Classical Music Guide - Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - Written by Donald Isler

A Century of Musical Culture in New York

A Century of Musical Culture in New York: The Legacy of Damrosch, Mannes, Godowsky and Gershwin
Jerome Rose, David Dubal – Speakers
Steven Mayer, Daniel Berman – Pianists

This event was not exactly a lecture, nor a concert, but something in-between, with significant audience participation.

Jerome Rose began the meeting by pointing out that this is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Mannes School (now the Mannes College of Music at the New School), and paid tribute to the accomplishments of the Damrosch and Mannes families, which were related by marriage. Members of these families were responsible for founding the Institute of Musical Art, which later became the Juilliard School, the Mannes School and the Oratorio Society. Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky II, friends who were both musicians, did research on improving the quality of film for many years, and in 1935 patented Kodachrome, which made them both wealthy. Leopold Mannes contributed much of this new wealth to the support of the Mannes School. Another interesting relationship which was discussed was the marriage of Leopold Godowsky II to Frances Gershwin, the sister of George and Ira. Their son Leopold Godowsky III, a pianist and composer was thus heir to two pianistic traditions: that of his grandfather, Leopold Godowsky, and of his uncle, George Gershwin, and he maintained a lifelong interest in the legacies of both.

Most of the discussion part of the progrm had David Dubal leading a talk about the incredible number of important musicians who lived, and were active in New York since Carnegie Hall was opened in 1891, with Tchaikovsky conducting. Gustav Mahler, who was Musical Director of the New York Philharmonic, and whom Otto Klemperer considered the greatest conductor of all time, was also mentioned at length. After that, innumerable other composers, pianists and teachers from that time to this were mentioned, some by Mr. Dubal, some volunteered by the audience. often followed by witty and/or enlightening comments by Mr. Dubal. The centrality of the piano in musical life a century ago was described by Mr. Dubal, who said that in 1911 375,000 pianos were manufactured in this country.

Steven Mayer, whose performances are always full of pianistic brilliance, and who is the son of a composer, described growing up in a home where jazz, as well as classical and contemporary music were all influences. He spoke of Art Tatum, whose playing he described as a combination of Horowitz and jazz, and of Tatum’s mentor, Fats Waller, and played one work of each in his usual, high energy(!) style.

Daniel Berman gave a lovely, yet intense reading of the Rachmaninoff G-Sharp Minor Prelude. Later he gave an exotic, dreamy performance of Godowsky’s Gardens of Buitenzorg, followed by two Godowsky transcriptions, the Swan, which was particularly idiomatic, and Richard Strauss’ Ständchen, which featured, among other things, a sparkling right hand accompaniment, and an explosive climax. Mr. Berman is known for playing Earl Wild transcriptions of Gershwin’s music (I believe he gave the first performances of some of them) and offered Embraceable You, which showed how he clearly revels in the sound of the piano, and Summertime, which, despite all the elaborate ornamentation, conveyed the sleepy sense of summer time in the deep South. Mr. Berman’s last performance was of Willam Bolcom’s wonderful Graceful Ghost Rag, which sounded folksy and sentimental, yet had a lovely swing to it.

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