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November 2014
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Major Newcomer to Radio’s Saturday Opera


Saturday at 12:00 pm

He’s not exactly new to opera; some think he’s the greatest living Verdi conductor (Levine fans, avert your eyes). Though he conducted the Metropolitan Opera in a production of Verdi’s Attila in 2010, Riccardo Muti is as celebrated as he is hard to get, and has been a rarity on America’s Saturday opera broadcasts. After a lifetime on the podium, the 73-year-old maestro doesn’t need opera companies to satisfy his artistic appetite. He does fancy expanding the repertoire of his symphony orchestra to include opera. Enter the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert performances of Verdi/Shakespeare operas. To date they’ve done Otello and Macbeth (can Falstaff be far behind?).

The Metropolitan Opera launched its radio broadcast on Christmas Day, 1931. According to the Met, that tradition has continued uninterrupted until the present day (actually, that first broadcast was on a Friday). Nevertheless, the Saturday noon time slot is hallowed ground for opera fans and not typically available to symphony orchestras. Aired chiefly on public radio stations, the Saturday opera broadcast brings weekly live or recent performances from America’s major companies. This year, the Houston Grand Opera opted out of the national broadcast, leaving the WFMT Radio Network room to spread the wealth that is the Saturday audience.


Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with soloists Tatiana Serjan, Simge Buyukedes, Luca Salsi, Gianluca Buratto, Daniel Eifert

WFMT’s expanded series has included the Caramoor Festival, the Michigan Opera Theatre; the Rossini Opera Festival (from the composer’s hometown of Pesaro, Italy), and this week, one Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Sitting in the audience when music director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented these concert performances of Macbeth in the fall of 2013, WFMT’s Carl Grapentine whispered to a colleague: “I don’t think I’ll ever hear it this good again.” Well. There is at least one opportunity. Hear Riccardo Muti conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with soloists Luca Salsi and Tatiana Serjan on Saturday, November 22, starting at 12:00 pm.

Read more on Riccardo Muti and rehearsing Verdi’s Macbeth

Macbeth can be found at CSO Sounds & Stories on November 24.


Director Mike Nichols and WFMT

Award-winning director and writer Mike Nichols

Mike Nichols (born November 6, 1931; died November 19, 2014)

Today the world is remembering the life and work of writer and director Mike Nichols who died suddenly on Wednesday at the age of 83. In a career that spanned over six decades, he won nine Tony Awards and an Academy Award for Best Director for the 1967 blockbuster The Graduate. Around the offices of WFMT, Mike Nichols is remembered for being among the pioneering forces in the early days of this radio station.


Mike Nichols (with cigarette near his face) seated with the Compass Players




WFMT’s Rich Warren offered this account of those early days at WFMT:

Mike Nichols was WFMT’s first announcer and worked at the station until roughly 1956. He came and went, going back and forth between Chicago and NYC, but was pretty much gone from WFMT by 1955.


Mike Nichols seated at WFMT’s broadcast console with co-founder Rita Jacobs

In 1953, the first pre-McCarthy folk boom was in full swing and Rita Jacobs Willens thought that maybe WFMT should offer a folk music program. At that time we signed off at about 10:00 pm. She suggested (ordered?) that Mike start a folk music show on Saturday nights when we normally would be off the air. Apparently he had some interest in the music. The original program was largely live in the studio with local Chicago performers such as Win Stracke, Fleming Brown, and Big Bill Broonzy, among others. It slowly evolved into a record show which Mike described as “folk music & farce, show tunes & satire, odds & ends.” Rumor has it that Ray Nordstrand added “madness & escape” to the show’s slogan. Mike left the show sometime in 1954 or 1955, turning it over to Norm Pellegrini. Norm was program director by then. Norm invited a new hire, salesman and part-time announcer Ray Nordstrand to alternate hosting the program with him. Ray remembered Mike coming back a few times, but no one else seemed to recall that.

