I recently attended a memorial service for the mother of a friend and musical colleague. She was a woman in her late 80s — an accomplished and beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, neighbor, and philanthropist. For about an hour, people shared stories of her sense of fun, generosity, hospitality, directness and kindness. I knew this lovely lady primarily from her consistent spot in the front row at my performances with her son. She and her late husband were enthusiastic fixtures at every concert, no matter the weather or their schedules, and even as their health declined in their later years.
One speaker at the memorial summed up her life in a way that truly resonates with me. She said that she would often seek her grandmother’s advice about how to proceed with something in her life. “Grandma, should I [fill in the blank]?” And Grandma’s reply was usually an enthusiastic, “Why not??”
So as this new year begins, I hope you will consider this wise and beloved woman’s advice. If you’re thinking about learning something new (a musical instrument, a language, a job skill), trying something different (a food, exercise routine, home, concert), or pursuing some dream on your wish list … ask yourself, “WHY NOT??” Take a first step, and see how it goes!
Over the past few weeks I have been busy … how about you? My days have been joyfully filled with baking, entertaining, playing holiday concerts, and listening to special music to program on Sunday Baroque for the holidays.
Many people have favorite family treats that are synonymous with the holidays; maybe you’re like me and you both serve them at your holiday parties, as well as give them to friends as gifts. Perhaps your holiday traditions include decorating your home and yard, listening to certain beloved holiday music, or watching favorite films.
Although the whole idea of traditions is to pass down important or endearing activities, items or foods — to replicate them generation after generation , it’s inevitable that traditions morph as the years go by. Our holidays have been delightfully energized and broadened by the addition to our family of a 16-year-old exchange student! We are loving the opportunity to help her enjoy some of her beloved holiday traditions while living so far from home, as well as to introduce her to our family traditions. (Let’s just say she is quite pleased by all the baked goods being produced in my kitchen!) We look forward to seeing this time of year anew, as we see it through her eyes.
How are you spending these weeks? What are some of your holiday traditions? How have you blended your traditions with other, newer traditions? What music are you listening to? What special, meaningful things do you look forward to at this time of year? Let’s start a new tradition of sharing what is most important and satisfying to each of us at holiday time.
Just before the winter holidays each year, I hand-pick some of my favorite recent recordings and compile them in a list for you to consider giving as gifts to the music lovers on your list. The Sunday Baroque Holiday Gift List has become an annual tradition stretching back many years!
I seek out a variety of recordings by world-class performers, including a few familiar baroque compositions, as well as some less well-known selections. This year’s “greatest hits” list includes cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s new recording of all six of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, as well as a snazzy recording of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Concertos by violinist Rachel Podger with Brecon Baroque. In the fresh and new column, there is Chatham Baroque’s recording of music written in the so-called “fantastic style” by composers such as Antonio Bertali and Johann Hermann Schein, as well as Stile Antico’s gorgeous performances of sacred music by 16th century Spaniard Tomas Luis de Victoria, and Ronn McFarlane’s lilting performances of Celtic lute solos.
Each of these recordings is a gem because it combines technical virtuosity, imaginative repertory, and well-informed artistry. It is thrilling that this is Yo-Yo Ma’s third recording of Bach’s iconic cello suites, spanning more than four decades of his career. Just as Bach’s music has endured the centuries, staying relevant and becoming more revered, the cellist still has so much to say musically, too, and he says it so beautifully.
Every week through the end of the year you will hear some selections from this year’s Sunday Baroque Holiday Gift list on the Sunday Baroque broadcast. It’s a risk-free way to audition the CDs or, if you’re not planning to give them as gifts, an opportunity to kick back on the weekend and savor some excellent recent recordings. Give yourself the gift of great music, and may it enhance your enjoyment of the holiday season.
Every year at this time, I create a list of suggestions for holiday gift giving. Starting November 25th and continuing through December, you can audition some of my recommendations from the annual Sunday Baroque Holiday Gift List. All of us at Sunday Baroque wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season filled with laughter, peace and an abundance of good music!
