by Jeff Lunden
All Things Considered
Glenn Dicterow joined the New York Philharmonic as its concertmaster in 1980. He has performed as its soloist every year since.
Most people who attend symphony performances can spot the concertmaster. That's the first chair violinist who enters before the conductor and helps tune the orchestra. But the all important position calls for much more than that — from playing tricky solos to shaping the sound of the string section.
"Glenn Dicterow is the quintessential concertmaster, in my opinion," Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, says. "The concertmaster more than any other individual musician in an orchestra can really affect not just the sound, but the whole attitude, the whole approach to music. And I don't think you'll ever hear anyone say a bad word about Glenn; he's loved by all his colleagues."
When Dicterow joined the New York Philharmonic in 1980, at the age of 31, he was the youngest concertmaster in the orchestra's history. Since then, he's played in more than 6,000 concerts with more than 200 conductors. The violinist says a big part of his job is political.
"It's how you get along with your colleagues, how you solve problems, be it a problem that involves two people not getting along or somebody not really doing their job, as far as being part of the team, you sort of have to take care of those things," he says. "And, let's say we have a guest conductor who, basically, rubs people the wrong way — it's my job to make peace. Everybody needs to get along to make gorgeous music. That's the bottom line."
Dicterow came to New York from Los Angeles, at the invitation of Zubin Mehta. The orchestra then was mostly made up of men and had a reputation for being somewhat cantankerous.
"The 'old guard,' as they called them. They said what they felt right away," he says. "And if somebody was on the podium that they didn't quite like they would tell him off. Sometimes they didn't get along and there were some pushing and shoving matches."
The longtime concertmaster says there are maybe three or four people left from those days. Now, it's a more diverse group and the orchestra is more than 50 percent women. He thinks these musicians are more flexible and open; several of them, including conductor Alan Gilbert, are his former students.
"I don't have an exact body count, but I think it's, I would venture to say it's about 11," he says.
One of those former students, Lisa Kim, is associate principal second violin. She says Dicterow taught her more than just musical lessons.
"The positive energy that he has really affects the whole orchestra onstage," she says. "And I didn't really realize it at the time; I mean, you play well and that's fine, you know, that's all you need. But it's more to it than that."
Dicterow has a fondness for all four Philharmonic music directors he's played under, but he holds a special place in his heart for the late Leonard Bernstein, who was the Philharmonic's music director emeritus during the 1980s.
"I just heard a sound coming out of the orchestra that was magical and I don't know where it was coming from; it was like from heaven," he says.
Bernstein's Serenade has been one of the violinist's signature pieces over the years, and Dicterow first played it with Bernstein conducting. The composer initially felt Dicterow's playing was too romantic for a work he thought of as neoclassical.
"Meanwhile, there's nobody emoting more on the podium than he. In the tutti sections, he's jumping up and flailing and, you know, neoclassic my butt!" the concertmaster says.
After he retires from the Philharmonic, Dicterow will move to Los Angeles to teach at USC's Thornton School of Music, while continuing to play chamber music and perform as a soloist with orchestras. But he says he'll miss his colleagues.
"It got to be a family. I'm gonna miss it, but now I'm gonna be coming to the concerts and not have to practice," he says.
He still has a little more practicing to do yet — Dicterow will be performing the Beethoven Triple Concerto, with principal cellist Carter Brey and Philharmonic artist-in-residence Yefim Bronfman through this Saturday.
by Anastasia Tsioulcas
David Aaron Carpenter plays the 'Macdonald' Stradivarius viola at Sotheby's auction house for NPR in April.
Update Wednesday, June 25, 2014: A representative from Sotheby's tells NPR that the instrument did not sell "at this time."
Wednesday, Sotheby's auction house plans to announce the sale of a rare viola made by Antonio Stradivari. The minimum bid is $45 million. If it sells, it will be the most expensive instrument of any kind in history.
