Sunday, October 9, 2011

Orchestra musicians

I often wonder what orchestra musicians in the times of Corelli, Vivaldi, Bach, Zelenka, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bizet, Verdi, Berlioz, Paganini, Rossini, Puccini, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Poulenc, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev thought about their music when it was being played for the first time.  Orchestral music is an art that requires many collaborators.  It’s not just one man and his piano.  What thoughts passed through their minds as they labored to understand and decipher, and practiced and rehearsed what the composers had just written?  Did the manuscripts contain a lot of misprints?  Was the music illegible?  Did they even have enough light to see the notes?  Did they have enough rehearsal time to learn the music?  Composers frequently finished their work at the last minute.  Was the conductor clueless?  Was the music any good?  Did they hesitate to speak out?  Were they just there to do a job and go home?  Were they all free-lancers?  Organized, standing (civic) orchestras did not come into existence until about 1800.  Did they take on other work to make ends meet?  Did they ever praise or encourage a composer?  Did they think they got paid enough for their services?  What did they think about the aristocracy?  Did they ever think they were making history?  Did they drink on the job?  Was the music even well-played?  Did they care about that?  What did they think of Bach’s Mass in B minor or Handel’s Messiah?  What did they think of Mozart’s Haffner Symphony or his Don Giovanni?  When Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was premiered, who played in the orchestra?  What did they think of Brahms’ Second Symphony?  What did they say about Bizet’s Carmen?  What did they think of Paganini and his impossible concertos?  What did they say about Tchaikovsky when he conducted?  Who was playing in the orchestra when the riot took place during Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiere?  Did orchestral musicians think about their audiences at all?  Did the audiences think about them at all?  Only God knows.  Even among the very best-known orchestras in the world – the New York Philharmonic, for instance - the rank and file musician is invisible.  With some luck, the concertmaster’s identity and abilities might be known, but only to a few.  The rest of the players are anonymous.  They don’t even talk to the conductor, except perhaps about innocuous topics (and only now and then), but certainly not about the music at hand.  Perhaps it’s no different than it is in other enterprises or industries which hire dozens or hundreds or even thousands of people.  We know Mozart and Schumann and Wagner and Berlioz wrote quite a bit about their work and their lives.  Many other more contemporary musicians have also written books about their experiences – Arnold Steinhardt, Leopold Auer, Louis Kaufman, Albert Spalding, Isaac Stern, Joseph Szigeti, Ivry Gitlis, Ned Rorem, Henri Temianka, Carl Flesch, Yehudi Menuhin, Nathan Milstein, Steven Staryk, Ida Haendel, Charles Munch, Riccardo Muti, Igor Stravinsky, Mischa Mischakoff, Leonard Bernstein, Michael Charry, and Gunther Schuller, to name a few.  They are all higher-profile musicians.  What about the guy in the third stand of the cello section, or the third trumpet player, or the woman in the fourth stand of the first violin section, or the assistant principal in the viola section, or the second horn player?  Except for when they play, they keep quiet.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Edith Lorand

Edith Lorand was a Hungarian violinist, singer, and conductor born (in Budapest) on December 17, 1898.  She is remembered for the great number of recordings she produced for German labels of the 1920s and 30s – Odeon, Parlophone, and Beka.  Her specialty was salon music of that era – it included opera music arrangements, dance music, popular songs, and light classical pieces.  That was during a time when live music was played at the more elegant hotels and restaurants all over Europe.  Up to a point, her biography reads somewhat like Alma Rose’s.  She studied to be a concert violinist but her ambition (and abilities) took her in a different direction.  Though her mother was an accomplished pianist, her father was not a musician.  Her first public performance was at a charity concert in Budapest at age six.  Lorand graduated from the Royal Music Academy in Budapest where she studied with Jeno Hubay.  She also later studied with Carl Flesch – either in Berlin or Vienna.  She made her debut in Vienna and Berlin in 1920.  She was 22 years old.  One source states that critics of the day compared her to Fritz Kreisler and Pablo Sarasate.  Lorand also became fluent in French, Italian, and English.  She made Berlin her home and base of operations until 1934.  After her debut, Lorand played as a concert soloist a few times and founded and recorded with a quartet and a trio (which included Gregor Piatigorsky, the cello player) but soon found her calling as conductor of a 15-piece all-male orchestra called the Edith Lorand Orchestra.  The orchestra, but especially Lorand, enjoyed great success throughout Europe.  They made regular radio broadcasts in Holland, Austria, Sweden, Germany, and England, and even appeared in movies.  The orchestra performed in the most important theatres as well, not just hotels.  It has been said that she became a symbol of female emancipation.  By the late 1920s, she was one of the top stars of the record industry.  In France, she was known as the Queen of the Waltz and in England as the Female Johann Strauss.  On April 1, 1930, she signed a three year recording contract with Lindstrom AG, which called for her to produce at least 144 tunes per year, averaging six two-sided records per month, with a fee of at least 36,000 Marks per year (about $107,000 in today’s dollars.)  Despite her great popularity and success, she had to flee Germany for Hungary in 1934.  In Hungary, she organized her All-Gypsy Orchestra which toured as far as the 1935, where one of her concerts took place in Carnegie Hall.  In December 1937, she had to flee Hungary for the U.S., where she established herself in Woodstock, New York.  She was 39 years old.  Her orchestra in the U.S. (with different musicians, of course) was called the Viennese Orchestra.  Her success here did not come close to what she had in Europe but she managed, playing as far afield, in September of 1939, as the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where composer Ingolf Dahl became her pianist for a short while.  She had a reputation for being demanding and autocratic.  In 1945, she was engaged to play in Vienna for an extended time but returned to the U.S. afterward.   In May 1960, she returned to Berlin, intending to resettle and restart her career.  However, on November 23, 1960, she died in New York, at age 61.  Many of her recordings are easily found on the internet and a very old video of her conducting a fast rendition of a famous waltz is available here.  Lorand played a 1744 Guarneri Del Gesu which later ended up (for 15 years) in the hands of Richard Burgin (of the Boston Symphony) and is now in Europe.  She must have taken very good care of that violin because it has been described as being in stunning condition and appearance.  A 1775 Guadagnini was also hers for a while.  That violin is now being played (though not owned) by Seattle violinist Maria Larionoff.