Gunther Schuller, 1925-2015

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Composer, educator, classical / jazz crossover artist and promoter, French horn virtuoso, conductor, writer and historian, indeed musical giant of the widest-ranging sort, Gunther Schuller died last Sunday in Boston, age 89. [continued]

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Gunther Schuller: 19 Commissions and Still Counting

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Gunther Schuller at 88 is in the midst of an unprecedented confluence of commissions and creativity. He is still working and in high demand—busy with an unusually high number of commissions, premieres, and conducting and speaking engagements. Last Thursday, for example, NEC premiered his “From Here to There,” and on Sunday February 9th, the Boston Symphony Chamber players performed “Games” [BMInt review here], a work they commissioned for their 50th anniversary. On Saturday February 8th, in between rehearsals, Schuller and Louis Andriessen [BMInt review here] met at the NEC to discuss the art and mystery of creativity before an enthusiastic audience of students and local composers. There it was revealed that Schuller has received fully 19 commissions since a premiere at the Tanglewood anniversary in July 2012. Guinness World Records should keep track. What’s the story? [continued]

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Upcoming Gunther Schuller Tribute

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Not only is there to be a concert of poems set to music in honor of the eighty-fifth birthday of Gunther Schuller this coming Tuesday, but also the octogenarian composer, a Boston institution, is to be one of the panelists on a pre-concert discussion moderated by Phoenix classical music critic, Lloyd Schwartz. He will keep order among Gunther and Boston’s other major contributors to the musical scene whose pieces will be heard — John Harbison, Mohammed Fairouz, Andrew List, and John Greer. Gunther is a former president of New England Conservatory, which is sponsoring the event in Jordan Hall on April 5.

The concert  features mezzo-soprano D’Anna Fortunato. The first cycle on the program, music by Mohammed Fairouz to poems by Lloyd Schwartz about his mother, prompted Fortunato to think of having the panel discussion.

“It seemed so appropriate,” she explained, “He is our poet, here in Boston, and so well respected. He would be the person to moderate.” [continued]

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Jazz Propelled into Mainstream Conservatory Education: Gunther Schuller at The Helm of NEC

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The BMInt staff’s interview on November 22 with Gunther Schuller lasted two hours. Part 1 was a cut-and-paste of discussions related to two then-upcoming performances of his music. This excerpt deals with Mr. Schuller’s role as president of New England Conservatory (from 1967 until 1977) and his founding of the jazz curriculum.

BMInt: Larry Phillips [Boston organist and reviewer for the Intelligencer] says he went to the Conservatory just because of you.  One day he saw you in the corridor, mopping, and he said, ‘Is this what the conservatory has come to’?

 

GS: (Laughing) I did that because there were so many problems in the building and there wasn’t enough cleaning up and all of that.  So I just did it myself just to show, Here’s the president, sweeping the stairs…

‘If I can do it, you can do it’?

 

 

Yes. I had to do a lot of that. … Most of the Board thought it was sinful to give money. They are sitting on the Board and they didn’t want to support it financially. Ant they were very wealthy people, most of them. I just got up in the middle of the meeting and said ‘$5,000! Here! Here it is! Now, listen!’… I shamed them into it. And you know, I’m just a poor musician.

Did the composition of the Board change a  lot when you were president?

No, no!  it didn’t change at all. This was the Board that I inherited. By the way, there were no Jews, no Blacks, no, no anything.

Just WASPs — I mean, at the end of your tenure?

 

It had changed slightly, including the chairman, and that got a little bit worse, not better. But look, never mind. The two people and I, the three of us who saved the Conservatory, were David Scudder and Jim Terry, who were both young on the Board. The three of us got the Ford Foundation grant, 2.5 million dollars, to be matched, and that’s what saved the school.

Was it going to collapse?

 

OH! It was bankrupt!  It was financially… they had $220,000 in the bank!  And enrollment, which were supposed to be 715, was 215, the padlock was gonna come on the door, with the sheriff. And I rescued the school — with these two guys. [continued]

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Gravity Waves and Curveballs: Sherman Remembered

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We reprint our well-remembered 2016 feature and interview with Russell Sherman. He died last night at 93.

