In 1982 I was pushed into a chair in front of a microphone to back announce Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3." Back then, KPAC was brand new, and had four turntables, reel to reel machines, and a small staff. With no university or college to support us, bringing classical music to San Antonio was a gamble from the get - go. Here are some of my favorite musical moments of the last three decades.
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1982: KPAC was still waiting for permission to begin broadcasting when we heard about Glenn Gould's re-visit to the music that made him a well known artist, Johann Sebastian Bach's "Goldberg's Variations," and this time in stereo and with that new-fangled digital sound. The sound and clarity was something new and the performance more introspective and heartfelt than the pianistic display recorded in 1955. This album had an odd feature to the liner notes on back - they were surrounded by a black band as if it were an obituary. Not too long after this recording came out, Glenn Gould was gone, but KPAC was on the air.
1983: The station's first artist of the year was the Canadian guitarist Liona Boyd fresh from winning the Juno award as Canada's best instrumental artist of the year. Her concert was well received and considering how old most classical guitarists were at the time, she was a true fresh face in music.
1984: The Gramophone magazine upheld the stuffy end of the classical recording industry for years, so it was not surprising that they freaked out when they heard Leonard Bernstein's take on Elgar's "Enigma" Variations with the BBC Philharmonic. The Nimrod variation is heartbreaking and the diminuendo and ritard at the end of the piece was the best ever. No wonder the ultra-British Gramophone was upset by this American upstart.
1985: Being president of the Liszt Society in Britain has its duties, but I don't think anyone ever expected the fellow to do all that new president Leslie Howard undertook in 1985. He proposed to the label Hyperion that he would learn, edit and make sense of all the piano music of Franz Liszt. 99 CDs later the job was finished, as Howard said at the end of this monumental task, "it was the journey of a lifetime".
1986: Young Australian Pianist Geoffrey Tozer came to many music lovers attention with him winning the Liszt Centenary Medallion in 1986. Through the years he would discover and record definitive performances of the music of Busoni and the debt we owe him for making Nikolai Medtner's music accessible to a great many new listeners will not be forgotten. Tozer died far too young in 2009.
Herbert von Karajan came back to Johannes Brahms' first symphony again in 1987. He had the Philharmonie built for his orchestra in the mid 1970's and now he came to terms with the hall, the lush new sound he wanted from the Berlin Philharmonic and a master's grasp of Brahms first symphony or as Hans von Bulow called it, Beethoven's tenth!
1988: In 1988 a 21 year old Joshua Bell recorded his first album with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. With Neville Marriner, Bell recorded the Bruch concerto No. 1 and Mendelssohn's e minor concerto. (Back then we music lovers didn't know about his early d minor concerto). Many years, concerts and recordings have been made by Mr. Bell, and now he is music director of the Academy where he started 30 years ago, demonstrating what goes around, comes around.
1989: Leonard Bernstein proved once again that he understood the big picture when he gathered together the forces to celebrate the sudden change in Eastern Europe with the collapse of the Berlin Wall with a Christmas concert featuring Beethoven's 9th Symphony. To further underline the historic occasion the conductor changed the text in the last movement changing the word "Joy" to "Freedom." In all an amazing performance that summed up the mood perfectly. (See the whole concert in the below video).
1990: The digital fingers beckon. In the 1960's Colin Davis started a Hector Berlioz cycle for the Dutch Philips label. It was here that scores of Berlioz lovers found their Hi-Fi thrills to music that (outside the Symphonie Fantastique) was hard to find and not always well done. With the advent of digital CDs a new cycle was started in 1990 and Davis re-recorded the Fantastique this time of the Vienna Philharmonic.
1991: While it seems that on vinyl records more music was recorded, pressed and sent out to music lovers everywhere, CDs did there share of coming out with music that was new to freshly minted CD jockeys. One was an album of music of Samuel Barber on the high-fidelity Telarc label that was released in 1991. Their recording of "Knoxville 1915", featuring Sylvia McNair was a real standout.
1992: Was the year that American composer Philip Glass demonstrated that he was more than a small ensemble kind of guy with the release of his First Symphony, "Low."
1993: This was the year that the influential musicologist, H.C. Robbins Landon, thought he had the discovery of a lifetime when he authenticated six Haydn piano sonatas that turned out to be forged. Outside this small misstep he was one of the most important classical music researchers in the later half of the Twentieth Century, and surprising to some, he was an American. It was his liner notes and book on Haydn that convinced KPAC board member Ron Moore that the station should start its broadcasting with a Joseph Haydn Symphony cycle - begin with No. 1 and count up to the last of the London Symphonies, No. 104.
1994: A musician whose music I grew up with - Raymond Scott died at the age of 85. His busy, rhythmic scores underlined the action in many of the Warner Bros. cartoons from the thirties and forties, although he never composed for cartoons. These works were adapted and because they fit so well they like his famous "Powerhouse" his music returned to prominence in the Ren & Stimpy cartoons. And yes, KPAC has aired some of his music.
1995: This year was the 300th anniversary of Henry Purcell's death. Many recordings came of that year and one ensemble that always pleased was the group Fretwork.
1996: Pierre Boulez shifted part of his energies into conducting and in 1996 an album he conducted with Cleveland Orchestra on the Deutsche Gramophone label won the Best Classical Album Grammy. All this time later and Boulez continues to make music. One of my favorites from that album is Debussy's "La Mer."
