Jim’s Blog – International Flavors 7/4/12

Jim Berkenstock, Photo by Bill Jacobs

Midsummer’s Music has four concerts coming up from Friday, July 6 through Tuesday, July 10. They include music of one of France’s most famous composers, Camille Saint-Saens, and a big work by a composer well known in Norway, Christian Sinding (the most famous Norwegian composer after Edvard Grieg). The third piece on the program, however, is by a composer all but forgotten until recently. His name is Theodor Blumer. I guess I first came across this German composer’s music through recordings a few years ago. However, it was a recent trip that brought him closer to my awareness.

Jean and I had decided to go on a cruise this past spring to celebrate her 43 years at Lyric Opera of Chicago as Principal Flute. We flew to Berlin and, after a few days exploring that venerable city, boarded a cruise ship on the Elbe River. For the next eight days, we sailed leisurely toward Prague making numerous stops along the way to explore scenic places and interesting river cities. One such city was Dresden, a city sometimes referred to as “The Florence on the Elbe.”

Dresden is well known for the Allied bombing raid that devastated much of the city in February, 1945, just months before the end of World War II. The raid was conducted, in part, with fire bombs instead of concussion bombs. Despite the devastating civilian toll and wide-spread destruction, the fire bombs, while incinerating anything that would burn, left the massive stone walls of many important buildings standing. Most of these burned-out hulks have been restored to pre-war magnificence.

This is especially true of the famous Dresden Semper Opera House. Dating back over 200 hundred years, this building and institution was home to Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner, and nine of Richard Strauss’s fifteen operas were premiered there. Jean and I took a tour and saw how magnificently the interior has been restored in every detail. We felt moved to be in this historic building, particularly because we have worked with conductors and singers who were closely associated with the Dresdner Staatsoper, and we have performed many of the works that originated there. Some of the musicians from their great orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapell, came aboard our ship that evening to play some Haydn and Mozart for us. What a treat!

However, it was not until we got home that I realized an additional connection. I had already written the program notes for our Midsummer’s Music Festival program book before we left on our cruise, so I should have remembered that Theodor Blumer, this relatively unknown composer, was born and worked in Dresden. But, having written about over twenty composers and works in just a few short weeks, Blumer never entered my mind while in Dresden.

It was only when we got back and I had to start practicing the music for this year’s festival that something caught my eye. At the top of the page of my part for Blumer’s Sextet for Winds and Piano, it says (in German), “Dedicated in friendship to the wind section of the Dresdner Staatsoper.” Blumer lists the five wind players from about 100 years ago in this dedication – players who did in their time in Dresden, just what Jean and I have been doing at Lyric Opera of Chicago for the past forty-some years. The bassoon player, Wilhelm Knockenhauer, is a name familiar to me because he devised a style and shape of bassoon reed still used by many players, myself included.

Suddenly, the composer of this charming and inventive work seemed, largely due to several chance factors, to have become more personally significant to me. You have a chance to get acquainted with Theodor Blumer, Christian Sinding, and Camille Saint-Saens at Bjorklunden on Friday evening, July 6, or on Saturday, July 7th at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in Ephraim. Both of these concerts are at 7:30. The program will be heard at The Clearing on Sunday, July 8th at 2:00 pm. Tuesday, July 10th offers the opportunity to hear the program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sister Bay at 6:30, or the prospect of making a full evening of it with a pre-concert reception and a post-concert dinner at The Mission Grille Restaurant. For reservations or further information, please call 920-854-7088, or click the Online Store link at the top of this page. You, too, will feel a connection with three fascinating and expressive composers from a long time ago.

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