Wednesday, December 11, 2013 by Noel Morris
Jeffrey Siegel Impromptu, Thursday at 11:00 PM
July 3rd, 1988, tens of thousands stream into Grant Park for the Taste of Chicago. WFMT’s Ray Nordstrand prepares to host the big broadcast with the Grant Park Orchestra, which will culminate in the city’s fireworks extravaganza. As usual, the opening salvos will be timed with the canon fire at the end of the 1812 Overture. While the sun sets, Chicagoans stake out their turf for optimum views of the sky, and the orchestra offers American favorites by Gershwin. The soloist for that concert is a young pianist by the name of Jeffrey Siegel.
—That’s how long this pianist has been playing live on WFMT.
Jeffrey Siegel has made his rounds on various orchestra broadcasts, traveling from New York, to London, to Berlin, to Chicago. Such is the life of a concert pianist, but this one decided to become a value-added pianist; he liked talking from the piano, and the audience seemed to eat it up. He decided there was a niche to be filled, so he launched “Keyboard Conversations.”
Since then, he’s made a PBS special, DVDs, and presented over 100 different programs. The Chicago native will come home for a WFMT Impromptu on Thursday at 11:00 AM. He will present a “Keyboard Conversation” called “The Glory of Beethoven” at Pick Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston on Friday.
Check out this video excerpt of a Jeffrey Siegel Keyboard Conversation:
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 by Noel Morris
Wednesday at 12:15 PM
A year ago they were featured on WFMT’s The New Releases with a highly acclaimed CD of American composers; the oldest of those works had been written six years before. Today on the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, they’ll go back a little farther—four or five hundred years—for some Renaissance works, including music by the German composer Michael Praetorius.
The members of the Gaudete Brass like to make a point of showcasing the breadth and centuries old tradition of writing for brass instruments, presenting in a single program sacred works from the Renaissance; secular Renaissance works, like madrigals; and dipping into the jazz age and beyond. Versatility is their mantra.
Praetorius‘s given name was Michael Schultze, but the composer followed the fashion of taking a Latin version of the family name. Schultze means judge. He took a name derived from praetor urbanus, which referred to a magistrate in ancient Rome.
Speaking of Latin, the Gaudete Brass also borrowed from the Romans: gaudete means rejoice in Latin. Composer James Woodward wrote a piece for the group, which he called Gaudete, in 2007. Look for music by Woodward, David Sampson, Jonathan Newman, and a Flemish 16th century composer by the name of Giaches de Wert on the Wednesday program.
Wednesday’s concert is free and open to the public. The Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts take place every Wednesday at the Chicago Cultural Center in Preston Bradley Hall. The concerts start at 12:15 PM and are broadcast live on WFMT. Check for podcast.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 by Noel Morris
Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus LIVE, Tuesday at 7:15 PM
The grandeur of Lyric Opera’s production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus conjures a fairy tale atmosphere in which adult naughtiness ensues. Set in the perfumed world of Imperial Vienna, it bubbles with champagne, whirling gowns, sequined masks, and sparkling chandeliers; the maestro in the middle completes this fairy tale; it’s the dashing, young American, Ward Stare.
At the age of eighteen, Mr. Stare left the Juilliard School to play principal trombone of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. In his skyrocket to international man of musicality, he didn’t linger; he played in Lyric’s orchestra pit for six seasons, an experience he said was invaluable to understanding the complexities of opera. Today he’s back for his second turn on the Opera House podium, conducting the new-to-Chicago production of Die Fledermaus.
In rehearsal, Mr. Stare fields volleys from director, singers, musicians, and technical crew. The managed chaos of an opera rehearsal is almost video game-like, and no less sporting to the 31-year-old maestro; although he did hit the pause button long enough to speak to WFMT:
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 by Noel Morris
WFMT Exclusive: Noel Morris speaks to Deborah Rutter from her hotel in Washington.
It’s the nation’s performing arts center. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to continue my work in a field I’ve devoted my life to, with an organization that has such a broad reach.
