In 1982 I received the best birthday present of all time: a Sony Walkman WM-R2. Oh man, putting those earphones on….You know those stories about the audience reaction in 1895 at the screening of the first motion picture? How a train rolled into the station on the screen and people dived over chairs to flee the oncoming locomotive? That’s how eye-opening this little gadget was for me – I felt like I’d been dropped on stage into the middle of the New York Philharmonic.
“L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat” (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station) Directed by August and Louis Lumière in 1895
That weekend WQXR had a live broadcast of Bernstein conducting the NY Phil in Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” I propped up my Walkman and recorded directly off the radio. I listened to the recording so many times I wore out the tape. I timed the piece and was astonished that it was twenty four minutes. How was that possible – that was so long! I thought it was five, maybe ten minutes tops. That recording is emblazoned in my memory - audience coughing, French horn cracking - every glorious little imperfection that comes with a live performance.
Lenny at the helm in a studio recording
Aaron Copland (1900 – 1990) was a pioneer in establishing an American sound. Until this time American classical music had been a derivative mix of Brahms and Beethoven. In works like Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, and Fanfare for the Common Man, Copland created a music that was classical yet distinctly American. He conjured up vivid images of the prairie or cowboys as George Gershwin had tapped into the more urban (and urbane) sound of jazz. American music was coming of age.
“Chapter One: He adored New York City….” The classic opening montage from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” set to the music of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”
Appalachian Spring was the first piece I “discovered” by myself. Up until this time I pretty much listened to what my dad happened to have on downstairs – Beethoven quartets, Schubert Lieder, Sibelius symphonies, anything by Bach. As my own tastes evolved I started to influence him, although he never did develop my voracious appetite for Bartók and Schoenberg. In later years he branched out in unexpected directions so that, dropping by, I never knew if I might catch him listening to late Beethoven piano sonatas or Amália Rodrigues, the “Queen of Fado.”
“Abandono”with Amália da Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues (1920 – 1999)
I’m looking forward to seeing what my daughters bring home that will open up my own ears. For a few weeks I would catch Eliana humming Elgar around the house thanks to a recording she did of “Nimrod” from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations,” with Itzhak Perlman conducting a remote Juilliard orchestra. The eagle-eyed amongst you may spot her: she is the one with the elephant-sized white headphones.
On selected nights of the festival, I’ve asked past artists to choose a surprise Youtube performance as a treat for our audience. Each selection will be preceded by a short introduction with the artist.
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