Three Great Teachers of Music
AUFBAU Apr. 11, 1997 p13
[original title: Tributes to Three Great Teachers: Earl Kim, Leo Kraft, Elie Siegmeister]
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
April 7, 1997
Earl Kim (b. 1920 in California to Korean parents) is one of the great teachers of our time, both in composition and in music literature, having taught and inspired dozens of American composers first at Princeton (1952-67) and then at Harvard (1967-90). Last month, following a three-day series of seminars and rehearsals with him, the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players presented three of his works in concert, followed by the Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte by his teacher Arnold Schoenberg.
The love and devotion of the student performers for the composer and his music - introduced by his former student, Stony Brook Professor Peter Winkler - were palpable. The influence of Schoenberg on Kim could be felt not so much harmonically as in the fascination with and concentration on evocative treatment of text. And just as Schoenberg, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe, had struggled against Hitler, so Kim, who flew over Nagasaki in World War II, has led musicians in the struggle to prevent nuclear war.
First the Stony Brook Camerata essayed the lilting "Some Thoughts on Keats and Coleridge" of 1990, dedicated to the memory of another of Kim's teachers, Roger Sessions. Then came "Three Poems in French" of 1989, impressionistic settings of Verlaine and Baudelaire for soprano and string quartet, originally premiered in Cambridge by Dawn Upshaw, and sung here with seeming effortlessness by Korean soprano Eun-Kyung Kwon. The violist of the quartet, Doyeon Kim, is not related to the composer. But Eva Kim, the speaker in the next work, "Dear Linda" of 1992 (based on a poem by Anne Sexton) definitely is: she's the youngest of his four children, a moving and talented actress of around 20 who arrived at her chosen profession via dance and several other fields.
Her route reminds one of the way her father writes and talks about music: No matter how far afield he may go in his digressions - and he has been known to spend as much as an entire semester on a single recitative from Don Giovanni ! - once he gets where he is going one has the sense that that was the only way he could have gotten there. Now that he has retired from teaching, the pace of his own creative output has picked up. One wishes him many more years of productive composition, including more pieces like "Dear Linda" for speaker, flute, cello, piano, and percussion (for which one hopes the Sexton estate will in the future allow reproduction of the text!); "Earthlight"; "Dead Calm," "gooseberries she said," and other gorgeous Beckett settings; and song cycles such as "Letters Found Near a Suicide" and the in-progress group of settings of Philip Larkin, Beckett and James Joyce. Leo Kraft
Leo Kraft (b. 1922 in Brooklyn), Professor Emeritus at Queens College, a past president of the American Music Center, and author of important harmony and eartraining texts, has begun a year of concerts celebrating his 75th birthday next July 24, culminating in an entire retrospective of his works next September 19 at NYU. His 1953 "Parable of Solomon" will receive two performances in Queens next month. His William Cullen Bryant setting will be heard at Borough Hall in Brooklyn April 30. And his 3 Preludes for Piano will be premiered and recorded by Capstone Records September 9.
The Long Island Composers Alliance, Meet The Composer, and the Nassau County Regrant Program presented two of his works and four more by his colleagues and students (Angelo Musolino, Steven Rosenhaus, Edward Smaldone, and Elie Siegmeister) at Great Neck House April 6, featuring clarinet, saxophone, and piano. Clarinetists David Hattner & Laura Medlin and pianists Margaret Kampmeir & Laura Leon-Cohen acquitted themselves well, each in two works. The featured performer, substituting for a colleague at short notice, was the saxophonist Paul Cohen, who opened the program with Siegmeister's two saxophone pieces, originally premiered at the 1939 World's Fair.
The works of Elie Siegmeister (1909-91), who was the teacher of a great many students on Long Island and around New York (as well as Gerald Humel of the Akademie der Knste in Berlin), have been experiencing a gradual revival and rediscovery. On March 12 the American Symphony Orchestra and the University of Maryland Chorus revived his 1937 setting of Vachel Lindsay's "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight," vigorously conducted by the orchestra's Assistant Conductor Nyela Basney on a program at Avery Fisher Hall that included music of Frederick Converse (1871-1940), Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-53), Aaron Copland (1900-90), and Roy Harris (1898-1979; not 1860-1911 as listed in the program!).
"It is portentous," the Lindsay text begins. And the work is. After the third of eight quatrains, the enthusiasm of the orchestra covered most of the words, which were however thoughtfully printed in a program insert. One could feel, even if not hear in any clear articulation, the yearning in the music for "the shining hope of Europe free: The Workers' Earth" - a cause of embarrassment or worse in the Cold War 1950s, now viewed properly as an essential part of progressive-thinking Americana.
The aforementioned Brooklyn concert of April 30 will feature love duets from two of Siegmeister's one-act operas, an excerpt from his "Sunday in Brooklyn," and the world premieres of three recently discovered songs of his from 1943-51 on texts by Leo Daniels, Langston Hughes, and Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan), the man who with his wife Anne would later adopt the orphaned sons of Julius & Ethel Rosenberg.
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