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On Friday January 30th. Robert J. Harth, the artistic and executive director of Carnegie Hall, died at his home in Manhattan of an apparent heart attack. He was only 47.
I wanted to write something here to mark this event because his death was so sudden, so unexpected and personally painful although, unfortunately, I did not know him for very long and did not yet know him very well. But because Robert's warm heart and exuberant spirit were so apparent when I met him, I was struck in the gut with sadness and a feeling of loss and wanted to learn more about his life.
He became the artistic director of Carnegie Hall on Sept. 16th, 2001 just 5 days after the terrorist attacks and was there for just two and a half years. It just happened that way and Robert, new to New York, now had to steer Carnegie through the ramifications of the aftermath of this event. It was not a easy job. He was already inheriting an organization that needed healing because of previous administration upheavals. He also had to negotiate the tumultuous proposition of the return of the NY Philharmonic to the hall, a deal that ultimately fell through, mostly because of schedule difficulties.
Robert was also broad in his scope of musical interests and vision. He oversaw the opening (fall 2003) and programming of the new Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall. In his words: "We want the widest possible audience to experience the hall -- a window through which to explore the wonders of different musical genres. We're stepping out of our comfort zone in Zankel Hall. We're being adventurous!"
We hope whoever takes over the reigns there will carry on the ardent adventurousness that Robert started. Zankel has a unique place in the diverse New York community and is producing some great performances.
Before coming to Carnegie Robert was the president and chief financial officer of the Aspen Music Festival and School for 12 years. Two comments from people who worked with him at Aspen from the AMFS website:
Don Roth, President of the AMFS said, ²The Aspen Music Festival and School as it is today would be unthinkable without Robert Harth's devotion, creativity and humane passion over the dozen years of his leadership. His is a tragic loss for music, but most of all for all those who had the privilege to work with this strong and gentle man. There is a vacant feeling today, in the heart and soul of our Aspen music family. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to Robert's family, colleagues and many friends.²
David Zinman, Music Director, whose tenure began when Harth was president of the AMFS, had these comments: "So often when death comes to one so young, you mourn what could have been; with Robert you see already a life of immense fulfillment. In his short life he went to the top of his field, and was a great and talented colleague and friend. Robert had an innate understanding of how things were no matter which area of life he was addressing. He spoke the truth and I loved him for it. I consider myself privileged to have worked with such a man. His loss to Aspen and to Carnegie Hall and the music world in general will be huge. Robert was one of the great thinkers about the future of music. And the future will miss him."
I first met Robert at a small party after a concert at Carnegie hall in early November, 2003. My friend Ayano and I were sitting there and he came over and sat near us and we struck up a conversation. Relaxed and beaming, he was very interested in what we were doing and asked about Ayano's experiences in Japan, her homeland. He talked about his experiences there and said that he loved Japan but could understand why, as an artist, she felt she had to leave to grow. Robert was so unpretentious and genuine. It seems odd to even say this. He just said that he worked for the hall, that he had come to New York just a few days after September 11 and how strange it was starting in NY at that time after being in Aspen Colorado for 12 years. He was very exited about Zankel hall and the music there. You could tell he was loving it. He and I talked about our diverse musical interests and the things that were coming up at Zankel. He then encouraged me to call him anytime we wanted to go to any concert in either hall and he would set it up and gave me his card. It was only then I noticed his position printed there.
I next saw Robert just two days before he died at a concert at Carnegie Hall. We were the guests of some relatives in from out of town. He came over to where we were sitting and said hello. Smiling and happy to see us he commented on how Ayano's hair had gotten longer and wanted to know how her art show had gone and that he was sorry that he had been unable to come.
We were shocked when we heard the news, both of us looking forward to seeing and talking with him him again. So it is with a sadness that I write this piece but also with a joy that I did get to know him a little and was touched by his spirit.
