Classic Mornings

Good King Václav, He Looked Out…


I had no hint at all. I just decided to open Classic Mornings early last week with a performance of Chopin’s famous Waltz in C-sharp minor op. 64, no. 2. You may not know it by the key or the opus number. I’ll bet you’d recognize it right away if you heard just a handful of notes.

Anyway, when I glanced at the CD booklet, I noticed it was recorded in 1995 – 25 years ago. And saying often enough that Garrick Ohlsson was the first American to win the International Chopin Competition, I wanted to remind myself of when that happened. It turns out that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the event! 

Ohlsson not only won the gold medal. He also received the award from Polish Radio for the best performance of a Chopin mazurka. The silver medalist, by the way, was Mitsuko Uchida. 

At the time of the silver anniversary of his gold medal, Ohlsson had been in the studio with the waltzes of Chopin as a part of an ongoing project to record the composer’s complete works. He must have felt right at home in more ways than one. It was the music of Chopin, for which he had been honored. And the recording took place at the State University of New York at Purchase, which is just miles from White Plains (a suburb of New York City) where he was born.

How did he celebrate the golden anniversary of becoming the gold medalist? He presented a live online all-Chopin recital from the San Francisco Conservatory back on August 29. And I was reminded that during the past 50 years, no other American pianist has been able to claim the title.

I’m guessing that nobody is about to change the title of the famous Christmas song to “Good King Václav.” For one thing, you’d be missing a beat right at the beginning of the song. No, it’s not going to happen. But if it helps you to remember that Václav is the Czech version of Wenceslas or Wenceslaus, then I’m glad I mentioned it. Václav (907-935 AD) was not a king. He was the Duke of Bohemia, which today is a part of the Czech Republic. And he became a saint, who is celebrated on September 28.

Václav Neuman was born in Prague on September 29,1920. He was a violinist and violist who became a conductor, not to mention a legend in classical music. He was a champion of Czech composers and the principal conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from 1968 until 1990. Before that, he held posts at the Komische Oper in Berlin and with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig.

The current season of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which began on September 24, is dedicated to the memory of Neumann. Semyon Bychkov is Music Director.

In addition to that centennial, there was a 90th birthday celebration on September 29 for the Australian-born Richard Bonynge, who studied to be a pianist. He then became a vocal coach. With one of those whom he had coached, namely, the late Joan Sutherland, he became part of a famous opera team. She was the singer and he the conductor. They were a team off-stage as well.

A concert was filmed in honor of Bonynge’s 90th. It was streamed internationally on September 29.

Brynjar Hoff celebrated his 80th birthday on October 1. The name may be familiar if you’re a Classic Mornings listener. Otherwise, I’m guessing you’ve never heard of him.

A CD featuring the Norwegian oboist made its way into the Friends of WILL Library decades ago. That was my introduction to him. He was principal oboe in the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra at age 15. A few years later, in 1958, he was appointed first oboe in the newly created Norwegian Opera. In 1959, he was one of the founders of the Oslo Wind Quintet and became a member of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1965. He began to perform in recitals with pianist Robert Levin and even assisted in the founding of the Oslo Wind Soloists.

This year marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. A couple of recent birthdays reminded me that during the post-war months, several famous musicians were born. I already mentioned in an earlier post that Keith Jarrett was born on VE Day (May 8),1945. Soprano Frederica von Stade was born on June 1, and violinist Itzhak Perlman on August 31. Soprano Jessye Norman, who died last year, was born on September 15, and conductor/composer John Rutter celebrated his 75th on September 24. There’s something so inspiring in just the thought of what those five artists would bring to the world after the destruction came to an end.

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