Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ottorino Respighi in Kansas City

One of the first records I ever listened to was Respighi's The Pines of Rome. As I've said before, when I was six or seven years-old, my dad gave me some records to get me started on my classical journey. I remember a red record, with a black and white picture of a man with a big mustache and a stick in his hand. TOSCANINI......

Even on my tiny phonograph, back in 1971, the music came to life and grabbed my attention. I listened over and over.....
I was born in Kansas City, MO in 1965. Forty years before my birth, KC was a hot spot for music. The jazz scene flourished here in the 1920's. Benny Moten and his Orchestra were tearing up the jazz world. Charlie Parker was born here in 1920 and would soon define bebop. But classical composers and performers like Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Bela Bartok visited our fair city in the 1920's too, bringing their music and new ideas with them. Ottorino Respighi, whom I "discovered" 44 years later, performed in Kansas City on February 7, 1927 with his wife Elsa.
They performed at the Ivanhoe Auditorium. (I had never heard of this hall) It was located at 2301 East Linwood. It was actually part of the Ivanhoe Masonic Temple and was demolished in 1999.
Here is the review that appeared in the newspaper the next day:

From the Kansas City Times, Tuesday, February 8, 1927.

Ottorino Respighi’s First Kansas City Visit Has Its Climax in Ivanhoe Auditorium

Not every visit made by a genius has the hearty response given that of Ottorino Respighi last night at his concert with his wife, Elsa Respighi, and the Little Symphony. If its capacity to appreciate the numerous qualities of greatness in the man is any measuring rod, the audience must have been of unusual caliber. The concert was in Ivanhoe Auditorium under the sponsorship of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra Association, and was had largely through the devoted work of N. DeRubertis, conductor of the orchestra, and Powell Weaver, friend and pupil of the Italian composer.
The program seemed diverse on paper, but actually formed a rather homogeneous whole. It afforded brief glimpses into several fields in which the Italian excels as a composer of songs, as an arranger of songs, as a transcriber for orchestra, as a conductor, and as an accompanist.
All the compositions and all the arrangements showed an intellectual finesse and honest freedom of thought and execution that unfortunately are none too often associated with modern music. The five songs in the first group, “Notte”, “Stornellatrice”, “Nevicata”, “Noel Ancien”, and “Pioggia”, probably differ slightly in individual merit (the next to the last seemed least interesting, although it was repeated), but it is doubtful whether any other modern composer could find in his works five to match them in melodic and harmonic freshness, or quality of “inevitability” that all good music has. They are “absolute” in the sense that they invite no comparison, but form each its entity.
The old dances for lute are most freely transcribed in that Respighi has boldly made use of any effect, modern or otherwise, that seemed fitting to him. One of the trumpets wore a hat, the harp played harmonica, and in the first pages of the ballata, the strings played mandolin style. But the tunes were unashamed of their modern clothes because, perhaps, they realized they were improved thereby and were not triggered out for a catch-penny show. The aria was as lovely music as anyone could hope to write-a gorgeous, full throated song for the orchestra and one it sang from the heart.
Mme. Respighi’s last group was a set of arrangements, one from a Bolognese song about the girl who wished to marry the boy she loved in spite of his gambling propensities, another about the wise men, another a tarantella from Sicily, and so on. The set was provided some extraordinary accomplishments by the composer; he took away none of the earthy taste and added no “arty” atmosphere. “Il Tramonto”, a setting of Shelley’s “At Sunset” for string orchestra, proved interesting in spite of its length and the absence of the brass and woodwinds, which sections Respighi knows wonderfully well how to use. The visitor’s ability as a conductor was to be seen better at rehearsal than at the performance. His care for detail, broad knowledge, and generous spirit made the rehearsals a pleasure for the men of the orchestra, who gave him “all they had”. Mme. Respighi was considerably hampered by a very bad cold, which, however, did not cloud the unusual sympathy she has with her husband’s musical thought.
Mr. Weaver appeared once-conducting an orchestra for the first time in Kansas City in an early work of his own called “Music to an Imaginary Ballet”. Mr. Weaver chose the title before everyone else began using it-the ideas contained in the work are equally original and expressed with a neatness and facility that is excellent preparation for the newer work he is completing. It has a sturdy rhythmic backbone (a characteristic of his teacher’s work as well), and seemed last night to indicate the possession of a sure and facile dramatic sense. He was warmly applauded.
Mr. DeRubertis chose for himself a modest role, and played it with good taste and tact. He conducted the weaving rhythms of Debussy’s “Scotch March” and the brittle cleverness of Wolf-Ferrari’s “Dance of the Cammorrists”, both with imagination and with abandon. Between them he supported his distinguished colleague by returning to his old instrument, the double bass. And it must have been a considerable sacrifice of cuticle too, for finger tips grow soft after seasons of disuse.
The orchestra seemed inspired by the occasion. It has not played better this season.

The name of the reviewer is not given. 

I found the description of the Little Symphony interesting as well. Here is a link to the Kansas City Symphony's website that gives the history of symphony orchestras in KC, including a brief mention of the Little Symphony.

Here is a link to the September 22, 1922 Lawrence Journal-World that also gives some history of the Little Symphony.

And lastly, for your listening enjoyment, a link to Toscanini's recording pictured above, recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1953.

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