One of the most celebrated conductors of the twentieth century will be here for a concert later that afternoon! Toscanini and the La Scala Orchestra of Milan embarked on a tour of North America in the Fall of 1920 that included concerts in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha, St. Louis, Topeka, Wichita, Omaha, Tulsa, and Kansas City. It seems pretty amazing to me that such an esteemed ensemble played so many smaller cities in the Midwest. In his book The Toscanini Mystique: The Genius Behind the Music, author Kenneth A. Christensen offers many wonderful stories and anecdotes about the conductor. "Many famous musicians heard this great conductor for the first time during this tour including conductors Pierre Monteux and Leopold Stokowski. The composers Ernst Bloch and Sergei Rachmaninoff, as well as Viennese violinist Fritz Kreisler, left glowing accounts of their very overwhelming musical experiences. Fritz Kreisler had told German friends that Toscanini did not know how to conduct Beethoven's Fifth Symphony correctly, but remarked, "I do not believe that Toscanini could be wrong, but even if he were, I would rather hear it conducted wrong by Toscanini than correctly by any other conductor".
Here is the review, which appeared the next day, February 21, 1921, in the Kansas City Post:
TOSCANINI'S MAGIC BATON FINDS RARE MUSICAL RESPONSE
Audience of 10,000 Applauds When Italian Orchestra of Eighty Renders Numbers as One Man; Largest Crowd of Tour
By Frances Davis
When the spare and somewhat austere figure of Arturo Toscanini made its way Sunday afternoon in Convention hall through the stir of his players busily adjusting instruments and opening scores on racks, 10,000 men and women in Convention hall applauded a fervid welcome. Music lovers, in the most remote balconies, in the boxes and the arena floors, filled the huge auditorium.
The conductor took his place on the rostrum and turned to face his organization of 80 musicians. He used a pliable baton, small, which expressed in a fanciful way, his own tense figure throughout the conducting of the music. No rack and no score assisted him in anticipating each thread of the musical patterns which he wove.
The orchestra played as one man. There were no soloists, with the exception of the glistening cello passages, the young Italian who contributed this playing the big stringed with the delicate singing poetry of a master artist.
The symphony was Dvorak's "The New World," in E minor, a perfect piece of fabric, always restrained and never confused, molding the musical idea from Adagio to Largo, from Scherzo to cumulative finale, with the deftness of pure instinct for beauty.
The program opened with Rossini, the overture, "The Barber of Seville," which served as a mere appetizer.
At the conclusion of the symphony, a silver loving cup was presented to the conductor. It was carried to the platform by Laurenzana, a little girl in a pink dress, whose head was tenderly patted when the conductor accepted the gift. The cup was the gift of the 25 Italian societies represented by the Italian Colonial committee.
Following the little girl on the stage came two young men, Joseph Morello and Elio Monachesi, bearing a tall basket of roses and ferns, caught with a yellow ribbon on the handle, the colors of Italy, and the flag of Italy hung beside it.
Louis W. Shouse, manger of Convention hall, and secretary of the entertainment committee of the Shriners, who made the Toscanini concert possible for Kansas City, announced during the intermission that the Sunday afternoon audience was the largest to which the Italian conductor had brought his music to Kansas City.
Toscanini was not prepared for the size of the auditorium and for that reason the program was enlarged to included the William Tell overture, at the end. A substitution of the famous "Love Death" from Tristan and Isolde, took place of the Good Friday spell from Parsifal.
One of the illuminating moments of the afternoon was the singular beauty of the Star Spangled Banner as played by the Italians.
I have heard from several of you that you also enjoy Ms. Davis' writing style. It is so much different than the way people write today. It captures a different time in history for sure.
On a side note, you can see a small article in the first headline above: "Caruso's Condition Continues Better". This of course refers to the famous tenor, Enrico Caruso, who sadly took a turn for the worse and died 6 months after this article, on August 2, 1921.