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April 29, 2011

A tip of the hat to one-of-a-kind conductor Sir Thomas Beecham

Among the musical notables born on April 29 was Sir Thomas Beecham (in 1879), and 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of his death. So that's reason a-plenty to give him a little salute here.

Beecham enjoyed nearly as much fame for his wit as for his incandescent music-making. Just a few examples of Beecham quips: “There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn't give a damn what goes on in between.” "A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it." Addressed to a female cellist during an orchestral rehearsal: “Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands - and all you can do is scratch it.”

Beecham's ability to shape a score with an ear for a singing line and refined instrumental coloring should not be forgotten. He had something, that's for sure, and it's always rewarding to spend some time exploring his legacy. Here's a taste -- newsreel footage of Beecham introducing the London Philharmonic with a dash of Tchaikovsky (from the absurdly under-appreciated Symphony No. 3); a radio broadcast (introduced by Lionel Barrymore) of a charming piece by Delius; and a segment from a documentary that includes interviews and a rehearsal of ballet music from Gounod's "Faust."

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:11 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Comments

iN THE LATE '40'S EARLY '50'S WHEN I WAS AS STUDENT AT FOREST PARK HIGH SCHOOL, WE HAD A CLUB CALLED THE CLASSICS CLUB. WE HAD SPEAKERS COME TO US AFTER SCHOOL AND SPEAK ABOUT MUSIC. i KNEW THAT SIR THOMAS WAS TO COME TO BALTIMORE TO GUEST CONDUCT THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA, SO I WROTE TO HIS MANAGER TO SEE IF HE WOULD COME AND SPEAK TO US. A WEEK LATER I GOT A PHONE CALL FROM HIS MANAGER, ASKING WHAT WOULD BE THE "REMUNERATION" I HAD TO ASK MY FATHER WHAT THAT MEANT. I SAID THAT WE COULD NOT PAY, BUT I KNEW THAT HE LOVED CIGARS AND WOULD GET HIM SOME. MY FATHER WENT AND BOUGHT A GOOD BOTTLE OF SCOTCH AND A BOX OF CUBAN CIGARS(LEGAL THEN) SIR THOMAS ARRIVED, LOVED THE GIFTS AND SPEND AN HOUR WITH US TELLING US HIS STORIES AND LOVE OF MUSIC. HE ALSO INVITED ALL OF US(15 KIDS) TO THE CONCERT. I WENT BACK STAGE IN LONDON AFTER A CONCERT WITH SIR THOMAS IN 1959 TO PAY MY RESPECTS. HE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID, "I REMEMBER THOSE CIGARS IN BALTIMORE." A FANTASTIC PERSON AND WONDERFUL CONDUCTOR

Thanks for the great story. How cool to know that Beecham had such a cool Baltimore visit. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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