Homecoming

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Philip Glass’s senior-year student ID, provided by the composer.

Last weekend, minimalism’s reluctant hero returned to his alma mater. My meager coverage for the Maroon doesn’t quite encapsulate the philosophical potency of Mr. Glass’s residency, though I feel fortunate to have attended all of the events and gotten the chance to speak to the composer himself.

The day after our conversation, I was listening to the Kronos Quartet’s recordings of Glass’s quartets when I realized just what it was about Glass’s music I found so compelling. It doesn’t assert itself, selfishly demanding your undivided attention. Rather, it embraces and enhances the world as it—like his music—slowly, inexorably moves around you.

So often artists present audiences with a canvas to survey. For me, Glass’s music is the lens through which we view that image. The image itself is one of our own creation.

The American Prince: Violinist Albert Spalding

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A fresh-faced Spalding, taken before 1910.

The other day, I was listening to a WFMT radio special about Zino Francescatti on WFMT, where I’ve been working this summer. Bill McGlaughlin rattled off a list of other major 20th-century violinists: Heifetz, Menuhin, Szigeti, Elman—the usual suspects.

But there was one name sorely missing, as it always seemed to be: Albert Spalding. It’s not as though Spalding is a total unknown, but I still needed a happy accident to stumble upon his recordings, which I did about six months ago. In any case, I was immediately enraptured by his playing. Spalding has a direct, almost Heifetzian sound, but don’t be fooled: This is no silk-underwear music. Rather, his sound bursts with creative daring, personality, and warmth—qualities Heifetz’s playing often lacked.

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Looking for Lalo

One-hit wonder: Who was Édouard Lalo, anyway?

It’s not too often one hears the music of French composer Édouard Lalo twice in one day. But it happened to me about two weeks ago, beginning with the all-too-familiar opening slashes of Symphonie espagnole, played by an amateur violinist in a luthier’s shop in the Fine Arts Building, and ending with Tanja Tetzlaff’s impassioned performance of Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor at Grant Park. (Review not written by me—but with which I mostly agree—here.)

The brilliance of the first work and the blah-ness of the second got me thinking. Though I’d sawed away at bits of the Symphonie espagnole, like any dutiful fiddler, I realized that I hadn’t been curious about the man behind the notes—until now. Even the irremediable cello concerto piqued my curiosity, as in it one can hear the strainings of a composer trying to outdo himself, to little success.

It made me wonder: What kind of man did Lalo have to be, gripped as he was with creative ingenuity for his Symphonie espagnole, only to have the rest of his output all but disappear from concert halls? Are there other gems to be discovered in his output, languishing under the shadow of the towering violin concerto? Or is Lalo forever damned to join the likes of Carl Orff and Paul Dukas as one of classical music’s one-hit wonders?

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