Modern Concert Series Slated
Anahid Ajemian, violinist, and her husband, George Avakian, director of popular albums for Columbia Records, have announced a series of subscription concerts, “Music for Moderns.” They will be presented at Town Hall April 28 and May 12, 19 and 26, 1957.
Miss Ajemian established a reputation in classical music as a foremost champion of new music, most notably performing new works by fellow American-Armenian, Alan Hovhaness, along with her sister, Maro Ajemian, a pianist.
George Avakian had achieved many firsts wearing a myriad of musical hats. He recorded the first jazz album ever made, the Decca Chicago Jazz album of 1939. A year later, at the age of 20 and still a junior at Yale, Avakian was asked by Columbia to identify and reissue classic jazz records from its vast uncatalogued files. He signed Johnny Mathis to Columbia after being persuaded by Helen Noga to hear the young singer. Wearing his opera hat, Avakian was co-producer of the Columbia 3 LP set, Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagony, K3L 243, featuring Lotte Lenya who performed in the premiere production at Baden-Baden in 1927. Doffing his jazz hat he brought Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck to Columbia. Sporting his World Music chapeau he was the first to record Ravi Shankar for Columbia Records.
ELLINGTON SUITE TO BOW APRIL 28
“Such Sweet Thunder” to Be Heard at First of 4 “Music for Moderns” Concerts
“Such Sweet Thunder,” a concert suite composed by Duke Ellington at the request of the Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival, will have its world premiere at Town Hall Sunday evening, April 28. The suite will be heard during the first of four concerts of “Music for Moderns.” “Such Sweet Thunder,” based on characters and events in Shakespeare’s plays (the title is from Act IV, Scene 1, of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) will be performed by Mr. Ellington and his orchestra.
On the same program Anahid Ajemian, violinist, will be soloist with the Music for Moderns Orchestra, Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting, in the first public New York performance of Kurt Weill’s “Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra.”
The second concert, on May 12, will offer Debussy’s “Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp” played by John Wummer, flutist, Walter Trampler, violist, and Edward Vito, harpist; selections from Erik Satie’s “Sports et divertissements” played by William Masselos, pianist, with commentary by Virgil Thomson; and music from the forthcoming French film Sait-on jamais, played by the Modern Jazz Quartet.
The May 19 concert will be a joint recital by Mahalia Jackson, gospel singer, and Martial Singher, baritone. The final concert of the series, on May 26, will offer the first performance of Fred Katz’s “Concerto petite,” played by Miss Ajemian and the Chico Hamilton Quintet; the first performance of Alan Hovhaness’ “October Mountain,” played by Carlos Surinach and the Music for Moderns Percussion Ensemble; and Carlos Chavez’s “Toccata for Percussion” and Mr. Surinach’s “Ritmo jondo,” played by the percussion group.”
New York Times, April 15, 1957, page 24
Music: Weill and the Duke
First Concert in New Series of Moderns
By ROSS PARMENTER
“MUSIC FOR MODERNS, a new concert series that plans to mix jazz and contemporary music in its programs, got off to an entertaining start last night at Town Hall. The first of its four programs was called “Twelve-Tone to Ellingtonia.”
Such a title suggested some sort of chronological survey, but what Anahid Ajemian and George Avakian, the sponsors, presented was one twelve-tone piece (Kurt Weill’s Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra) and a set of twelve pieces by Duke Ellington, eleven of which were suggested by Shakespeare’s plays.
The Weill Concerto was written in 1924, when the composer, then 24, was a student of Ferrucio Busoni. It was led by Dimitri Mitropoulos, who also studied composition with Busoni. Miss Ajemian was the soloist and the ensemble was the Music for Moderns Chamber Orchestra, which consisted mostly of men from the New York Philharmonic Symphony.
The only previous performance of the concerto in this country was at a private concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art two years ago. Miss Ajemian was the soloist then, too, which probably helps to account for the authority of her playing. In the first movement she was largely an ensemble player, but in the later movements, when the violin is more important, she made the instrument stand out, and she was as effective in the slightly ironic “Cadenza” as in the melodious “Serenata.”
The concerto had plenty of ideas, even if it seldom went very deep. And at this stage in our musical development the twelve-tone idiom as employed by Weill sounds only modern enough to provide a certain piquancy to the harmonies.