Here's an old musician joke: How do you keep your violin from getting stolen? Put it in a viola case.
The viola has long played second fiddle to its far more popular, higher-pitched sibling, the violin. But if any instrument can break the curse, it just might be this one.
"This instrument was made in 1719 by Antonio Stradivari, who is the greatest violin-maker of all time," says Tim Ingles, the director of Ingles & Hayday, an English auction house and dealership specializing in musical instruments. His firm is working with Sotheby's to sell the viola, nicknamed the "Macdonald" Strad after one of its previous owners. "It was made towards the end of what is called his 'golden period,' when he made his best instruments," Ingles says.
The last time it was on the market was 1964. It was sold to the Philips record label, which bought it for Peter Schidlof, the violist for the Amadeus Quartet. At some unknown point, ownership of the viola passed to Schidlof himself. He died in 1987, and his family is now selling it.
Back in 1964, it went for $81,000 — which, accounting for inflation, would be equal to about $613,000 today. So what makes it worth $45 million this time?
Ingles says that among rare instruments, this ranks among the very rarest: "It is really the holy grail. There are approximately 650 Stradivari instruments in existence today, but only 10 of these are complete violas, and the Macdonald is the best of these violas by some distance."
Not surprisingly, Ingles & Hayday and Sotheby's have been doing their best to drum up the chatter surrounding this sale. Sotheby's vice chairman, David Redden, says that now they're hoping for more than $45 million.
"We're actually doing a combination, really, of private sale and auction," Redden says. "We're doing a sealed-bid sale. We have a floor price, and beyond that, people can bid that or any other price they wish to bid."
To help goose that price up, Sotheby's took the viola on a roadshow this spring to New York, Hong Kong and Paris. And it enlisted a prominent young American violist, David Aaron Carpenter, to show off what the instrument can do. Carpenter demonstrates for me its tonal quality, playing first a viola transcription of the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 3.
"So over here, it is an immediate reaction that this viola has," Carpenter says. "Sometimes a viola is too muffled, or has kind of a nasal quality, or it's too mellow. You want to have the projection that will reach the last member of the audience. And this viola kind of understands."
Carpenter can talk about the Macdonald Strad both as a player and as an expert. He's a well-regarded soloist, but along with his brother Sean and sister Lauren, he also operates Carpenter Fine Violins, a firm that deals in high-end instruments.
They accompanied him pizzicato while he played Paganini's Carnival of Venice to show off the viola's high notes.
Carpenter says that as gorgeous as this viola sounds now, it's going to take a while for it to sound completely like its old self again. "It's been a little bit of a shame that this particular viola has been locked away in a vault for 30 years, and really hasn't been played on," Carpenter says. "So it's really kind of still sleepy, and it will probably take about a year to five years for it to really maximize its true potential of sound."
But the odds are a musician won't be the one buying it, Ingles says.
"Most even very successful musicians are not able to purchase their own instruments these days, with good Stradivari instruments costing anything from about $5 million upwards," Ingles says. "So in many cases a private investor or a foundation will step in, purchase the instrument and then loan it to a talented player." In other cases — as with the Macdonald — owners will simply sock the instrument away.
It's an investment. As with visual art, sale prices for rare instruments have soared. There are even investment funds that help highfliers buy such instruments. But recent research indicates even professionals usually can't hear the difference between a Strad and a very good modern instrument. Still, the Stradivarius mystique endures.
by Tom Huizenga
At the Moab Music Festival in Utah, summer night performances take place in picturesque settings.
Summer has officially breezed in with not only longer days but also sultry nights. There's something about summer nights that inspires composers — perhaps a certain stillness in the air or the allure of a new romance. To mark the changing of the season, test your ears in this nocturnal puzzler dedicated to musical snapshots of warm summer evenings. Score high and turn the air conditioner up a notch. Score low and sweat it out till morning.
by Jim Dryden
Weekend Edition Saturday
Stephanie Blythe (left) as Gertrude Stein and Elizabeth Futral as Alice B. Toklas in the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' 2014 production of 27.
