Branching Out Briefly Into Brendel, Brown & Lebrun

January 14, 2016
 

You may joke all you’d like about the music ensemble that had its own greenhouse or about a greenhouse effect that came from one of its players. But there’s a bit of truth in it all.

January 3rd marked the centennial of the birth of cellist Bernard Greenhouse, who was one of the founding members of the Beaux Arts Trio along with violinist Daniel Guillet and pianist Menahem Pressler. Greenhouse was with the ensemble from 1955 until 1987, when he left for health reasons.

He was born in Orange, New Jersey close to Newark. Years before he played in the Beaux Arts Trio, he was principal cello of the Columbia Broadcast Symphony Orchestra after graduating from the Juilliard School. During the Second World War he was principal cello of the Navy Orchestra and played 3rd oboe in the Navy Band. Greenhouse continued to perform and teach even in his 90s. He died in 2011 at age 95.

Pianist Alfred Brendel turned 85 on January 5th.  At his website, he tells the story of his introduction to what he terms “elevated” music. His father was the manager of a resort hotel and he, a little boy at the time, got to operate a record player,  winding it up and putting on records for the guests of the hotel. He says they were operetta records of around 1930 and that he sang along and found it to be rather easy. He probably had no clue back then that someday music listeners would be putting on his records and listening to the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart and others – sometimes recorded more than once during his successful career as a pianist.

Brendel retired from performing back in 2008. He’s still writing about music and sharing insights from his years of performing and recording. In a review of one of his recent books by Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian, it was noted that the pianist has a hearing disorder these days, which makes it difficult for him to listen to music any more. Somehow that seems to make it all the more special that we can still enjoy his recordings. With a 114 CD box set released on the occasion of his 85th birthday, you can put on more of Brendel’s records than you ever imagined.

Iona Brown would have been 75 on January 7th. Given her well-known connection with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, I wanted to mention her association with the other Browns. Members of the musical Brown family from England – not to be confused with the American fivesome who specialize in music written or arranged for as many as 5 pianos – have been in the spotlight for years, though not necessarily as a family that plays together.

Iona is the most famous member of her family. She was a violinist who began playing with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Otto Klemperer. Years later she was the music director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. But she’s best remembered for having been a violinist, conductor and music director of the ensemble known as The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

Iona Brown left a legacy of recorded performances with the Academy as a soloist and conductor. On one of those recordings, she led the ensemble in Mozart’s horn concertos, with her brother Timothy in the solo spotlight. He has been principal horn of the BBC Symphony and co-principal of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Their father was a pianist & organist. Their mother was a violinist and member of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. A sister Sally was a violist with Bournemouth and a brother Ian is a pianist. That makes a musical family of 6. Oh, and The Telegraph of London noted that Iona Brown was sometimes mistaken for a violinist with the same name who played for the Northern Sinfonia. On one occasion the more famous Iona conducted the orchestra in which the other played.

In some ways, that tops the 5 members of the American Brown family. I’m guessing the 2 families never appeared on the same stage.  But I did my best to bring them together on the Classic Morning Prelude of January 7th.  I played performances with Iona as violinist and conductor, including one with her brother Timothy.  I also featured The Five Browns: Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.

Brown is a lot easier to say than Zdenek Macal. The Czech-born conductor once told the Pittsburgh Press that his family name was pronounced “Mahts AHL.”  But early in his career, he was being confused with conductor Lorin Maazel. So he Americanized the pronunciation to “Ma CALL.”  In the Baltimore Sun he once said that Zdenek (Zah DENN ik) was too difficult for many to say. He suggested that people call him Dennis or Denny. I have never seen his name listed in either of those ways. Denny McCall has a nice ring to it, but he might be mistaken by some for a Detroit Tigers pitcher of years ago.

Zdenek Macal once served as the principal conductor of the Grant Park Music Series in Chicago. He was the music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic from 2003-2007. I haven’t been able to locate any references to his recent activities, but for the Classic Morning Prelude on January 8th,  his 80th birthday, I did locate one of his recordings in the Friends of WILL Library featuring music of Russian composer Reinhold Glière. We heard him conduct selections from the ballet The Red Poppy.

We hadn’t heard about German condcutor Kurt Masur in a while. And though they say no news is good news, the last bits of news we had heard were about his failing health. The weekend before Christmas, there came the news that Masur passed away on December 19th at age 88.  

Masur will be remembered for the 26 years he served as the principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig – the orchestra founded in the late 18th century and led by Felix Mendelssohn in the 19th. Masur is credited with helping to restore the international reputation of that orchestra and getting a new concert hall to replace the one that had been destroyed during the Second World War. He managed to achieve that during the years that the Communist regime controlled East Germany. 

Masur came to Champaign-Urbana with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in April, 1989.  That was just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the events that led up to that event, the influential Masur had asked the East German regime and protesters to conduct themselves in a non-violent manner – which they did.  As a result, he later was suggested as a candidate for president of the re-unified Germany. The Telegraph quoted him from the time with the response: “Am I so bad a conductor that I have to become a politician?”  It wasn’t long after those events that Masur took over as music director of the New York Philharmonic, a post he held for some 11 years, followed by a tenure with the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 2000-2007.

A few days before Masur’s passing marked the 225th anniversary of the passing of an oboist/composer by the name of Lebrun. The potential for word play was too tempting to pass up. I guessed that given the famous similar-sounding name, listeners’ thoughts already were at courtside. So I assured them that Ludwig August Lebrun was quite a player in the court orchestra of Mannheim.  Yes it’s a different kind of court, namely the residence of a ruler or of those who selected the rulers back then. In that court, Lebrun too had his start as a pro when he was a teenager – actually, he was 15.  Eventually, he commanded a hefty salary and attracted international attention for his playing. A story is also told of a one on one contest with another player of his time.

While I was preparing the Prelude, a thought hit me like a slam dunk.  We often commemorate the major anniversaries of the “passing” of musicians.  How often I have used the phrase. So I had to smile after I mentioned Lebrun’s passing as I began to think of musical statistics comparable to the points, assists and rebounds of the fellow with the similarly spelled (and sounding) name.

Whether you keep stats on musicians of the past or just enjoy their music, join me for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9 to noon with the Classic Morning Prelude just before at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and streaming online at will.illinois.edu.


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