Classic Mornings

Skaila’s The Limit & Cello Blossoms


It's probably just as well that I wasn’t there. But it might have been fun. And I can’t believe that as close by as it was, I missed it!

Years ago, a colleague at WILL shared some printed materials from a program at which the Indian-born British harpist Skaila Kanga made a presentation. That wasn’t long after a CD came into the Friends of WILL Library featuring Kanga. I noticed last week that the recording arrived 20 years ago.

It was our introduction to her – or was it? It turns out that she has played on some 500 film soundtracks, as well as classical and pop recordings as the principal harp of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with all three of The Three Tenors, with Joan Sutherland, Barbara Hendricks, Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Sarah Brightman, and Björk. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I began searching online for information about recordings by some of those celebrities which featured Kanga. It was fun to be reminded of selections with a solo harp. Given the recording practice of overdubbing, she may not have been in the studio at the same time as any of the legendary performers.  Still, I could just imagine myself at her presentation years ago, wanting to ask about the specifics of the various recording sessions and performers. As I said at the outset, it’s probably just as well that I wasn’t there.

None of those famous folks were on the recording we acquired 20 years ago. It was a collection of British folk melodies arranged for harp and harmonica by Skaila Kanga (Chandos 6643). She was joined by harmonica virtuoso Tommy Reilly. The two performed as a duo for some 20 years.

Though Kanga originally studied singing and piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London, she switched to the harp at age 17. Years later she would become the head of the harp department at the Royal Academy.

Not only did I learn about her visit to the University of Illinois after the fact. While preparing a program earlier this week, I learned – after the fact – that she celebrated her 75th birthday back on January 8!

Several years ago, I heard a recital featuring a harpist and a cellist. As a part of their program, they included some British folk melodies. Having played selections from Skaila Kanga’s recording on the air for so many years, I guessed immediately that her arrangements were being used by the duo with a cello subbing for the harmonica. Afterwards, I asked the harpist. Indeed, they were Kanga’s.

That’s a true story. And recently, I remembered the famous line from the story that was indeed made up about the young George Washington admitting to his father that he put a hatchet to a cherry tree. The reason it came to mind was the occasion of the 75th birthday of the Texas-born cellist Ralph Kirshbaum on March 4. Kirshbaum is an Americanized version of the German word Kirschbaum, which means cherry tree.

Kirshbaum’s first teacher was his father, who was a violinist, composer, conductor and music educator. I have seen an article in which he tells the story of his father giving him the choice of learning the violin, viola or cello. It seems that since two of his siblings played the violin and viola, he opted for the cello. He added that he was attracted by the size of the instrument as well, and that having been given the option of a double bass, he might have selected that. Ralph Kirshbaum went on to become a prize-winning cellist, who has performed with major orchestras around the world. He’s a music educator as well.

Kirshbaum was born within a week or so of the Czech conduictor Jiři Bělohlávek (2/24/46), who died in 2017, and the Austrian flutist Wolfgang Schulz (2/26/46), who died in 2013. We celebrated the 75th birthday anniversaries of both on Classic Mornings.

And we had another centennial celebration. March 6 was the 100th birthday anniversary of Viennese-born conductor Julius Rudel. In 1938, at age 17, he fled to this country after the German Anschluss (the annexation of Austria). In 1943, he became a part of the newly-formed New York City Opera. In his 35 years with the company, he first assisted with rehearsals, scheduling and conducting. He became music director in 1957, just as the organization faced financial troubles. Rudel would rescue it. And under his leadership, the company enjoyed many years of success. He also conducted over 250 performances at the Met.

I’m always amazed by the number of milestone musical celebrations that arrive regularly. Join us for those yet to come! Tune in to Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 or online at