Month: April 2019

Happy Day!

On Friday, I attended a Passover Seder with good friends. Some around the table were Jewish, several were from Christian backgrounds, and a few were unaffiliated with any religion.

Today I attended an Easter brunch at the home of another dear friend. Around this table, once again, were people from many different faith backgrounds and observances.

In some places and times, this could be a recipe for disaster. But fortunately for us, these gatherings were convivial, interesting, educational, and joyful.

What I love most is that these diverse gatherings acknowledge and celebrate that we humans have much in common with one another. When we sit down together to talk, laugh, share stories, and learn, we are vividly reminded that no one has a monopoly on values like love, respect, kindness, self reflection and graciousness.

We can practice our beliefs wholeheartedly and authentically, while still respecting, learning about and admiring others who express our shared values in different ways and with different rituals.

I am frequently reminded of these transcendent values when I am programming Sunday Baroque. So much of the music of the baroque era was intended for liturgical purposes, and yet it transcends any particular belief system and becomes a universal language that can be embraced for its intrinsic beauty.

Many years ago a dear friend shared a wonderful story from his childhood. As a young Jewish boy approaching his Bar Mitzvah, he was asked by his mother for a wish list of gifts for his relatives to get him. He was a passionate music lover, and he compiled a long, detailed list of LPs he was eager to own.

At the top of his list of coveted Bar Mitzvah gifts was a recording of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio MESSIAH. And yes, dear reader, one of his beloved relatives gave him that special gift!

So at this time of the holiest of holidays, and a time of rejuvenation of the natural world as spring comes into full blossom, I wish you a light heart, and hope you find yourself surrounded by loving friends and family, new experiences, and great music.

Out of the Ashes

Shock waves reverberated virtually everywhere one looked yesterday, as news spread about the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is stunning and surreal to see an iconic building that has stood for more than eight centuries being ravaged before our eyes.

It’s a house of Christian worship, of course, and this tragedy struck during one of the holiest times on the Christian calendar. The Cathedral also transcends religion, though, and is meaningful for its historical, architectural and artistic significance to people of all faith orientations.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, based on its longevity, resilience, context and beauty. Construction on the building began in 1160 and continued for more than a century, and it stood through some tumultuous times, through the French Revolution in the 18th century and World War II in the 20th century. It’s also a busy and popular tourist destination today, in the 21st century — remaining every bit as relevant and remarkable.

Notre Dame is an icon of Paris. For those of us lucky enough to have visited in person, it’s an unforgettable highlight of our time in an overwhelmingly beautiful city, and an aspirational “bucket list” destination for many who have yet to see it in person. It’s also MORE than a Parisian icon — its beauty, symbolism and historical significance speak to people worldwide. So many people FELT connected to it, and to its importance, whether or not they’d ever even been to Paris.

Musicians honor the legacy at the Cathedral, dating back to the so-called Notre Dame school of polyphony in the 12th and 13th centuries, when composers such as Leonin and Perotin worked there. Musicians today still covet the magnificent organ and the rich musical life that has continued there.

Even before the fire was contained, political and business leaders vowed to repair and rebuild, and pledged significant money to do it. The Friends of Notre Dame de Paris also received many small donations and inquiries on how best to help.

Parisians watched the horror unfold together. They wept, shared stories and memories, sang AVE MARIA, and prayed for containment of the blaze. People across the world did the same, as 21st century technology allowed us to witness in realtime what was happening to this 850 year old building. Out of the ashes of this tragedy comes a banding together of people worldwide to acknowledge the shock and sadness and support one another, as well as appreciate, celebrate and recommit to something we took for granted would always be there.

May we always strive to do this, even before tragedy strikes.

Big news in the world of baroque music!

The “big name” composers of the baroque era, including George Frideric Handel and Antonio Vivaldi, have a recognized body of work that has been thoroughly studied and documented. Thanks to ongoing scholarly research over the centuries since the baroque era ended in 1750, we continue to learn more about these musical giants and their contemporaries, and to deepen our understanding of their influences.

Sometimes musicologists unearth previously unknown works, for example, or find new instances of composers borrowing from one another. Recycling musical material was a common practice for baroque era musicians, who often had to provide music on short notice for ceremonies, church holidays, or commissions from impatient patrons. Handel famously reused a significant amount of musical material throughout his long career, borrowing from his own works, as well as music by other composers.

Sometimes new scholarly discoveries challenge our understanding of the genre and its major players, such as the recently released findings of two musicologists specializing in baroque era sacred vocal music. The Italian scholar Giovanni Barzellatta and his German colleague Johann der Witz analyzed hundreds of manuscripts, diary entries and correspondences, and have presented convincing evidence that substantial sections of George Frideric Handel’s beloved oratorio MESSIAH were largely pilfered from an earlier, little-known composition by Antonio Vivaldi. One of the more shocking of their findings is that the famous Hallelujah Chorus from MESSIAH is an almost note-for-note transcription of a Concerto for 5 cellos by Vivaldi recently discovered in the Turin archive. British musicologist and Handel expert Helen Cantrip-Banter has raised questions about the authenticity of some of the source material.

The controversial Barzellatta/Witz report was published in the April 1 edition of the scholarly journal, Diario de la Música Tonta.