SIX EVOLUTIONS Johann Sebastian Bach – 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites Yo-Yo Ma – cello Sony 54652
Johann Sebastian Bach’s 6 unaccompanied cello suites are the “holy grail” for all serious cellists. They are technically demanding and musically complex and intricate. This is cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s third recording of Bach’s cello suites; all three recordings are masterful, and this fresh approach is a welcome and highly appealing addition to your collection.
THE CELTIC LUTE Turlough O’Carolan, Traditional Irish, Traditional Scottish – lute solos Ronn McFarlane – lute Sono Luminus DSL-92225
Ronn McFarlane is one of the world’s foremost lute players. He plays his own thoughtful arrangements of these lovely Irish and Scottish solos. It’s charming, lilting and intimate.
As a baroque music expert, violinist Rachel Podger approaches Antonio Vivaldi’s Concertos with confidence and flair. She collaborates with her colleagues in Brecon Baroque to perform Vivaldi’s beloved Four Seasons concertos, as well as three other Vivaldi concertos: Concerto RV270 IL RIPOSO PER IL S.S. NATALE, Concerto RV271 L’AMOROSO and Concerto RV208 IL GROSSO MOGUL.
Johann Gottlieb Janitsch was one of the top musicians who worked for King Frederick of Prussia. Although much of the German composer’s music was lost during World War II, some of his music survived and was preserved thanks to a woman named Sara Levy, a harpsichordist who had an extensive collection of baroque era music. Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players plays Janitsch’s music from Sara Levy’s archives.
Dance is a significant part of the baroque repertory, and French baroque dance music is especially charming and cheery. This November 2018 release features happy and upbeat music that is just a bit off the beaten track.
Christina Day Martinson is concertmaster of the period instrument group BOSTON BAROQUE, which is led by Martin Pearlman. Their recent recording of Heinrich Biber’s 15 Sonatas on the Mysteries of the Rosary was a “spiritual journey” for Christina Day Martinson that yielded a satisfying listening experience.
NO HOLDS BARRED Sonatas & Chamber Music by Antonio Bertali, Heinrich Biber, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, and Johann Hermann Schein Chatham Baroque CB-03
NO HOLDS BARRED is Chatham Baroque’s recording of music written in the so-called “fantastic style” which was an improvisational and virtuosic style of music-making. These are spirited performances of interesting yet less well-known baroque music.
The British vocal group Stile Antico sings music by 16th century Spanish composer TOMAS LUIS DE VICTORIA – his music for the Christian observance of holy week. Beautiful, ethereal and uplifting.
CIRCLES Concertos by Bach + Glass Simone Dinnerstein – piano, A Far Cry Orange Mountain Music 0127
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein has a special affinity for Johann Sebastian Bach’s music – hearing the genius in the way the composer deviates from the expected, and is expressive and soulful in unusual ways. This recording juxtaposes Bach’s Keyboard Concerto #7 with a concerto by contemporary composer Philip Glass written especially for her. The Boston area group A FAR CRY is also featured.
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour enjoy international careers as soloists, chamber musicians, and ensemble collaborators. They recently teamed up to record Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonatas for violin and Harpsichord, and the warmth of their personal friendship shines through in these fine performances.
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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! It’s not the food (since I’m not especially fond of turkey), it’s the overall spirit of the occasion. I love that we set aside time to get together with others and acknowledge the good things in our lives.
My parents hosted the family Thanksgiving gatherings when I was growing up, and those meals typically included an extended guest list of friends, too. The conversations were interesting and lively, and they provided a great example of hospitality in my formative years. I have continued that tradition of an extended guest list, and it may be my favorite part of the holiday. Last year our Thanksgiving table included family from all over the United States, as well as local friends and colleagues, and visitors from India. It was especially fun to treat the Indian guests to their first- ever Thanksgiving meal — cranberry sauce! pumpkin pie!