Russell Sherman’s eagerly awaited annual faculty recital on April 3rd at Jordan Hall will feature works long connected with him: Schoenberg’s Three Pieces for Piano, Op. 11, Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano  No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 “Waldstein”, Debussy’s Préludes, Book 2, and  Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes (12) for Piano, S 139, No. 2 in A Minor: Molto vivace, No. 9 in A-flat Major “Ricordanza”, No. 10 in F Minor: Allegro agitato molto. He tells us he plays them differently each time. He can also imitate other famous pianists. He has lots to say in a free-form interview which follows the break. Youngish concertgoers and musicians who are not yet old will find it very difficult to imagine either the sea change that took place in the classical music environment in mid-1960s Boston, or the elevation of informed discourses thereon. The reason was the arrivals of accomplished musicologist Michael Steinberg at the Globe, then the working hornist, educator, and composer Gunther Schuller, who, as NEC president, engaged the serious piano prodigy (and Edward Steuermann student) Russell Sherman. Along with Brendel, Rosen, Kovacevich and a few others, Sherman opened our ears, hearts, and minds to fresh hearings of familiar classics, as well as to much new music. Soon after Sherman arrived, Steinberg wrote of his performance of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5: [continued]

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Russell Sherman: 1930 – 2023

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Russell Sherman died last night at 93. He was the piano guru of the Boston area for over 55 years, having arrived during that revolutionary decade which saw the comings of Gunther Schuller, Michael Steinberg, Victor Rosenbaum, Thomas Dunn, and others. Sherman’s playing at the time — he had been a prodigy long before, and had read literary criticism as a Columbia student age 15 — was grounded in strong, fearless, colorful technique and interpretation alike, his rangy imagination informed by great score fealty. Please also read our reprint of a fascinating interview with Russell Sherman from 2016 HERE.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Sherman became labeled a thinking man’s pianist, although never showing the sometime gray fussiness of Alfred Brendel or the sometime colorless drabness of Charles Rosen, his similar contemporaries. (I once arranged for the latter and Sherman to have dinner, after which Rosen opined, typically, “He is an extremely interesting pianist and musician not of the top tier.” To which Michael Steinberg retorted, “Ha, exactly as is Charles. Well, to have been a fly on that wall.”) [continued]

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Locke Lists Rep-Enriching Opera Recordings and More

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The year end finds me recommending two dozen superlative operatic offerings of different kinds, plus a smaller number of recordings in other genres. As in previous years, my list focuses mainly on lesser-known operas because that’s what I tend to be sent for review. But the list also reflects my belief that the operatic tradition is wider and deeper than our “standard rep” of Carmen and so on leads us to think. (And I’m one of the world’s biggest Carmen fans.)

Some of these operas are in languages that I don’t know; it took extra effort to follow the libretto and translation that in nearly all cases comes with the recording, but I was glad I did.

A few were recorded before the pandemic began, others were made without an audience or with the seats half-filled, and frequently the orchestral players (except those in the wind sections) were masked. A few are important re-releases that first appeared years earlier on a different label or that had been sitting unreleased, often in the “vaults” of European radio station. One came to my attention belatedly by26 years. [continued]

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“Sweet Sorrow” on Parting from NEC

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Pianist, composer, conductor, teacher, past Longy president Victor Rosenbaum celebrates his 80th birthday and retirement from his first and last job with a free Jordan Hall recital on September 17th at 8:00 PM offering a retrospective of music he loves: Brahms: Intermezzi Opus 118, Nos. 1 and 2, Victor Rosenbaum: Elegy-Impromptu, Beethoven: Sonata in E Major, op. 109, Schubert: Sonata in A Major, D. 959, as well as the world premier of composer-pianist Lewis Warren’s second Ballade. Rosenbaum’s elegant valedictory essay follows this short interview.

Are you satisfied with how your career has unfolded?

I made a conscious decision (spoken to myself and others in so many words) many years ago never to be bitter about what I might not achieve in fame or recognition. How tiresome are those regrets of many musicians who think the world failed to give them the accolades they deserved. By contrast, I feel very lucky that I have been able to play the music I love most, often with some incredible (and world famous) collaborators (like Leonard Rose, Robert Mann, Roman Totenberg, and many wonderful NEC colleagues). And I have taught all these years in one of the world’s great schools of music. What a great privilege! If I look back on opportunities missed, there is one moment that could have changed the trajectory of my career: it was when Erich Leinsdorf saw me conduct a little kids orchestra at a summer camp in the Berkshires where his daughter was a violinist. He must have seen something in our little attempt at the first movement of Beethoven’s First Symphony, because afterwards he invited me to be some kind of assistant at the BSO. Stupidly, I turned it down because I was in the middle of my graduate studies. I mean, really, how stupid can you be?

