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The Cleveland Orchestra at the new Opera hall in Franz Welser Most’s hometown
(Vivian Goodman)

Vienna’s Musikverein is where history was made. But Linz, Austria is breaking new ground in the presentation of classical music with the help of advanced media technology in its new Musiktheater. There Ars Electronica of Linz and other graphic, sculptural and architectural wizards have created a unique environment for modern fans of a classic art form.

The trouble is, the hall is an opera theatre. It was built for singers, not symphonic players. Some here felt that the Cleveland Orchestra’s magnificent dynamics from fortissimo to pianissimo were not shown to their greatest advantage at Monday night’s concert.

There’s lots more Beethoven to come later this week at the Vienna residency, but tonight’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Grosse Fuge, and Eroica Symphony may not have been the best moments of a so far largely successful tour.

Each seat has its own screen
(Vivian Goodman)
View from rear of house
(Vivian Goodman)

 

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This week, the Cleveland Orchestra is touring Europe with stops including Paris, Cologne and Vienna.  WKSU’s Vivian Goodman is with the orchestra and she is giving us the behind the scenes stories you won’t get from anyone else.  Mark Pennell had a chance to talk with her when she was backstage at a new venue just before a performance in Linz, Austria, the hometown of the Orchestra’s own Franz Welser-Möst.

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Last month, PBS’s Charlie Rose interviewed James Levine, the world-famous pianist and conductor.

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Brian Thornton
Brian Thornton
(Vivian Goodman)

When he was 7, Brian Thornton fell in love with his uncle’s guitar. His parents wouldn’t let him take up the guitar, though. They were sure he’d become a long-haired, drug-addled rock musician! The cello looked a little like a guitar, so he thought he’d give it a try. "There was also this really cute girl named Becky in my orchestra class," Brian says, "and she played violin." (Brian ended up marrying someone else in 1994, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Woda. They have two daughters.)

Brian Thornton studied with Lev Aronson from age 14. But had it not been for Aronson’s remarkable strength and keen survival instincts, he might not have lived to coach Brian – or for that matter such other notable cellists of our time as Lynn Harrell and Ralph Kirshbaum.

Lev Aronson
Lev Aronson

Lev Aronson was born in Germany in 1912, while his Latvian parents were traveling there. He took to the cello early, studying with one of the greats, Gregor Piatigorsky. By the time he was 20, Aronson was principal cellist of Latvia’s Liepaja Philharmonic. He was well on his way to his own solo career.

But it was not to be. In the 1930s, Adolph Hitler was flooding Europe with his toxic brew of jingoism and fascism. Many musicians, including Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati, slipped away to safer turf. But Aronson’s family was in Riga, so he stayed.

Hitler’s army trampled Latvia in 1941. Aronson was forced into slave labor and sent to concentration camps, including Kaiserwald, Buchenwald, and Lauenberg. His parents and sister were killed.

Aronson’s captors confiscated his bows and his precious Stradivarius cello, but they couldn’t take away his musicality. Although he couldn’t play for the four years he spent in captivity, Aronson held the music in his heart and mind. It helped him endure the horrific camps.

In captivity, Aronson had nothing to his name, not even a watch. He counted the hours by singing cello concertos to himself – 20-minute works by Haydn, Saint-Saens, Boccherini, and Tartini. This internal musical clock once saved his life, when Aronson was ordered to unload rocks from a truck in an hour or be killed.

In 1945, the Russians liberated Lauenberg, but not Lev Aronson: they held him on suspicion of being a German spy. A year on, though, he made his escape, pushing on through Poland and Germany to the American Zone.

In 1948, Aronson’s former teacher Gregor Piatigorsky helped him connect with conductor Dorati, then music director of the Dallas Symphony, and get another cello. Aronson soon landed a gig playing in the Dallas Symphony. A year later he became the orchestra’s principal cellist.

Lev Aronson spent two decades playing for the Dallas Symphony. After he left, he built his legacy teaching at Baylor University and Southern Methodist University.