Gertrude Stein was a big woman with a big ego. Her friends were big, important artists, like Picasso and Matisse. A new opera by composer Ricky Ian Gordon, best known for his acclaimed 2007 opera based on John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, takes place in Paris and gets its name, 27, from the street address where Stein and Alice B. Toklas hosted many of the greatest artists and writers of the early 20th Century.
"For sheer hubris, the size of her personality, the weight of her choices — she said yes to what she believed was correct visually in the 20th century and consequently surrounded herself with, basically, the progenitors of 20th century art vocabulary," Gordon says.
Later, Stein would champion such writers as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald; all were regular guests at the home she shared with Toklas. Artistic salons and domestic life aren't necessarily the stuff of grand opera, but mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who plays Stein, says that's part of what makes 27 special.
"I mean, you don't get the mundane, often, in opera," Blythe says. "Any couple is going to be able to look at this and say, 'Oh, I know that.' Not everybody can look at Radamès and Aida at the end of [Aida] and go, 'Oh, I know what it's like to be, you know, entombed alive.' It's just a beautiful, beautiful piece."
The opera began with conversations between Blythe and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis artistic director James Robinson, who serves as stage director on the production. For him, Stein presents a fascinating paradox in that her life is better known than her work.
"We know of Gertrude Stein's writing, but it's very, very short," Robinson says. "You know, we know the famous line, 'A rose is a rose is a rose.' But most people don't know her books. She is somebody who was very influential on other people."
And yet, in her writing, Stein often attempted to do with words what her friends the Cubists were doing with paint, according to Stanford University art historian Wanda Corn.
"She saw in Cezanne, and then in Picasso, permission to basically start thinking about skills in writing and skills in painting all over again," Corn says. "She felt that these artists were rediscovering forms, and she wanted to do exactly the same kind of thing with words. There was almost nothing in the history of writing that Stein didn't want to rethink and experiment with."
Stein even experimented with opera, writing librettos for Virgil Thomson's The Mother Of Us All and Four Saints In Three Acts. Of her longer work, best known are Tender Buttons and The Autobiography Of Alice B. Toklas. Stephanie Blythe was an English major in college and familiar with Stein's writing, but not necessarily a fan.
"I like Gertrude Stein the woman, the 'husband,'" she says. "I only use that term because that's exactly the term she used. I like the partner of Alice. I'm not necessarily crazy about the grandiose, larger-than-life person who lays down the law about who's a genius and who's not. So I like aspects of Gertrude very much, and others not so much."
In 27, soprano Elizabeth Futral embodies Stein's longtime partner and confidant, Toklas. She, like her counterpart, says the beauty of the production comes from the smaller, more mundane parts of the women's lives. The opera begins after Stein's death, as Futral sits on stage, knitting the story to life.
"Since she outlived Gertrude by about 20 years, she was really devastated at her death and mourned her the rest of her life — and celebrated her the rest of her life, too," Futral says. "But this longing to have her back is how the show begins and how the other characters are created, and it's really an interesting, wonderful concept."
Ricky Ian Gordon first read about Stein during college. Today, he holds salons at his home to play his new music for friends. But what he likes best about his central character is her larger-than-life personality.
"Gertrude Stein was being interviewed, and she said to the interviewer, 'Other than Shakespeare and me, who do you think are the greatest writers in the English language?' You've gotta love someone that feels that way about themselves," Gordon says. "You just do!"
And in that way, Stein became the patron for her own story in song.
Debutantes in the opening waltz of the 2011 Vienna Opera Ball. The head of the Vienna Institute for Strauss Research calls the waltz "Austria's premier cultural export."
One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three: That's the rhythm of a waltz. It's one of the world's most common dance forms. And you'd be forgiven if this triple-time pattern conjures up mental images of ball gowns and fancy-pants manners. But this quintessential high-society dance has some surprisingly indecent roots.
