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Violin News & Gossip, Op. 3, No. 10

February 4, 2007 at 7:02 PM

Chicago has lost another musical luminary: Al Booth, an impresario whose name would be unrecognized by most people but who made a lasting contribution to the arts in Chicago. Thirty years ago, he founded the Do-It-Yourself Messiah, an annual amateur production that fills the Civic Opera House, home of Lyric Opera of Chicago, to capacity with 6,000 singers in two performances. The tickets, which are free, are typically all spoken for within a matter of hours after being made available each autumn.

But Chicagoans also have Booth to thank for good, free music every week of the year. He founded the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series in 1979, which is a free, weekly recital every Wednesday noon in the heart of Chicago’s Loop. Additionally, the concerts are broadcast live on WFMT-FM 98.7.

Both ideas came to Booth, who died at 90, when he lived in England during the 1970s. A businessman with a history of social activism, he disagreed with the United States’ war in Southeast Asia, so he relocated to England temporarily. While there, he learned how the great pianist Dame Myra Hess had performed daily concerts in London’s National Gallery during the Battle of Britain in 1940 to raise Britons’ morale. The idea for the Do-It-Yourself Messiah also came from an inspiring amateur performance he had heard in England.

When Booth returned to the States in 1975, he set about adapting these two musical ideas to local tastes. And left his imprint on the musical life of Chicago for generations.


2/3/07 – Joshua Bell has received vast amounts of publicity in connection with his new ‘Voice of the Violin’ release and his public performances are usually accompanied by glowing reviews. But Bell played in Madison this weekend and received a seemingly contradictory review from the Capital Times, starting with the headline “Violinist Bell needed time to thaw audience.”

Music criticism is notoriously difficult to write well without lapsing into either pedantry or puffery, so I hesitate to draw attention to the review itself, rather than its content, but this critic’s comments strike me as strange based on passages like these: “It took the bulk of the first number, Schumann's Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in A Minor, Op. 105, to work out the evening's kinks. Bell opened in fine, albeit reserved form, stumbling with a false start at the beginning of Allegretto, the work's second movement.”

Well, what was the problem? Did he break a string? Have a memory lapse? Play out of tune? With a scratchy tone?

And consider the review’s conclusion: “…Once again, fire and passion brought a bright response from the audience, which heretofore had been surprisingly reluctant to come to its feet. Bell rewarded the newly enthusiastic crowd with a touching rendition of Tchaikovsky's None But the Lonely Heart. It took several hours, but performer and fans at last had connected.”

Read the review for yourself and decide whether this review is likely to accurately represent Bell’s performance.


1/31/07 - According to the Courier Mail (Australia), an anonymous businessman has given the Australian Chamber Orchestra a $10 million violin – but the gift comes with strings attached. “The 263-year old instrument, made in Italy by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, has to be kept in a bank vault when it is not being played by the ACO's artistic director and star violinist, Richard Tognetti.”

2/3/07 - For another take on Tognetti, read The Australian’s article, which in addition to news of the Guarneri loan, also includes the tidbit that Tognetti separated from his wife and “a gossip column mentioned that he had taken up with a striking blonde violinist in the ACO, Satu Vanska.”

Musician News

2/14/07 - Violinist Ivan Chan will visit Western Michigan University to perform and lead master classes. He will also judge the music school's annual concerto competition. Chan has been the first violinist of the prominent Miami String Quartet since 1995.

2/3/07 – The Cleveland Plain Dealer carried the obituary of Elmer Setzer, longtime assistant principal second violin of the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel. Setzer's wife, Marie Setzer, also a longtime violinist in the orchestra, had died in October. “Setzer was a familiar and affable figure in the orchestra's life. He was always ready with a snappy quip, and he exulted in the company of his colleagues. ‘He loved to tell stories. He just loved people’, said his son, Philip Setzer, a violinist in the Emerson String Quartet. ‘He was one of the most sociable people I've ever known’."