Aronson died in 1988. Of his beloved teacher, cellist Brian Thornton says, "He was all about telling stories with the music, always making statements when playing – a metaphorical approach." In addition to his work in the Cleveland Orchestra – he’s been a part of the orchestra since 1994 – Brian passes on Aronson’s legacy by teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Because Aronson lost his chance at a high-profile solo career to the Nazis, it’s mostly just his former students who remember him today. When Thornton visited Southern Methodist University, he found that few of the current faculty or students knew of him.

Hence this program, part of Thornton’s effort to shine a spotlight on his former teacher’s legacy. Brian’s campaign has given birth to a CD; a concert tour of synagogues and temples; coordination with a book tour by Frances Brent, author of The Lost Cellos of Lev Aronson; and an Aronson scholarship and annual music festival at SMU.

Tonight’s program (on 10 November 2013′s In Performance) was recorded at Hudson’s Christ Church Episcopal on 20 October 2013, as part of the Music from the Western Reserve chamber music series. It includes previously unperformed compositions and arrangements by Lev Aronson. Brian Thornton is accompanied by pianist Elizabeth DeMio.

Ernest Bloch: Abodah, A Yom Kippur Melody. Although Swiss-born Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) wasn’t sure he was keen on any organized religion, he found himself drawn to his Jewish heritage. Alongside obviously secular classical works – symphonies, concertos, chamber music – Bloch reached down to his roots for several works. By 1920, the year he became the first music director of the newly founded Cleveland Institute of Music, Bloch’s publisher Schirmer was emblazoning the covers of his scores with a Star of David and his initials.

Bloch originally composed Abodah in 1928 for violin and piano. It’s based on a Yom Kippur tune, traditionally used during an afternoon service on the Day of Atonement.

Brian Thornton introduces us to Lev Aronson and Bloch’s Abodah:

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An-Ski: Mipnei Ma. Folklorist, author, and playwright An-Ski (Solomon Zainwil Rapaport, 1863–1920) founded the Jewish Historical-Ethnographical Society in 1908. He promoted the idea that Jewish classical music should be based on traditional themes.

An-Ski directed a series of ethnographic expeditions between 1911 and 1914, and it may have been on one of them that he collected the Hassidic tune Mipnei Ma. It asks the question, “Why did the soul descend from the supreme height to the deep pit?”

Brian Thornton tells of Lev Aronson’s tribulations in the Nazi concentration camps, and discusses Mipnei Ma:

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Marc Lavry: Kineret. Like Lev Aronson, Marc Lavry (1903-1967) came from Riga, Latvia, and studied at the Berlin Conservatory. He conducted the Berlin Symphony and the Riga Opera before rising antisemitism drove him to Palestine in 1935.

Lavry composed over 400 works – songs, opera, symphonies, and chamber music – but most of them have never been published. Kineret is an impression of the Sea of Galilee.

Brian Thornton explains why he created SMU’s Lev Aronson scholarship and music festival, and introduces Kineret:

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Lev Aronson: Hassidic Dance. "After the War," Thornton says, "Aronson found that the melodies of the cantoral tradition, Klezmer tunes, Yiddish songs, and the Jewish art music [from] the beginning of the 20th century had new significance [to him]." Hassidic Dance is based on some of those tunes from Aronson’s childhood.

Brian Thornton introduces Hassidic Dance:

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Bach: Cello Suite #3 in C, S1009. Johann Sebastian Bach knew naught of the synagogue, of course. He was a dedicated Lutheran, inscribing Soli Deo gloria at the end of every sacred work. But his six cello suites are central to the instrument’s repertoire, and Brian Thornton has warm memories of Lev Aronson coaching him in their performance.

Brian Thornton introduces Bach’s Cello Suite #3:

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Patrick Zimmerli: Sonata Kol Nidrei. With one foot in the world of jazz – he’s a saxophonist of Brian Thornton’s own generation – Patrick Zimmerli takes us into a world quite different from the one that shaped Lev Aronson. Or does he? The language of Zimmerli’s sonata is of our time, but its Kol Nidrei origins root it firmly in Jewish traditions: this is the text that introduces the Yom Kippur evening service. Brian Thornton commissioned this solo sonata for his Lev Aronson Legacy concerts and recording.