Some people will tell you that the waltz isn't just a dance. It caused a social revolution when it first became popular in Vienna in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
"You must understand that in those days, in the 19th century, it was one of the first dances where dancers were allowed to come closer," Eduard Strauss says. "Men could hold the lady and squeeze the lady, and bring her near to, well, where the man wants the lady to be, and it was just very erotic."
Strauss should know about the power of the waltz — he is the chairman of the Vienna Institute for Strauss Research. You could even say that the waltz is his family business.
"Maybe you know that there are several Strausses," Strauss explains. "In my family we have Johann Strauss the father. And he had three sons: Johann II, the very famous Johann Strauss — the 'Blue Danube,' Die Fledermaus and all this. The second son was Josef, and the third son was Eduard, so three brothers. And the third son, Eduard, is my great-grandfather." Eduard Strauss composed waltzes, too.
After it swept Vienna in the early 19th century, this long-quick-quick rhythm seized the imagination of musicians and dancers around the world. Tchaikovsky loved it in Russia. It even made its way to the New World, to places like Louisiana and across Latin America.
Once you start listening for the waltz rhythm, you start to hear it absolutely everywhere. And the waltz is still very much a part of our pop consciousness.
Bruno Mars' song "If I Knew" was used as a waltz in the recent semifinals of the wildly popular show Dancing with the Stars. I caught one of the show's judges, choreographer and dancer Bruno Tonioli, on the phone from Los Angeles. And he says it's no surprise why this form has had such staying power.
"It sweeps you away," Tonioli says. "It's a wonderful, wonderful dance. To require that control that gives you that incredible weightless, gliding quality, the rise and fall sway — it demands incredible control. When you look at it, it seems easy, but it's very deceptive. It demands the most, the highest level of technical control, because making something look easy is so hard!"
Tonioli says the waltz's insistent pattern, the one of the one-two-three, still presents a challenge. You don't want to thud down on that downbeat.
"You can never make it look heavy," he says. "It's like a breath. You know, when you breathe? You have to use the breath of the music, never go down on the music. What makes it that magical — you know that moment of stillness at the end of the bar, when you almost feel like you're getting to the last beat and you hold it for a second, or a millisecond, before you take the next beat? That's what makes it so magical, you see, and that is what is very, very difficult to produce."
There's an incredible example of that suspension, and anticipation, near the beginning of one of the most popular arias in opera, Verdi's "La donna è mobile," from Rigoletto.
Regardless of whether a waltz was written 150 years ago or just last year, Strauss says there's one thing we have to remember: "Nowadays, one tends to forget that this music basically was written to be danced to — dance music."
So the next time you hear that long-quick-quick, get out there and kick up your heels.
German soccer players sing their national anthem Monday before their 2014 World Cup match against Portugal in Salvador, Brazil.
In case you've been hiding under a rock (or a patch of AstroTurf), there's a little sporting event underway that has much of the world glued to the television. As the 2014 World Cup blasts into its second week, 32 teams (in groups of four, lettered A-H) continue to battle it out in Brazil.
Before each game begins, one important custom must be observed — the singing of each team's national anthem. So if you fancy yourself a World Cup know-it-all, try matching the team to its national anthem (in an instrumental version). Score high and advance to the round of 16. Score low and it's time to wipe off your face paint and head home.
by Mark Mobley
The Star-Spangled Banner manuscript and flag together in a gallery at the National Museum of American History.
O say can you sing? The Smithsonian National Museum of American History asks that you belt out "The Star-Spangled Banner" in a nationwide singalong Saturday afternoon. June 14 is both Flag Day and part of the museum's celebration of the anthem's bicentennial. So gather your family and friends, sing out and tweet with the hashtag #raiseitup.
The original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key.
