Classic Mornings

Standing Up for a Classic Overture


Talk about a Father’s Day shopping nightmare. For one thing, his 80th birthday was just over a week ago. And what do you get someone who already has been awarded honors by the President of Estonia and the Swedish King?

You can celebrate with a little drumroll, but he’s done that himself – years ago as a percussionist before becoming a conductor.  If you bought him a CD of orchestral music, chances are it’s one of his. He’s recorded nearly 500 CDs, according to his web page.  If it’s not one of his, he probably has conducted the orchestra on the disc. There’s even the chance that he founded the orchestra.

Neeme Järvi’s birthday was on June 7th.  I played excerpts from the suite that Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov arranged from his opera Mlada with Järvi conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The final selection was the famous “Procession of the Nobles.” That seemed appropriate for the Estonian-born American conductor. His name and that of the late Sir Neville Marriner are attached to so many recordings in the Friends of WILL Library. You could almost say they rule it.

I’m amazed at how many recordings Järvi continues to make. He has said that he likes to record lesser known orchestral works. On Classic Mornings we do listen to his recordings of old favorites by Brahms and Grieg. But we also hear him conducting works by composers like Johan Halvorsen, Hugo Alfvén and Jean Sibelius. And in recent years, he has added some unfamiliar music of Jules Massenet, Emmanuel Chabrier and Franz von Suppé to his recorded repertoire.

On his home page, Neeme Järvi says that ”all the time, every day,” and “from morning till evening” he loves music. So maybe his family will treat him to music on Father’s Day. His sons Paavo and Kristjan are conductors.  His daughter Maarika is a flutist. And who knows? Perhaps at one point he showed them how to play a little drumroll.

A bicentennial celebration calls for a drumroll. But a drumroll already is a part of the overture to the opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) by Gioachino Rossini, which had its first performance on May 31, 1817.

An overture is supposed to get your attention. So is a drumroll. Simply said, Rossini’s overture has gotten a lot of attention over the centuries. It may not be as popular as his William Tell or Barber of Seville overtures, but it may well get the bronze medal.

La gazza ladra is not one of Rossini’s comic operas, yet the story behind the overture is rather entertaining. Richard Rodda has quoted the composer from one of his letters. Rossini said: “I wrote the overture to La gazza ladra the day of the opening in the theater itself, where I was imprisoned by the director and under the surveillance of four stagehands who were instructed to throw my original text through the window, page by page, to the copyists waiting below to transcribe it. In default of pages, they were ordered to throw me out the window bodily...”  That didn’t happen. Rossini did write the overture, page by page. In the end, it was nicely assembled and performed.

It continues to be performed, assuming it gets past the drumroll.  In a tribute to the late Claudio Abbado in Opera magazine, Andrew Clark noted that Abbado “used to recall with amusement how, at his UK debut in 1965 with the Hallé Orchestra, the audience stood at the start of Rossini's La gazza ladra overture, thinking the drum roll signalled the national anthem.”

That brings to mind so many concerts I’ve attended at which audience members applauded when they thought a piece of music had come to an end – though it hadn’t. But how exciting that they were moved to express their approval!

That in turn makes me think of the WILL-FM listeners who continue to show their support for classical music on the radio in central Illinois.  Many call or go online during pledge drives. Others simply contribute whenever they’re moved by the music.

By June 30th, all of the money for next year’s programs must be in the bank. If you haven’t made a contribution yet, please consider doing that today. Call 217-244-9455 or pledge online at And thank you for your support!