Matthew Halls Still Fired From Oregon Bach Festival

NPR’s music critic Tom Manoff had a few choice observations in this week’s Oregon Arts Watch having to do with the firing one year ago of respected English conductor Matthew Halls : “Oregon Bach Festival: Lacking a Coherent Artistic Vision, Venerable Festival Flounders“. I think the title of this piece says it all.

See my blog posting from 25 September 2017.

Matthew Halls

God, I can’t tell you how miserable that berg (Eugene, Oregon) is for musicians—hell, artists of all types. I ran a cabaret show there several years ago and the arts infrastructure was non-existent then as it is now—not to mention they still lack an acoustically decent concert hall. And the pretension! And the hypocrisy! And the narrow-mindedness! And—gasp—the racism! (Yes, there’s still plenty of it there. Don’t get me started.) I am never, never bringing a show to that city again.

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Schelomo by Ernst Bloch, Played by George Neikrug and the Symphony of the Air, Conducted by Leopold Stokowski

Counted among one of the greatest cellists in the Golden Age of String Players, George Neikrug is still with us at 99(!), teaching and playing—all the more remarkable for the fact that two years ago he was completely bedridden due to compression fractures in his back. Wonderfully his students, past and present, have rallied around him with financial help and words of encouragement, gratitude and praise. A student himself and chief proponent of the revolutionary methods of DC Dounis, Neikrug’s students consider him to be the Einstein of string teachers.

Here he is performing “Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque”, the final work in Swiss composer Ernest Bloch’s 1916 Jewish Cycle. Stokowski recorded it with him and called Neikrug’s work “unforgettable”. (Part 2 here.)

Thanks to old friend, violist Vivi Erickson, for remembering her former Boston University teacher for me.

The Hollywood String Quartet and the Hollywood Sound

John’s striving for “The Hollywood Sound” may be a new thing for his popular audience in England, but over here it’s been part of our musical history since before the Second World War. In 1939 when violinist Felix Slatkin and his wife, cellist Eleanor Aller Slatkin, founded the Hollywood String Quartet. Their uniquely American style of playing strings quickly won the HSQ recognition and praise from critics around the world when they essayed works from the classical repertoire.

Every member of the HSQ was also a member of one of the studio orchestras. Besides Slatkin, who was the concertmaster of the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra, Eleanor was first cellist with the Warner Bros Studio Orchestra; violinist Paul Shure was also assistant concertmaster at 20th Century Fox; Paul Robyn was also principal violist at Warner Bros; Alvin Dinkin was also violist with the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra; and Victor Aller, Eleanor’s brother, pianist, was also manager of the Warner Bros Studio Orchestra.

Said the Gramophone Classical Music Guide of their 1951 recording of Arnold Schoenberg‘s piece: “This was the first ever recording of ‘Verklärte Nacht’ in its original sextet form and it remains unsurpassed.”

In the liner notes of one of their other recordings, Paul Shure remembered: “Dynamics were a very big part of our work. Our discussions were always about dynamics and a little bit about tempi, and nothing else. We played with vibrato except where there was a particular effect to be had—no dead left hands were allowed.” This sounds so similar to what JWO concertmaster John Mills said in the web series Sarah’s Music (above): “John asks us, the strings, to play with so much vibrato that people’s family photos should fall off the TV sets. We’re effectively trying to recreate the sound of the studio orchestra.”

A London Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Played by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson 1

Posting this so I don’t forget why I’m in love with him. This is part of John’s “reel” filmed by his management and shows off his performance style very nicely. At the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 23 January 2014.

John, I’m sorry for what I said about your nose. You are, actually, the angel glow that lights a star, the dearest things I know are what you are…