In September 1814, after witnessing a War of 1812 battle in Baltimore Harbor, lawyer Francis Scott Key wrote the poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry." It fit an English men's club tune, "The Anacreontic Song" by John Stafford Smith. This marriage of words and music became the U.S. national anthem by congressional action in 1931.
Saturday the D.C. museum is hosting its Raise It Up! Anthem for America Concert, which will be broadcast live online starting at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, with the national singalong at 4. To participate, find a gathering or register your own.
The D.C. event includes the United States Air Force Concert Band, The Singing Sergeants (the official chorus of the U.S. Air Force) and a chorus of 400 led by composer Eric Whitacre and MacArthur fellow Francisco J. Núñez. Key's original manuscript, on loan from the Maryland Historical Society, will be on display, along with the original flag celebrated in the anthem; so will the dress soprano Renee Fleming wore to sing the anthem at the most recent Super Bowl. The museum has also posted videos of artists from to Patty Griffin and Scott Miller to Phish and Pat Monahan of Train singing the anthem, as well as a solo by New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins.
So whether you're a fraction as powerful as Whitney Houston or Jennifer Hudson, as inventively soulful as Marvin Gaye or even shaky like Carl Lewis, please rise, remove your hat and lift your voice. And — with apologies to Key — just one verse will do.
American composer John Adams has written a new concerto for saxophone.
The concerto. It's a musical recipe more than 400 years old but composers still cook with it. And why shouldn't they? We still seem to crave the sound of a virtuosic soloist playing with (and often against) an orchestra. As in centuries past, virtuosos still inspire, and in many cases commission, composers to write some of their best music, which can push an instrument to its creative limit. We've come a long way since the earliest concertos by Torelli and Vivaldi, but some of the old formulas — from the three-movement template to the fast-slow-fast tempo indications — still ring through in contemporary concertos, including these three fascinating examples from John Adams, Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa and Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian.
The versatile Spanish conductor Rafael Frübeck de Burgos.
The widely admired Spanish conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos died this morning in Pamplona, Spain at age 80. It was just a week ago that Frühbeck acknowledged he was ill with cancer and announced, via the Boston Symphony Orchestra, that he would have to cease working.
"After meeting with my doctors I have come to the following conclusion: I have to recognize publicly that I have cancer and that in this state of health and with deep sorrow I am not able to conduct at my standards and the moment to quit professional matters has come," Frühbeck said in the statement.
Until his retirement announcement last week, Frühbeck was chief conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, where his contract was to last until 2015. He was also a favorite guest conductor at many top American orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra — where he reportedly conducted more than 130 concerts — and the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among many others. He served as principal guest conductor for Washington's National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) from 1980 to 1988.
For many years, Frühbeck worked avidly with young musicians, and was a fixture at both the Tanglewood Music Center and at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. As he told violinist Hilary Hahn in a video interview she made with him four years ago, he took particular delight in seeing students he had worked with at Tanglewood and Curtis years later, seated in the orchestras he guest conducted around the U.S.
Born in the city of Burgos, Spain on September 15, 1933, Frühbeck took on his hometown's name as he established his professional career. (His father was of German origin.) Frühbeck began playing violin at age 7 at the behest of his mother, and went on to study violin, piano, theory and composition at conservatories in Bilbao and Madrid. He later studied conducting at Munich's Hochschule für Musik, where he graduated summa cum laude and was awarded the Richard Strauss Prize.
His conducting posts took him widely across the globe. He led the Montreal Symphony Orchestra briefly in the mid-1970s and the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra between 1980 and 1983. More recently, he served as the chief conductor for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (1991-96), the Deutsche Oper Berlin (1992-97), the Rundfunkorchester Berlin (1994-2000) and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Italy (2002-07).
Frühbeck made his New York debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in February 1969. New York Times critic Harold Schonberg praised his performance of Manuel de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat at that concert, saying that he conducted it "beautifully ... adding the kind of rhythmic pliancy that a musician born to the language has mastered."
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