Today would have been my father’s 77th birthday. He was a composer and played a big part in my musical development. We often played music together, and talked about music (along with baseball and politics), from when I was in elementary school until he passed away three-plus years ago. I miss him terribly.
My dad wrote works for various instrumentation from chamber works to pieces for full orchestra – my favorite, of course, is the one he wrote for me, which my wife and I recorded for his Albany Records CD, released in 2006. It’s a perfect example of his musical style, which I once described as both intense and subtle. Here’s an excerpt:
Classical music has long been a family business, from the Bachs and Mozarts to more modern examples like Sergei Prokofiev and his grandson Gabriel. I wrote about one of Gabriel’s works in a previous post – sometimes the apple falls a little farther from the tree!
Recently, I was reminded of the extra power music has when it’s inspired by the closeness of family.
Dmitri Shostakovich was known for music that reflected his difficult life in Soviet Russia – nearly all of his works contain sarcasm and harsh writing. However, I recently was exposed to a different side of Shostakovich, in his 2nd Piano Concerto. The piece was written for his son, Maxim, for his 19th birthday, and Maxim performed the solo part at his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory.
Last month, I played this piece with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. The excellent soloist was pianist/composer Huw Watkins, who has a family musical connection of his own – his brother Paul is the cellist in the Emerson String Quartet. They have recorded several cello-piano works including Huw’s own – you can learn more here.
Our music director, David Danzmayer, reminded us in rehearsal of the story behind the concerto as we rehearsed the slow movement, which sounds nothing like any Shostakovich I’d ever heard. The directness and love expressed in this piece can’t be missed, and it sounds in places like Rachmaninoff:
There are lots more examples of music inspired by the closeness of family, and I’ve put a few of them on a new Spotify playlist, including my dad’s cello-piano piece and a song cycle he dedicated to my mom. As usual, it’s open to additions from you – please add your favorite piece of music that has a family connection!
In closing, I’ll share one more, that was a particular favorite of my dad’s. He was a jazz musician early on, and passed on to me a love for Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson. One of our favorite groups was the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Band. I remember going to see them at the Village Vanguard when I was about 12 – how he got me into a place like that at that age is beyond me, but it was incredible.
Here’s Thad Jones’s best-known tune, whose title says it all: “A Child Is Born.”
Happy Birthday, Dad – I miss you.