But, you know, even though that could have led to something very different and wonderful (and I always have loved conducting), I am rather happy that I have had a not too shabby career. I’ve traveled for concerts and teaching in many parts of the world (even to Iraq, believe it or not), and have had the admiration of my students and musical colleagues. A life in music is a pretty great thing, regardless of the degree of fame or fortune it brings. [continued]

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Tanglewood Opens With Successful Substitution

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On short notice, management booked the starry Yuja Wang, whose appearance certainly did not disappoint the assembled audience, in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Bernstein’s short Opening Prayer (Benediction) and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring—remained as planned. [continued]

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Bostonian Musicians Make News in Canada

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New England Conservatory composer Kati Agócs, having just returned from Winnipeg, where the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra performed the new Horn Concerto she recently wrote for BSO Principal Horn James Sommerville, shares news that a streamed version of the concert with Somerville playing and conducting is available (free) HERE. The concerto’s instrumentation of solo horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, and strings mirrors that of Mozart’s Third Horn Concerto K 447. Agócs wrote:

My piece extends the range lower with the addition of Bass Clarinet and Contrabassoon doublings, adding rich, dark woodwind colors to the sonic palette. Eighteen minutes in duration, cast in three movements, my concerto highlights the lyrical properties of the horn and also provides opportunities for the wind and string players in the orchestra to shine.

The co-commission of Symphony Nova Scotia, Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and Prince Edward Island Symphony had premiered in Sioux City on November 14, 2021; the music critic Bruce Miller then wrote: [continued]

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‘The Rest is Bunk’ Rants Horowitz in Latest Book

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The standard account, the Authorized Version as it were, of how American classical music came about and developed, posits an infancy with the Colonial and Federal era hymnodists (William Billings, Lowell Mason) and the odd Moravian isolate (John Antes), an adolescence in the 19th century in which talented composers wrote undistinguished and imitative pieces in the prevailing German style (Paine, Chadwick, Foote, Huss, Beach), and then came into its own with a distinctly American voice after World War I in the persons of those born in the 1890s and later such as Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, and the leader of the pack, Aaron Copland.

 Joseph Horowitz, former New York Times music critic, artistic administrator (latterly of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and more recently of PostClassican Ensemble in Washington DC) and cultural historian, has written Dvořák’s Prophecy: And the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music (W. W. Norton, 2022, $30 list, $20.99 Amazon hardcover, $14.16 Kindle), to tell you that, how, and why the Authorized Version is bunk, and how its perpetrators pushed aside the sources and exemplars of the true national American idiom. While the extended title gives away his primary thesis, Horowitz goes out of his way to clear the air about many of the earlier (at least, late 19th-century) composers from these shores. It’s a pacey, vexatious, and entertaining 230-page rant. [continued]

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Odyssey Opera Releases Gounod’s Queen

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Charles Gounod’s La reine de Saba, libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, performed at Jordan Hall in 2018 with Kara Shay Thomson (Queen Balkis), Michelle Trainor (Bénoni), Dominick Chenes (Adoniram), Kevin Thompson (King Solomon), conductor Gil Rose. BMOP/sound OO1004 [3 CDs] 165 minutes. Click HERE to purchase or audition any track.

Boston’s Odyssey Opera’s Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Gunther Schuller’s The Fisherman and His Wife (first performed at the New England Conservatory), and Norman Dello Joio’s The Trial at Rouen have been previously welcomed on these pages. And last October, the related and equally adventurous Boston Modern Orchestra Project, on the cusp of releasing its 100th recording, earned Gramophone Classical ‘s Special Achievement Awarda for reviving and commissioning a spectrum of significant new and neglected American works over the last 25 years.

Odysssey Opera’s latest rediscoveries include the first complete recording of Charles Gounod’s La Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheba), a work that received its first performance at the Paris Opéra in 1862. Large chunks of music apparently emerge here for the first time. And the sequence of events is sometimes surprising to anyone who might know the (few and not readily available) previous recordings of the work. For example, Adoniram’s big aria, well-known from some tenor-recital discs, now opens the opera instead of being placed in the second act. [continued]

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Channeling Medieval Christmas

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It’s “A Medieval Christmas: Hodie Christus Natus Est” yet again for our Boston Camerata friends…on disc, and in person. The concert upcoming next Friday is officially sold out, but reprises come to Newburyport on Saturday and at First Church Cambridge on Sunday. The cast includes Anne Azéma, Camila Parias, Deborah Rentz-Moore (voices), Allison Monroe (vielle) and Christa Patton (harp and winds).

