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The Uncivil Servant: Richard Wagner, Made (Too) Simple

by Mitchell Abidor   Discussed in this essay: Being Wagner: The Story of the Most Provocative Composer Who Ever Lived, by Simon Callow. Vintage, 232 pages, 2017   IN THIS AGE of doorstop biographies, the actor and biographer Simon Callow’s breezy 200+ pages on Richard Wagner, Being Wagner, appear to be a quirky, quixotic venture. How to squeeze so tumultuous a […]

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Yehudi Menuhin

Violinist Yehudi Menuhin played a public performance for the first time in his hometown of New York at the age of 9 on this date in 1926, at the Manhattan Opera House. This came two years after his debut concert in San Francisco, where he played Bériot’s ”Scene de Ballet” with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and […]

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Conductor of the Year

Gerard Schwarz, conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra from 1985 to 2011 (he built the subscription base from 5,000 to 35,000) and of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart festival between 1982 and 2001, was born in Weehawken, New Jersey on this date in 1947. Schwarz graduated from New York’s High School of Performing Arts and Juilliard School of Music […]

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Liszt’s Greatest Pupil

Carl Tausig, a virtuoso pianist considered to be Franz Liszt’s most accomplished pupil, died in Leipzig at age 29 on this date in 1871. Born in Warsaw to a pianist-composer father, Tausig was introduced to Liszt at 14 and became his favorite student, accompanying the master on concert tours. He was also close friends with Richard Wagner, many of whose operas he adapted for piano, and  Johannes […]

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November 18: Philadelphia’s Conductor

Eugene Ormandy (Jeno Blau), who would take the baton from Arturo Toscanini and Leopold Stokowski to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra for forty-four years, was born in Budapest on this date in 1899. He was a child prodigy violinist and came to the U.S. in 1921 (later remarking that he “was born in New York City […]

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July 7: Gustav Mahler

Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler was born in Bohemia on this date in 1860. Although he converted to Catholicism in order to become director of the Vienna Court Opera, he was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse throughout his musical career, and his works were banned from performance during the Nazi era. Mahler was one of […]

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March 12: Copland’s Fanfare

Aaron Copland‘s “Fanfare for the Common Man” had its first performance on this date in 1942, by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under conductor Eugene Goossens. The piece, inspired in part by a famous speech by Vice President Henry A. Wallace proclaiming the dawning of the “Century of the Common Man,” later became the main theme […]

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January 3: The Great Dane

Danish pianist and comedian Victor Borge (Børge Rosenbaum) was born in Copenhagen on this date in 1909. The son of musicians and a child prodigy, he received a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and played his first major concert in 1926. Within a few years he began interrupting his own performances […]

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November 17: David Amram

Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and lifelong hipster David Amram was born on this date in 1930. Amram was one of the first jazz players to improvise on French horn, and one of the first classical composers to blend jazz themes into his work. His collaborators have included Leonard Bernstein, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Willie Nelson, James Galway, […]

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October 27: The Church of Beethoven

Felix Wurman, a cellist who founded the Church of Beethoven in an abandoned gas station on Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was born on this date in 1958. The son of an Austrian Jewish composer who fled the Nazi Anschluss, Wurman performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 12, declined an invitation to […]

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