Classic Mornings

A First-Class Hall Without Walls


Not exactly a Russian Rick Steves, but he did have a travel book. According to the Carnegie Hall  website, it was a small notebook titled “Trip to America.”   

On the first page he wrote: “Things to ask: Is it safe to drink the water in America? What kind of cigarettes do men smoke in New York City? What kind of hats to they wear? Can I get my laundry done there? Check acoustics of the new music hall.”  Pages later, he commented on American hospitality. “In other countries, if somebody comes up to you and they’re nice, you suspect ‘What do they want?’ Here in America, they don’t want anything. They just want to be nice.”

Well, they did want a big name like Tchaikovsky in town for the opening of Carnegie Hall 125 years ago. It was known as Music Hall back then, later to be renamed Carnegie Hall for industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who provided a sizeable portion of the funding.  They also wanted a new work by the composer for the occasion. So he brought one titled Marche Solennelle, which he conducted in the inaugural concert. Turns out he simply renamed the Festival Coronation March he had written for the coronation of Tsar Alexander III some 8 years before. But according to Carnegie Hall archivist Gino Francesconi, nobody was upset.  How could they be? It’s fireworks from the outset. And led by the composer for the occasion, it had to have been memorable.

Speaking of memorable, no matter how many times it’s played, Leo Arnaud’s famous Olympic Fanfare still gets the gold. It’s from a larger work titled Bugler’s Dream by the French-born American film composer and arranger, who died 25 years ago on April 26, 1991. Just as Tchaikovsky had borrowed the march he had written for Tsar Alexander III for the “Solemn March”, Arnaud borrowed a cavalry call written in the time of Napoleon by the French trumpet player and composer Joseph David Buhl.  Felix Slatkin, conductor and father of conductor Leonard Slatkin, commissioned Arnaud to write the work for a recording he made in the late 1950s called Charge.

The fanfare was first used for the Olympics broadcasts in 1968. As often it continues to be heard, audiences still may not know anything about Leo Arnaud. If the theme was used on public radio, Arnaud might get credited right along with B. J. Leiderman, who has written so many news program themes and is regularly acknowledged. Buhl might even get a mention.

I did see a bit of mention of Yehudi Menuhin around the time of the centennial of his birth on April 22nd. I couldn’t begin to summarize the eventful life of the violinist, conductor and humanitarian. I know that from having read his 1977 autobiography Unfinished Journey years ago. In case I had forgotten, I was reminded by a music blog that appeared recently in The Guardian by Menuhin biographer Humphrey Burton: It’s titled: “Menuhin:100 Facts to Celebrate His Centenary.”  

I had read Yehudi Menuhin’s autobiography in the mid 1980s in anticipation of chatting with him via telephone and then meeting him after a recital he gave around the time he turned 70.  He had devoted so much of his book to recalling his eventful childhood. And I felt that I had gotten to know him so well as a young person that I remember being a bit surprised to see a 70-year old Yehudi Menuhin smiling at me when I finally met him.  Somehow, he had given me the impression that he’d never age.

Robert Shaw’s centennial arrived a week after Menuhin’s on April 29th.  That’s Robert Shaw the conductor, not the English actor. I mention that only because it’s the actor (From Russia With Love, A Man For All Seasons,The Sting)  whose entries first appear when you go searching for the name.

The conductor was born in 1916 in Red Bluff, California. From a college glee club director, he suddenly found himself organizing and conducting the Fred Waring Glee Club – for the popular radio entertainer Fred Waring in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  In the 1940s, he assisted Arturo Toscanini with choral works performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra and he conducted that orchestra himself. He formed the Robert Shaw Chorale in 1948. The Chorale became popular internationally and was famous for its recordings of Christmas music, Americana and folk songs:  The Robert Shaw Chorale disbanded in the 1960s. Robert Shaw went on to be an orchestral as well as choral conductor in Cleveland and Atlanta. He died in 1999.

Tchaikovsky, Menuhin and Shaw all appeared at Carnegie Hall. I’m sure the 125-year roster of performers is more than impressive. I was reminded during the Spring Forward Pledge Drive of the number of performers who have been featured daily on WILL-FM over the years, not to mention the many supporters who have made that possible. Several hundred contributed during the recent drive, which was successful mostly as a low-key drive, resulting in the chance to hear more of the performers. Thank you for making our concert hall of the airwaves and the internet the legendary place that it is in central Illinois!