Walter Bitner

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The Firebird

Image credit: snob.ru, Wikimedia Commons, veche.razved.ca

It is 1980, and I am 14 years old. I don’t know exactly when this happened but I feel sure it was in the summer or fall. I am standing before the record player I had received for Christmas a few years earlier, in my adolescent lair in the basement of my parent’s house in Camillus, New York. The turntable could be rotated on its side to hide within the wooden cabinet in which it was housed when not in use, and the spindle could accommodate up to 6 LPs at a time (by the time of this memory I had learned never to do this, with the hope of preserving the quality of my record collection as long as possible).

I have just unwrapped the 3 LP set Yessongs from its plastic shrink wrap and set the needle down on the record at the beginning of side A of the first LP. Yes was my favorite rock band when I was in high school (they still are) and I have saved up money from several weeks of early mornings on my bicycle delivering newspapers to buy this, only the second triple album in my collection (the first was Keith Jarrett’s Solo Concerts Bremen / Lausanne).

As I marvel at the stunning artwork by Roger Dean that not only adorns the cover but in fact nearly every surface of the package, what I hear at first are the sounds of an arena crowd anticipating a Yes concert to begin – Yessongs was the band’s first live album. But when the music begins, it isn’t Yes at all – instead I hear the tender horn solo over quiet tremolo chords in the strings that begins the Finale of Igor Stravinsky’s 1910 ballet score The Firebird.

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2017 Gateways Music Festival

(l to r) William Johnson, Patricia Silva Weitzel, Anthony Morris, Evan Cannon after a performance at Gateways Music Festival, Rochester City Hall Council Chambers, August 11, 2017 (click all photos to enlarge)

Last month I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Gateways Music Festival in Rochester, New York. Now in its 24th year, Gateways connects and supports professional classical musicians of African descent, and brings more than 50 solo, chamber, and orchestral performances to the Rochester community during the week of the festival. This was my first time attending a Gateways festival, and I was excited to witness several of the performances, meet friends and colleagues from around the country (and beyond), and make new ones.

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Martha Argerich: The Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon

(click photos to enlarge)

When Deutsche Grammophon released a box set of Martha Argerich’s complete recordings for their label in September 2015, I coveted it immediately, eventually succumbing to temptation and purchasing it for my CD library. This summer I made a project of slowly listening to all 48 CDs in order of release, savoring each recording and listening to many of them several times. OK, most of them.

Just in case you’re not a classical pianist, or slept through the last fifty years, Martha Argerich is widely regarded as one of our greatest living pianists, and certainly as one of the most important classical artists of the post-WWII era.

Which makes this stupendous collection – a wide-ranging survey of all of her recordings for Deutsche Grammophon and Philips spanning 55 years from 1959 to 2014 – perhaps the single greatest collection of recorded classical piano music in history. It’s astounding.

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Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony: Spring 2017 Review

Nashville Symphony Education & Community Engagement staff: (l to r) Walter Bitner, director; Kristen Freeman, coordinator; Kelley Bell, program manager; Kimberly Kraft McLemore, Accelerando Manager ~ January 10, 2017

The Memorial Day Weekend is behind us now – summer is just around the corner! Soon we will enter the last stage of the season – our annual Community Concerts series of “symphony under the stars” parks concerts which begin on Thursday, June 8 at Centennial Park. But first, let’s pause to look back on our activities in the department of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony since January.

It’s been an eventful spring for our department at the Nashville Symphony. This post is a summary of what we’ve been up to since I posted my review of 2016 fall EDCE programming. For many of the events and programs described here,  I have already written dedicated articles: for more details, follow the links! (Click photos to enlarge them.)