Chicago’s loss is the capitol’s gain, Deborah Rutter has taken a new post as President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
It is difficult to measure the impact this affable, unassuming (though tough as nails) woman has had on the city of Chicago. One has to dig and reflect, because she is not one to toot her own horn: first and foremost, she brought Riccardo Muti to Chicago; before him, principal conductor Bernard Haitink.
She brought on Yo-Yo Ma as creative consultant, she created a record label for the CSO, brought CSO concerts back to the airwaves which are heard nationally through the WFMT Radio Network; launched tours of Mexico, Asia, Europe, Russia (at the request of the State Department); created Beyond the Score, Afterwork Masterworks with WXRT’s Terry Hemmert, a record-setting crowd at Millennium Park, the contemporary music series, MusicNOW. That’s the short list.
Rutter was stealthy in her management style, cajoling, nudging—often with the most giant-sized personalities—bringing them together to share a common goal.
Rutter was a familiar presence, as the voice of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, saying to the public what needed to be said, though for her it was always about the music, and pragmatically speaking, leveraging the personalities who make the music. Perhaps that’s why she did what no other American orchestra executive could do: recruit Riccardo Muti as music director.
From the resignation of Daniel Barenboim, it took six years to hire a music director: three to get onto a conductor’s schedule, three more for there to be openings in that conductor’s schedule to assume responsibilities. During those first years, people close to Rutter noticed lots of travel: to Milan, to Rome, to Philadelphia, to Paris, to New York—anywhere Muti went, Rutter was sure to go. She had the patience of a spider, stopping in to say ‘hello,’ over time telling him more about the singular abilities of her orchestra. Once he actually came to Chicago, the orchestra and community were rapturous. She received an avalanche of inquiries and suggestions that perhaps she should hire Muti as the next music director. After that, everyone wanted to know if she had offered him the job. She once admitted to a friend, “I’m not going to offer it to him until I know he’ll take it.” After all, twice he had turned down Zarin Mehta of the New York Philharmonic.
Deborah F. Rutter will serve as artistic and administrative director of the Kennedy Center starting on September 1, 2014. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has a budget of $200 million dollars and presents jazz, dance, theater, musicals, popular music, folk and world music, as well as classical concerts; the center is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and the Washington National Opera.
Monday, December 9, 2013 by Noel Morris
This month WFMT celebrates the many ways in which children and music intersect. Since the launch of our series Introductions, it’s been our pleasure to have a much closer relationship with organizations around Chicago that train and teach young musicians. This community adds an essential dimension to WFMT’s mission, while challenging and enriching the experience of our staff. One of Chicago’s premiere youth organizations is the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Recently music director Allen Tinkham brought a posse from CYSO to answer phones at the WFMT pledge drive. Their fall concert was aired on Saturday’s edition of Introductions. Listen
Allen shares some insight about these budding players:
When you’re standing on the podium with young people playing real repertoire (as opposed to student versions), do you find much difference between youth musicians and adults? Or do they pretty much speak the same language?
I would say that though they speak the same language, the biggest difference is that the young people are experiencing this music for the first time, so they don’t have the depth of familiarity with the repertoire that a pro would have. Because the young people lack that familiarity and experience, their playing is initially insensitive to what is happening in other parts of the orchestra, making it much more difficult to play together and make all of the music heard. Things that would be automatic for a pro, such as knowing which instruments have the primary melody or the leading rhythm, require explanation and rehearsal for the young musician. This is why we need so much more rehearsal than the pros! However, once the young people have thoroughly learned a piece of music they are capable of tremendous sensitivity, not to mention the incredible energy and reckless abandon that reminds us what it is like to be young!
Have any of your student musicians gone on to become professional players? Any examples?
Many have gone on to great careers in music. Some recent examples (these students have all graduated high school after 2001) include Kyle Zerna, who is a percussionist in the New York Philharmonic, Abe Feder, who is the principal ‘cellist with the Sarasota Orchestra, and Noah Geller, who is the concertmaster of the Kansas City Symphony. Recently CYSO played a concert featuring the brothers Anthony and Demarre McGill, both CYSO alumni with great careers; Anthony is the principal clarinetist with the Metropolitan Opera and Demarre is the principal flutist in the Seattle Symphony. There are many, many others playing in orchestras all over the world, along with folks who have gone on to great careers outside music, including for example Daniel Shih, a CYSO violinist who became a Rhodes Scholar!
