Milestones in Bloom
I like when this sort of thing happens. And this time it seemed so seasonal, with all kinds of things popping up outdoors as well.
April 22 marked the 65th birthday of the Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste. He began his career as a violinist with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He would go on to become the principal conductor of that orchestra, among others.
I know that listeners probably wonder about his name. Pekka is Finnish for Peter. And though the Finns have a name similar to Johann, Jukka is a variant of Johann. It’s a hyphenated name: Jukka-Pekka. It might suggest the name of the other famous contemporary Finnish conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen. His first name is a Finnish equivalent of Isaiah-Peter.
Saraste’s family name has to bring to mind the name of the 19th century violin virtuoso and composer Pablo de Sarasate. You could say that each name is a misspelling of the other, depending upon which name you had in mind.
On April 22, adding the “a” to Saraste’s name to get Sarasate was most appropriate. It was the 105th birthday of the late Yehudi Menuhin, who died in 1999. And indeed, I played a performance by the 19-year-old Menuhin of one of the Spanish dances – a zapateado – by Sarasate.
While giving a little background on Finnish first names that morning, I did likewise with Menuhin’s. Yehudi is the Hebrew word for Jew. Menuhin told the story in his early autobiography that following an anti-Semitic incident in New York, where the violinist was born to Russian/Jewish immigrants, his mother decided to name him Yehudi.
He would go on to be a conductor, music educator, and humanitarian, as well. I played a performance with Sir Yehudi leading the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a piece he certainly had played in its original violin and piano version: Edward Elgar’s Chanson du matin (Song of the Morning).
I went to look up the 20th century British composer Eric Fenby, whose 115th birthday anniversary was on the same day. And who should happen to appear in a picture with him? It was Yehudi Menuhin! I was sort of on a roll at that point and expecting even more serendipity. That turned out to be the end. But it was fun to open the program with those three celebrations
The tricentennial of the birth of Johann Philipp Kirnberger was on April 24. He was a composer, theorist, violinist, and a pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach. He studied composition and music performance with Bach. For years, he was an acquaintance of Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who worked for the Prussian King Frederick II. Kirnberger worked for Princess Amalia – Frederick’s sister.
Kirnberger’s 300th turned out to be a John Williams 80th. Yes, I want you to ask: “Which one? Was it the American composer/conductor/pianist John Williams (whose name you sometimes see listed as John Towner Williams) or the Australian-born guitarist John Williams (whose name is sometimes listed as John Christopher Williams)? Want to guess? You’d be correct if you chose the guitarist. There was another musical John Williams as well: the Ohio-born choral conductor John Wesley Williams (1940-2011). He always went by his full name.
I’m guessing it’s a bit amusing whenever the name Wallace Collection is mentioned in Britain. There are three of those as well. There’s the famous museum in London, named for the 19th century art collector Sir Richard Wallace, who originally inherited what he later would add on to. There was a Belgian pop band that formed in the 1960s that called itself “The Wallace Collection,” taking its name from the museum. And over the years, I’ve played selections featuring the brass ensemble known as “The Wallace Collection,” named for Scottish trumpeter John Wallace – though I’m guessing they too were having a little fun with the double meaning behind their name. They formed 35 years ago
Cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber was born 70 years ago, on April 14, 1951. Yes, he’s the brother of composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber. The Swiss organist/composer Lionel Rogg, who has recorded the complete organ music of Bach three times, turned 85 on April 21. And today (April 29) is the 85th birthday of conductor Zubin Mehta, who led the legendary concert with The Three Tenors, not to mention countless others as Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic.
Those were just some of the milestone celebrations that took place during the past few weeks. We lit and blew out candles for many more while enjoying their music. As much as I can tell you about some of them here, you really get the full effect when you join us for Classic Mornings. Tune in Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 or online at will.illinois.edu.