Saxophonist Kenneth Radnofsky of the New England Conservatory faculty performs a concert on February 17 that includes premieres, commissions, and other works with a thread of personal associations, as Radnofsky explains in this note, written Saturday January 4, 2014, 11:51 a.m. "aboard the NEC (Northeast Corridor and New England Conservatory)."
All Aboard the Northeast Corridor (NEC)
Tonight we perform some of the finest music I know by the world's greatest composers, American composers from the area commonly known as the "Northeast Corridor" and sharing the same commonly used acronym "NEC." I am grateful for all of their musical contributions over many years, the opportunity to perform their music, and for the friendships of the late Donald Martino, as well as David Amram, Jeremy Van Buskirk, and Michael Horvit, who are attending tonight's concert.
"The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is a fully electrified railway line that serves the Northeast megalopolis of the United States …" Indeed all of the composers on tonight's concert made their way on/through this corridor, Michael Horvit born in Brooklyn and a proud graduate of Boston Latin School and Boston University, Jeremy Van Buskirk living in Boston after his studies here, by way of NY state (and please note their music, as well as the train is also "electrified" tonight), Donald Martino (who often took the train, especially in the early years as he taught at Yale, Princeton, and later Harvard, Brandeis, New England Conservatory (the other "NEC"), and ironically that same train on which I am writing my program notes, at this moment.
"Northeast Regional, just arriving Stamford, Conn.," chants the (train) conductor, where one of my heroes, Benny Goodman lived, whom I tried to call on a residency in Stamford after obtaining his phone number 20 odd years ago. The phone wasn't answered. I read in the paper, just a day later, that he died that previous day. I offer his signature "Goodbye" by Gordon Jenkins as a tribute to the jazz musician who commissioned some of the most important classical works for clarinet, by Copland, Hindemith, and Bartok. He was perhaps the first and most successful of the musicians who were equally versed in classical and jazz, classically trained, but venturing forth, creating and personifying a lasting Art in our Civilization—"Swing."
The same may be said of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, and David Amram as composers. Gershwin's Three Preludes (1926) just sing the words. I hear "Broadway" following the triplets in the first movement, a lonely walk in NY at night in movement 2, and a walk along the avenue in movement 3, complete with car horns at the beginning of the movement, presented in cluster and syncopated form. Three Preludes is "An American in NY."
Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Mass., and closely identified with the NY Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Koussevitzky, and Tanglewood (also a graduate of Boston Latin School—and NEC day student). More than once Bernstein and Gershwin traveled the corridor for a musical opening in Boston before NY. The Clarinet Sonata of Bernstein (1941) was his first published work, written at the age of 23, after a summer at Tanglewood, and was premiered at the Institute of Modern Art in Boston with his friend David Glazer on clarinet and Leonard Bernstein on piano. It was played a year later in NY with clarinetist David Oppenheim. It shows the Mozartian brilliance of the young composer, but containing the same harmonies, rhythms and even parts of melodies one can hear in West Side Story. I clearly hear "Somewhere." It was at this same time that Bernstein first met Koussevitzky and Copland (as well as Hindemith) in his summers at Tanglewood, and soon began developing his relationship to the unique American musical. On the Town (1944) was created in the idiom earlier explored by Gershwin (which really was a bridge from/to opera), Jerome Kern, Rodgers, Hart and later Hammerstein, and so many more. From tragedy to comedy; Bernstein's music and musicmaking was Shakespearean in scope, as he represented both style and substance, and an American vitality, in every note.
David Amram was first composer-in-residence with the NY Philharmonic, chosen by Bernstein, and although not born in NY, became part of the NY culture beginning in the mid 1950s, as a classical, jazz, blues performer/composer (a multicultural self-trained pragmatic ethnomusicologist/performer who studies, sings, and plays music on every instrument one could imagine from ethnic flutes, to egyptian shanai, dumbek, penny whistle, piano and french horn, all the while performing with the "beat" poets, writing incidental music for Joseph Papp for Shakespeare in the Park, living for many years in Greenwich Village, and developing an ability to reflect the emotions of a time and place, individuals and cultures, that has no peer. I wish there were more like David, but that is not possible, as he and all the others represented here are American originals.
"A delay on the tracks, we are reversing direction after stopping on the track to allow another train to pass," says the conductor, almost apologetically. I have never gone in reverse on a train for 10 minutes! But perhaps I have actually gained more time. Later—"Train arriving Penn Station. Watch your step. very cold and icy, all doors may not work,"—all is a reminder that some things never change. Perhaps this is as it should be. I have more time to write as we are stopped for 15 minutes, I continue to Philadelphia to visit my daughter Julia, and return to NY on the same "Northeast Regional" tomorrow to rehearse with David and Damien, as we will be receiving the 3rd movement and last installment of Greenwich Village Portraits at a studio near Carnegie Hall, where we will rehearse. I am very lucky to live a musical life; and I love the Northeast Corridor where these composers' musics were born.