Ray definitely remembered Mike and Elaine May rehearsing in the WFMT studio in the LaSalle-Wacker building. However, only one tape survives of “Mrs. Horace Maynard Fann,” a put-down of wealthy society matrons. It’s lost somewhere at WFMT. More than one staff member told me the story of Mike overhearing Ray on the telephone with Ray’s mother, and even though Ray was Swedish, not Jewish, it inspired Mike to create the “Mother and Son” routine he did with Elaine. Ray never denied this story. I overheard Ray on the phone with his mother on a few occasions and it’s quite plausible.


Comedy duo Mike Nichols and Elaine May, 1960

Listen to Marty Robinson wrestle his way through the tongue-tying, multilingual script that Mike Nichols devised as an audition for WFMT announcers:

Listen to part of an early comedy bit by Nichols and May:


Born Michael Igor Peschkowsky to a Jewish family in 1931, Mike and his brother were whisked away from their native Germany as small boys. The family successfully escaped the Nazis and settled in New York City. Mike Nichols came to Chicago to attend the U of C in the 1950s, but became more and more involved in local theater, especially comedy. He joined a troupe that called itself the Compass Players, named for a Hyde Park bar, which specialized in improvisational theater (Paul Sills and other Compass colleagues went on to found The Second City). It was 1953 when Mike Nichols started a folk music and variety show on the newly minted WFMT-FM. That show he titled “The Midnight Special.”

Mike Nichols is survived by his wife, ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer, and children Daisy, Max, and Jenny, and four grandchildren.

Corigliano’s “AIDS Symphony,” 25 Years Later


Hear the Corigliano Symphony No.1 on the next Los Angeles Philharmonic broadcast, Wednesday at 8:00 pm

When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commissioned John Corigliano’s First Symphony, organizers knew he was a gifted composer; what they received, however, was more than a musical composition; it was a national symbol; an expression of grief and a prayer for compassion. The Symphony was titled “Of Rage and Remembrance,” but came to be known as “the AIDS Symphony.”

A few years ago I was extremely moved when I first saw “The Quilt,” an ambitious interweaving of several thousand fabric panels, each memorializing a person who had died of AIDS, and, most importantly, each designed and constructed by his or her loved ones. This made me want to memorialize in music those I have lost, and reflect on those I am losing. I decided to relate the first three movements of the symphony to three lifelong musician-friends. In the third movement, still other friends are recalled in a quilt-like interweaving of motivic melodies.

—John Corigliano

By the time John Corigliano presented his First Symphony in 1990, America had witnessed years of hate speech directed at those most vulnerable to AIDS. AIDS patients lived in fear of persecution. Their right to privacy was pitted against a perceived threat to public safety, while research and public education were only just beginning to make inroads against the disease.


On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published findings describing a rare lung infection in five otherwise healthy young men. All five were gay. Two were already dead. The Associated Press picked up the story on the same day. Subsequently, the CDC was flooded with reports from doctors across the United States who had treated similar cases. Other doctors reported seeing an aggressive cancer in gay men. The common thread was characterised as severe immune deficiency. That year, nearly half of all patients suffering from the deficiency died. It wasn’t until 1985 that doctors identified the virus that was causing the syndrome. By the year 2000, there were 774,467 AIDS cases in the United States; 448,060 of those had died.

The arts were particularly hard hit by the AIDS epidemic. Dance companies were shuttered. Officials began to track infections from the use of dirty needles and HIV-infected blood transfusions. Among those who succumbed were Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Anthony Perkins, Rudolf Nureyev, Arthur Ashe, Isaac Asimov, Robert Mapplethorpe, Liberace, Perry Ellis, and Alvin Ailey.

Gay PrideThe Symphony

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded John Corigliano’s tribute to fallen friends under the direction of Daniel Barenboim. That CD won Grammy Awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best New Composition. When the Symphony No.1 was recorded by Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony Orchestra, the Symphony picked up another Grammy for Best Classical Album (1996).

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra appointed John Corigliano as the orchestra’s first composer-in-residence in 1987. John Corigliano has since composed two more symphonies, the Second of which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Hear the Corigliano Symphony No.1, “Of Rage and Remembrance,” popularly known as “the AIDS Symphony,” conducted by Gustavo Dudamel on the next Los Angeles Philharmonic broadcast, Wednesday at 8:00 pm

Romeo and Juliet in Drag?

