Classic Mornings

An April Showering Of Celebrations


There were cellos close by, even before he was born. Yan Pascal Tortelier reminded Olivia Hampton of DC Metro last fall that his mother, Maud Tortelier, a cellist, carried him for 9 months against her cello. His father, Paul Tortelier, was a cellist as well – and a conductor.

Yan Pascal is a violinist, who became a conductor. And not only did he give up his violin bow. He told Hampton that he stopped using a baton years ago, making use of his tall stature and long arms. Tortelier celebrated his 75th birthday on April 19.  And, by the way, his sister, who goes by the name Pomona, is a cellist. Another sister, Maria de la Pau, is a pianist.  

Pianist and conductor Murray Perahia was born 75 years ago on April 19 as well. Yes, he and Yan Pascal Tortelier were born the same day
A third conductor also celebrated a 75th.  Philippe Herreweghe was born on May 2, 1947 in Ghent, Belgium. Herreweghe has championed authentic performance practice of everything from early music to contemporary music.  And he’s founded a number of ensembles, including the Orchestre des Champs Elysées in 1991. That orchestra specializes in music from around 1750 to the early 20th century.

We had two milestone Scandinavian celebrations this past week, one of which was the 175th anniversary of the birth of flutist/composer Joachim Andersen on April 29.  Born in Copenhagen, he performed with the Royal Danish Orchestra as well as orchestras in St. Petersburg & Berlin. In fact, he was a co-founder and one-time assistant conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. But he’s best remembered as a flute virtuoso and composer for the instrument.  

This past Sunday, May 1, marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén, who died in 1960. He’s famous for his Swedish Rhapsody No. 1 and the so-called “Dance of the Shepherdess” (Vallflickans Dans) from a ballet pantomime called The Mountain King (Bergakungen).

We celebrated a 280th anniversary on April 13.  That one gave me the chance to retell the story about the premiere of one of the most famous works in all of classical music. The composer had completed it the year before in 1741 and had scored it for fewer musicians than some of his other sacred works for soloists, chorus & orchestra – oratorios, as they’re known. According to Donald Burrows, the composer had thought of taking the work to Dublin, Ireland for its premiere, not knowing what kind of musicians he would find there.  So he kept it simple.  The premiere was billed as a charity performance to benefit prisoners in several jails in Dublin, a hospital and an infirmary. It was a Tuesday afternoon matinee, rather than an evening performance. Men were asked to come without their swords and ladies were asked not to wear hooped skirts. All of that helped fit 700 rather than 600 people into the hall.

Have you guessed the work? It’s the oratorio Messiah by George Frideric Handel.  London would have to wait until the following year to hear it. I played a couple of selections featuring the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Academy Chorus and soloists led by Sir Neville Marriner from a recording made 30 years ago in Dublin to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of the first performance (Philips 434695). 

Sadly, we lost 3 pianists over the past several weeks. I learned in early April that the Israeli-American pianist Joseph Kalichstein passed away on March 31 at age 76. I remember his smile, his laughter and his joking manner from when I had the chance to interview him, along with his colleagues: violinist Jamie Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson, with whom he performed as the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio for over 40 years. I actually interviewed them twice: in the AM 580 studio at Gregory Hall – our former home - and via telephone at the flight gate of an airport.  Their management arranged for me to call one of the pay phones there and chat with each member separately. They then passed the phone to one of the others. That was more than a few years ago.

The Romanian-born pianist Radu Lupu died on April 17 at age 76.  We’ve enjoyed his performances of the music of Schubert over the years, as well as those of Mozart, which also feature Murray Perahia. And the American pianist Nicholas Angelich, who was born in Cincinnati, died on April 18 at age 51.  

All three will be remembered from their recordings in the Friends of WILL Library.  And, speaking of the Friends of WILL, some 365 of them helped us reach our $100,000 spring fundraising goal. What a way to end a month of celebrations, including the 100th anniversary of WILL radio and the 12th anniversary of Classic Mornings!  Thank you!