Sunday, December 15, 2019

Orlando Barera

Orlando Barera was an Italian (some would say American) violinist and conductor born (in Bologna, Italy) on February 6, 1907.  Two sources say he was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1908.  (Ferrara is about 25 miles north of Bologna.)  He began his career as a concert violinist but is best known for being the conductor of the El Paso (Texas) Symphony from the fall of 1951 to the spring of 1970.  Prior to that he was the conductor of the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Symphony for one year and just before that, he was the concertmaster and Assistant Conductor (for one year also) of the Houston Symphony.  Before those two posts, he had served as concertmaster of the Kansas City (Missouri) Symphony and the Havana Symphony (prior to Fidel Castro’s political revolution.)  Barera is one of many violinists who turned from concertizing to conducting – Jaap Van Zweden, Eugene Ormandy, David Zinman, Alan Gilbert, Neville Marriner, Pierre Monteux, Peter Oundjian, Jacques Singer, Charles Munch, and Theodore Thomas are among them.  He began his studies with his father, who was a professor at the conservatory of music in Bologna.  He graduated at age 15 with diplomas in violin, composition, and piano.  Immediately thereafter, he added an additional two years of study before embarking on a solo career.  His concertizing began in Italy but then later included France, Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and the Netherlands.  His first appearance in the U.S. took place at Town Hall in New York on February 10, 1936.  He was 29 years old.  He later played at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. that same year but returned to play in Europe in the latter part of that year.  On November 11, 1936, he played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol with the Prague Radio Symphony.  Karl Ancerl was on the podium.  I do not know if the performance was recorded.  Upon his return to the U.S., he gave a second recital at Town Hall on December 27, 1936. He played Mozart’s fourth concerto with the Boston Symphony on February 21, 1937.  Serge Koussevitzky conducted.  On December 3, 1938, he was guest artist with the New York Philharmonic.  This time, he played the Mendelssohn concerto, the one in e minor.  John Barbirolli conducted.  When war broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served a tour of duty until the war’s end.  His career - which he took up again when he was appointed concertmaster in Kansas City – was thus interrupted.  An interesting detail in his career is that between July 11 and November 10, 1950, he participated (as assistant principal second violinist) in 14 recording sessions which Leopold Stokowski conducted in New York.  At many of these recording sessions, Victor Aitay, the soon-to-be concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony, was Barera’s stand partner – Aitay was, at that time, a section violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  Being the well-known figure he was on the east coast and beyond, Barera was able to introduce many world class string players to El Paso audiences.  Among them were Ruggiero Ricci, Zvi Zeitlin, Isaac Stern, Berl Senofsky, Zino Francescatti, Pierre Fournier, Mischa Elman, Michael Rabin, Zara Nelsova, Arturo Delmoni, Salvatore Accardo, and Tossy Spivakovsky.  Of his association with Barera, Michael Rabin once said “Barera is very good and a hell of a nice guy.  Believe me, I wish every conductor would be as easy to work with as he is.  He takes away all the tightness and strain and just lets me enjoy myself.”  Barera owned and played a Gagliano violin from a year and specific maker unknown to me – the Gagliano violin-making family produced several good makers.  Barera died on March 26, 1971, at age 64.