Channeling Christmas spirituality from Medieval France, Italy, England, Provence, the show includes music of the church and songs of private devotion around the joyous theme of the Nativity, songs to the Virgin Mary, processionals from Saint Martial of Limoges, hymns, lyrics, and miracle ballads, sung in Latin, Old French, Old Provençal, Saxon, interlaced with Medieval English texts of the Nativity. The ticket-info link is HERE.

FLE: Congrats, Anne, on the new Harmonia Mundi recording. But the dinosaurs among us will note that this is the second Boston Camerata to bear the title “A Medieval Christmas.” Is the needle stuck?

AA: Hopefully, not, although our own copy of the 1975 Nonesuch LP is by now pretty scratched. Actually, I discovered this signature Camerata program when I was still a student, on vacation in the Languedoc. There was a summer music festival in Sommières, the town where my mother had grown up, and this unknown bunch of Americans were scheduled to perform in a tiny Romanesque chapel. I had never heard any music like it, and I was enchanted. There was something so real and immediate about the repertoire, and the performance. It sparked something inside me. [continued]

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Cosmos and Well-Charted Waters

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“From the Cosmos to the Soul: A Celebration of Women's Music” at Illuminate Women's Music Digital Live-Stream sampled multifarious electronics and styles from ten women composers over an hour. [continued]

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Unlock Locke’s List for 2020

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in which he shares some major discoveries and pleasant diversions encountered in recorded opera and other vocal music, as well as a ballet to a scenario by Arthur Schnitzler.

What a strange, scary, and remarkable year 2020 has been, in all our lives! The social isolation that I have carried out pretty consistently has led me to look to music even more than usual for solace, enlightenment, and pleasant distraction. I gather that many music lovers have traveled a somewhat similar path since mid-March.

My penchant for opera, and for vocal music and for the theatre generally, has led me to get to know a number of recent CD releases, many of which I have reviewed for American Record Guide or for various online magazines (notably Bill Marx’s Boston-based The Arts Fuse).

BMInt has kindly offered to let me share my discoveries from the past year or so this, in my fourth annual round-up of operatic and other vocal recordings. (The others can be found by clicking here: 2017, 2018, 2019.) I’ll move in rough chronological groupings because I tend to think historically (as I suspect that many BMInt readers do). I will also briefly mention a few notable performances that I attended (whether in person or virtually).

Baroque Bounty

Either you love Baroque opera, or you don’t even want to read about it, much less listen to it. But, if the latter, I suspect that you haven’t heard many truly splendid recordings of that kind of music. This year brought us four of the most vivid and engaging such recordings I have ever encountered. [continued]

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Musical Americas: LO Casts Broadly

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This summer Boston Landmarks Orchestra moves from the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade to the (e)splendid confines of the Futura Studio in Roslindale to record and stream two small-ensemble concerts dedicated to reminding us of its social and aesthetic missions while also giving us license to tap our toes while watching on our phones, tablets, and computers.

Under the direction of music director Christopher Wilkins and co-executive directors Mary Deissler and Arthur Rishi, socially distanced and masked players will begin with Simple Gifts on July 15th at 7pm (1), while Dances and Delights follows on July 29th (2) at 7pm with Castle of our Skins. “While we will certainly miss the Esplanade, everyone will have a front row seat for these streamed concerts, and we won’t need to worry about the weather or the sound of passing motorcycles.”

FLE: Streaming a chamber music concert from an exclusive and inaccessible former Masonic Temple seems to distance you from the goals of embracing a large and varied audience. How will your internet broadcasts differentiate themselves from the content that’s already on the web, and how satisfying will they be to you and your colleagues? 

CW: It’s a great question. Normally we’re all about finding ways to include as much community as possible, with layers of collaboration and partnerships, kids from camps, working with other Boston institutions — the Gardner Museum, the Aquarium or Museum of Science — but none of that is possible now. Maybe down the road.

We can do some things that we don’t normally do, such as making video content that right now is the coin of the realm. Landmarks hasn’t developed a whole lot of video over the years, so that will be good to have. And people will also have a look at us in a more intimate way than usual. They’ll get to see the musicmaking in lots of detail, something that isn’t possible on the Esplanade because of its enormous size. [continued]

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African American Voices in Early Boston

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Music and poetry can be means of resistance, and they also play a role in uniting diverse groups. Boston’s early heritage of African American scholars, writers, and musicians make the city an interesting subject for artistic and historical inquiry in these challenging times.