The CYSO’s appearance on Introductions will be rebroadcast on Thursday at 10:00 PM.
This Saturday at 11:30 AM
The 2013-2014 season of broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera gets underway this weekend with a revival of the Vegas-style Rigoletto. Of course, in radio it’s more about the music than the neon staging, but this production glows just as brightly with a couple of Chicago favorites: Ryan Opera Center alum and Evanston native Matthew Polenzani, who sings the Duke, and Dmitri Hvorovstovsky who sings the title role.
The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts are a part of the fiber of American life. Whether in Washington, D.C., New York, or now Chicago, I always marvel at the thought of how many men, women, and children have laughed, cried, sung, hummed along, and yes, applauded from their homes to the broadcasts since their beginnings in 1931? Whether or not it’s your weekly ritual, there’s something comforting and assuring to know that these broadcasts endure still. For Rigoletto, the young (36!) year old Spanish conductor from Granada Pablo Heras-Casado leads a stellar cast (Hvorostovsky! Polenzani! Yoncheva!) in creating a world of farce, tragedy, regret, and love.
—Candice Agree, WFMT weekend host
See a complete listing of the broadcast season.
Flashback to 1982
See a scene from Der Rosenkavalier with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Kurt Moll, Judith Blegen, and Tatiana Troyanos.
YES, it was James Levine on the podium in that 1982 production. Maestro Levine is fully involved in the present season, although Rosenkavalier will be conducted by Edward Gardner on the February 22 broadcast.
Saturday morning with Candice Agree
Starting at 7:00 AM
Nelson Mandela was a passionate classical music lover. As a tribute to this exemplar of humility, perseverance, and forgiveness, throughout the morning we’ll hear works from Handel and Tchaikovsky, two of Mandela’s favorite composers, as well as the voice of “Mama Africa,” Miriam Makeba.
The 9 o’clock hour will feature Beethoven’s Piano Concerto # 4, a work which helped shaped the course of the growing anti-apartheid movement of the 1950′s. It’s a truly amazing story. Don’t miss it.
Before Chucky, Woody or Buzz, the idea of animating toys captured the imaginations of a number of composers. Victor Herbert wrote the operetta Babes in Toyland, Respighi compiled some Rossini piano pieces for La boutique fantasque, and even Debussy got in on the game with La Boîte à joujoux. Throughout December WFMT is featuring music having to do with children. Monday morning starting at 9:00 AM, Carl Grapentine samples music specifically about toys. Do any others come to mind?
Monday, 9:00 AM
Herbert Babes in Toyland Prelude–Razumovsky Sym/Keith Brion.
Herbert Babes in Toyland: March of the Toys–St Louis Sym/Leonard Slatkin
L Mozart Toy Symphony In G–Stuttgart Chamber Orch/Karl Münchinger
Debussy La Boîte à Joujoux: Le Magasin de Jouets–ORTF National Orch/Jean Martinon
You may remember Disney’s version of Babes in Toyland. Before that there were Laurel and Hardy. Check it out:
Introductions host and producer David Polk is moving up in the world. You’ve probably heard his voice during membership campaigns as well as a number of special features on WFMT. Now his presence will be integral to the off-microphone workings of the station, as program director.
Get to know David as we the staff have known him, for his fresh perspective and enthusiasm for trying the newest, the latest, the greatest. David offered these answers to a Q and A:
What has your time with WFMT meant to you?
One of my first assignments at WFMT was to help Studs Terkel organize his press interviews when one of his last books was published. Can you imagine an assignment like that? And since all of the interviews were done over the phone he had me sit next to him so that he could pretend that he was talking to someone in person. That was surreal. And I’ve had so many special experiences like that over the years. It’s meant a more interesting life, both as a staff member and as a listener.
How would you characterize WFMT within the Chicago community? If you could wave a magic wand, what would WFMT look like in 5 years?
We are part of the glue that connects much of Chicago’s cultural community and all of us here at WFMT aspire to help strengthen that glue even more. As we move forward I hope that we become the gathering place for the arts in Chicago not only on the radio, but wherever and however it is people “tune in.”
