I thought I should use my space on this blog to call attention to a chilling article that anyone who cares about personal freedom and the arts (or just personal freedom) should read. A week ago, the NY Times reported the story of a teacher at Mills College who was denied re-entry into the U.S.:
Nalini Ghuman, an up-and-coming musicologist and expert on the British composer Edward Elgar, was stopped at the San Francisco airport in August last year and, without explanation, told that she was no longer allowed to enter the United States.
Her treatment can only be described as something out of Kafka:
Ms. Ghuman’s descent into the bureaucratic netherworld began on Aug. 8, 2006, when she and Mr. Flight [her fiancee] returned to San Francisco from a research trip to Britain. Armed immigration officers met them at the airplane door and escorted Ms. Ghuman away.
In a written account of the next eight hours that she prepared for her lawyer, Ms. Ghuman said that officers tore up her H-1B visa, which was valid through May 2008, defaced her British passport, and seemed suspicious of everything from her music cassettes to the fact that she had listed Welsh as a language she speaks. A redacted government report about the episode obtained by her lawyer under the Freedom of Information Act erroneously described her as “Hispanic.”
Held incommunicado in a room in the airport, she was groped during a body search, she said, and was warned that if she moved, she would be considered to be attacking her armed female searcher. After questioning her for hours, the officers told her that she had been ruled inadmissible, she said, and threatened to transfer her to a detention center in Santa Clara, Calif., unless she left on a flight to London that night.
Outside, Mr. Flight made frantic calls for help. He said the British Consulate tried to get through to the immigration officials in charge, to no avail. And Ms. Ghuman said her demands to speak to the British consul were rebuffed.
Despite numerous appeals on her behalf, over 13 months later, nothing has changed for Ms. Ghuman. For all the gory details please read the whole article.
At the end of 2006, in a post titled Bringing Musicians Together, I explained how the Baroque ensemble, Trio Settecento, came into being as a result of a Cedille Records recording project ten years ago -- something about which I am particularly proud. In her personal note to the Trio's new recording, "An Italian Sojourn" (the official store release date is tomorrow), violinist Rachel Barton Pine tells (as Paul Harvey would say) the rest of the story.
As its title implies, the new album is of music by Italian composers (plus a sonata Handel wrote during his years in Italy). The Trio plans to continue recording with programs of German music, French music, and music from the British Isles to come in future years. I recently sent an email to Cedille Records customers allowing them to take a 25% discount on the new disc (through Sept. 15 only) by visiting our web site at this special page, a benefit I am glad to share with Chicagoclassicalmusic.org readers.
Now here's Rachel Barton Pine's personal note:
What a difference a decade makes! In 1996, John Mark Rozendaal, David Schrader, and I collaborated on a recording of Handel’s Violin Sonatas. We enjoyed working together so much that in 1997, we formed Trio Settecento. This album, An Italian Sojourn, represents the culmination of ten years’ growth for us as individuals and as an ensemble.
In 1996, I recorded Handel using a modernized 1617 Amati and a baroque bow. My interpretations on that album combined a historically-informed approach to phrasing and ornamentation with a contemporary application of vibrato. This continues to be my approach when performing a Baroque sonata alongside Romantic and 20th/21st Century works on my 1742 Guarneri del Gesu.
However, my exploration of the sound world of the 17th and 18th Centuries has evolved significantly. In 2002, I began performing this music on a 1770 Nicola Gagliano in original condition. This beautiful instrument has had a remarkable effect on my capability to be faithful to the early composers’ intents and to bring their music most fully to life.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with John Mark and David. Their passion for music, boundless thirst for knowledge, and mastery of their instruments makes our time together an exciting musical adventure and increasingly rewarding. The longer we play together, the more we breathe as one, anticipate each others’ nuances, and discover increased freedom and spontaneity in our improvisations. And through all these years of intense rehearsing, we remain the best of friends!
Baroque music holds the power to delight and astonish. We chose the pieces on this album for their profound beauty and sometimes startling originality, even eccentricity. I hope that you are as excited to discover this music as we always are to play it.