An Interview with Tobias Picker
Handmaid Tale's Debuts in English
Rautavaara Joins B&G
Who's Afraid of Julia Wolfe
Derek Bermel's Soul Garden
The Pianist: The Extraordinary
True Story of Wladyslaw Szpilman
John Adams' Atomic Opera
A Bridge Not Far Enough
Turnage Signs With B&H
Sophie's Wrong Choice
On Being Arvo
Rzewski Plays Rzewski
Praising Lee Hyla
David Lang's Passing Measures
Three Tales at BAM
Naxos at 15
On the Transmigration of Souls
Dead Man Walking
David Krakauer's The Year After
Steve Reich/Alan Pierson
Composer: Fazýl Say
Conductor: Muhai Tang, Eliahu Inbal
Performer: Fazil Say, Laurent Korcia
The Turkish pianist Fazýl Say has built a formidable reputation for himself through a string of first-rate recordings of Mozart, Bach, Gershwin and Stravinsky. This time around, Say demonstrates that he is also a composer of considerable talent. The title piece, Black Earth for solo piano, is based on a Turkish folksong, in which Say, evoking the saz, a Turkish traditional instrument, simultaneously plays the keys and the strings inside the piano, producing an otherworldly sound. Say's compositions are hardly classical--more like Keith Jarrett with a dynamite hook-- but these are daring and exciting performances.
Performer(s): Anonymous 4
Harmonia Mundi Franc
Anonymous 4 turns from the medieval repertoire to explore the roots of American sacred music. Developed in Toni Morrison’s Atelier program at Princeton in spring 2003, American Angels includes songs of redemption and glory from the time of the American Revolution to the present day: 18th-century psalm settings from rural New England, 19th-century shape-note and camp revival songs from the rural South, and some of the nation’s best-loved gospel songs. Drawing from collections including “The Southern Harmony,” and “The Sacred Harp,” - the album explores the beauty and power of early American sacred music and the relatively obscure form of a cappella choral singing known as Sacred Harp.
Performer(s): Mihaela Martin, Kuchar, Nat'l So Ukraine
It takes a lot of virtuosity to keep Khachaturian's demanding Violin Concerto afloat and the Romanian violinist, Mihaela Martin, does a masterful job. Her version is less daring, say, than that of, David Oistrakh, to whom the piece is dedicated, but she skillfully navigates the bristling outer movements and pours her soul into the elegaic central movement. Among recent versions this holds it own with the very best.
Piano Concerti Nos. 1 & 2
Piano Concerto No. 2
Marc-André Hamelin (piano),
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton
Marc-Andre Hamelin makes child's play of these two very different piano masterpieces of Shostakovich. Fabulously accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony, led by Andrew Litton, Hamelin provides not simply his usual technical brillance but also a feeling for the material that sounds--to this listener--definitive. The Shchedrin concerto, though less well-known, is no less enjoyable.
Composer: Luigi Dallapiccola
Conductor: Ernest Bour
final masterpiece, the opera Ulisse, which premiered in Berlin in 1968,
recounts the voyage both of Homer’s hero and of mankind's search
for eternal truths. Recorded in 1975, a few months after the composer's
death, this performance is the culmination of a lifetime of meditation
and musical discipline by one of the great humanists of the 20th century
Early and Unknown Piano Works
Composer: Morton Feldman
Performer(s): Debora Petrina
unrecorded pieces from the early 40s reveal Feldman during the period he
studied with Wallingford Riegger. No real surprises here but no klunkers
either. His composition style borrows 12-tone techniques and
atonality but deploys them within more traditional neo-classic structures.
Guitar Concertos & Solos
Composer: Poul Ruders
Performer: David Starobin, guitar
long and intimate collaboration between Poul Ruders, the brilliant composer,
and David Starobin, the splendid guitarist, (who also happens to be David
Starobin, the successful record executive--co-founder of Bridge Records)--has
led to some of the most challenging and original compositions in the modern
guitar repertory. Consider this a kind of "greatest hits" for the
modern classical guitar.
