Louis Frémaux, French Maestro Led Birmingham And Sydney Orchestras

Beethoven Symphony No. 7 with Sydney Symphony Orchestra – Watch on YouTube

Louis Frémaux was a French-born conductor (and former French Foreign Legionnaire) who led the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (1968-1978) and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (1979-1982). His first musical directorship was with the Orchestre Philharmonique Rhône-Alpes (1969-1971).

In Birmingham, he formed the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus with baritone Gordon Clinton as Chorus Master. He was awarded an honorary DMus from Birmingham University and joined the Royal Academy of Music. Unfortunately, his tenure ended due to deteriorating relationship with the musicians, and he was replaced by the then-25 year old Simon Rattle.

His discography includes over 50 works, including of John McCabe’s “Nottuni ed Alba” and Second Symphony, for which he received a special citation from the Koussevitzky Jury.

Louis Frémaux, August 13, 1921-March 20, 2017

Saint-Saens The Carnival of the Animals, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – On Spotify

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Minnesota Maestro

Bruckner Symphony No. 9 with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony–Watch on YouTube

During the 60s and 70s Stanislaw Skrowaczewski was kind of a musical version of Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins: he helped the Minnesota Orchestra increase its standing in the big leagues.

During his tenure  (1960-79), he oversaw the change in name from the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra to the more state-embracing Minnesota Orchestra (1968). He facilitated the move from rented quarters (Northrup Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus) to Orchestra Hall, an architecturally and acoustically noteworthy home of its own (1974).* He expanded the Orchestra’s membership and season to 50 weeks a year. He conducted a concert at the U.N. on Human Rights Day (1965) and hosted a guest appearance of Stravinsky (1966).

Unlike the current music director, Osmo Vänskä, however, he does not appear to have had quite as distinguished a recording career. In my research of a number of classical guides, I only found one mention of a Skrowaczewski recording. It was as an “Additional Recommendation” in the Gramophone Classics Music Guide 2012 for Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 in D MinorThe Guide’s recommendation was for a version with the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, not the Minnesota Orchestra’s recording, which I reference below. The Minnesota Orchestra uses the original 1894 version and the Nowak edition, which came out in 1951.

*Tonally it is one of the most remarkable concert halls in the world.”–New York Times, October 23, 1974

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor: I. Feirerlich, misterioso with Minnesota Orchestra on Spotify

Karel Husa, Emigre Czech Composer

“Music for Prague 1968″–Watch on YouTube

Karl Husa was a Czech composer and conductor who emigrated to the United States in the 1950s. He is perhaps best known for “Music for Prague 1968,” a composition that he was inspired to write after he heard news of the Soviet invasion of his home country.

As explained on the LA Philharmonic website, the piece employs a 15th century Czech song, “Ye Warriors of God and His Law,” and uses the symbolism of various instruments throughout. The sound of bells, both as a sign of victory and distress, appear as a major theme in the piece. (Prague is known as the “City of A Hundred Spires.”) A piccolo solo represents a bird, itself a symbol for the liberty that has been so fleeting in Prague history.

“Music for Prague 1968” was originally scored for concert band and later transcribed for full orchestra.

Husa (August 7, 1921-December 14, 2016) was on the faculty of Cornell for nearly 40 years. He received a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1969 for his “String Quartet No. 3.”

“String Quartet No. 3: Allegro Moderato” on Spotify


Sir Neville Marriner, Founder & Conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields

“Piano Concerton No. 20 in D Minor, K.466”

I would be falling down in my role as civic booster if I did not mention that Sir Neville Marriner was music director of my hometown orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, between 1979-1986.

But it was as founder and conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields that Sir Neville is most remembered. Begun in 1958, the Academy was made up of 12 of the best musicians in London, hand-picked by Sir Neville. Marriner (April 15, 1924-October 2, 2016) was an accomplished musician at the time, serving as principal second violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra.

According to his obituary in The Telegraph, Sir Neville made some 600 recordings of 2,000 musical works and the Academy is the world’s the most-recorded orchestra. Among their recordings was the soundtrack for the Mozart biopic Amadeus for which they won a Grammy. The Academy was known (quoting The Telegraph) for its “fresh, technically brilliant, interpretations of the pre-classical and classical repertoire,” but it moved on to Romantic and early-modern music. In the process, the ensemble grew to about 70 musicians.

“Requiem, K. 626. Rex Tremendae Majestatis” on Spotify


Robert Page, Grammy-Winning Choral Conductor and Educator

Samuel Barber “We Have Lost,” Carnegie Mellon Concert Choir

My mother was a choir director and music teacher with a life-long love of orchestral choral music. I regret that I didn’t share her love for the genre while she was alive, nor did I seek to gain a better appreciation for it with her help. Perhaps this post is partial atonement, in honor of her memory.

Robert Page (April 27, 1927-August 7, 2016) conducted choruses for the Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Symphony. His last academic appointment was with Carnegie Mellon University (my mother’s alma mater) from which he retired in 2013. CMU published this tribute in recognition of his many years of service to the university.

Page believed singers should be treated as professionals, not merely as volunteers. He created The Robert Page Singers in part to establish paid positions for vocalists.

He won two Grammy Awards for recordings of choral works by Carl Orff: “Catulli Carmina” with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (1968) and “Carmina Burana” with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Cleveland Orchestra (1976).