--Rachel Barton Pine
The Chicago Classical Recording Foundation, which owns and operates Cedille as a not-for-profit recording label, sometimes helps facilitate commissions to the Chicago composers we promote. About four years ago, we helped a patron commission a Magnificat for a cappella choir from renowned Chicago composer Easley Blackwood. In return for this, Cedille Records gets the right/option to make the first recording of the work.
After he composed the Magnificat, Blackwood suggested making it part of a disc program of previously unrecorded American works for unaccompanied chorus. He sent one of his former students, who is also a choral conductor, to local music libraries to find the best examples. Blackwood vetted the scores and found absolute gems by Alan Hovhannes (Four Motets, Op. 268) and George Rochberg (Behold, My Servant). To this was added a recent Stabat Mater by another former Blackwood student, Egon Cohen.
When he came to me with these works as the basis for a possible recording, Blackwood did not have a choir in mind. Happily this occurred just as Cedille was beginning its relationship with the acclaimed William Ferris Chorale, which has made performing and recording overlooked American masterpieces its trademark. (Last fall, we released the Chorale's amazing live performances of Masses by Menotti and Vierne on a mid-price label, and this November we will release our own production of the Chorale performing Christmas Music by William Ferris, including his Pulitzer-nominated Snowcarols.)
In addition to being the perfect choir to sing the pieces selected so far, the Chorale added to the list a deeply moving new work by its conductor, Paul French ("Who Am I?" to a text by German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and, of course, a piece by William Ferris. So this past Spring, the Chorale performed in concert and then recorded the works by Hovhannes, French, and Blackwood. The rest of the program (Rochberg, Cohen, Ferris) will be performed and then recorded next Spring.
I believe this project shows the value of a local, community-based, not-for-profit recording label. It was Cedille Records' Foundation that commissioned the work from Easley Blackwood (acting as a conduit between the patron and the composer). Blackwood, being a veteran Cedille artist, knew exactly what kind of program would appeal to us by making the most significant contribution to the record catalog (our other mission in addition to promoting the work of Chicago musicians and composers) and set about designing such a program. And it was Cedille's relationship with Chicago's finest mid-sized choir that provided the performers for the project -- and completed the repertory. Without Cedille's connections to patrons, composers, and performers -- and ability to put them together -- it's hard to see how this project would ever have come about.
Instead, six previously unrecorded American masterpieces for a cappella choir by six different recent or contemporary composers will be preserved for posterity in performances of the highest caliber and be made available to music lovers around the world.
Cedille Records has just released a new recording with pianist Jorge Federico Osorio. His previous Cedille recordings, Piano Espanol (of Spanish repertoire) and Mexican Piano Music by Manuel M. Ponce, touched on his Mexican heritage AND on his "considerable imagination for subtle timbres and vivid characterization" (The New York Times). It was this latter characteristic that made me welcome Osorio's desire to record Debussy's Preludes Books I & II, containing some of the most colorful piano writing of all time.
As I recounted in my second post on this site, however, I knew that no matter how good his interpretations were, it would be difficult to generate interest in yet another recording of the Debussy Preludes. So I suggested we should add repertory that reflected on the Debussy in a unique way and give people extra value by charging for the two-disc program at our regular, single-disc price.
Jorge originally suggested he would play impressionistic pieces by American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes that were clearly influenced by Debussy's explorations in the Preludes -- and that's what I reported in my earlier post. After sitting with that music for a couple of months, however, Osorio discovered that it "just wasn't in his fingers." I believe an artist should never record music for which he or she does not have a strong personal feeling, so I readily agreed that he should look elsewhere.
If there is any one composer Osorio is known for playing, it would probably be Liszt. So instead of piano music influenced by Debussy, Jorge proposed adding music that influenced Debussy: Liszt's own explorations of pianistic tone painting from his "Annees de pelerinage" (Years of Pilgrimage). Furthermore, he proposed framing the individually-shorter Debussy preludes between the larger Liszt pieces for an ideal program arrangement.
