Classic Mornings

Cats in the Crowd & Jolly Jupiter


They were and they weren’t catcalls. In fact, it seems as though the composer succeeded in getting the audience’s attention to the extent that some folks just wanted to extend the amusement a bit. Nevertheless, you could say that he simply “put the cat out.”

October 3 marked the 135th anniversary of the premiere of the operetta A Night in Venice (Eine Nacht in Venedig) by Johann Strauss, Jr. But the memorable story is about a night in Berlin, where the first performance took place. In Act 3, following a line that was sung in the Lagoon Waltz (“By night all cats look grey, and fondly are singing meow”), members of the audience began to meow. Strauss, conducting the performance, was not amused. 

Within a week, the work was given its Viennese premiere. By then, the lyrics had been changed to eliminate the word “meow.”

Gustav Holst should have been pleased with the enthusiastic audience response to the first performance of his suite known as The Planets, which took place 100 years ago on September 29, 1918. But according to Colin Matthews, the composer was neither ready for nor pleased with all the audience attention. So maybe it’s a good thing that it wasn’t he, but his daughter Imogen who observed that the cleaning ladies at the Queen’s Hall put down their brooms and began to dance during the 4th movement of the work: “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.” 

Unlike Strauss, Holst didn’t make any changes to the work in response to the audience’s reaction. And the work has remained one of his best-loved works, even as there have been changes to the celestial map since 1918.

Michel Plasson is certainly not the one who put the southern French town of Toulouse on the map. There’s evidence of the Romans having colonized the town in the 2nd Century B.C. But as a conductor, you might say that during the 35 years he spent in Toulouse as a music director and principal conductor, Plasson helped put the Orchestra of the Capitole of Toulouse on the map.

The orchestra belongs to the 18th Century opera house in Toulouse, known as the Theatre du Capitole. Over the years, even in concert programs, it performed from the orchestra pit. During Plasson’s tenure, an old corn market building was converted into an arena known as the Halle aux Grains (literally the “grain hall”), so that the orchestra might escape from the pit.

In recent years, the orchestra has come to be known as the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. In a 2011 poll in Le Figaro, it ranked 3rd among all French orchestras. Plasson, who remains an honorary conductor, celebrated his 85th birthday on October 2.

September 22 was the centennial of the birth of a violin virtuoso and humanitarian who helped many of his countrymen find a new home after being displaced during the Second World War. His name sounds like “sharing.” And maybe that’s one of the most appropriate ways of remembering the Polish-born Henryk Szeryng.

Szeryng assisted the Polish Government in exile in finding a home in Mexico for 4,000 Polish refugees. That was in addition to playing some 300 concerts for the Allied troops. Szeryng, who spoke seven different languages, became a Mexican citizen, and eventually served as Mexico’s Cultural Ambassador.  In Mexico City, there is an international violin competition named for Szeryng, who made his debut in Warsaw and three other European capitals at age 14. He died 30 years ago in 1988.

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