Do you think WFMT needs to change? In what way?
We are and have always been — both our staff and our listeners — a group of arts lovers who happen to have a radio station. And that will not change. The fundamentals — that we are devoted to Chicago, that we present the most interesting mix of music and programming about the arts, emphasize live music, never talk down to the listener and don’t air jingles — do not need to change.
We will, however, continue to work on making WFMT accessible however it is that people want to access it, whether it’s on FM radio or online. WFMT has always embraced new technology and we’ll continue to adapt to new technology.
All of our fellow classical and radio institutions are thinking about the same things: How to expand the audience, how to remain relevant and how to adapt to new technology. We’ll continue those conversations and among us (the staff and listeners) we’ll come up with great new ideas.
Have you gained insight from the kids on Introductions that will inform your job as PD?
Yes! First and foremost that it’s not true that young people don’t like classical music. (I find) that people like to be exposed to all kinds of classical music. And that if you’re really nervous before a big presentation you should eat a banana. They help with nerves.
Any sneak peaks into new programs?
We’re debuting an arts reporting project in January, coordinated by Matt DeStefano. But I didn’t have anything to do with that! Every week, we’ll air a new story about the arts in Chicago. We’re very excited about that. There’s much more, too. Stay tuned!
Do you see social media becoming more integrated with the work that your staff does?
Yes, because it’s become integrated with life in general! We’ve been experimenting with social media, mainly Facebook, for a while now, and we’ll continue to experiment with that and other platforms. If it’s going to be a part of the programming though it has to be used in interesting and thoughtful ways. But since we have an interesting and thoughtful audience I’m sure it won’t be hard to find ways.
All of the new technology is great, but the advantage of radio and WFMT is, in fact, that it’s linear. All of our heads are spinning from the media options out there but you can still press one button, sit back and relax and go on with what you want to do and some of the most knowledgeable people about classical music and culture will expose you to great art.
Thursday, December 5, 2013 by Noel Morris
Things You Never Knew about Berlioz
To sit down with the Chicago Symphony’s Gerard McBurney is to reformat the brain and reconsider half-baked factoids while gaining an entirely different awareness of music. It happened recently with a conversation about Berlioz’s Fantastic Symphony.
It should be said that radio people and program annotators LOVE the Symphonie fantastique because it’s got a good story. We can hold court with the toughest crowd, chomping on this delicious tale like a piece of ripe fruit:
Berlioz had barely written anything, let alone a symphony. He goes to the theater to see some Shakespeare and falls in love with Ophelia. He doesn’t even speak the same language as the actress Harriet Smithson, but he’s so heartsick he writes a huge symphony for her.
Then it gets dark.
With the symphony, Berlioz generates a fiction around the excruciating longing he feels for this woman. The music plays out like a drama in which he imagines attempting suicide and murdering the woman who barely knows he’s alive.
Berlioz could get in a lot of trouble for putting musings like that on Facebook.
He does end up marrying her. Not surprisingly the real Harriet Smithson didn’t measure up to the Harriet Smithson in Berlioz’s brain, and the marriage didn’t last.
What makes this affair so unforgettable is the symphony. At 26 years old, Berlioz arguably wrote the greatest first symphony of all time. Today there are nearly 200 recordings of the piece, all with booklets that show the little tune that’s supposed to represent Harriet Smithson. From there, one could spend a whole afternoon examining the intricate tone painting used throughout the symphony. What you wont find in these recordings is information demonstrating that Hector Berlioz had been on the cusp of writing such a singular masterpiece. Compared to any other composer, Berlioz’s musical background is thin. That’s where the intensive research of Gerard McBurney starts to put meat on those bones.
With that research, Mr. McBurney crafts a fascinating, multimedia production, complete with the Chicago Symphony onstage, poised to play excerpts. These programs, called Beyond the Score, always offer the nuts and bolts of a piece on the first half, and a complete performance on the second (performances are this Friday and Sunday). Invariably McBurney’s efforts produce more information than can be written into half a concert. Sometimes the greatest insights are cut from the show, just because they’d take too much time to explain. With that in mind, we asked Gerard to talk about some of the things that will not be part of this weekend’s Beyond the Score: