Snoozing With the Masters

6 02 2015

IPeters love it when good things happen on their own. A few weeks ago, Peter asked me to identify a song. He hummed the iconic 4 note introduction to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. He knew it was Beethoven, but did not know the title of the piece. After I identified it, and explained that those are the opening notes of just the 1st movement of the symphony, and that there were 3 other movements, he asked if I could make a CD of the piece so he could fall asleep to it at night. After a few evenings of listening, he then asked me for a recording of the Nutcracker. He didn’t receive the abbreviated concert suite, he fell asleep to the entire ballet. Next, he asked for more music by “real composers”. I have been burning CDs of movements from lots of masterworks, exposing him to Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. I even slipped in some Sibelius. His hunger is growing. He asked me this morning if I could include in the next disc this song (then he began humming Fur Elise).

With all the opportunities that today’s kids have to be bombarded with noise and audible trash, Peter is requesting the classics. He was humming Tchaikovsky at the school bus this morning. I would say that he falls asleep with good things in his ear, and he wakes up with it in his brain.

Marian Anderson

17 01 2011

Oboist Engelbert Brenner performed in recital with legendary contralto Marian Anderson.  Anderson’s voice was described as a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty.  As an African-American artist, her role in the Civil Rights movement was monumental. Her legendary performance at the Lincoln Memorial (after having been denied the venue of D.A.R. Constitution Hall) will be forever part of American History.  Through her grace & talent, a blind American public was forced to see.

Anderson gave Brenner this autographed photo after one of their musical collaborations.  He prized it, as do I now that the photo has been left in my care.

Marian Anderson

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2011

Bernstein Symphony Recordings Resurface

19 12 2010

Over the years, I have bought hundreds of vinyl pressings and CDs of Bernstein/New York Philharmonic recordings.  As an oboist who grew up in the New York area, Harold Gomberg and Engelbert Brenner’s sound and playing styles were my earliest memories of the instruments, and are still the gold standard to me.

There is an exciting new release of symphony recordings on CD.  This is a SIXTY CD collection of nothing but symphonies.  Here is a list of the contents:

  • Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9 (Complete)
  • Berlioz: Symphony Fantastique
  • Bernstein: Symphonies 1-3 (Complete)
  • Bizet: Symphony in C
  • Blitzstein: The Airborne Symphony
  • Brahms: Symphonies 1-4 (Complete)
  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
  • Copland: Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, 3
  • Dvorak: Symphonies 7, 8, and 9
  • Franck: Symphony in D Minor
  • Goldmark: Rustic Wedding Symphony
  • Harris: Symphony No.3
  • Haydn: Symphonies 82-88; 93-104
  • Hindemith: Symphony in E-Flat
  • Ives: Symphonies 2 and 3
  • Liszt: Faust Symphony
  • Mahler: Symphonies 1-9 (Complete)
  • Mendelssohn: Symphonies 3, 4, and 5
  • Mozart: Symphonies 35, 36, 39, 40, and 41
  • Nielsen: Symphonies 2, 3, 4, and 5
  • Prokofiev: Symphonies 1 and 5
  • St. Saens: Symphony No. 3
  • Schubert: Symphonies 5, 8, and 9
  • Schumann: Symphonies 1-4 (Complete)
  • Schuman: Symphonies 3, 5, and 8
  • Shapero: Symphony for Classical Orchestra
  • Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
  • Shostakovich: Symphonies 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 14
  • Sibelius: Symphonies 1-7 (Complete)
  • Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-6 (Complete)
  • Thompson: Symphony No. 2
  • Vaughan-Williams: Symphony No. 4

Bernstein, Gomberg and Brenner are all now gone, but in this age of vanishing classical music ensembles and recordings, it’s heartening to see this release.  Lenny was largely responsible for a generation’s awareness of a symphony orchestra, and I’m glad to see that people can still experience those magical recordings today.

This set is available for around $100 – that’s pretty amazing when you consider its contents!

toscanini rarities

12 05 2010

From 1926 to 1936, Arturo Toscanini was at the helm of the New York Philharmonic.  In 1931, Englebert Brenner became the 2nd oboist of that orchestra.  Toscanini was fiery and feared, yet revered as the best conductor, and many say he has never had an equal.

During a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic, a photographer sneaked on to Carnegie Hall’s stage and took some photos while hiding behind the bass drum.  Had Toscanini known of this, the camera would surely have been smashed on the spot.  A few of these (perhaps never before seen) photos came into Brenner’s possession.  They were kept hidden away in his studio, and he treated them as if they were contraband.  He showed them to me on occasion, but mentioned each time that had Toscanini known these photos existed…

I proudly own many of Engelbert Brenner’s musical belongings.  While going through some boxes the other day, I found that mystical envelope.  I knew what was inside – the rare Toscanini photos!  Here are 4 of them.  You can see the emotion – the motion – the intensity.  Perhaps for the first time for the world to see – Arturo Toscanini rehearsing the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall, sometime between 1931 & 1936.


Wolfgang & Rémy

24 01 2010

This week, the 254th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart occurs. I recently played on an all-Mozart concert.  We performed some choral works, the well-known Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and a piano concerto.  Not required to be on stage for the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I was able to sit, watch and listen from the wings.  Although this piece is extremely familiar, I found myself listening intently to the work, analyzing the harmonic progressions, and revisiting the occasional (and brilliant) asymmetry.  What a remarkable piece.  What a remarkable composer.

Grapes grow on vines.  Some of the best grapes are nurtured and grown for wine production.  There are bad wines, there are good wines, and there are excellent wines.  They change and age with time.  A nice table wine can be found on any table in Italy to accompany any dinner.  It is simply “right” for its purpose.  A fine wine… refined further becomes cognac.  It becomes more intense, multidimensional and therefore takes on a different “purpose”.  There are bad cognacs, good cognacs, and the precious few that are extraordinary.

Sound is everywhere.  Organized sound can be categorized as music.  There is bad music, there is good music, and there is great music.  Then there is the music of Mozart… refined further.  It does not change or improve with age.  It was born of brilliance, and remains so for the ages.  We change in the way we hear, analyze, ponder and enjoy Mozart’s music.

No one can define your favorite wine but you.  No one can establish a best cognac for you to enjoy but you.  This week, I hope to enjoy Mozart and Rémy Martin.

Happy Birthday, Herr Mozart.

musical mystery solved

27 06 2009

A while ago, I blogged about two pieces of memorabilia I own; a Hank Aaron autographed baseball, and a baton that was used by Arturo ToscaniniBaton - closeupThe baseball was bought in a card shop while I was on a concert tour of the South – no big mystery there.  The baton, however, was left to me by my musical mentor, Engelbert Brenner.  Brenner played 2nd oboe in the NYPO during Toscanini’s reign.  This rare piece of classical music history has a hand written date on the shaft: November 24th, 1932.

Recently, the New York Philharmonic has made an extensive, searchable database available to the public on their web site.  I have long wondered what pieces Maestro Toscanini conducted with MY baton.  I now know!

Bruckner Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major


Viotti Concerto No. 22 in A minor for Violin and Orchestra
Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b

Bruckner 4 under Toscanini…. WOW!


peter’s prodigious piano premier

18 05 2009

It’s a moment I have thought about ever since it became clear that Peter has perfect pitch. I knew I would someday introduce him to the piano keyboard & see how quickly he grasps the concept of a musical scale, and the relationship of physical up & down on the keyboard and higher & lower pitches.

I set up a video camera next to the piano, gave Peter a quick (30 seconds or so) explanation of a C Major scale and how the keyboard works, and I then turned on the camera.  What you see here is unrehearsed, and quite literally Peter’s 1st time playing the piano.

[my apologies for the audio quality – Murphy’s Law kicked in & the video’s audio track sounds terrible – go figure]