You gotta watch this.

The Boston Camerata founder Joel Cohen is about to put us right:

It’s that holiday time of year, and to celebrate Thanksgiving, National Public Radio recently ran a feature segment about a bit of iconic Americana, namely the famous „Going Home“ theme from Antonin Dvorak’s „New World“ Symphony, which the famous Czech composer wrote during his American stay, circa 1892-93. It’s a magnificent and instantly memorable tune, stated at the beginning of the Symphony’s second, Largo, movement by a deeply expressive English horn against a background of sustained string harmonies.

When this writer was in grade school, in Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1949, he was told by his music teacher that the melody was inspired by, or actually was, a „Negro“ spiritual, and was representative of the profound soulfulness of the slaves and their descendants.

The NPR piece I caught on the radio a few days ago recycled, more or less, the fable I was told as a
child, and which seems to have surrounded the Dvorak Largo since, pretty much, its inception. The
Largo melody, said NPR, was „inspired by black spirituals.“

A mis-statement, but in all fairness, that was kind of what foxy old Dvorak had himself suggested about the themes in his symphony. Nonetheless, the truth will out. My dear fellow Americans (and other citizens of our strange, fascinating world), that tune, wonderful as it may be, and even though in grade school I was encouraged to sing it with the unspeakable „Massa dear, Massa dear“ lyrics, was not the least bit African-American. That fact, though barely acknowledged, has now been abroad in the land for a certain number of years, ever since soprano/scholar Anne Azéma identified the white gospel model,
and the Boston Camerata recorded it for a French record label in the late 1990s (re-issued circa 2008 by Warner Classics). And yet, somehow, the old, Massa meme continues to circulate.

Here’s the real story: Dvorak’s inspiration was a rollicking gospel hymn with a Christmas text, „Jesus the Light of the World,“ bearing at its foot the legend „Copyright 1890 by Geo. D. Elderkin. “ He borrowed/rewrote measures one to eight of Elderkin's song for the Largo theme. The copyright date for the model, we need not stress, reads only a couple of seasons before the great composer got to work on his New World masterpiece. To prime his creative pump for the Largo, the Czech master did not need to go to a plantation to hear the workers’ prayers, as was once suggested to me in third grade; he simply needed walk out of his lower Manhattan dwelling, head to a music store, and pick up a printed anthology of gospel songs. Which, we must now assume, he did.

Contrary to the „Negro“ myth, therefore, it was white on white for the Dvorak Largo and its model/inspiration. The story is not over, however. There is still an important, African-American piece to this tale.

Both the original Elderkin song, with the Christmas text „Hark the Herald Angels Sing“ and the Dvorak adaptation/rewrite from the Largo movement, were later taken up and adopted by African-American
congregations. The Dvorak version became an actual spiritual/sacred song, „Going Home.“ And the original „Hark the Herald Angels/Jesus the Light of the World“ continued in use, and, unremarked by NPR commentators and so many others, continues to be sung to this day. What is odd to me is the separateness of these two streams. On the one hand, you have an „official,“ erstwhile „Negro“ theme, composed in reality by an eminent, Central European symphonic master, serving, despite its non-American paternity, as a kind of symbolic icon of Americana.

It’s not black music but has been presented, for several generations now, as a somehow-respectable representation or avatar of black music.

On the other hand, you have this very energetic, authentic, American gospel song, Christmas-themed, continuing in the African-American church tradition. And no-one in over a century, or almost no-one, seems to have picked up on, or celebrated, their kinship: the pseudo-black song, and the white-loved- by- black-people original. But they are kinfolk, and they are both, like so much that is American, of mixed heritage. And perhaps celebrating their shared genetic code is one small step towards breaking down some racial and cultural barriers. Happy holidays! Or, perhaps, veselé Vánoce.

Amesbury, Ma. 11/2018


Thomas’ Music, a Melbourne institution since 1922, shut down earlier this year. It was a much-loved destination for classical musicians and enthusiasts. A feature of the shop was the back wall of ceiling tiles signed by hundreds of international and local artists.

The collection of autographs features sopranos Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Dame Joan Sutherland, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Victoria de Los Angeles, conductors Arthur Fiedler and Neville Marriner, alongside such popular artists as Elvis Costello, Nana Mouskouri and Adam Ant.

The collection will be sold at auction in Melbourne on Thursday 13 December, at 2pm.


There were serious problems at the Palau de la Música in València when half the roof blew off and the rain came in.

Was Piotr Beczala bothered?

On the contrary, he was pumped!


Martin Engstroem has announced a new festival in Latvia.

The first year will cosist of four weekends with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons; Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta; London Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda and the Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev.