So Disc 1 of Jorge Federico Osorio: Debussy & Liszt opens with Liszt's 3 Sonetti del Petrarca -- musical depictions of the emotions conjured by Petrarch's poems -- followed by Book I of Debussy's Preludes. Disc 2 opens with Debussy's Book II followed by two major Liszt compositions. First comes Les jeux d'eaux a la Villa d'Este, Liszt's amazing musical description of a magnificent fountain -- an obvious musical precedent to Ondine and The Engulfed Cathedral from Debussy's Preludes. The recording concludes with Liszt's heartbreaking Vallee d'Obermann, perhaps the ultimate pianistic exploration of human emotion.
I should note that not only is this 2-hour program being sold at a single disc price, but right now all full-price Cedille Recordings are on sale at 20% off their regular prices at the Cedille Records web site.
Last week, I printed the president of the Maud Powell Society's thoughts about Rachel Barton Pine's new Cedille Records recording American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell. Today it's Rachel's turn to discuss her new disc. The following is cross-posted from Rachel's blog on violinist.com. I recommend clicking the link to the original post, which includes comments from readers at the bottom.
I’m frequently asked to name my favorite violinist. It’s virtually impossible — each of us has strengths and weaknesses. I admire certain performances and certain aspects of many players, and I draw inspiration from many violinists past and present. However, the violinist I most admire is definitely Maud Powell.
Despite being an avid researcher of violin music and history, I had never heard of Maud Powell until Karen Shaffer sent me a copy of Maud’s biography in 1995. I was fascinated to read about her remarkable and inspirational life. Reading on planes and in hotel rooms, I learned how she became the greatest American violinist in the late 1800s and early 1900s while also breaking so many social stereotypes: choosing to dedicate her life to her career; leading a string quartet of men; championing music by contemporary composers, American composers, women composers, and Black composers; and introducing classical music to numerous new listeners. She is often in the back of my mind today as I perform works by contemporary, women, and Black composers; as I perform rock and classical music in non-traditional venues; and as I give benefit concerts, support young string players, and strive for improvement and greater understanding in all of my interpretations.
Why is Maud Powell not better known today? I believe there are several contributing factors. Unlike Leopold Auer, she didn’t leave a pedagogical legacy. While Maud was committed to music education and encouraged every young violinist who came to her for advice, her touring schedule was too intense to maintain a teaching studio. Unlike Heifetz, she didn’t live into the electric recording era. And, unlike Wieniawski or Kreisler, she never wrote any original compositions.
After finishing her biography, I began learning some of her repertoire — works that she premiered, arranged, or recorded, and works written for her. Many of these gems have become staples of my recital programs. At the end of my recent performance in Washington, DC, Leonard Slatkin commented, “This music is wonderful! Maud Powell really was the female Fritz Kreisler.” Had I thought more quickly, I should have responded, “Actually, Kreisler was the male Maud Powell.” After all, Maud came first and was admired by Kreisler and all of his generation.
This album represents a slice of late Nineteenth–early Twentieth Century repertoire rarely heard these days. Miniature jewels like Humoreske, May Night, or Minute Waltz have an individual character that must be defined and demand a significant investment of the performer’s personality. Slower melodic works, such as those by Venth, Huss, and Johnson, call for indulgence in expressive shifts and creative rubato. The tone-painting of Burleigh and Bauer still sounds fresh a century later, and the Sousa Airs and Caprice on Dixie are brilliant American alternatives to the usual Carmen Fantasies and Paganini Caprices.
I hope this recording will open your ears to some masterful compositions, beautiful arrangements, and the art of one of the greatest violinists ever. I also hope that through this CD, the forthcoming printed collection of Maud’s music, the second edition of her biography, the reissues of her own recordings, and information posted on http://www.maudpowell.org, Maud Powell will finally receive the recognition she deserves as an artist and role model.
— Rachel Barton Pine