Duke Ellington and his band took over after the intermission. They were introduced by Tom Patterson, director of planning for the Stratford Ontario Shakespearean Festival, because the Ellington work played, “Such Sweet Thunder,” was written at the request of Mr. Patterson’s festival. The performance was the world premiere, and it was because the twelfth piece was not completed that Mr. Ellington added “Cop Out,” another of his works, to round out the dozen.
Each piece was brief, and each was an imaginative portrait in sound suggested by characters or scenes in Shakespeare’s plays. There was “Sonnet for Sister Kate,” in which Quentin Jackson made his trombone almost talk; “Lady Mac,” written as a ragtime waltz because of the belief that Lady Macbeth had “a little ragtime in her soul,” and “Sonnet for Caesar” in which Jimmy Hamilton lamented in sweet tones on the clarinet.
In one Mr. Ellington and his co-writer, Billy Strayhorn, mixed characters from two plays—Iago and the Witches from “Macbeth,” They called the piece “The Telecasters.” “Sonnet for the Moor” was a plaintive piece played mostly at the piano by Mr. Ellington, accompanied softly by drums and double bass. “Such Sweet Thunder,” which gave its name to the suite, was written for the whole band and in sound it suggested a powerful locomotive, though its program was Othello’s speech to Desdemona that so impressed the Senate.
In the one suggesting Hamlet acting as though he were mad, a trumpet was made to chirp like a bird. It was part of the general inventiveness in the use of the instruments employed. Altogether, the pieces were thoroughly winning, for none went on too long, and each sketch had sympathy as well as humor. And though the musical invention might have derived in part from other pieces of the “Duke” it all sounded fresh.”
New York Times, April 29, 1957, page 5
Satie, Debussy, Jazz Share a Program
By ROSS PARMENTER
ANAHID AJEMIAN and George Avakian scored another success late yesterday afternoon in the second of their “Music for Moderns” concerts at Town Hall. In both its jazz and its concert music aspects, it was a program of wit, charm and tonal delicacy. It had the rather pretentious title of “The Symbolic Sounds of Impressionism.” Actually, there was nothing symbolic about it at all. What it did was present two fine works by two master impressionists, Satie and Debussy; it also showed that John Lewis, the pianist of the Modern Jazz Quartet, has composed a film score in a comparable idiom.
The Debussy work was his “Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp,” and it was most beautifully played by John Wummer, Walter Trampler and Edward Vito. Yet because recordings have made the sonata fairly familiar, it did not have as much interest as the seldom-heard “Sports et Divertissements” of Satie; particularly in view of the skill and resourcefulness of the Satie presentation.
Like Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” the “Sports and Diversions” are piano pieces inspired by paintings. Virgil Thomson introduced them with a witty talk on Satie and this particular work. Then the twenty water-colors by Charles Martin that suggested the series were shown on the screen. They were amusing drawings washed with soft blues, pale yellows, lilac and sepia.
Then William Masselos came to the piano and before he played each piece Mr. Thomson, with fine relish and clever pauses, read his own translation of Satie’s program notes. One told the story of an octopus that swallowed a crab that went down the wrong way, “Yachting” was about a pretty passenger who found the sea too rough. “Golf” depicted a British colonel before whom the holes trembled. “Sleighing” showed landscape so cold it shivered.
Despite the lack of seriousness, each piece is a tiny poem and Mr. Masselos played them with a wonderful variety of touch. “Flirtation” wag perhaps the loveliest, but, to borrow from Mr. Thomson’s introduction, each miniature had “concision aptness, acuteness and subtlety of observation.”
The motion picture Mr. Lewis has written his score for is Sait-on jamais, a French film that will be shown here next fall. He and his Modern Jazz Quartet played three excerpts from the score before the Satie and Debussy works and three after them.
Besides Mr. Lewis at the piano, the quartet consists of Milt Jackson at the vibraharp, Percy Heath on double bass and Connie Kay on drums. They play in a most subdued fashion, and the score is a sensitive one. The playful theme for Szorfi, one of the male characters in the film, is especially delightful, and there is a good deal of poignance in the other themes. The excerpts went on a shade too long for concert purposes, but they suggested an intriguing and original film.” (Released in the U.S. as No Sun In Venice).
New York Times, May 13, 1957, page 4
Music: Two Half-Recitals
Martial Singher and Mahalia Jackson Share a Program of Little Cohension
By ROSS PARMENTER
“THE “Music for Moderns” series presented two half-recitals late yesterday afternoon at Town Hall. One says this because the cement that was supposed to hold the two parts of the program together had no cohesive power.
