Banking On Memorable Stories
A guy walks into a bar and orders whiskey. No, it’s not a joke. But it turns out to be an interesting story. And I did get your attention with the opening of it, just as the Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang got mine. She told it to Geoffrey Newmann of the website Vancouver Classical Music in 2015.
She talked about having gotten to know the late Anner Bylsma, who turned out to be one of her most influential mentors, even though he was a cellist and she’s a violinist. She said that after she played for him, he wouldn’t comment much. Then, he began to tell seemingly unrelated stories.
So what’s the rest of this Bylsma story? Well, when the waiter brings the fellow what he asked for, he throws away the whiskey and eats the glass. He orders five more glasses and eats all five of them before he pays and leaves. The waiter is confused and asks the other guests what it all means.
Yang explained that it took a while, but eventually she came to understand the story as a comment on her playing. “You threw out the most beautiful things, and you were concentrating on the wrong stuff,” it seemed to suggest.
I didn’t tell that story on the air. But I wanted to share it with you just because it’s thought-provoking and extends beyond music. I did mention on Classic Mornings that Tianwa Yang never liked the word “virtuoso” and wanted to avoid what she called the “International Violin Olympiad.” In spite of that, Newmann, in a review of Yang’s performance of a Paganini concerto, noted that she met all of the virtuosic demands of the work, while also bringing her own unique musical touches to the performance. I shared that with listeners just before playing a selection with Tianwa Yang playing a work by Pablo de Sarasate, which is in the same virtuosic ballpark as the Paganini concerto.
It’s funny how some of my memorable search adventures begin with no particular expectations. Recently, I was curious about a recording with pianist Alicia de Larrocha. According to the CD booklet, it was made at a bank auditorium. It made me recall the times I have stood in line in bank lobbies with music playing overhead. Only with cartoonish thoughts would I have imagined an orchestra elsewhere in the building.
I looked up the name of the venue and discovered that since the 1870s, folks have been able to listen to music in a concert hall built above the Troy Savings Bank in Troy, New York (which is across the Hudson River from the state capital: Albany). It turns out that the bank included the auditorium as a sort of thank you to the community back then.
Some famous classical music performers have played there, including pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein, as well as violinists Henri Vieuxtemps and Yehudi Menuhin. Alicia de Larrocha made her recording 30 years ago at The Troy Savings Bank Auditorium. And it’s a recording that has continued to earn interest, you might say, over the years.
That would have been enough to have learned from that search. But I had one more seemingly silly question: Do the citizens of Troy, New York call themselves Trojans? As it turns out, their baseball team did. The story is told in a 2016 ESPN article by Steve Wulf that the team known as the Troy Trojans (originally called the Haymakers) was one of the first professional teams in a league that would become the National League. But when the actual National League formed, a team from New York City known as the Gothams was chosen. Wulf went on to explain that the Gothams changed their name to reflect the size of some of the players on the team. Yes, that’s the origin of the New York Giants. And the rest is history.
There were a couple of other things that I learned in recent searches. The tune of the famous “Brahms Lullaby” was written by Brahms as a counter melody to a folk dance tune that Bertha Porubsky, a woman he’d been fond of years before, used to sing to him. So the folk melody and the lullaby melody work well together. The lullaby was written for one of the children of Bertha and her husband Arthur Faber.
And I should have guessed that violinist Karen Gomyo worked with the late Dorothy DeLay, whose students also included Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham and Sarah Chang. Only recently did I accidentally stumble upon that fact. Gomyo began studying with her at the Juilliard School.when she was 11.
I make these little discoveries daily. And I share them on Classic Mornings. So join us Monday through Friday from 9-noon of FM 90.9 or online at will.illinois.edu.