Friday, September 26, 2014

Maurice Ravel in Kansas City

Maurice Ravel is one of my favorite composers. Kansas City is one of my favorite cities. (I was born here). But little did I realize that 37 years prior to my birth, Maurice Ravel came to KC on his 1928 tour of the United States and gave a lecture and performance at the Muehlebach Hotel Ballroom. Ravel was a fan of jazz music, a topic he discussed in many of his lectures. He became friends with George Gershwin, and according to some sources, delivered a great one liner when Gershwin told Ravel he would like to study with him. "Why do you want to become a second-rate Ravel when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?"

Here is the program from March 14, 1928:

Wednesday 14 March 1928, 8.15 o'clock

The Ballroom, Hotel Muehlebach
Kansas City

Lisa Roma (voice)
Maurice Ravel (piano)
Earl Risenberg (reader)




Histoires naturelles

Pavane pour une infante défunte

Cinq mélodies populaires grecques

Encore: La Vallée des cloches

[Order of items uncertain]

(Source: Kansas City Journal-Post, 15 March 1928)

(I found it interesting that the source of the program is a newspaper I had never heard of....the Kansas City Journal-Post. I looked it up in Wikipedia, and sure enough, this was a  KC newspaper dating back to 1854....almost 30 years before the KC Star was established. It folded in 1942).

As I read more about Ravel's visit to the US, I found a great website that is dedicated to the composer.
Here is the page that describes Rave'ls trip to KC:

Ravel in Kansas City

Flag of Kansas City
Ravel came to Kansas City for a recital on 14 March 1928, with the soprano Lisa Roma, at the Hotel Muehlebach ballroom, under the auspices of the local Pro Musica group. The event was eagerly anticipated and the venue was packed. It began with a reading of Ravel's prepared lecture on contemporary music, in which he paid tribute to the modern generation of French composers, as well as repeating his views on the "blues" as a vital force in American music.
The perforrmance of piano music and songs by Ravel attract the usual criticisms of the composer's limited abilities as a performer, as well as reservations about the suitability of his singer. None of this however diminished the sense of occasion and Ravel's personality, as expressed both in his music and in his physical presence, drew a warm response from local reviewers.

"What we heard was music that seems to have been written by one with the touch of Midas... It has color, rhythm, design and effect and its aesthetic sense is developed to the highest degree. At times it is even tantalizing, so subtle is Ravel and so delicious is his sense of the ridiculous." (Kansas City Journal-Post, 15 March 1928**).
"Little of the music ever had been heard by the audience before last night. It is pleasant to be able to say that a great deal of it, as was not the case with the gruff and thundering Bartok, left a positive impression, and at the time was a matter for enjoyment and not a test of endurance. Chiefly because, doubtless, modernist Ravel seems always less concerned with saying what he has to say in a different way, than with finding something sensible to say in the first place." (Kansas City Times, 15 March 1928, p.14**).

(** as quoted in Dunfee [1980] pp.105-108.)

(Another newspaper can see the Kansas City Times was also quoted here. Kansas City had 2 daily papers for almost 100 years...the Times in the morning and the Star in the afternoon. The times disappeared in 1990, and since then, KC has had only a morning paper).

Ravel wrote so much incredible music. You all surely know Bolero...his most famous composition. You may also not be aware that Ravel was the genius who orchestrated Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky.The Sheherazade as seen on the program above is one of two compositions by the same name written by Ravel, this one from 1903. .not to be confused with the more famous Scheherazade by Rimsky Korsakov. And then you can talk about Pavane pour une infante defunte, Rhapsodie espagnole, Daphis et Chloe, Introduction and Allegro.....and on and on......

Add Ravel to your playlist!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Playlist Suggestion - Ida Presti

She is one of my favorite classical guitarists. Ida Presti died in 1967, and though she was well known during her career, I don't believe she reached the status of other guitarists such as Segovia, Bream or Parkening. But her tone, phrasing and emotion make her one of my favorites. Here is a great tune called Carpice by Lagoya. It was recorded sometime in the 1950's....I don't have the date. I find myself listening to it over and over.......Enjoy!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Seasons..... but not Vivaldi's.

I am pretty sure that most Americans are familiar with at least some of the melodies or phrases from Vivaldi's masterpiece, The Four Seasons. Composed in 1725, this set of four violin concertos is one of the most recognizable works in all of classical music. It has been transcribed for just about every instrument known to man, used in films, TV shows, commercials, and internet podcasts. It is a devastatingly brilliant work of art. SO what does this have to do with Tchaikovsky???
Well, thanks to Sirius XM satellite radio, Channel 74, I was introduced to another work called The Seasons by none other than one of my favorite composers, Peter Tchaikovsky. I caught a glimpse of the radio and saw The Seasons on the screen, but after a few moments I said, "hey...this isn't Vivaldi! What the.....? What I was hearing was a work for solo piano. And it was not remotely similar to Vivaldi's robust baroque style. Chalk it up to what I say all the time....there is so much music out there that I know little or nothing about. How wonderful it is to "discover" new music.
So I Googled The Seasons by Tchaikovsky. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

The Seasons was commenced shortly after the premiere of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, and continued while he was completing his first ballet, Swan Lake.[2]
In 1875, Nikolay Matveyevich Bernard, the editor of the St. Petersburg music magazine Nouvellist, commissioned Tchaikovsky to write 12 short piano pieces, one for each month of the year. Bernard suggested a subtitle for each month's piece. Tchaikovsky accepted the commission and all of Bernard's subtitles, and in the December 1875 edition of the magazine, readers were promised a new Tchaikovsky piece each month throughout 1876. The January and February pieces were written in late 1875 and sent to Bernard in December, with a request for some feedback as to whether they were suitable, and if not, Tchaikovsky would rewrite February and ensure the remainder were in the style Bernard was after. March, April and May appear to have been composed separately; however the remaining seven pieces were all composed at the same time and written in the same copybook, and evidence suggests they were written between 22 April and 27 May. The orchestration of Swan Lake was finished by 22 April, leaving the composer free to focus on other music; and he left for abroad at the end of May. This seems to put the lie to Nikolay Kashkin's published version of events, which was that each month the composer would sit down to write a single piece, but only after being reminded to do so by his valet.[1]

This has become one of my favorite pieces. I have posted a link to a nice performance of The Seasons from YouTube Two legendary composers, working 150 years apart, using the same inspiration....the Seasons.