Have You Höörd?

July 31, 2019
 

I guess I got a little carried away.  And afterwards, I felt like one of those folks who can’t wait to shout out the answer to a game show question, only to be wrong.

A new CD arrived featuring a Belgian-based cello octet that calls itself “ô-celli.” While listening to selections from the recording, I thought about the name. Of course!  It’s a play on the Italian word for birds: uccelli. And it probably suggests the song-like quality of the ‘flock’ of cellos or celli. Clever!

Just to be sure, I decided to send a message to the group. Quick to respond, I learned that the name had nothing to do with birds (except that my guess had been “for the birds,” you could say).

According to a member of the ensemble, Alexandre Beuvoir, the “ô” with the accent is an “evocation of the surprise.” He went on to explain that the letter “o” for them is also a circle.  They are 8 players. That number is like two “o”s placed one atop the other and the infinity symbol when they’re side by side.  A circle never ends and “the possibilities we have with eight cellos are maybe (we hope!) endless.”

I’d like to say that was my second guess, but it wasn’t. In the meantime, I have played arrangements for 8 celli of Emmanuel Chabrier’s España and Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo” (West Side Story) from the group’s new recording titled: the sunnyside of ô-celli (Cypres 1680).

You can’t blame me for having jumped the gun on that one. Just the day before, I’d been caught off guard, not at all suspecting that there was wordplay connected with another new recording. It features a baroque ensemble from southern Sweden called Höör Barock.

In the recording notes, it’s explained that the name of the town sounds like the Swedish word for “listen” or “hear,” which is “hör.”  And Höör used to be spelled Hör. So the name of the ensemble, which specializes in music from the time of Vivaldi, Bach and Handel translates to something like “listen to baroque” or literally “hear baroque.”

Höör Barock is joined on the new recording (Bis 2355) by the Swedish recorder player Dan Laurin, who came to town years ago – even chatted with us on air at one point. It features the complete music that was written for a 1728 celebration in Stockholm of the crowning at age 12 of the Russian Tsar Peter II. His father had been one of the sons of Tsar Peter I or “Peter the Great.”

So why were they celebrating in Sweden? The Russian envoy Nikolai Golovin wanted to host a celebration at his palace in Stockholm. For music he turned to the violinist/composer Johan Helmich Roman, who was the head of the city’s only professional orchestra. Roman wrote 45 pieces that were given the title: Music for a banquet held by the Russian envoy Count Golovin. It’s simply known as Golovinmusiken.

Roman is better known for the music he wrote 16 years later for a royal wedding at the Drottningholm Palace on the outskirts of Stockholm. That music, known as Drottningholmsmusiken was to accompany several days of wedding-related events.

Alexis Weissenberg is remembered for being a concert pianist. But there’s a memorable story about the 12–year old Weissenberg playing the music of Schubert on an accordion he’d been given by his aunt. It was during the time of the German occupation of Bulgaria in 1941. A guard was so moved that he arranged for the boy and his mother to travel on a train and flee the country. Weissenberg, who died in 2012, would have been 90 on July 26th.

The Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma died at age 85 on July 25th. His repertoire included everything from Baroque to contemporary. On Monday, Gramophone online quoted Bylsma from Lindsay Kemp’s 1995 interview:  ‘An interviewer once asked me “What is authentic?”, and I said it is when you hear someone play a piece that you know extremely well and it suddenly appears still more beautiful than it was.’

And the Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires turned 75 on July 23rd. She’s the one who performed in a concert in Amsterdam years ago at which the orchestra began a different Mozart concerto than the one for which she had been prepared. She managed to react quickly and dazzle the audience in spite of the mixup.

Recently the same thing happened to one of the contestants in the final round of the Tchaikovsky International Competition. The pianist was anticipating Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, only to have the orchestra begin to play Sergei Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Though he knew the work and kept up with the orchestra, I understand that he didn’t exactly “pull off a Pires.”

You’ll enjoy the surprises I have for you on Classic Mornings. Join us Monday through Friday from 9 to noon on FM 90.9 or online at will.illinois.edu.


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