The True Heir to Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas: “Music and Emotion Through Time” A TED Talk (2012)

Excerpt: What happens when the music stops? Where does it go? What’s left? What sticks with people at the end of a performance? Is it a melody or a rhythm or a mood or an attitude? And how might that change their lives? To me this is the intimate, personal side of music. It’s the “passing on” part, the “why” part of it. And to me that’s the most essential of all…

Michael Tilson Thomas

Now that we have unlimited access to music, what does stick with us? Well, let me share with you a story of what I mean by really sticking with us. I was visiting a cousin of mine in an old-age home, and I spied a very shaky old man making his way across the room on a walker. He came over to a piano that was there, and he balanced himself and began playing something like this. [plays notes on piano] And he said something like, “Me…boy…symphony…Beethoven…” And I suddenly got it and I said, “Friend, by any chance are you trying to play this?” [plays Beethoven concerto] And then he said, [excitedly] “Yes, yes, I was a little boy. The symphony, Isaac Stern, the concerto, I heard it.” And I thought, My God, how much must this music mean to this man, that he would get himself out of bed, across the room, to recover the memory of this music! That after everything in his life is sloughing away, still means so much to him…

Well, that’s why I take every performance so seriously, why it matters to me so much. I never know who might be there, who might be absorbing it, and what will happen to it in their life.

Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth’s Deep-Tongue Kiss at the Tonys, 2010

You all remember the flap behind this. But that kiss at the Tonys (starts at :40) was awfully convincing. Hey, my hormones percolated…

kristen-chenoweth-sean-hayes.jpg

…But to get on with this posting. One of the nominees at the 64th Tony Awards was the revival of Promises, Promises with a score by Burt Bachrach, including some of his interpolated standards (like “A House is Not a Home” and “I Say a Little Prayer”, neither of which were in the original production), so I’m thinking that this bootleg vidcomp from an actual performance would be a good introduction to the work of this (as my beloved John Wilson, Conductor might deem him) “top-drawer American tunesmith”. The connection to my posting on Milhaud above? Bachrach was a student of Darius Milhaud, and you can hear what he retained from the modernist master in his distinctive, almost Latin, rhythms—think of “Always Something There to Remind Me” or “Twenty-four Hours from Tulsa”.

Here’s Sean Hayes singing the title song at 23:18, and a surprisingly good job he does too. No Jerry Ohrbach, but the kid’s got pipes.

Jacques Brel Sings “La Quete” from Man of La Mancha, 1968

Three years after Man of La Mancha was a major hit on Broadway, Belgian music legend Jacques Brel licensed the staging rights, adapted the book, translated the lyrics, directed the production, and starred as Don Quixote with the original Dulcinea herself, Joan Diener.

Telle est ma quête
Suivre l’étoile
Peu m’importent mes chances
Peu m’importe le temps

Man of La Mancha

Reading about the revival of Man of La Mancha at the London Palladium next year brings back fond memories of the music, especially Joan Diener’s songs. Here’s my favorite one that just tears my heart out, courtesy of lyricist Joe Darion and Hindemith-trained composer Mitch Leigh:

The Bournemouth Sinfonietta Conducted by Norman Del Mar Plays George Butterworth’s “The Banks of Green Willow”

butterworth

Butterworth based “The Banks of Green Willow” on two folk song melodies that he made note of in 1907, including “Green Bushes”. “Green Bushes” was a common tune, and there are uses of it in works by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Folk Song Suite, Movement 2) and Percy Grainger (“Passacaglia: Green Bushes” and “The Lost Lady Found”).

George Butterworth, age 31, was killed on 5 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. He was was a Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry.

Norman Del Mar was a British horn player/conductor who taught conducting at the Royal College of Music; one of his notable students was violist/conductor Neil Thomson (b 1966) who in his own turn taught conducting at the College. My bonny John was one of his students.

Schelomo by Ernest 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 string methods of DC Dounis, Neikrug’s students consider him to be the Einstein of string teachers.

Neikrug

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.