessons with, of all people, Maurice Ravel. “In 1908, I came to the conclusion that I was bumpy and stodgy, had come to a dead end, and that a little French polish would be of use to me.” Off he went to Paris — a big, stout bearlike man, dressed with cheerful sloppiness (Vaughan Williams always dressed “as though stalking the folk song to its lair,” someone once remarked) — to confront the tiny, dandified Ravel, who did not know exactly what to make of the invader. He looked at some of Vaughan Williams’ music and told him to write a little minuet in the style of Mozart. Vaughan Williams met this head-on. “Look here, I have given up my time, my work, my friends and my career to come here and learn from you, and I am not going to write a petit menuet dans le style de Mozart.” Ravel guided Vaughan Williams away from “the heavy contrapuntal Teutonic manner.” After Ravel, Vaughan Williams considered his musical education complete. – From The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg.
On this day in classical music: American conductor James Levine was born in Cincinnati, Ohio is 1943. He attended the Juilliard School and completed his studies there in 1964. Levine served as an apprentice to George Szell and served as his assistant with the Cleveland Orchestra until 1970. Levine made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1971 and was named principal conductor in 1973. Three yeas later, Levine became music director. During his 40-year tenure with the Met, Levine conducted more than 2,400 performances. In 2004, Levine became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra but health issues continued to plague him. He resigned as music director Sept. 1, 2011. Listen to James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra perform an excerpt from Bizet’s “Carmen.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQI5LtRtrb0&feature=fvst
On this day in the musical theatre: “Sugar,” a musical based on the screenplay “Some Like It Hot,” closed on Broadway after a 14-month run. Jule Styne and Bob Merrill composed the score for this riotous musical about two musicians who decide to disguise themselves as women after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.
Musical musings: “Sugar,” a chase musical based on “Some Like It Hot,” spends two hours trying to catch up to the movie. It never does. It just winds up being breathless. From the early scene, in which two unemployed male musicians becomes involved in a Chicago gang massacre in the winter of 1931, until the last, in which one of them is on the verge of marrying a millionaire in Florida, “Sugar” desperately attempts to capture everything on the stage that the camera caught so easily. Along the way there are songs with bouncy music by Jule Styne and pedestrian lyrics by Bob Merrill. And a couple of lively dances by Gower Champion, who staged the whole thing. And Robert Morse. Thant heavens for Morse. The stocky comedian, wearing a blonde wig that makes him look a bit like a cherubic Mr. Hyde and all sorts of other finery, is splendid as “Daphne,” the bass player in an all-girl band who becomes the apple of a millionaire’s eye. “Sugar” is a musical of such unswerving mediocrity that it is sometimes hard to keep one’s mind on it. At such moments, I found myself almost convinced that I was watching the immensely entertaining Morse in a revival of “Charley’s Aunt” or even “Where’s Charley?” But it was merely “Sugar.” – From Douglas Watts’ review in the New York Daily News.
On this day in classical music: Darius Milhaud, known as the most prolific member of “Les Six,” a group of French composers active during the early 20th century, died at age 81 in 1974. Born in Aix-en-Provence not far from the French Riviera, Milhaud studied at the Paris Conservatory. Although Milhaud is chiefly remembered today for his ballets “Le Boeuf sur le Toit” (1919) and “La Creation du Monde” (1923), he wrote in nearly every musical form, including works for orchestra, chamber music, piano, opera and concerti. With the rise of the Nazis, Milhaud left France in 1939 and came to the United States in 1940. He taught for many years at Mills College in Oakland, California. Among his students were Burt Bacharach, William Bolcom, Dave Brubeck and Philip Glass. Listen to Martha Argerich and Nelson Friere play “Brasileira” from “Scaramouche.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFdwvamsh50
On this day in the musical theatre: A Lincoln Center revival of “Kismet” closed in 1965. Alfred Drake reprised his role as Hajj, the poet who manages to talk his way repeatedly out of trouble. Robert Wright and George Forrest penned the lyrics for a production that used existing music by Russian composer Alexander Borodin. The songwriting duo followed a similar formula with “Song of Norway” (featuring music by Edvard Grieg), “Gypsy Lady” (Victor Herbert), “Magdalena” (Heitor Villa-Lobos) and “Anya” (Sergei Rachmaninoff). “Kismet” made hits of “Stranger in Paradise,” “And This Is My Beloved” and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads.” Listen to Adele Leigh, Kenneth McKellar, Robert Merrill and Ian Wallace sing ”And This Is My Beloved.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVMHuVNpLoY
Musical musings: Milhaud attracted a great deal of attention in the early 1920s, especially for his polytonal experiments. Stravinsky had started things off with the famous F-Sharp Major against C Major episode in Petrouchka. Milhaud took it from there, developing the concept. “I set to work to examine every possible combination of two keys superimposed and to study the chords thus produced,” Milhaud once remarked. “Then I did the same thing in three keys. What I could not understand was why, though the harmony books dealt with chords and their inversions and the laws governing their sequence, the same thing could not be done for polytonality. I grew familiar with some of these chords. They satisfied my ear more than the normal ones, for a polytonal chord is more subtly sweet and more violently potent.” – From The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg.
On this day in classical music: Richard Strauss’ “Burleske for Piano and Orchestra” was given its premiere in 1890. Eugen d’Albert was the soloist and the composer conducted. While opera occupied much of Strauss’ career, he did compose concertos for horn and oboe, a small number of choral works (including the “Four Last Songs”), several tone poems (“Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” “Don Juan,” “Death and Transfiguration,” “Don Quixote” and “Ein Heldenleben” among others). The “Burleske” hangs of the fringes of the concerto repertoire, partially due to the difficulty of the solo part and its short playing time (approximately 20 minutes which means it’s often paired with another concerto). Listen to Martha Argerich perform the “Burleske” with the Berlin Philharmonic. Claudio Abbado conducts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q_zSvns0QY
On this day in the musical theatre: In a rare coincidence, the original London production of “Evita” and a subsequent revival opened on the same date in 1978 and 2006. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical bio of Argentine first lady Eva Peron became a hit in London, running for 3,176 performances or nearly eight years. Among the stars who have played the role of the iconic Evita are Elaine Paige, Stephanie Lawrence, Patti LuPone and Florence Lacey. “Evita” is back on Broadway this season, with a cast headed by Elena Roger, Ricky Martin and Michael Cerveris. Listen to Elaine Paige sing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CAv9hfafAI
Musical musings: LuPone has stated about her time starring as Eva Peron: “Evita” was the worst experience of my life. I was screaming my way through a part that could only have been written by a man who hates women. And I had no support from the producers, who wanted a star performance onstage but treated me as an unknown backstage. It was like Beirut, and I fought like a banshee.