Symphonies 1 & 7
Composer: Aulis Sallinen
Performer: Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Ari Rasilainen
Another great Finnish composer, ho hum, but Aulis Sallinen (b. 1935) is, with Rautavaara, the latest proof that small countries can produce big composers. There are hints of Sibelius, of course, but Sallinen is a unique voice that speaks directly. His work is tonal and completely devoid of the modern medievalism that characters much north of the Arctic Circle music.
String Quartets 1 & 3
Composer: Frank Bridge
Performers:. Maggini String Quartet
Frank Bridge is a bit of a lost horse in the English stable of composers that includes such giants as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and, his student, Benjamin Britten. But he shouldn't be. No. 1, written in 1901, is a mature, fully realized work; No. 3, composed in 1927 is one of the pilars of 20th century chamber music. As always, the Maggini play magnificiently and the recording is first rate.
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Marco Guidarini
Performer: Melanie Diener, Ludovic Tezier, et al. Radio France Chorus, French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
listening to young Puccini's first opera (as opposed to seeing it staged
and sung), you notice immediately that the big sweeping melodies, the ingenious
"hooks" are already there. Naive has also issued a Radio France recording
of Puccini’s second opera, Edgar,
written five years after Le Villi. In this more ambitious and
complicated work, Puccini develops his technique using a score that merges
stirring arias and ensembles.
Emerson Concerto / Symphony 1
Composer: Charles Ives
Performers: Alan Feinberg (piano), National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, James Sinclair (conductor)
Ives sketched the Emerson Concerto in 1907 but never fully finished it, although he used portions in other works. David G. Porter, a noted Ives scholar, was able to create a performing version which was premiered in 1998 by Alan Feinberg, the pianist on this premiere recording. The piece is extremely demanding, often abrasive, and demands exceptional virtuosity. Symphony No. 1 is fetching, but not as charateristic, of the great American maverick that followed.
Piano Concertos 2 & 3
Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara
Performers: Laura Mikkola (piano), Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eri Klas (conductor)
The Finnish composer Rautavaara has enjoyed enormous success in recent years with his unique blend of northern lights impressionism and romanticism served up in an aura of modernity. His Cantus Articus is immensely popular, conjuring up associations of Messiean, although the latter is a much more important composer. The Third Piano Concerto from 1998 is forceful, drawings on the Russian school of pianism, although it not technically flashy until the finale. The Second, composed nine years earlier, is more traditional and Laura Mikkola, already on disc with a highly regarded account of the First Concerto, again provides an outstanding performance.
Composers: King, Kline, Reynolds, Ziporen
York's most daring string-quartet sensation, Ethel, makes its debut here
with a menu of the kind of hard-edged downtown music that has won the group
a big following in the NY new music scene. Todd Reynolds and
Mary Rowell, violins; Ralph Farris, viola; and Dorothy Lawson, cello—all
began their careers in New York as freelance musicians, playing difficult
music that relies heavily on non-classical sources but requires a virtuoso
classical ensemble to play. Its repertoire ranges from John King's energetic
blues transcriptions to the gnarly quartets of Julia Wolfe
and on Todd Reynolds' quirky
Return from a Journey
Composers: Gurdjieff, De Hartmann,
was a Russian Aremenian spiritual master who, in addition to the main body
of his teaching created sacred dances, or Movements, as well as 200
or so musical compositions--all of which were were done in collaboration
with German composer Thomas de Hartmann at Gurdjieff's Institute
for the Harmonious Development of Man, near Paris, in the years 1925–27.