The concert was called “Variations on a Folk Theme” and folk music was supposed to be the binding agent. But the fact that Martial Singher, the distinguished French baritone, sang songs of folk origin was not enough to make his part of the program have any relation to the gospel singing of Mahalla Jackson.
Mr. Singher had the first forty-five minutes. In that time he sang three of Canteloube’s arrangements of “Songs of the Auvergne,” four traditional French songs of the fifteenth century. In arrangements by Roger Quilter and Benjamin Britten, Ravel’s “Quatre chants populaires” and Mussorgsky’s “Trepak.” Always he was a conscientious artist, but it was only in three of the Ravel songs that his voice seemed to have sufficient fullness and ease. Elsewhere his tones, especially in soft passages, tended to sound dry.
Paul Ulanowsky was the musicianly accompanist. Miss Jackson had two accompanists: Mildred Falls, who was at the piano at the left and who rippled most of the time; and Louise Overball, who was at the Hammond organ on the right providing an underlying drone that only became conspicuous occasionally, but which, when it did, provided a movie palace overtone to Miss Jackson’s sincere outpouring of feeling.
Miss Jackson’s numbers were not listed in the program, but she went, with scarcely perceptible pauses, from “I’m Going to My Home” to “Holy Bible,” “Take All My Sins Away,” “It Don’t Cost Very Much,” “Didn’t It Rain” and others. Altogether she sang for four minutes short of an hour.
Her tones varied from huge to small, sometimes with disconcerting suddenness, but always there was an underlying beat so insistent that it continued through the silences. It began to have a hypnotic effect, and before the concert was over members of the audience were clapping in time. Only a little speech by Miss Jackson reconciled her listeners to her ceasing when she did.
New York Times, May 20, 1957, page 28
Music: A Bang-Up Finale
Jazz-Classical Concert Series Ends With Program Featuring Percussionists
By ROSS PARMENTER
“MUSIC FOR MODERNS,” a series of four concerts that combined jazz and concert music, came to an end late yesterday afternoon at Town Hall. The last concert had the same sort of imaginative planning and careful preparation as the first two. One might say it provided a bang-up finale, for it featured percussion instruments.
The title was “‘New Dimensions.” To be a little more precise about it, the first half, played by the Chico Hamilton Quintet, showed jazz performers reaching out to incorporate some of the resources of classical music; whereas the second half showed composers of concert music utilizing instruments that have been exploited chiefly by jazz musicians.
Carlos Chavez, Alan Hovhaness and Carlos Surinach were the concert composers. It was striking to hear with how much greater assurance they moved in the rhythmic world of the percussionists than the jazz players moved in the concert field. The Chavez work was “Toccata for Percussion” and the Surinach score “Ritmo Jondo,” both of which have become quite well known. Mr. Hovhaness’ work was a new one called “October Mountain.”
All three were taut, cohesive pieces with an exact calculation of instrumental effects for expressive purposes. The jazz works, on the other hand, though they clearly had something to say and showed a good deal of instrumental invention, were inclined to be tentative, a little rambling and not always too well matched in their various sections.
Fred Katz’s “Concerto Petite,” for instance, had a wonderful solo section in which Mr. Hamilton did hardly anything but brush cymbals with his fan-like steel brushes—and Mr. Hamilton made the most of it—but it was hard to see why such a virtuoso interpolation had an organic role in a work that featured the violin. In Mr. Katz’s “Lord Randall,” too, not all the sections hung together.
Mr. Katz, the cellist of the quintet, formerly played in the National Symphony of Washington. The double bass player in the Hamilton group is Carson Smith, and he was also heard as a composer in his “Folk Lore,” a witty musical description of a revival meeting. All five members were credited with composing “Walkin’ Carson Blues,” whose highlight was Mr. Katz’ solo, which showed a cello could be surprisingly effective singing the blues.
Much of the interest of the quintet derives from its unusual combination of instruments. Besides the drums, cello and double bass, it has an electric guitar played by John Pisano, and, alternately, a clarinet, flute, piccolo and alto sax, all played by Paul Horn. Never once did the players blare, and the tonal ensemble always fell easily and gracefully on the ear.
Mr. Surinach led the six men of the Music for Moderns Percussion Ensemble in the three final works. Anahid Ajemian, who with her husband, George Avakian, sponsored the series, was the violinist in Mr. Katz’s concerto.”
New York Times, May 27, 1957, page 27