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Side By Side 2017

Curb Youth Symphony & Nashville Symphony musicians rehearse for the annual Side By Side performance, May 16, 2017 ~ photo by Kelley Bell (click to enlarge)

Last week – on Wednesday, May 17, Curb Youth Symphony joined the Nashville Symphony on the stage of Laura Turner Hall for our annual Side By Side concert. Curb Youth Symphony is directed by Carol Nies, and this year’s annual Side By Side event was conducted ( for the first time) by Nashville Symphony Music Director & Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. For two days many of Middle Tennessee’s most accomplished teenage musicians thronged the halls of Schermerhorn Symphony Center, rubbing shoulders with Nashville Symphony musicians backstage and sharing stands with them on stage as we rehearsed and performed this much anticipated event.

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Two Brahms Portraits

this print cropped from “Brahms at the Piano” by Willy von Beckerath (1868-1938) has hung over my piano at home since 1986

Johannes Brahms was born on this date 184 years ago: on May 7, 1833. The Brahms Bicentennial is only 16 years away!

Like Sebastian, Brahms is a composer whose music has been a deep and abiding presence in my life. Yet I have so far avoided writing much about his music here on Off The Podium. Beyond a reflection I wrote in 2015 after attending a performance of his Requiem, I have merely mentioned Brahms a few times in other articles. So far.

Today, in honor of Brahms’ Birthday, I offer these personal anecdotes:

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Blair School of Music: Adult Summer Chamber Music Institute 2017

Joseph Haydn and friends playing string quartets

This summer, Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music will host their first ever Adult Summer Chamber Music Institute. The brainchild of Pam Schneller, Blair’s Associate Dean for the Precollege and Adult Program and Senior Lecturer in Choral Music, this special four-day program is the first of its kind in our area (as far as I know) – a unique opportunity for adult amateur string players to come together and make music in an intimate setting.

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Nashville Philharmonic: Spring 2017

“I’m really excited about our final pair of concerts this season!” said Christopher Norton, music director of the Nashville Philharmonic, Music City’s volunteer community orchestra. “There are so many connections to the Nashville community inherent in this program, and it encompasses the Nashville Philharmonic’s commitment to education, outreach, and the advancement of the arts.”

Last week I spoke with Dr. Norton and the soloists who are featured on the upcoming programs on May 7 and May 9, including the winners of the NPO’s 2017 concerto and composition competitions.

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Fie, Nay, Prithee John

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) ~ anonymous portrait

Singing canons is a wonderful way to help young singers develop independence, sing harmony and polyphony, and all with material that takes much less time to learn than music cast in more than one part. In strict canon, everyone sings the same part: we all learn the same melody and text together, and once it’s solid split up the group, start singing it at different times, and presto! musical magic.

Canons can be simple enough for very young children to learn in a few minutes or so challenging that professional choirs must exert considerable effort to sing them well. With a broad repertoire of canons on the tip of her tongue, the skilled music teacher is ready to make or teach satisfying music with students of any level, for any occasion, at any time or place.

Over the course of my teaching career I taught dozens of canons to students of all ages: rounds with students beginning in Kindergarten, catches with more experienced singers (usually by third grade). We sang canons about everything: happy and sad canons, silly canons, canons about love, animals, God, food, about music itself. Canons in English, Latin, French, German, Russian. Canons. One of the most important canons I tried to teach to all of my students over the years is the ancient Sumer Is Icumen In, which I have written in detail about here.

Another fabulous canon which I taught to hundreds of students from elementary through high school, and which is the subject of today’s article, is the indignant and difficult “chiding” catch Fie, Nay, Prithee John by the great Henry Purcell. And yes, by teaching this song, I taught my students to swear.

 

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Nashville Concerto Orchestra: Spring Concert 2017

Matthew Phelps conducts the Nashville Concerto Orchestra in rehearsal for their first performance, with Gil Perel, bassoon ~ June 25, 2016, Edgehill United Methodist Church, Nashville

Music City’s unique Nashville Concerto Orchestra will present their fourth concert next Saturday, April 15, bringing full circle the NCO’s first annual cycle of seasonal concerts that began with their Summer 2016 concert last June.

This week I spoke with the orchestra’s founder Roger Wiesmeyer and this concert’s soloists about the upcoming program and the special opportunities this ensemble provides.

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