February 23rd, 1956 season. Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
February 23rd, 1956 season. Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
One of the first statements often heard from visitors to Rochester is, “this is a stunning city.” And who could argue that, with such a deep aura of refined history? Last month one contributor to Rochester’s elegant and extensive musical history would have turned 100 years old. Born in 1912, Maestro Erich Leinsdorf was principal conductor of the RPO from 1947-1955. In all honesty M. Leinsdorf was not known to be the most gracious person, or to have a particularly genuine affinity for Rochester. But he was a great artist whose work included performances and appointments with the Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Regardless of his infamous quote that “Rochester is the best disguised dead end in the world,” (perhaps he was wading through inches of rain or feet of snow that day), he is deserving of a Happy Birthday tribute. Have a listen to the recording above. It features the Rochester Philharmonic playing for him to celebrate his birthday at the start of a February rehearsal during the 1956 season. This recording was interestingly posted by the son of a Rochester Philharmonic musician who often hid recording devices to capture RPO moments. And note, we disagree with a “well-disguised dead end.” Just look at the fantastic music directors that Rochester has attracted, including our current Arild Remmereit; Christopher Seaman, Eugene Goossens, José Iturbi, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman, and Mark Elder. And such illustrious guest conductors as Fritz Reiner, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Leopold Stokowski.
Recent articles of note:
Conductor-Lars Ulrik Mortensen
I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step
Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare
To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill
And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop — docile and omnipotent –
At its own stable door.
The silent arrows of trains crossing over the landscape in the middle of the night is an image I have never been able to shake. To many, trains are an inconvenience, inconsistent, annoying, and mostly uncomfortable. To me, they are the unsung heroes of travel. With a history as deep and as rich as any one country or peoples, trains have spanned the decades as workhorses for commerce. They have carried everyone from our greatest dignitaries to our struggling families from one pointe to another, traversing mountain passes, bridges, snow banks, hills and valleys, glens and streams. Today I write in honour of the engines that have carried me through and to some of the most magical places on earth as National Train Day arrives. This is my homage. A virtual collage of memories, some now faded, thoughts, photos and findings.
I spent much of my childhood chasing my great uncle Bob down the path from his gardens to the train tracks that ran through Lyons, N.Y. The same line that my great grandfather had worked years before I was born. Uncle Bob spent summers trekking my brother and I back and forth to those tracks as we learned the train schedules and made demands to be standing at our posts just feet from the tracks a good few minutes before the train was due, anticipating that rush of air that blows past with the dinging of the railroad crossing bells and lights and whistles. Our own multi-media show, well before the time of video games and iPhones. As we ambled back, Uncle Bob would be sure to try and distract us from the next ten trips we would ask for that day by offering us pennies for found locust shells, braiding garlic with us picked from the acre of gardens, or playing Oistrakh on the phonograph. Though all of those were noble distractions, the call of the train often won out.
As I grew older, I started to have less time to stand and wait for trains to rush by, and the times I happened upon a crossing were mini glimpses into the recesses of my memory, of summers imbued with the scent of wildflowers and roses and grapes and of my Uncle’s and Aunt’s parlor. The world of study and music took over those moments of hot summer days standing by the iron and wooden tracks. But as those days became less frequent my traveling became more pronounced and as many times as I could, I boarded a train. There were my first trips to Europe in my twenties. London. Trains into the countryside. Then my thirties with trains throughout Italy. The fantastical travels to the coast and from Rome to Sicily that included the entire train being carried by ferry to the island. Moments armed with little of the language and a lot of frizzante. Sleepless hours of watching the shadows of Spain out large windows from compartments. Tours from the east coast to the midwest with nothing but my violin case and a satchel and sheets of sonatas and chamber music frayed at the edges. And as the years whirled by, novels read, scores studied and learned. Friends made. Consistent. Whether slightly delayed or horribly late or punctually on time, in their own magnificent way they were always consistent. Through moves, and changes and the beginnings of aging, trains are the constant. From the time I was a toddler with my mum and my brother, each of us stuffed beneath a protective arm. To now, four decades later. They have been the only constant. Through heart aches and joys and running away from and running to, they are the comfort. The rocking of the cars. The gentle bumps of the tracks. The changing countryside and weather and clouds. Spinning. A warm cocoon even on the coldest days with the ice building up between the cars and the wheels fighting for traction.
