Parnassus Blog

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Recent events have been reminding me of experiences from my past. One of my most vivid concert memories comes from Carnegie Hall in 1965. Gyorgy Sandor played all three of Bartók's Piano Concertos in a concert commemorating the 20th anniversary of his teacher and mentor's death. Without reference to the program--which I'm sure I still have--I can even remember that the orchestra was the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gregory Millar, a name I know otherwise only from some classical recordings on the Fantasy label.

This amazing performance was the only time I heard Sandor perform in person. When the Bard Music Festival devoted a year to Bartók, Sandor was invited, but only as a speaker. I got to meet him then and chat briefly with him. I am glad I was able to tell him how much his superb records of Bartók's music had pervaded my life. His world premiere recording of the Third Piano Concerto, with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, remains in my collection, along with his Vox recordings of the Piano Concertos (despite the sometimes shaky orchestral playing) and virtually all of Bartók's solo piano music. They remain great treasures.

I don't think Sandor minded his identification as Bartók's pupil and proponent, but he was probably under-rated as a pianist overall. Many of his Columbia and Vox LPs of music by other composers are still worth hearing. His recent death ends a particularly valuable career, and we will miss him.

We will also miss Nikita Magaloff, whose many Philips and Concert Hall recordings will keep his memory alive.

For more than a decade I have been doing volunteer teaching for the Center for Lifetime Studies, a senior program affiliated with Marist College. CLS sometimes sends its teachers to do programs at senior citizen homes, and thus I wound up one afternoon at a large, luxurious senior residence in Milbrook, New York, called The Fountains. After my presentation, a number of the attendees came over to thank me for coming. One of them was a beautiful old white-haired woman, who told me, "I am not a musical expert, but I know a little about it because I was once married to a musician." I asked her for his name, in case I might know of him. "His name," she told me, "was Emanuel Feuermann."

I actually felt my knees go weak.

When Emanuel Feuermann died in 1941, he left a widow, Eva. Because Feuermann had fled the Nazis and had not yet been able to build up savings, Eva was left with very little money. She became a kindergarten teacher. Eventually she remarried. I found out later from others that, despite her modesty, she was actually very well informed about music and was involved in presenting chamber music in New York. After she was widowed for the second time, she moved to The Fountains. She was pleased to learn that I was the person who had reissued on LP, for the first time, two of Feuermann's major recordings, the first release on my Parnassus LP label. She had long owned and treasured a copy.

We met for lunch several times after that, at The Fountains. On one of these visits, she showed me a videotape transfer of the only film of Feuermann playing, a video which has recently been released by Cello Classics ( We also met several times at concerts and plays in Dutchess County and she was always very friendly and gracious.

Eva Feuermann Lehnsen died last month. I'm told she was 91 years old. A piece of our past, and mine, died with her.

In 1990, my wife Tara and I went out one night for some long-forgotten event. Because we wouldn't be home that evening, I set my VCR to record an intriguing-sounding program scheduled for that night by A&E, back in the days when that station was still actually broadcasting arts programs. It was called "The Gifted Ones," and it was about musical prodigies. The next day we got around to watching the tape. All four of the young musicians profiled were impressive, but one of them was truly astonishing: a nine-year-old violinist named Sarah Chang.

From that time on, I have carefully followed Chang's career, and have heard her in person several times. Yehudi Menuhin called her "the most perfect violinist I have ever heard," for reasons I can understand. Fortunately, I saved that A&E video, along with several others I've accumulated over the years. Since Parnassus started producing custom videos, I've been planning to compile all the Chang material I had. We finally have the quality DVD equipment we needed, and that compilation is now available, as PDVD 106. While the single most impressive item on it (the Sarasate "Carmen Fantasy" with orchestra, performed at age 11) has slightly blurry video quality, it's still quite watchable, and the other items are even better. They include three documentary sequences and four complete performances, including two versions of the Sarasate (one with piano, at age ten!). None of this material has ever been issued on commercial video in any format. I am extremely pleased to make this disc available.

When the Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra gives its performances of Beethoven's Mass in C and "Choral Fantasy" on February 26, the first thing it plays after intermission will probably be "Happy Birthday to You." This has become a tradition with this orchestra at its last concert in February, saluting the oldest member of the orchestra: my father, Morris Gerber, who will be 93 on February 28. At 62, I am the oldest person I know personally who still has both of his parents, and I consider myself extremely lucky.

I do come from a musical family. The cellist Janos Starker is a distant cousin. My uncle, Leonard Felberg, had a long and distinguished career as a professor of violin, most recently at the University of New Mexico, and as a performer in the southwest and in South America. (His only solo recording is the Wood Violin Sonata on the Opus One label.) Both of my parents were high level amateur musicians throughout their working lives, although they both earned their livings as school teachers. After they retired from teaching, though, both of them entered the professional ranks: my father as a violinist in the Scranton Symphony and the Ridgefield Symphony, my mother as a chamber music coach at Chamber Music Associates at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

Since they moved to New Mexico, my father has played with the Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra, a community orchestra, which is now directed by my cousin David Felberg. My mother was an accompanist and vocal coach for the UNM opera department, but since she had minor health problems she has restricted herself to occasional chamber music concerts in home settings. The piano soloist in the APO's "Choral Fantasy" will be Lenny's wife (and David's mother) Arlette Felberg, who also taught for years at UNM.

If you're in Albuquerque on February 26--as some Parnassus customers are--do attend the concert on February 26, at 3 PM, at the First United Methodist Church, 314 Lead SW at 4th. And say hi to my father after the concert. You'll get to know who he is when he stands up as the orchestra plays for him. He loves meeting Parnassus customers.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Death of Dorian

Sad news for classical CD collectors at the beginning of February. The last supplier of the Dorian label has now withdrawn its entire catalog.

Dorian was practially our home-town label. It was headquartered in the nearby city of Troy, New York, a locale chosen because of the presence of the wonderful Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, where Dorian made many of its recordings. It was an enthusiastic supporter of all-classical radio station WMHT-FM, and its expert engineers recorded many local concerts for broadcast.

Dorian was an adventurous label. I don't believe it ever made a recording of a Beethoven Symphony, but it recorded and published an extensive series of Latin American music, much of it with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, which turned out to be an excellent orchestra. (Many of these recordings, and some others with the Dallas Symphony, were conducted by the late Eduardo Mata.) Its recordings by Cuarteto Latinoamericano included a complete series of the Villa-Lobos string quartets.

While Dorian was not particularly known for celebrity performers, it did make the first recordings of the wonderful violinist Rachel Barton (now recording for Cedille), and it brought her to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for a wonderful all-Liszt concert which I attended. (Who knew Liszt had composed so much violin music!?) Dorian also made two superb CDs with the pianist Ivan Moravec, an international treasure, and a number with the lesser-known but also excellent Czech pianist Antonin Kubalek.

Dorian will probably be remembered most for its extensive series of early music recordings. I was particularly partial to the Baltimore Consort and its excellent lutanist Ronn McFarlane--especially after hearing McFarlane perform a wonderful solo concert at Woodstock's Maverick Concerts series and then interviewing him for Amazon. McFarlane also collaborated with Julianne Baird on a number of outstanding discs. But Dorian also recorded many other early music groups and much uncommon early music repertoire. It also had an interesting series of folk music recordings.

The outstanding sound quality of the Dorian line might eventually help preserve some of its recordings. Since the best sellers among classical CDs these days seem to be super-bargain labels like Naxos and Brilliant Classics, I hope that a substantial portion of the Dorian catalog will wind up being preserved on one of these labels. It would be a lovely way to remember a worthwhile project.