Thursday, August 6, 2015

Franz Allers

...from a photographer's (and music lover's) notebook

August 6, 2015

Sometimes, there is a very special kind of serendipity when some long-procrastinated-over cleaning up reveals amidst the mostly disposable detritus…a color slide, long unseen, but fortunately protected in a sleeve, from years earlier…

During the years I was a fine arts/classical music broadcaster, especially from around 1980 to 1986, I probably had more fun than was legal. Certainly, more fun than would be possible now given the current state of radio.

I still sort of pinch myself at the recollection that I was actually getting paid to present the music I so loved and to meet and interview so many of my musical idols – composers, lyricists, performers, and conductors, many of whom were legends in their time. And, you know something else? Most of them were lovely individuals, genuinely nice to talk to. And talk at length we did, face-to-face with my trusty Sony TC-D5M capturing every word and nuance picked up by my pair of Beyer M-500 ribbon mics, as we’d sit across a table. No Skype back then, of course. And no sticking some handheld device in somebody’s face. I like to say I did it right and with the respect my guests deserved.

No, this is not going to be a recitation of all the famous figures in music and the arts that consented to spend time with me for in depth, on-location interviews whose purpose was never to merely generate “sound bites.”

Just one very special gentleman, who (and here's where that serendipity comes in) was born exactly one hundred ten years ago today.

The station I was working for during this period, WETA-FM in Washington, gave me  uncommon latitude in terms of programming. OK, it was only for two hours, every Sunday and a few times during the week; the rest of the time, our bread and butter in terms of music was purely classical. But that was fine – I love much classical music and actually built my “first career” as a classical music host/presenter.

But the thing was, I had an equal love and passion for some other forms of quality music that were “just outside” the often hidebound strictures that say classical is the only “serious” music. Areas like the Great American Popular Song Standards, Musical Theater, Symphonic Film Scores, Gilbert & Sullivan…and (great gemütlich sigh, here!) Viennese and German Operetta. All of it good music…just not quite “classical.”

The man I’m going to write about here once delighted me with a story, related in his wonderfully mittel-Europa raconteur-par-excellence style.

Said he: “…and you know, Steve, even Beethoven wrote some music that wasn’t so serious. A group of village musicians once came to him and said ‘Great Master, wouldn’t you write something for us [to perform]. He was working on one of his great serious masterpieces at the time, but he said “Ja, sure I’ll write something for you. And the result was the Dances from Mödling, which is a suburb of Vienna…”

His point in telling me the story was to relate his absolute disdain – as a classically trained musician – for the often arbitrary classifications and snobbery surrounding what can be called “classical” music.

This man made his career in ballet conducting, opera houses in Europe and elsewhere, the Broadway Theater, and in theaters, opera houses, and festivals presenting the operettas of Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehar, Carl Millöcker, and so many others in Viennese operetta’s gold and silver ages.

Of all my musical idols, my admiration for this man was the earliest to begin and, consequently, the longest running.

As a young teenager, in 1961, I had the great good fortune to attend a performance of Lerner and Loewe’s musical “Camelot” on Broadway. The original cast was still intact – that is to say Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guinevere, and Robert Goulet making his Broadway debut as Lancelot…to say nothing of Robert Coote, John Cullum, and Roddy McDowell. Not only that, but my seat was dead center in the Orchestra, only three or four rows from the pit.

I’ll always remember the excitement transmitted by the opening notes of Frederick Loewe’s stunning overture and all of the soaring melodies contained in it, and being so immersed in it from being so close to the orchestra. But there was an added visual treat, as, from my magical seat, I had a clear view of the lively and distinguished looking gentleman conducting the orchestra and bringing forth such an engaging sound.

The program said his name was Franz Allers.

More to come...

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