Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A song for Lady Day

I do not know about you but when I hear Lady Day I think of Billie Holiday.

So I was kind of surprised to read this morning on this priest's Web log that I look in on sometimes that there was, or is, a different Lady Day. That is today which is the Feast of the Annunciation. It used to be affectionately known as Lady Day. The Lady was the Blessed Virgin Mary (or BVM, to use an abbreviation I love).

All I can think is that when Lester Young gave Billie Holiday that nickname, this other Lady Day must have put the phrase in his head. Because once upon a time all these traditions were part of the public consciousness. Also Billie Holiday was Catholic and that might have fed into it too. I am not saying she was a churchgoer her whole life but she was baptized and had a Catholic funeral. I was at the Paulist church in New York City where her Requiem Mass was held.

Lady Day. Who knew it was in the calendar? All these beautiful traditions that lasted centuries and then just vanished, like that, overnight. You know what, if bad people had set out intentionally to obliterate all this stuff, they could not have done a better job.

Up above is a song by Lady Day.

And here is a song for Lady Day.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Master Class

The other day I wound up watching this master class taught by Jorge Bolet, a pianist I like. This is funny, I always said Bo-LAY. It is not as if his name came up in conversation a lot, you know? So I did not have a lot of practice hearing it or saying it. But anyway, in that clip, the British announcer says right away, very matter-of-factly: "George BOL-let."

George BOLLet it is.

A couple of things about this video. The kid is obviously very good, playing the Rach 3. While he plays it is fun to watch Bolet restlessly pacing around in the background. Pacing, thinking, brooding about what Rachmaninoff intended, what Rachmaninoff had in mind, how we may do honor to Rachmaninoff's vision. That is what Bolet is thinking.

Periodically he stops the kid. And this is the best: He tells this story at one point. "It is like the farmer, who was going to the market and ...."

And this kid's face is just this blank. He's looking at Bolet and you can tell he doesn't have the foggiest idea what this old mustachioed guy is talking about. He just knows he has to wait it out.

As Howard said, "You just have to eat it."

That is the truth, when you are a kid in a master class! You just have to take it. You have no choice.

I covered a master class once at UB that Leon Fleisher was teaching. Fleisher had stopped one of the kids and he launched into this sing-songy talk about Schubert and the maid of the mill. He returned to the subject later. "Now, Schubert's maid of the mill..."

Much as I loved him for bringing up "Die Schoene Muellerin" I was there with my notebook thinking: Are you on drugs?

Do you actually think these kids have the foggiest idea what you are talking about?

Mill, Schmill!

Back to Bolet. I was seeing how many master classes there are on YouTube, more than a few by him. Bolet was very pedigreed in the teacher department. He had famous teachers and he felt he had an obligation to pass on what he learned.

Lucky for us, you know?

I am game!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A great artist's 'last words'

Here I go again with my preoccupation with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. You know how YouTube tempts you away from your work by tossing up various videos you might like? That is what happened in this case.

I see "Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Last Words" and that is it for me.

About whether these were close to his last words, I am not sure about that. Whoever posted the video naturally put everything else in the "about" section except what everyone wants to know, which is when the video was made. Well, I am still grateful to that person for posting. I imagine it was in the singer's last couple of years and I guess that is good enough for me.

It is cute how Fischer-Dieskau stayed so youthful looking. You can't see it in the still but if you watch the video, he's still very handsome, and very animated. He laughs a lot and he has a great laugh. He seems very... mirthful, is a word that comes to mind. I got that idea about Leonard Pennario, too, talking with him at the end of his life. He had had his share of emotional difficulties too but he was still laughing, and you got the idea he had laughed a lot. Very important in life, you know? I mean, look at these great artists. They needed something to power them through their lives and a sense of humor certainly helped.

 Tremendous laugh in this video when Fischer-Dieskau recalls the great Wagnerian singer Kirsten Flagstad. He recalls her in "Tristan and Isolde" -- these memories must date to when, as a young man, he sang Kurvenal in that opera, in the same production with her. Anyway, she would be sitting there backstage, knitting something for her grandchildren, and then came her cue, and she stood up (he stands up, imitating her), puts down her knitting and ... "dann kam Isolde!" Then came Isolde.

Hahahahahaha! He bursts into that tremendous laugh.

Anyway, I love this. And I have to agree with the top comment on the list.

"Rest in Peace," somebody wrote. "You were the best."

Monday, March 17, 2014

For the Feast of St. Patrick...

 ... we give you the No. 1 hit of 1917, the great Irish tenor John McCormack singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

His Irish accent is adorable. Listen to the flourish he gives to "perilous" in "Through the perilous flight."

There must have been a lot of patriotic fervor in the air because of regrettable World War I. The war must have been tough on a singer like McCormack who surely had a lot of German friends and colleagues.

He would live to see another war. Here is a rarity: McCormack in 1941, at London's Abbey Road studios, singing Bach with the great accompanist Gerald Moore. It was one of the tenor's last records.

Again, that beautiful accent. The word to listen for is "impassioned." He gives it that twirl.

A great Irish artist, on the feast day of a great saint.

Sing it, Mr. McCormack!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A 98-year-old pianist holds forth

Researching things Pennario on this snowy day, one thing led to another and I found this article from a couple of weeks ago about this pianist who is almost 100 years old, Frank Glazer.

Glazer recorded Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" at about the same time Leonard did, which is to say the very early '50s. That is how I stumbled on him. He studied with Artur Schnabel. During World War II he had to leave Germany and he followed Schnabel to Italy.

God love this guy, you know?

He has done a lot of teaching including at the Eastman School of Music and more recently at Bates College, from whence I grabbed the picture up above. He talks in the story about how the teacher/student dynamic has changed. When he was a student, Frank Glazer says, you did not question your teacher. Now there is this informality which can be good or bad. He also says Schnabel used to tell you something only once and you had to remember it. Now, you have to tell your students stuff a hundred times.

He sounds like a very cool person. He was playing a program of Bach, Mozart, Ravel, Beethoven and Chopin. I wish I could have been there.

Here is Frank Glazer playing Mendelssohn's "Spring Song," a piece I love, at the very springy age of 85.

Mighty fine playing if you ask me.