Giuditta Grisi played the first Romeo in Bellini's opera

Giuditta Grisi played the first Romeo in Bellini's opera

The Tuesday Night Opera, Tuesday at 8:00 pm

Remember John Madden’s film Shakespeare in Love in which men had to play all the women’s roles due to Elizabethan standards of decency? In opera, that tradition swings both directions.


Castrato Girolamo Crescentini, the first Romeo in Zingarelli’s setting

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has captured the imaginations of many composers; the story is timeless, even as a readers’ biases change – and they’ve changed a lot. When Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli composed his opera on Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo e Giulietta (1796), his image of Romeo was to be realized by a castrato, a male who’s had a procedure prior to puberty in order to keep the voice from dropping (the reasoning being that Romeo is a youth, so he shouldn’t have a deep voice). Vincenzo Bellini agreed with his teacher Zingarelli to the extent that he gave the role to a woman, a mezzo-soprano. He titled his 1830 opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

The Frenchman Gounod assigned Romeo to a tenor.

Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi is the feature on this week’s Tuesday Night Opera with Peter van de Graaff. The role of Romeo will be sung by a woman in a bel canto opera that promises beautiful women’s duets. Peter features a recording with Vesselina Kasarova, Eva Mei, and Ramon Vargas.


Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert as Maria and Tony in Bernstein’s “West Side Story”


Tenor Pierre-Jules Michot, Gounod’s first Romeo

Bass-ic Instincts: From Porgy to Wotan

Eric Owens as Porgy, c. Todd Rosenberg

Live Lyric Opera Broadcast, Monday at 7:15 pm

Bass-baritone Eric Owens will be center stage as George Gershwin’s Porgy in Lyric’s latest production, but his star power shines far beyond George Gershwin’s 1935 opera. He has the versatility and commanding stage presence that make a company want to choose operas with meaty roles that he can sing. He was the title character in Handel’s Hercules at Lyric in 2011. He sang the role of Rusalka’s father, Vodnik, last season, and stars in Porgy and Bess, which opens Monday night.

Last February, the 44-year-old Philadelphia native was named community ambassador by Lyric Opera of Chicago, a role he shares with soprano Ana María Martínez. The community ambassador title formalizes a relationship the artists have cultivated in Chicago’s neighborhoods, particularly with the public schools. It also points to the commitment Lyric has made to having them onstage in coming seasons.

More on Eric Owens and Ana María Martínez as community ambassadors.


Eric Owens as Vodnik in “Rusalka,” c. Todd Rosenberg

As Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 Ring Cycle, Eric Owens didn’t just steal the Rhine gold, “he stole the show,” according to The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette. His performance got a lot of people talking about casting him as Wotan, the king of the gods (and of bass-baritone roles); but evidently Mr. Owens was biding his time. When Lyric announced he would be Wotan in their new production of the Ring Cycle, debuting in 2016, he acknowledged he had turned down other offers until he found the right situation. Chicago is it.

Das RHEINGOLD by Richard Wagner, new production premiere Metropo

Eric Owens as Alberich at the Metropolitan Opera

Last month, Eric Owens relocated from New York to Chicago. While this may only slightly increase this busy international artist’s time in the windy city, it does signal a deeper commitment to Chicago. He was a soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in September, and returns to the CSO in the spring. He is also a tireless advocate for education and community engagement, and has indicated a desire for greater involvement in Chicago’s schools.

Casting a favorite singer like Eric Owens as Porgy seems like a natural choice for Lyric, but there is a history that binds this opera to the African-American experience that goes beyond the simple tale of boy meets girl. George Gershwin made a point of casting black singers for Porgy and Bess – in opposition to Jim Crow laws. That bold decision rippled through the opera’s early history; Porgy had little success until the end of the twentieth century.

A Misunderstood Opera

This is only Lyric’s second staging of Porgy and Bess; the first was in 2008; yet Sir Andrew Davis calls it “the great American opera.” Notwithstanding hit songs like “Summertime” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” Porgy and Bess languished long after African-American singers like Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price broke through the glass ceiling.

There was a conventional wisdom that Gershwin’s writing was problematic – the original cast wasn’t up to the vocal challenges – but that was not a reflection on the quality of composition. Gershwin certainly knew how to write for voice, but Porgy and Bess required an operatic technique, the kind of training that was unavailable to most African-Americans in the 1930s. Attempts to stage Porgy in the musical theater, where Gershwin had triumphed in the past, were equally unsuccessful.

Porgy and Bess

Eric Owens and Adina Aaron as Porgy and Bess, c. Todd Rosenberg

Porgy and Bess challenged conventional notions of opera. Gershwin used his typically jazzy musical language to set the vernacular of a Gullah community on the Carolina coast, a dialect which even today tweaks the sensitivities of many Americans (ex., “Porgy, I’s yo’ woman now, I is, I is!”).

DuBose Heyward’s novel, Porgy, is a story about a people who were effectively sealed off from white America. The first audience distanced itself from black people in general. Subsequent generations distanced themselves from portraying black people who talked like that. Many in the establishment thought Porgy simply didn’t belong in the opera house – or did it?

It was only a matter of time before someone took another look at the score – it was written by George Gershwin, after all. It happened at the Houston Grand Opera, which launched a full-scale production in 1976. That production earned Houston the only Tony Award ever bestowed upon an opera company. After that, no one questioned Porgy‘s place in the opera literature.

Eric Owens first sang the role of Porgy in a 2008 production with the San Francisco Opera. That Francesca Zambello production aired on public television and is the production being staged at Lyric Opera of Chicago through December 20th.

Lyric has extended the run of Porgy and Bess to a total of 13 performances. WFMT’s live broadcast of opening night begins on Monday, November 17 at 7:15 pm.

Listen to Eric Owens singing excerpts from Porgy and Bess, Die Walkure, and Rusalka on a WFMT Impromptu.

See the complete cast and a summary of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Porgy and Bess.


Midwestern Composer, Impressario, World-Class Opera

Composer and Michigan Opera Theatre founder, David DiChiera

Composer and Michigan Opera Theatre founder, David DiChiera

Saturday at 12:00 pm

David DiChiera did not work his way up through the ranks; he created the ranks. He is a composer and visionary who founded two opera companies; bought a derelict theater (and hosted a formal dinner in it), and is helping to rejuvenate the city of Detroit.

This week’s opera broadcast features his debut as an opera composer, Cyrano, and a broadcast of the company he founded in 1971, the Michigan Opera Theatre.

Mr. DiChiera seems to have a gift for breathing life into big ideas. Cyrano not only had its MOT debut, but has since been produced by the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Florida Grand Opera. Mr. DiChiera’s MOT is now one of only a handful of American opera companies to own its own theater; a story that is as colorful as the history of Detroit itself.


Detroit Opera House’s Great Hall, c. Albert Kahn Associates

Long before the arrival of David DiChiera, the Capitol Theatre was a glamorous downtown movie palace. Built in 1922, the theater preceded the advent of the “talkies,” films with soundtracks. Over the years, it went through many owners, upgrades, and name changes. During the 40s, it was home to a popular, weekly radio series. Later, jazz legends Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Duke Ellington performed there; and Bill Haley & the Comets introduced Detroit to rock-n-roll.

With technical innovations in cinema, the old movie house stumbled. Detroit’s population flocked to the suburbs, and the palace, like many downtown buildings, fell into disrepair. By the 1970s, the theater was showing second-run feature films, a subgenre called “Blaxploitation” films, and soft-core porn. After a small fire, the theater was shuttered – Detroit was a city in decline; demolition was too costly, and abandonment of buildings became the norm.


Detroit Opera House

Vandals, harsh winters, and neglect battered the old theater until 1988, when David DiChiera went searching for a permanent home for the MOT. According to, Mr. DiChiera looked beyond the house’s “cracking plaster, the large holes in the ceiling leaking water into the building, the debris-covered stairways, the flooded orchestra pit with a piano floating in it, and the rank moldy smell.”

David DiChiera made the gutsy move of hosting an elegant soirée for his capital campaign, right inside the decaying theater. For the event, lighting and temporary flooring had to be installed. According to historian Michael Hauser, “plaster was falling from the ceiling onto people’s plates and in their drinks.” The theater’s plumbing was not functional, and “Mayor (Dennis) Archer and everyone else had to go outside and use Porta-Johns.” But David DiChiera got his wish. The community rallied around the theater’s restoration, and the newly christened Detroit Opera House opened in 1996 with special guests Luciano Pavarotti and Dame Joan Sutherland.

This season, general director David DiChiera and Detroit’s Michigan Opera Theatre offer Elektra with Christine Goerke and Jill Grove (two of the principals of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s recent production), and The Merry Widow starring Deborah Voigt.

Michigan Opera Theatre’s production of David DiChiera’s Cyrano airs on Saturday, November 15 at noon. Cyrano is based upon Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, and uses a libretto by veteran director Bernard Uzan.


Detroit Opera House’s domed ceiling (click to enlarge)


The Broadway entrance, c. Anthony Barchock (click to enlarge)

The Language of Pierre Boulez


This week, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents the latest in its series Beyond the Score, celebrating the 90th birthday of one Chicago’s – and the world’s – towering musical figures: the conductor, composer, and agitator Pierre Boulez.

Just about everyone in the classical music world holds Mr. Boulez in the highest esteem, though some might add to that a hint of perplexity. Barbara Jepson in The Wall Street Journal put it this way,”[He is a] pioneering composer of thorny modernist works.” She then argues “Why Pierre Boulez’s Répons Is a Masterpiece.”


A tech rehearsal for Beyond the Score: A Pierre Dream, c. Cameron Arens

Pierre Boulez’s place as a force in 20th century music is secure. As a conductor, he is loved by audiences. Some in those audiences, however, puzzle at his compositions. Critics have suggested that Boulez’s music is overly intellectual – but don’t say that around Gerard McBurney, creator of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Beyond the Score concerts.

Mr. McBurney points to the Brahms Requiem, which has hummable tunes, but is as tightly constructed as a 3-D puzzle. Mr. McBurney would argue that that’s intellectual music. That is not what Boulez’s music is about. Rather, he approaches harmony much like Debussy or Berlioz or Rameau: “It’s seeing harmony as a vertical chord. ‘This is a chord. Listen to this beautiful chord. We will now go up and down this beautiful chord.’ When you hear those chords, you hear he’s chosen them because to him they sound beautiful. And what he does is he then shatters those chords…[He'll] explode it, change its coloration so that never for one nanosecond does it appear the same…you can’t hear a tune, because there isn’t a tune. He’s making you listen to something else. He’s making you listen to the color of the music. The word that Pierre Boulez uses all the time is that ‘music is about sonority.’”


Pierre Boulez pictured with Frank Zappa, photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic

That’s a different kind of listening than what many concertgoers are trained to expect. According to Mr. McBurney, “One subscriber to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra said to me, ‘a piece of music should be familiar!’ Well Boulez is saying, ‘No! A work of art should be as unfamiliar as it can possibly be. Familiarity is lazy. Familiarity,’ as we say in English, ‘breeds contempt. What a work of art should do is to worry us, muddle us, confuse us.’ That’s a very French attitude. Debussy took that attitude, too. I mean, if you want people who write like labyrinths, take Balzac, the greatest of all French novelists. Everybody gets lost in Balzac.”



Pierre Boulez as music director of the New York Philharmonic (1971-1977)



These works are not about the author’s or the composer’s personal expression, but about providing a vehicle for the audience to explore and experience the self. Relating the Boulez aesthetic to that of Debussy or Faure, Mr. McBurney points out that, “Deeply in that French tradition is a resistance to the idea that art expresses what is here, now. No…art was always about lifting you into another world, a world of the imagination, a world apart.”

Listen to Gerard McBurney as he describes the musical language of Pierre Boulez:


After World War II, Pierre Boulez had developed a reputation for being a firebrand modernist. As he ascended into the ranks of influential conductors and writers on music, he ruffled feathers making pointed statements about the qualities of prominent composers and whether or not they were worthy successors to the composers of the past. Yet to meet Mr. Boulez at Symphony Center, one might be disarmed by his warm smile and gentle demeanor. Quoting an early Boulez mentor Jean-Louis Barrault, Mr. McBurney said that the young Boulez was, “Full of hope and belief, but as spiky and unpredictable as a kitten…On the one side he had this sense of humor which kept us all laughing, this charm. On the other side, his claws were never sheathed.”

Mr. McBurney sees him as “a titan of energy; he’s a leader; he loves youth; he loves young people being around him; he loves teaching, but he’s also very willing to learn about new things himself. He’s very open to other people.”


Music stand lights are all hooded in order to reduce ambient light

Pierre Boulez first conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969, but it was during the tenure of Daniel Barenboim that he became a regular conductor of, and frequent composer on subscription concerts. Today he holds the title of Conductor Emeritus with the Chicago Symphony, and while his health has prevented him from conducting in the last year, continues to be an artistic presence in the creation of innovative programming at Symphony Center. He’s been instrumental in the development of the Beyond the Score concerts, which employ theater, narration, video projections, and musical excerpts played live by the orchestra to deepen the audience’s understanding of a work or composer. Typically, the theater portion happens during the first half of the concert; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays the work intact during the second half.


The moveable, Frank Gehry-designed screens which will be used for projections during “A Pierre Dream,” c. Noel Morris

The current Beyond the Score offering, “A Pierre Dream,” was titled by a longtime friend of Pierre Boulez, renowned architect Frank Gehry. The show uses Gehry’s own design for moveable surfaces upon which photos, videos, interviews, and manuscripts are projected, all coming from the last 60 years of Mr. Boulez’s career.

For the Beyond the Score shows, Gerard McBurney has forged a partnership with Mike Tutaj, a projection designer who works in theater on both sound and visual images: “My challenge as a projection designer is to make sure that I am supporting a story and supporting a piece of theater, and not just throwing up pictures to show off.” For Mr. Tutaj, using Gehry’s screens opens the show to a much more dramatic presentation: “what makes this interesting and not just a traditional screen is that we have numerous banners that can take different shapes, they interact and we’re seeing them in a way as puppets. They’re maneuvered by actors.”

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform music by Debussy and Boulez November 12 through 16. The Beyond the Score concert “A Pierre Dream” takes place on Friday and Sunday. Pablo Heras-Casado is the conductor.


Cellist Lynn Harrell’s Chicago Roots are Showing


Encore Presentation of Lynn Harrell on Live from WFMT, Monday at 8:00 pm

In August of 1965, Billboard magazine printed a recap of the Ravinia festival, which had opened on a 40-degree evening in the middle of June. Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky had conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that summer. “Ravinia perennial” Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sang; the festival’s 29-year-old music director Seiji Ozawa conducted, and Ella Fitzgerald performed on the “popular artist” series. There was a 21-year-old cellist by the name of Lynn Harrell who gave a recital – that was the beginning of a long and celebrated relationship which continues to unfold in Chicago’s musical life.

Over the last 50 years, Lynn Harrell has shared Chicago’s stages with the CSO, conductors James Conlon, James Levine, Sir Georg Solti; other orchestras, like the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. He’s given masterclasses at area universities and music shops, and played chamber concerts with artists ranging from Isaac Stern to Gil Shaham, not to mention a number of collaborations with CSO principals.

With an opera star for a father (bass Mack Harrell), Lynn Harrell doesn’t remember life without music; and Chicago is a regular stop on the career path of many musicians. As he told WFMT’s Studs Terkel in 1982, Mr. Harrell met conductor James Levine – not in Chicago – but when they were 13 years old in the Harrell’s garage. Their rendezvous in Chicago would come later:


This week on Live from WFMT, hear cello virtuoso Lynn Harrell with pianist Victor Santiago Ascuncion in music and conversation with Kerry Frumkin.

Read about the WFMT special Songs My Father Taught Me, produced by Louise Frank, in which Lynn Harrell finds musical inspiration in the recordings of his late father, Mack Harrell.

“Lucrezia Borgia” from Caramoor Festival


Saturday at 12:00 pm

The curious characters behind New York state’s Caramoor Festival couldn’t have been more colorful, if they had climbed from the pen of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Caramoor property was acquired by Wall Street financier Walter Rosen and his wife, Lucie, in 1928, and named for the previous owner, Carolyn Moore Hoyt (Caramoor is a contraction of Carolyn and Moore). Caramoor’s Italian garden was instantly appealing to Walter and Lucie who were avid travelers and art collectors.


The Rosen House

The Rosens owned a number of townhouses in Manhattan, but had fancied having a country estate where they could entertain (and impress) international visitors. Hosting musical gatherings and housing acquisitions from their travels would be a priority. In some cases, entire rooms were transported from Europe to the Westchester estate. Supposedly, the Rosens never occupied the original house, but immediately began adding to, and converting the property’s barn to living space. Walter Rosen himself was the chief architect for the expansion, and dreamed of creating a house in the style of the Italian palazzo. The result was a four-winged floor plan that had grown like a wild vine into a 25,000 square foot house. Critics suggested the building lacked logic, for example, the original entrance to the barn provides a great arch on the south wing, pulling the eye into the house, except the actual entrance is around the corner. Indoors, the Rosen’s collections are nothing short of spectacular. In the master bedroom, for example, is a large gilded bed which once belonged to Cardinal Barberini (1568-1644), consecrated as Pope Urban VIII.


The Barberini bed

In 1929, the Rosens attended a party in New York City where they met a Russian inventor and Soviet spy by the name of Leon Theremin. The instrument which bears the Russian’s name, the theremin, was one of the original electronic musical instruments, and varied its pitch as the player waved his or her hands through the electromagnetic field generated through two antennae. (One of the most famous uses of the theremin, and its warbly, ghostly tones, was The Day the Earth Stood Still soundtrack.) When she heard this device, Lucie Rosen was smitten. She decided to become a master of the instrument, and that she did. Her New York debut took place at Town Hall in 1935, and she began touring with the theremin throughout Europe and the Northeastern United States. She commissioned pieces for the theremin by Jenö Szanto, Jenö Takács, Mortimer Browning, John Haussermann, and Bohuslav Martinu.

The Rosen House  at Caramoor

The Burgundian Library

Leon Theremin became a tenant of the Rosens, in one of their New York City brownstones, but got behind on taxes and rent. Eventually, he stole away to the Soviet Union where he was promptly placed in a Siberian labor camp. The Soviets then enlisted Leon Theremin to build listening devices that could be placed in the American embassy for the purpose of surveillance.


The grounds at Caramoor

In 1946, the Rosens began opening some of their house concerts to the public. Today, some 15,000 people visit the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts each year.

On Saturday, November 8, WFMT presents Lurezia Borgia, a Donizetti opera in the bel canto tradition. The production stars Angela Meade as Lucrezia, Christophoros Stamboglis as Alfonso. Will Crutchfield conducts the soloists, the Bel Canto Young Artists and Apprentices, and the St. Luke’s Orchestra. The broadcast begins at 12:00 noon.

Lucrezia Borgia at Caramoor

Angela Meade and Michele Angelini


Ian & Ani Live on WFMT


Friday at 12:00 pm

Last spring, they gave a series of shows called “Tango Obsession” at the Chopin Theatre – eight were sold out. Ian & Ani are putting a different spin on chamber music and bringing their sexy, passionate approach to programming and performance to non-traditional venues around the world.

Check out Russian cellist Ian Maksin and Bulgarian pianist Ani Gogova in a Tedx talk (video below) about growing up in former Communist countries, the impact of music in their lives; and choosing Chicago as their home.

Join WFMT for a live broadcast from PianoForte Foundation.  Ian & Ani will play Piazzolla’s Oblivion, Rodion Shchedrin’s In the Style of Albeniz, Ravel’s Habanera, as well as the Sonata for Cello and Piano by Sergei Prokofiev.

WFMT broadcasts lunchtime concerts from PianoForte on the first Friday of every month. The broadcasts start at 12:00 noon.