The second year will be six weekends, going up to eight in 2021.

Engstroem’s co-director is Miguel Esteban, Verbier’s co-founder and COO of London-based production company Idili Live and associate producer of Mamma Mia! The Party.

Backing for the ‘Riga Jurmala Music Festival’ comes from ‘the BMS Foundation, a philanthropic body dedicated to creating world-class classical music events in Latvia.’

So what’s not to like?

The great Slava and Galina sell-off raked in £4.2million ($5.3 million) at Sotheby’s yesterday.

It included three cellos..

A 1783 G B Guadagnini sold for £1,9m and a 1741 Santo Serafin for £610,000, the highest prices ever achieved for these makers.

A Giovanni Guidanti, rated at £200,000-300,000, failed to make its reserve.

Our diarist Anthea Kreston is in the hot seat this month at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in the state of Minnesota. The SPCO has no chief conductor. Its concerts are directed by artistic partners. Could this be a model for orchestral democracy in the heartland of Trump? Read on:


I am having a blast playing with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. This week‘s program is English Baroque music, conducted by Richard Egarr (the SPCO just named him an Artistic Partner), who is quite the eccentric. He is frighteningly intelligent, naturally energetic, passionate, and informed – his halo of curly, semi-greying hair frames a face which transforms as the music changes – one moment he looks as if he is haunted, the next – a goofy grin sweeps over his face and his eyes are cross-eyed. He lives the music, and in rehearsal takes up a huge amount of real-estate – hopping from one side of the orchestra to the other, connecting to each player, then barely making it back to pounce on his embedded harpsichord.

He disagrees with pre-determined dynamics – anything can and will happen – which creates a necessary engagement between player and director. He sprinkled his stream-of-conscious rehearsal instructions with Monty Python quotes, extrapolated bits from various Baroque treatises, and references to 50’s crooners. And he plays something different every time he touches the keyboard. You have to be your sharpest to even have a dream of keeping up with him.

The orchestra is small – 4 violins per section, 3 violas and 3 celli, 1 bass, and a smattering of winds and brass. This week, the first desks of the violins is entirely made of Curtis grads – my standpartner is Eunice Kim (we share Ida Kavafian as a former teacher), the assistant concertmaster is Maureen Nelson (formerly of the Enso Quartet) and concertmaster is Ruggero Allifranchini (formerly of the Borromeo Quartet). Sitting across from me are the incredible violist and cellist Maiya Papach and Julie Albers. What a treat.

Concerts start tomorrow – four this week. Next week Patricia Kopatchinskaja, another artistic partner of Saint Paul, leads and directs the orchestra. There is snow on the ground already here, and I have to duck my head against the wind as I walk the blocks between my hotel and the Ordway, but things inside are warm and crackling.

The tenor’s partner Christiane Lutz has let it be known that they will become parents in March, and the Garman tabloids are ecstatic (see below).

Jonas, who turns 50 next year, has three children with his ex-wife, Margarete Joswig.

Good wishes all round.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin has told the parish newspaperb that he fought long and hard to have the second intermission restored in the upcoming Met production of La Traviata.

It’s certainly a break for the busy conductor and a boost for bar takings.

But what about the drama? Doesn’t it disrupt the tension?

Or is it for all those ‘loyal subscribers’ who require two comfort breaks?

Your thoughts?

I particularly like this curtain call by conductor Speranza Scappucci, head of Liege Opera in Belgium.

She does all the right things in a very elegant way.

And I’ve never before seen a conductor pause to acknowledge the person in the prompter’s box.

Lovely touch, La Spery!

From Richard Bratby’s Spectator review of last weekend’s Birmingham concerts:

The expressive power of Weinberg’s music seems to lie in the way it shapes itself around those gaps, the things unfinished or unsaid. It brought to mind Georges Perec’s novel La Disparition (written just a year later than the Preludes, in 1969). Famously written entirely without using the letter E, it’s a dazzling creative game. It’s also an artistic demonstration of how a single missing element inevitably changes the shape of every thought or sentence; modifies the rhythm and colour of an entire existence. Weinberg’s immediate family, like Perec’s, was murdered in the Holocaust; his subsequent career in the USSR was punctuated by threats (and at one point imprisonment) by a Soviet regime suspicious of his Polish origin and his Jewishness.

So his Violin Concertino of 1948 — played the following morning by Kremer and his chamber orchestra Kremerata Baltica — is an exercise in creating social realist sunshine that just keeps fading into an overcast sky. You sense Weinberg’s personality in his very disengagement. …

Read on here.

Read Gidon Kremer on Weinberg here.