About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Monday, December 30, 2013

Memorable Listening

A few months ago I got an email from ArkivMusic, publishers of Listen magazine as well as being a wonderful online source for classical recordings, asking me to participate in a survey. When I clicked on the link, the single question was "Please share with us your most memorable experience with classical music. This could be the greatest live performance you have ever seen or the most inspiring moment with a piece of music, a musician, a teacher or a place. If there is a single experience that stands out for you, we would love to hear about it."  I closed the window. It's a great question. After thinking about it, I decided I couldn't answer it - there were too many memorable experiences to choose just one. I decided to write here about some of the many memorable experiences I have had with classical music.

Their question is really open-ended, but I decided for now to limit it to a few live concert listening experiences that made an impact on me.

The first concert that I remember going to was in the high school gym of my town, Neenah, Wisconsin. Rafael Mendez gave a concert. I was about 10 years old, sitting in the bleachers with my family. I was blown away by the sound of his trumpet. I was so focused on the music that I was oblivious to everything else. Shortly after that, when it was time to sign up for a band instrument, I started trumpet. Amazingly, I still have the program from that concert.

When I was 15 or 16, my high school band/orchestra director organized a trip into New York City to hear the Cleveland Orchestra with George Szell. By this time, my family had moved to Connecticut and I had switched to horn. The concert was in Carnegie Hall, my first visit to this wonderful hall. I don't remember the details of the concert anymore, but I remember the feeling of hearing this great orchestra, sitting at the top of the beautiful hall.

The summer after my freshman year at Eastman, I went to the International Horn Symposium at Indiana University. This is more than one concert, but the week-long symposium is one experience in my memory. This was the 4th IHS Symposium and there were a lot of big names of the horn world there, all of whom I had only heard on recordings (LPs!). Hearing the Chicago Symphony horn section, Dale Clevenger, Tom Howell, Richard Oldberg, and Norm Schweikert, playing the Schumann Conzertstuck with piano accompaniment in a recital hall packed with a totally silent audience of horn players was an unforgettable experience. I had never heard playing like that -- so perfect and exciting. I was also wowed by Alan Civil in recital, a completely different style than the CSO hornists, but equally exciting and very impressive. One of the pieces he performed in recital was Hunter's Moon by Gilbert Vinter.  It's a novelty piece, very fun to listen to and play. At the time of this symposium, it was not well known, at least in the U.S., and was out of print. Now it's back in print and you can find performances of it on Youtube. No one plays it like Alan Civil did, though. Everything I heard him play was full of life and good humor. He also performed with a quartet made up of his wife Shirley Civil, Jim Buffington and Martin Morris, on a program that included a hilarious medley incorporating Der Freischutz, Jingle Bells, and a jazz improvisation by Buffington.

Jumping forward three years, I graduated college and moved to Chicago to study with Dale Clevenger, having convinced him to accept me as a student. (Go here for that story.) There were lots of great reasons to be in Chicago in the mid-1970s, including the Chicago Symphony. It was the Solti era and the renowned brass section was amazing. Just listen to recordings from that time. As a member of the Civic Orchestra (the training orchestra of the CSO) I could buy tickets to Friday afternoon concerts for one dollar. The tickets were almost always for gallery seats, often in the last row, but that didn't matter. For reference, the regular price of the gallery seats was $6. The first Chicago Symphony concert I went to was conducted by Claudio Abbado and included Brahms 3rd Symphony. What I remember best, of course, is the horn solos, which were beautiful -- intrinsically musical, with an ease that made it seem easy (which it is not!). I have gone to many. many outstanding CSO concerts over the years, but this first one still stands out in my memory. You couldn't ask for a better introduction to the symphony.

I wondered what other people wrote in response to Listen's question. There are some wonderful stories in the winter edition of Listen, of concerts attended, recordings heard, and interactions with great musicians. You can read them  here. How would you answer?