This year, we will have another international group gathered around our table to share a meal and acknowledge our gratitude. The guest list includes a new colleague from Mexico, a dear friend who grew up in the UK, and our beloved 16 year old exchange student who was born in Hungary, but whose family now lives in Vienna. We look forward to the rich and interesting conversation that we know will ensue, and the connections that will be made across cultures and generations.
I hope you have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and I hope you have the opportunity to be with others to share that feeling of community and gratitude. Thank YOU for loving music, and for listening!
Since it’s Halloween, it seemed the perfect time to share this. I just returned from a visit to Transylvania. Yes, THAT Transylvania. Cluj, Romania, to be more precise. My late mother was born there, which means I have some Transylvanian blood in my veins.
Cluj is a lovely city (my Hungarian family uses the Hungarian name: Kolozsvár) — charming and easy to walk around. They have a lot of fun with the Dracula association, just as my family always did, but I did not encounter any vampires (family or otherwise). Instead, I met some warm and gracious locals who are rightfully proud of their city and their culture. I also saw beautiful architecture, ate delicious regional foods, toured the Hungarian Theatre, and learned more about the history of this faraway, storied place where my relatives once lived. I even drank … wine!
Recently, a friend posted something on Facebook that initiated a flood of replies from her FB friends. The friend in question is a prominent and highly respected professional musician, and the gist of her post was to express her “guilty pleasure” of loving a handful of well-known orchestral compositions. She sheepishly listed several of those familiar pieces, aka “warhorses.” To a person, we all replied with some variation on the same theme: don’t apologize for liking what you like, AND there are good reasons these compositions are well-known and well-loved. It’s because they are enjoyable!
The whole exchange illustrated a long running tussle I have noticed that can occur between people who are experts and, well, almost everyone else. (It’s not unique to the classical music world, either.) Maybe it’s a different way of looking at the world in general — some of us see the things we learn and experience as part of a greater whole or continuum, while others see the world in a more linear fashion, passing milestones without “looking back.”
So, some who are experts in classical music and are familiar with a vast repertory mainly want to hear music they’ve never heard before. They perceive those so-called “warhorses” as redundant, and unnecessary to hear again. They forget that few people have their level of expertise or familiarity with the repertory. It’s a normal human inclination — we assume our peers have the same frame of reference.
One of the most important lessons I learned when I started in classical music broadcasting is that every time we broadcast a piece of music SOMEONE is hearing it for the first time. Yes, even Bach’s BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS and Vivaldi’s FOUR SEASONS. They are beautiful, exciting, entertaining and lasting works of art, and people like them. What’s wrong with that?
I enjoy revisiting lots of things I’ve experienced before — not just music, but also books, movies, restaurants, recipes, and vacation destinations. I welcome the comfort and familiarity, as well as the anticipation of experiencing them differently on the next pass. I also seek out and enjoy the discovery of new things! I love the BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS and FOUR SEASONS, and I’m equally thrilled to learn about composers and music I’ve never heard before.
Which camp do you fall in? Are you someone who prefers the familiar or do you prefer to experience the new and unknown? What are some of your musical “guilty pleasures”?
My seatmate on a plane recently was a middle-aged man on a business trip. We struck up a conversation, which included the range of usual topics: jobs, families, home cities, and frequent flier status. When he heard that I am a radio host and trained musician, he told me about his own background playing several instruments as a young child and teen. He even expressed his hope to resume playing at least piano in the near future. As our conversation evolved, the man explained that he also likes to learn languages — he has been learning Mandarin (!) using a variety of programs, apps and, eventually a tutor. He plans to tackle Italian soon. And he enthusiastically promised to listen to Sunday Baroque!
It warms my heart to meet people so personally committed to lifelong learning and so open to seeking out new experiences. This busy person with many responsibilities MAKES time to pursue things that keep his mind nimble, feed his curiosity, and expand his knowledge. Despite a demanding job and challenging travel schedule — or perhaps because of it — he remains committed to his personal growth. What a great example he set for his now grown children, who are pursuing their own dreams and goals in meaningful, take-charge ways.