1997: Violinist Nikolaj Znaider won first prize in the 1997 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition. Passionate about music education Znaider founded the Nordic Music Academy that teaches refinement and commitment to young musicians every summer. After ten years of teaching and concertizing, he has turned his attentions to recordings which are now coming out.
1998: This year saw the premiere of Charles Ives's "Emerson Concerto" by the Cleveland Orchestra and pianist Alan Feinberg. Ives is the crotchety American composer that thought musical prizes "were for school boys" and brought bi-tonality "kicking and screaming into American concert halls."
1999: Cross-over music. Some die-hard classical listeners consider this the soundtrack to the end times and others? They respond to the personalities involved and give it a shot. In 1999 American cellist Yo-Yo Ma recorded an album of music of the ultimate cross-over composer Astor Piazzolla. Entitled "Soul of the Tango" it won a Grammy for…you guessed it - Best Cross-Over Album.
2000: Y2K and trying to remember not to write 199_ on a check - remember those things? So much was changing, and classical music remained a constant for many of us who sometimes questioned the speed and amount of change that was being pushed on us as the century came to a close. But even with new calendars, KPAC continued bringing Beethoven to our listeners like the new recording of the "Spring Sonata" with Anne-Sophie Mutter and long time accompanist Lambert Orkis.
2001: The Berlin Philharmonic recorded all nine Beethoven Symphonies three times with Herbert von Karajan, and in 2001 they once again played these works in front of the microphones, this time with then music director Claudio Abbado. With performances like this, it wasn't any wonder that the critics went wild.
2002: The dichotomy of modern life and a love of old art raised its head in 2002 with the book by Julian Johnson, "Who Needs Classical Music?" In it he discusses the value of immortal art and the necessary touchstone it remains for the lucky ones, like folks who can appreciate music like the "Dance of the blessed Spirits" by Gluck.
2003: A Polish and then a German Pope? It was just as shocking for the pinnacle of German Art, the Berlin Philharmonic to choose another foreigner to head that august ensemble. Newly named music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Simon Rattle jumps into the deep end of the pool with a rousing performance of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring."
2004: For the more mature classical music lover it usually seemed that the best sounding recordings were those that were "commissioned" as it were by record companies hiring an orchestra, arranging for a hall, paying for rehearsals and finally settling down to recording in perfect quiet splendor, the music in question. In the 1990's this practice was dropping quickly as costs soared - so a compromise was achieved. Record concerts in Europe where prices were lower and audiences better behaved and you could end up with a terrific recording like the one from the Barbican Centre featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev knocking out an amazing Prokofiev Symphony No. 5.
2005: In this year Charles Mackerras celebrated his 80th birthday. He naturally had a busy career in Britain but he also was very much identified with Czech music and it was in Prague that our own Deirdre Saravia recognized this stalwart conductor and gave him greetings from all music lovers here in San Antonio, Texas.
2006: Colin Davis is one of those conductors that can work in any field, concert hall, recording venue and orchestra pit at world famous opera halls. In 2006 his recording of Verdi's "Falstaff" won a Grammy for its excellence. Having young and impressive vocalists and the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus doesn't hurt either.
2007: Good things happen to those who amaze. That wild man of the Baroque violin, Andrew Manze, and his musical sidekick Richard Egarr found themselves directing and recording with the Academy of Ancient Music and in 2006 they reprised the 6 Concerti Grossi of Handel with the ensemble to award winning effect.
2008: Cinderella is a great story, but things like that don't happen in real life. Classical musicians seem to live in a rarified world to those of us that love the music and are aren't many that most of us could identify with - well - until Anna Netrebko came along. As a student she swept opera houses and by the age of 22 she was singing in them. By 2008 she was singing one of the highlights of any soprano's career that of Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata."
2009: The Los Angeles Philharmonic has had its artistic ups and downs, but the tenure of Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen was one of achievement and when he left the ensemble his replacement was another young and vital musician, Gustavo Dudamel. Coupled with the great sonics of the Walt Disney Concert Hall may their recorded presence continue to soar!
2010: In the 1980's music lovers became aware of a new type of choral music. Arvo Part from Estonia created long and ethereal musical lines that haunted as well as entertained. Later Englishman John Tavener further explored this Eastern Orthodox style with his cantatas "The Whale" and "The Lamb." Recently American Eric Whitacre has come to prominence with his choral pieces. His "Light & Gold" won a Grammy in 2010.
2011: The format wars and ease of production continue to eat away at the choices available to the consumer and radio station alike. The compact disc is fading away and older labels struggle with the technology of downloading product and giving the consumer value. The once little label, Naxos has turned into a juggernaut with a HUGE catalog and increasingly better ensembles and musicians turning out good old fashioned CDs for the rest of us, like Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic performing Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.
2012: The designated "death date" for the compact disc. And yet I expect to continue to receive CDs in the mail in the New Year. KPAC is thirty years old, FM radio predates the Second World War and people continue to listen to us and send in their memberships. Classical radio, long thought to be the sickest format in broadcasting's intensive care unit, continues while commercial stations struggle to sell spots to keep the lights on. Now if that isn't worth a "Hallelujah," I don't know what is!