On this day in classical music: Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” received its premiere in 1899 with Hans Richter conducting the Hallé Orchestra. The work earned Elgar an international reputation and quickly became a staple of the orchestral repertoire. Elgar dedicated the “Enigma Variations” to “my friends pictured within,” a set of 14 variations on an original theme. The “Nimrod” variation is the musical heart of the piece and is often performed as a separate work. The enigma of the title, according to Elgar, is a theme that is not played. Since its premiere, composers and musicologists have proposed countless possibilities for this hidden theme, from “Rule Britannia” to “Auld Lang Syne.” Elgar never revealed the source of this hidden theme. Listen to Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra play the ninth variation, titled “Nimrod.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUgoBb8m1eE
On this day in the musical theatre: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats” became the longest running musical on Broadway when it surpassed “A Chorus Line” in 1997. Based on the whimsical poetry of T. S. Eliot, “Cats” earned seven Tony Awards in 1983, including one as best musical. “Cats” ran for nearly 18 years in New York. “Cats” was bumped from its top spot when “The Phantom of the Opera” surpassed its run in January 2006. At the curtain call when “Phantom” overtook “Cats,” a white feline danced with then-Phantom Howard McGillin before leaving the stage. Listen to the show’s iconic “Memory.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-L6rEm0rnY
Musical musings: There’s a reason why “Cats,” the British musical opened at the Winter Garden last night, is likely to lurk around Broadway for a long time — and it may not be the one you expect. It’s not that this collection of anthropomorphic variety turns is a brilliant musical or that it powerfully stirs the emotions or that it has an idea in its head. Nor is the probable appeal of “Cats” a function of the publicity that has accompanied the show’s every purr since it first stalked London seventeen months ago. No, the reason why people will hunger to see “Cats” is far more simple and primal than that: It’s a musical that transports the audience into a complete fantasy world that could only exist in the theater and yet, these days, only rarely does. Whatever the other failings and excesses, even banalities of “Cats,” it believes in purely theatrical magic, and on that faith it unquestionably delivers. – From Frank Rich’s review in the New York Times.