So as National Train Day arrives today, this is my thank you. My thank you to the porters and the conductors and the kind persons I have met crossing the countries of the world. For the conversations, the spontaneous card games with strangers, the solace, the space to read and write and study and listen to great music. My traveling office, my chariot to places with mystery and grace. I can only hope that as my later years find me, I will be finding myself with a friend, a glass of wine and my caftan riding the rails of the Orient Express or through the mountains of Europe.
But for now, in the middle of my life, as my mum did before me with her nana. As my mum did with me, taking the Amtrak train across the fine state of New York to visit my great uncle Bob and his wife and her sisters all those summers ago, now I take the same tracks with my daughter to visit her on her “farm,” still hearing the calls of “All Aboard” and reveling in the greatness of train travel and the greatness of all things coming full circle. Someday perhaps she will write her own homage to the engines that take her to great places and grant her the gift of meeting people from all over the world and savouring a few moments of humanity…from a tiny seat beside a window, beside the earth whizzing by.
When I was five, we left the city of Schenectady to move to a small village. For those precious five years, much of the springtime was spent sitting on the stoop. Once we were in the village it was a porch. Wonderful as well, but just not the same vibe. Now as adults, we have moved back to a city, and my two and a half-year old is enjoying the same pleasures I did as a “tiny giant.” P.S., that is her nickname for herself. I have no idea where it came from, but I love it. I digress…that tiny giant has been spending hours sitting on the stoop watching the world travel by in its various forms. Wagons, and yellow taxis, SUV’s and bicycles. Two feet and four feet. And all of the variations. Then one day, recently, today in fact, she decided to turn her attention from the street of colourful characters and their methods of transportation to the stoop itself, rough-hewn boards of texture just beckoning to her sidewalk chalk. As she drew “pockets,” her other obsession, with the vibrant chalk, I began to study the grain of the wood.
So, I photographed the grain sketches with the intention of printing them and sending them out into the world to greet friends that are sorely missed. So I will be, in a sense, sharing my stoop with people in far off places and dreaming of how they are moving about their day, in a taxi on a bicycle, or in a wagon.
My coming home to Rochester, NY was not like the Yankees returning home after the championship. There was not a ticker tape parade or screaming fans. But what there was were wonderful friends and my Mum and Father. And in my Mum’s hand was a set of old keys. And in the way back of my Father’s car an old trunk. Not unlike the show American Pickers, my parents have spent much of their time on earth collecting pieces of American history. Objects and items that have been loved by people from the past. This trunk was no different. My Mum had come across it at an antique store that was closing. The sign on it said ten dollars, and the trunk was locked, with no evidence of the matching key. As she returned home to “Rainbow Farm” (our family name for their 6 acres of land that often sports a rainbow over its hills), she was determined to find out what treasures lie within. Unearthing a ring of keys from my Father’s stash of collectibles, unclaimed skeleton keys and such on a key ring stamped with the words New York, she marched with purpose towards the trunk. Lo and behold, one of them fit that trunk and the magical treasures were revealed. Spectacles and letters sent home from far away travels and postcards that were over 100 years old. I hope that in this explosive electronic age, we never forget to hold respect and honour possessions of the past, and learn from them and pass them onward into the hands of others who will love and care for them. We are afterall, each museums, carrying information of the past and looking forward to the future. The trunk has become a museum for my daughter, for her future. A collection of treasures and letters and cards and shells and stones and pebbles and marbles and…