2/2/07 – The New York Times was one of many newspapers that reported on the death of Gian Carlo Menotti: "Gian Carlo Menotti, who wrote his first opera before he was 11 and went on to become perhaps the most popular and prolific opera composer of his time, winning two Pulitzer Prizes, died Thursday in Monaco, where he had a home. He was 95…Though critics often dismissed Mr. Menotti's music as maudlin and unadventurous, many of them still celebrated his impressive lyric gifts, his deft touch with orchestral sound and his talent for making opera comprehensible and enjoyable for people who had previously shunned it ... Menotti's Christmas classic, 'Amahl and the Night Visitors,' has been performed more than 600 times, often by amateur companies and on high school stages, since it was created for television in 1951 ... Mr. Menotti's works, including The Medium, The Consul, The Telephone and The Saint of Bleecker Street all showed that opera could sustain itself in a Broadway theater, something that Kurt Weill and George Gershwin managed to do only sporadically. He also founded the Festival of Two Worlds, the long-running summer music festival that began in 1958 in Spoleto, Italy, and that he directed for some 40 years. In 1977, he helped establish an American offshoot, Spoleto Festival U.S.A., in Charleston, S.C."

2/1/07 – The Aurora Beacon News (IL) used the opportunity to inform the public of what many music lovers have been dreading: the approaching dissolution of the Vermeer Quartet after nearly forty years as an ensemble. The group "was founded in 1969 at the Marlboro Festival and has since appeared at virtually all the prestigious music venues and music festivals. Its discography includes the complete quartets of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Bartok and additional works by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Verdi, Shostakovich, Haydn, Schnittke, and Brahms." The current members of the Vermeer Quartet include Shmuel Ashkenasi, Mathias Tacke, Richard Young, and Mark Johnson. The article includes mention of some of the cities included in the group’s final tour. Be sure to hear them live if you get the chance!

1/7/07 - Bethany Kerr, personnel manager and violinist for the Brevard (N.C.) Symphony Orchestra ran the Disney Marathon. In the process, she raised more than $13,000 to be used toward a pay increase for BSO musicians in 2007-08, reports the American Symphony Orchestra League. “To show her personal commitment to the orchestra and its musicians, who had not received an increase in pay for the 2006-07 season, Kerr devised the ‘Run for the Raises’ fundraiser. She registered for the Disney Marathon - her first - and asked for donations to support the BSO musicians. On January 7, Kerr finished the race in five hours, 20 minutes and 46 seconds.

Orchestra News

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra, under Conductor and Artistic Director Charles Ansbacher, has announced a new music festival for this summer, in cooperation with WCRB Radio and the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation. The Landmarks Esplanade Festival: Classics Under the Stars will feature the orchestra and other Boston-area performing arts organizations in Wednesday-evening concerts. All concerts will be held at the Hatch Shell on Boston's Esplanade. Founded in January 2001, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra performs free concerts celebrating historical, geographical, and architectural settings.

2/1/07 - Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra is launching a unique "orchestral academy" program for student musicians hoping to make a career in the orchestra world, reports the Ottawa Citizen. "The Institute will see four Canadian students and one American sitting side by side with NACO musicians, who will act as mentors to the students, offering feedback and advice. The students will also have individual coaching sessions, orchestral repertoire study sessions and chamber music coaching with NACO musicians." The students are violinist Won-Hee Lee (18, Ottawa), violinist Andréa Armijo Fortin (26, Quebec City), cellist Raphaël Dubé (22, Montreal), double bassist Brendan Kane (25, American) and violist Mary-Kathryn Stevens (24, Chatham, Ont.).

2/1/07 - The Rocky Mountain News reports: "Colorado Symphony officials today announced the ratification of a three-year contract with the musicians of the orchestra. The deal marks the first multi-year agreement since a five-year contract expired in 2003; single-year extensions had been approved since then. The new contract, which runs through the 2008-09 season, calls for pay increases of 6 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent respectively during the three-year period. Health benefits issues were also addressed, according to musicians' representative Bill Jackson."

1/31/07 – According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Symphony, without a recording contract for the past decade, has signed a deal with PentaTone to record all four Brahms symphonies later this year. “The deal was done under the new national agreement allowing orchestras to make live concert recordings without large upfront payments to the musicians.”

Other Music News

2/2/07 – The Boston Herald reports that New England Conservatory has named Minnesota Orchestra CEO Tony Woodcock as the school's new president. “Woodcock was credited with reducing deficits in Minneapolis, but leaves after less than four years on the job, with the orchestra musicians' contract scheduled to expire in the fall. Woodcock says that his top priority at Boston-based NEC will be increased fundraising.

From Scott 68
Posted on February 5, 2007 at 4:36 PM
I always liked Vermeer Quartet and Shmuel Ashkenasi
From Karin Lin
Posted on February 7, 2007 at 11:48 PM
I hope you see this comment, Darcy...

In regards to Josh's "stumbling" at the Madison, WI recital, apparently it was a deliberate restart after an audience member coughed. A letter to the editor explains it all:

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