Thursday, November 18, 2010

A local treasure dies

Yvonne Patterson, who had a long career as a dancer, died last week at the age of 100. She lived in Flourtown, the heart of Springfield Sun country, and I had the privilege of interviewing her on the occasion of what turned out to be her final birthday, when her friends at the Springfield Township High School swimming pool threw her a modest party.

Yvonne was a very big deal, a breathing bit of cultural history in a small suburb that has little use for culture. She danced for Balanchine beginning in the 1930s, and — most exciting as far as I was concerned — she took part in the 1937 premiere of Stravinsky's ballet Jeu de Cartes, which the composer conducted. (The program, presented at the Metropolitan Opera House, also included Fairy's Kiss and Apollo.) I was eager to hear her recollections of Stravinsky, but after seventy years, she had none to give. She remembered being introduced to him briefly at a rehearsal, and that he was short and not very impressive. Then she suddenly stopped herself.

"Oh, don't write that," she said. "If you write that I won't talk to you."

So I didn't write it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Never visit a sausage factory

The link to my piece on David Hobbs is at right. The only thing I have to add is that I did interview David Spitko about the program as a whole, and none of it got into the article. After a couple of false starts about Haydn and Mozart and the problems that, historically, have faced composers of religious music, I decided Mr. Hobbs was the only real story here — a young, local composer with a brand new work going up against a pair of heavyweights.

Then again, the problems that, historically, have faced composers of religious music are interesting in themselves. The church wants the music to do no more or less than enforce a feeling of reverence, and a setting of the words that is too elaborate, or too dramatic, or even too beautiful, gets in the way. The conflict goes back to Palestrina and continues to this day. (For a full discussion, I refer you to the chapter "Church Music," in Charles Rosen's Classical Style.)

"It’s very typical for an organist or choir director to have to struggle with the congregation," David Spitko told me in the interview I didn't use.

I remember in 1999, when my mother died, I wanted the soprano we hired to sing Charles Ives's setting of the spiritual "In the Mornin'" at her funeral Mass. I thought it was appropriate, since it was all about Jesus, in addition to being lovely, but the pastor would not allow it. To this day, I don't know why. Maybe it was too black, or too Protestant. It's hard to figure out, though I'm sure there was a theological explanation that satisfied the pastor.

I am not religious at all, and except for the occasional organ recital, wedding, or funeral (and at my age, the funerals are more frequent than the weddings), I haven't set foot in a church for more than thirty years. So, for me, the music always matters more than the message.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bach in Wyndmoor

Happy to report that Dennis Schmidt's recital October 31 at Grace Lutheran Church was well-attended. I got a thank-you in the program for the publicity I provided in the Springfield Sun and Ticket, but in truth, I doubt it helped. I think the people who filled the pews would have been there regardless. (I've been questioning the reach of my articles for a while and am thinking of giving them up. I have no way of measuring readership, of course, but to judge from the faces I see at the events I preview, it seems few people see them, and even fewer are swayed by them.)

The music was beautiful, on the whole. There were times when the rhythms seemed off, as though Dennis's hands were not quite in sync, but at other times, such as in the memorable G Minor Fugue, BWV 542, when the music roilled on with a seamless momentum. I had requested Wachet Auf, BWV 645, which was the second piece on the program, and there were tears in my eyes when it was over. (Dennis not only thanked me again when he introduced the piece, but he also wished me a happy birthday.)

After the recital, the audience was invited into the church gathering room for refreshment and "fellowship," which is apparently the Lutheran word for schmoozing. Someone contributed a pan of delightful pumpkin-walnut bars, and Renee hinted that at some point she might want to me call the church and track down the recipe.