For many years, the pieces heard here were played only by De Hartmann or
another of Gurdjieff's disciples but in recent years they have attracted
the interest of a number of adventuresome pianists. Kremski plays
these exotic, vaguely oriental and oddly thematic pieces with great respect
Composer: Leonard Bernstein
Performers: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Marin Alsop (conductor)
Commissioned in 1965 by the Dean of Chichester, Bernstein’s colorful Chichester Psalms is one of the composer’s most successful and accessible works on religious texts, contrasting spiritual austerity with impulsive rhythms in a contemplation of peace. The composer fashioned his Oscar nominated score to the 1954 movie On the Waterfront into a symphonic suite, skillfully capturing the oppression of the New York dockyards in the ’50s. The Three Dance Episodes were extracted from the popular On The Town, Bernstein's first successful foray into musical theatre. Bernstein protege Marin Alsop gets a robust performance from Bournemouth orchestra and chorus.
Composer: Witold Lutoslawski
Performers: Polish National Radio Symphony, Antoni Wit
Volume 8 in Naxos' indispensible survey of Lutoslawski's orchestra work brings us into lesser known territory but there are still treasures to be found. The Dance Preludes from 1955 is basically a five-movement clarinet concerto, with lots of interesting harmonies and rhythmic twists and turns. The Double Concerto for oboe and harp from 1990 rattles the ear a bit and has a demanding oboe part, beautifully played by Arkadiusz Krupa. The Children's Songs, gorgeously sung by the soprano, Urszula Kryger, are beguiling.
Composer: Amadeo Vives
Performers: Maria Bayo,
Alfredo Kraus, Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife, Antoni Ros Marba
A superb performance of Amadeo Vives' zarzuela masterpiece, sung with enormous vivacity and brio by the ravishing-voiced Maria Bayo and the sturdy Alfredo Kraus. With its nineteenth century Madrid setting, its roots in classical Spanish drama and its festive nocturnal amours, Doña Francisquita provides a retrospective on the romantic zarzuela tradition and its crowning glory. The work was immediately recognized not only as Vives’ masterpiece, but as the greatest full length zarzuela of its era. If you're not into zarzuela already, this is the perfect place to start your collection.
Symphony 9 Visionaria
Composer: Kurt Atterberg
Satu Vihavainen (mezzo-soprano); Gabriel Suovanen (baritone)
NDR Choir, Prague Chamber Choir
NDR Radio Philharmonic,
The 9th and final symphony of Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg bears a superficial relationshp to Beethoven's 9th with its big, expresssive choral sound but Atterburg's world is a good deal less joyous. Atterberg's choice of texts reflects the lasting impact on his psyche made by World War II and the Korean War. The Poetic Edda, an Icelandic epic dating from around 1270, relates the visions of a wise prophetess (hence the Symphony's title "Sinfonia Visionaria") who foretells the creation of the world, the warring among gods, giants, and humans, the world's destruction, and finally its recreation.
Atterberg uses mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists with chorus and large orchestra, as well as a quasi-oratorio form, to tell his epic tale. This is extraordinary symphony by a composer who is far too little-known in the musical world.
The Complete Mazurkas
Composer: Karol Szymanowski
Performer: Marc-Andre Hamelin
Marc-Andre Hamelin continues his extraordinary journey through the forgotten rivers and bayous of the modern piano repetoire with masterful performances of Szymanowski's Twenty Mazurkas, Op. 50, composed between 1926 and 1931. After assimilating the influence of Stravinsky, Szymanowski began looking for folk themes in Polish music to rival the Russian folk touches of the master. The Mazurka, a traditional Polish dance in three-quarter-time with an often erratic-seeming emphasis on the second beat, (and a favorite form for Chopin) offered great possibilities .
These highly diverse pieces are more complex than Chopin, more modern and dissonant, yet also more muted and elusive. Still, Szymanowski remained too much a romantic to settle for anything less then flamboyant virtuosity--a quality that Hamelin possses by the truckload.
Bach, Barber, Berg, Chopin, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel, Wolf
Peformers: : Choeur De Chambre Accentus, Equilbey
Worth having for the ravishing performances of Samuel Barber's "Adagio" and Mahler's "Adagietto from Symphony No. 5."
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