A Primer for the February Concert at St. Veronica
By Michael Feldman
When I was a young lad, just getting my feet wet in the enormous repertoire of classical music, I recall my first expedition to the Sam Goody record shop. (Was it on 49th Street?) To this day, I remember the recordings I picked out. There was no possibility of an informed choice. All was equally unfamiliar, like going into a wine store with no knowledge of grapes, vineyards, or vintages…just grab and go. I chose Mozart keyboard works, Beethoven quartets, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 7; it must have been 1954. Not a bad choice, n’est-ce pas?
Later (a few months) and more sophisticated, I purchased a Mozart symphony recording as recorded by the conductor I most admired—Bruno Walter. He was a regular at the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera and the epitome of Viennese grace and sensibility (quite the opposite of Toscanini).
What was so special about that recording was the inclusion of an additional 10-inch disc of Walter rehearsing the (so-called) Columbia Symphony for that recorded performance. And with a budding interest in conducting already bubbling up, I listened to that rehearsal dozens (probably hundreds) of times to glean any possible hints into the mystery of how a masterful performance is created. (You can listen too, on YouTube: It’s Symphony No. 36 in C, the “Linz Symphony.”)
Fast forward to 2018 and performance style has changed or, rather, adjusted to account for the important influences of the period movement. Musicians have evolved (at least I hope I have) in that the manner in which they perform takes into account the development of the authentic performance approach, even though that concept, when applied indiscriminately, leads to ridiculous results as pointed out by Richard Taruskin and others.
What are the lasting influences of that movement? Fleeter tempos, especially in the slower movements, and lighter textures leading to more transparency. (Andante is not slow but rather a walking tempo, sometimes even ambling. In this Mozart symphony, it is almost a barcarolle.)
Combine that with the best (older) influences of Walter, Furtwangler, Casals, and Alexander Schneider at the New School, featuring an increased emphasis on the bass and inner voices (Schneider played second violin in the Budapest Quartet in its heyday), and you get a lighter, more flexible style of playing. It is not unlike the way the Orchestra of St. Luke’s plays, for which I am partly responsible. Louise Schulman, our principal viola, is a master at that.
But how does one approach this music ‘a-fresh?’
First and most importantly, I will not listen to Walter’s Rehearsal (but you may and please do). The essence of what we ultimately present is in the score, the printed music, and in all the stylistic niceties that we carry in our heads as baggage. We search the score for ideas and sometimes they appear, startlingly new. It’s a source of some amazement to me that, after all these years, one may very well come across a new, but valid and convincing way to perform familiar and much-beloved music. And having taken several decades off from conducting, it’s especially rewarding to approach these familiar pieces with a clean slate.
As Wynton Marsalis has noted, performing jazz involves a musical negotiation and compromise, and that will certainly be in evidence here. A significant coterie of the musical leadership in the Orchestra of St. Veronica is comprised of thoughtful musicians with whom I have appeared for almost 50 years. They’ve never been timid in expressing their opinions.
And so, the Mozart Andante may seem fleet at the outset. Inner voices and bass lines (as performed by our extraordinary bassist, Jack Kulowitch), will be emphasized and, just possibly, an entirely new approach to the Bach overture may be presented. I haven’t quite made up my mind on that one yet.
This is the program slated for the February 10th concert of the Orchestra of St. Veronica:
- Bach: Suite (Overture) No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
- Bach: Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043
- Mozart: Motet for soprano and orchestra, Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165
- Mozart: Symphony No. 36 in C major, “The Linz Symphony,” K. 425
Here is some background information on the talented artists who will be performing at the February concert:
Soprano Christine Lyons has been described as a “sparkling soprano” by the Broad Street Review. During the 2017-2018 season, she sings the title role in Puccini’s Suor Angelica (with New York Lyric Opera), Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (with Saltworks Opera), and Micaëla in Carmen (with Opera Ithaca). Lyons is a 2017 Second Prize Winner in the New York Lyric Opera Theatre National Vocal Competition.
Conductor Michael Feldman founded the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble (now the Orchestra of St. Luke’s) in 1974 and led them to Caramoor, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and BAM. He has completed more than 75 recordings, made numerous television appearances on PBS, and toured the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Canada. Feldman was the Music Director of The Washington Ballet and, presently, is a guest scholar at the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation.
Violinist Eriko Sato is a member and frequent concertmaster of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. She made her solo debut at age 13, and has performed as a soloist with orchestras in Louisville, San Francisco, and Tokyo. Sato is currently a faculty member at the Hoff-Barthelson Music School and the Mannes School of Music (Preparatory Division), where she teaches violin and chamber music.
Violinist Mitsuru Tsubota has been a member of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s since 1989. She began her studies at the age of five and was a soloist with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra at 10. Since 1982, Tsubota has performed regularly with the New England Bach Festival. She is a co-founder and principal violinist of the Strathmere Ensemble, and has served as concertmaster for all of Westchester Oratorio Society’s choral-orchestral performances.