I believe this kind of open, positive attitude is an important component of a happy, healthy life. Rather than making excuses for why I can’t do something, I try to seek ways to do things I love, to keep learning and growing, to challenge and exercise my mind and body, and to broaden my horizons. They range from simple, low- and no-cost things to bigger “bucket list” aspirations. I try not to defer these important goals because I am keenly aware that “some day” may not come.
So I offer YOU this encouragement to tackle something you’ve been meaning or wanting to do — read that book languishing on your nightstand, pick up the instrument gathering dust in your closet or the one you’ve always wanted to play, learn something new (a language, ballroom dancing, knitting?), take a walk or run, write a letter to a friend … do that “thing” you’ve been putting off indefinitely, making excuses for why you can’t or why you don’t have the time or energy. Take a first step, whatever it may be.
And then … please check in here and tell me about it, so I can give you more encouragement!
We humans seem to naturally want to mark the passage of time in one-year increments — we celebrate anniversaries of weddings, births, new jobs and other happy occasions. We also mark anniversaries of sad and tragic things — deaths, losses, and shocking events.
For these anniversaries, we remember a variety of details: where we were, what we were doing, how we found out, who we were with. The smells, sounds, and sensations we experienced become part of the tapestry woven into our memories. The promise to remember both happy and horrifying memories is also part of the ritual.
Seventeen years ago today, I was sitting at my desk listening to music and working on Sunday Baroque when I heard the news that changed the world forever. I sat glued to the radio, called my loved ones, cried, and tried to mentally process the inconceivable, shocking reality of that day. And I listened to music. Today I’m hearing about how many friends and colleagues are recalling that day — sharing where they were, what they did, and how they are holding the day and the anniversary in their hearts today.
One thing about marking anniversaries is the shifting perception of the passage of time. In some ways, September 11, 2001 seems like yesterday because those specific memories are still so tangible and vivid, and still as inconceivable and shocking as they were then. How can 17 years have passed? In other ways, so much has changed in our world, so much has happened since, that it seems long ago and distant. Perhaps that paradox is why we mark time in one-year increments — it gives a concrete measuring stick to compare to our fluid perceptions of the passage of time.
Today, on this terrible, somber anniversary, here is something reflective, beautiful, and timeless to use as a palette for your personal memories. Peace.
Everywhere you look lately, there are celebrations of the centennial of Leonard Bernstein. The legendary musician’s work as a conductor, composer and educator left an extraordinary legacy. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday on August 25, 2018.
You may be thinking: What does Leonard Bernstein have to do with Sunday Baroque?
Well, he helped create and nurture generations of music lovers. He presented music and musical concepts using language and descriptions that anyone could understand, and he shared it with infectious passion and enthusiasm. This elite musician and scholar was anything but elitist when it came to his interest in and ability for breaking down barriers to understanding and enjoying classical music. His Young People’s concerts were televised in the 1950s, long before I was even born, but many Sunday Baroque listeners STILL refer back to those broadcasts as pivotal to their personal love of music.
Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein, wrote in an essay about her famous father, something that sums it up elegantly and resonates with me deeply:
People often say that Leonard Bernstein was a born teacher, but actually it’s more accurate to say that he was a born student who just couldn’t wait to share what he learned. In his whole life, he never stopped studying.
Happy centennial, maestro! Thank you for opening up the world of great music to so many people. Thank you for inspiring so many by sharing your own curiosity and enthusiasm. And thank you for helping to create so many music lovers in the world.
Sunday Baroque Blog
Host Suzanne Bona occasionally shares something interesting with you that is too timely or doesn't quite fit on the weekly broadcast. It might be to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the program, tell you about a terrific new recording, share information about a group's concert tour or latest award, or inform you about the passing of an important musician. Sometimes it might be an observation about the musical scene in general, or a reaction to a news item that relates to the world of music or the arts. Check in with Suzanne's blog to see what she has to say and join the conversation.