Brian Thornton introduces Zimmerli’s Sonata Kol Nidrei:

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Further listening:

Brian Thornton’s CD, Kol Nidrei and Beyond, Lev’s Story, at CDBaby

Cleveland Orchestra Cellist Honors His Teacher at WKSU News

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David Guerrier
David Guerrier plays the keyed trumpet

The trumpet goes back a long, long way. Trumpeters are depicted in art from ancient Egypt, dated in the 14th century BCE.

For most of its centuries of existence, the trumpet was an instrument of royalty, used for playing fanfares. Frankly, that’s about all it was good for. These early trumpets couldn’t play all the notes of the scale. They played only the first few notes from the harmonic series, which is already a subset of the scale’s notes.

The Natural Trumpet's Harmonic Series (thinkquest.org)

By the 16th century, instrument makers had figured out how to make trumpets play more of the notes from the harmonic series. Now, the further up you go in the harmonic series, the closer together the notes get. If you could push your trumpet far enough, and fudge the pitch of some notes a bit, you could play all the notes of the scale. By the 17th century, trumpets could actually be used to more or less play melodies.

I say "more or less" because they still didn’t do a very good job of it. It took a really talented (and fit!) player to get all the notes in tune. (Many of today’s period instrument specialists use trumpets with tiny, inconspicuous, and inauthentic "cheater holes" that help them with this challenge.) Even then, the timbre (tone quality) of the notes varied radically.

In the 15th century, a few instrument makers had experimented with adding slides (like a trombone’s) to trumpets. We have pictures! But given the design – they were straight trumpets – it’s hard to see how a player could’ve flung that slide around fast enough to play any but the slowest music. He might well have knocked his own front teeth out trying. For centuries more, trumpet players had to pretty much depend only on skill and lungs to coax a real tune from their instruments.

In the 17th century, Vienna became something of a Mecca for trumpet players. The very earliest trumpet players had been little more than vagrants, but Viennese trumpeters were given a place of honor. On high feast days the court’s string orchestra was augmented by a choir of trumpets, playing sonatas composed by the likes of Schmelzer and Biber.

But by the late 18th century the trumpet was going out of style, giving way to more agile and tonally consistent instruments. A few trumpeters, determined to salvage their careers, scrambled to develop a trumpet that could compete with the violin, flute, and oboe. Some of them achieved a measure of success by adding keys to the trumpet, so it could play all the notes of the scale, even in its lowest register.

Enter Anton Weidinger (1767 – 1852). Weidinger was a Viennese court trumpeter. Around 1793, he began experimenting with some of these keyed trumpets, refining them and practicing with them. By 1796 he was making enough progress that he convinced Haydn to write a concerto for his Klappentrompette (keyed trumpet). He took that concerto on the road in 1803, playing it in France, Germany, and England. Weidinger caught the interest of composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, who composed yet another concerto for him and his curious keyed trumpet.

The critics had good things to say about Weidinger’s trumpet and his playing. But it was too late. By 1820 the valved trumpet had appeared in Vienna and was rapidly taking over. Weidinger’s keyed trumpet hung on for a little longer; some musicians and composers preferred its tone to the valved trumpet’s. But by 1840 the Klappentrompette was forgotten – obsolete.

Although the Baroque natural trumpet has no shortage of proponents (and makers and players), not many musicians have shown much interest in reviving the Klappentrompette. Who can blame them? After all, what’s the point of reviving an instrument for which only two major concertos were ever written? (See also the arpeggione.) Rainer Egger has built modern reproductions, as has Christopher Monk, but they don’t seem to have had many customers. The few recordings that have been made with their instruments have quickly gone out of print, presumably for lack of interest.

But if you’d like to see and hear the keyed trumpet, here’s a rare opportunity: David Guerrier playing the first movement of the Haydn, recorded at the Festival de l’Epau in May of 2009. He’s accompanied by the chamber orchestra "Les Siècles."

Further reading:

The story of the keyed trumpet, by Norwegian trumpeter Ole J Utnes

The natural trumpet in Wikipedia

Rainer Egger’s workshop

Trumpeter David Guerrier from Trumpet World

This article was first published in WKSU Classical on 28 December 2009.

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