THE LEGACY OF PHILLIS WHEATLEY

The first Africans arrived in Boston in 1638, and the city became very active in the slave trade. By 1700 there were more than 400 enslaved African Americans in Boston, with the beginnings of a free Black community in the North End. At mid-century, the British mainland American colonies had a population of approximately 1.5 million. Each year 3,500 captives arrived from Africa and the Caribbean, so nearly one in five Americans, or 300,000 people, were enslaved.

Lucy Terry Prince (c1730-1821) was a gifted speaker and the first recorded African American author of a poem (“Bars Fight,” see the full poem HERE), describing the last Indian massacre in Deerfield, MA in 1746, where she worked as a household slave in from 1735-1756. The poem became part of local oral tradition and was finally published in 1855 in Josiah Gilbert Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts. Prince later moved to Vermont, where she became the first woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (winning a land dispute); two of her sons enlisted in the Continental army in Massachusetts, and the Vermont Heritage Songbook includes a children’s song about her life. [continued]

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Commonwealth Avenue’s Musical History

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As location is to real estate, so provenance is to objects. Think Einstein’s violin, “no Stradivarius” according to Strings Magazine, which sold at auction in 2018 for $516,500. But what if you combine location and provenance, applied to, say, certain brick mansions lining Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay. Their appearance may be strangely unprepossessing, even reticent in an Old Boston kind of way, yet their value is incalculable.

On a recent unseasonably warm day I found myself going for a stroll scoping out a few specific residences, suggested by David Feltner, a resident of Comm Ave., who very much enhances the musical life of Boston, first as a violist performing with Boston’s elite groups, such as the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, Emmanuel Music, the Boston Lyric Opera and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and also as a composer and the conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Boston, an organization he founded. I had told him about a virtually unheard of piano teacher, Madame Margaret Chaloff (more about her later) who had lived and taught for many years at 249 Comm Ave, and he mentioned to me homes marked by historic plaques that had been the residences of BSO founder Major Henry Lee Higginson and the composer/pianist Amy Beach. Quite a tone-y neighborhood, I thought.

A short while later and quite by chance, I located a remarkable website, BackBayHouses.org, established and carefully tended by Tom High and his wife. They describe all the layers of history for each address on each street: who built the home, who lived there over the course of years, what they did in their lives. According to High, the site “attempst to provide a genealogical history of the houses.” He quickly provided me with several other relevant names of those who had called Comm Ave home. As he did so, I began to glimpse the fundamental elements needed to sustain Boston’s musical life.

Early on in its history Boston seemed to have designated music as the bedrock of its claim to an educated and civilized society. Shortly after the Civil War, both the New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory were founded in 1867, just as the country was trying to regain its bearings after the Civil War. New York City in contrast had to wait until the early years of the 20thcentury before it could turn to the resources of the Juilliard School of Music or the Mannes School of Music founded in 1905 and 1915 respectively. [continued]

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Richard Ortner: 1948 – 2019

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The retired president of Boston Conservatory at Berklee, former Administrator of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Music Center at Tanglewood, and mentor and advocate for exceptionally talented performing artists and faculty died Thursday, October 10th after having lived with cancer for a long time. Ortner shared his lifelong passion for music and advanced training in the performing arts with the most renowned senior professionals of his time, the best and brightest young artists and students, and the widest possible audiences.

Born in Great Neck, New York, on May 28, 1948, Ortner began piano studies at age five and were reinforced by an excellent public school music program. He accompanied choruses both in junior and senior high school, and became the choir director of the Long Island Federation of Temple Youth. Following high school, he attended The Cooper Union, where he studied architecture while continuing to pursue his interest in music with piano studies (with Richard Faber of the Juilliard faculty) and by producing and hosting two classical music programs for WNYU (New York University) radio. He returned to studying music full time when he transferred to NYU, earning a B.A. in music in 1971. Ortner then began what he refers to as his “real musical education,”  three years as an usher at Carnegie Hall. (This also marked the start of his activities as a concert producer: after persuading the management of Carnegie Hall to turn over the Recital Hall, free of charge, he organized the very first Carnegie Hall Ushers Recital, which the New York Times reviewed enthusiastically. Later, he organized the first concert of the Washington Square Chamber Music Society at NYU.) [continued]

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Gruber Trumpet Concerto Dominates

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On another perfect Tanglewood Sunday afternoon (July 14th), the Koussevitzky Shed concert began with a Beethoven symphony and ended with the sensuous “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Strauss’s Salome. Between these came a challenging trumpet concerto written for and played by international superstar Håkan Hardenberger. [continued]

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