Friday, March 20, 2015


FIRST, THE MONEY      0921

In memoirs he wrote in 1896, conductor Luigi Arditi recalls a situation in which a stubborn baritone named Novara pursued his demand for money all the way into a performance.

Novara had agreed to sing the part of Rocco for three performances of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio with the understanding that, like everyone else in the company, he would be paid in advance.

His payment for the first performance went well enough, but on the second night he had to go to a lot of trouble to get paid, and so Novara made it clear that he would not sing the third performance until he had his money in hand.

He arrived at the theater, put on his costume, and asked the impresario’s agent for his money, only to be told that impresario James Henry Mapleson was dining out and had forgotten to sign a check for him,

Novara told the agent, Levelly by name, that he wasn’t going to sing until he was paid. Find Mapleson and get the money, he demanded.

“I don’t know where he is,” Levelly said, all too aware that curtain time was approaching. “Here, take my watch as a guarantee, Novara, and for God’s sake, get into your clothes.”

The baritone stood his ground. “I don’t require your watch, man. I want my money, and unless I get it before the curtain rises, I shall take off this damned wig, and the stage carpenter can sing the role of Rocco.”

Levelly ran from the theater and hailed a cab for parts unknown in search of Mapleson.

When the curtain rose and Rocco sang his first aria offstage, conductor Arditi was startled to hear a voice that sounded strangely like that of the stage manager. About then, Levelly ran back into the theater, dripping with sweat, having come up with the necessary cash from nowhere. He stuffed it into Novaro’s hand, and the stubborn baritone rushed onto the stage just in time to save the performance.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


The Right Season 1230

“I think they’re very interesting. You should learn them.” So said Alfredo Antonini to violinist Louis Kaufman in the autumn of 1947. The Columbia Broadcastin System’s music director had just said much the same thing in the hope that Kaufman would perform the distinctive 200-year-old Vivaldi concertos in an upcoming concert. Kaufman was reluctant. He had never heard of the four concertos known collectively as The Four Seasons

Two days later Kaufman got a call from Samuel Josefowitz, the co-owner of Concert Hall Records,  wondering if Kaufman could record some concertos for solo instrument and small orchestra during a visit to New York. Kaufman mentioned the Vivaldi concertos and Josefowitz snapped up the idea because Vivaldi was all but unknown to performers and concert goers.

Josefowitz had another reason to be eager. The President of the American Federation of Musicians had banned all recordings after December 31, 1947, unless record companies accepted his terms requiring the payment of domestic royalties to the Federation rather than to the musicians. The big companies – RCA, Columbia and Decca – had big stockpiles of unreleased discs that they could use to skirt the ultimatum. Smaller companies like Concert Hall Records were working hard to stockpile recordings before the deadline.

Josefowitz hired string players from the New York Philharmonic and conductor Henry Swoboda and rented Carnegie Hall for the last four nights of the year, with the sessions in the tightly-booked hall to begin at midnight. Kaufman received the Vivaldi scores from CBS the day before he boarded the train from Los Angeles. He studied them en route and found them enchanting.

The musicians were charmed too. Despite the late hour and their fatigue from being overbooked, they worked with enthusiasm and completed the very first recording of The Four Seasons just hours before the deadline, at four o’clock in the morning of December 31, 1947.