George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children was the subject of a very interesting comment left by composer James Primosch on my post Not quite Harmonium a while back. I have lightly edited James' comment and am publishing it as a separate post, as it provides some otherwise unavailable information on an important contemporary music recording. George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children was recorded by Nonesuch in 1971 and went on to sell more than 70,000 copies. On October 24th 2009 its composer (seen in my footer photo) celebrates his 80th birthday, and this has triggered a resurgence of interest in his music. This summer's BBC Proms season features three works by Crumb including Ancient Voices, and reader Daithí Mac Síthigh points out a George Crumb Total Immersion weekend at the Barbican in December. Here is James Primosch’s account of the Nonesuch recording:
For the recording Arthur Weisberg led the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, a group of New York free-lancers, who started working together in the '60s when such groups devoted to new music were exceedingly rare. (I believe they may have been the first such ensemble in the United States.) The very high level at which they performed is attested by their numerous recordings on Nonesuch, including works by Geoerge Rochberg, Richard Wernick, Lalo Shifrin, and Stefan Wolpe, as well as many others. The personnel included pianist Gil Kalish, a superb collaborative pianist (Jan De Gaetani's longtime accompanist - their Ives recordings have never been bettered) as well as an underrated solo artist, with wonderful Ives and Haydn recordings on Nonesuch. I remember Weisberg giving brilliant performances of works by Elliott Carter, Donald Martino and Earle Browne with a student ensemble when I attended Yale's summer program at Norfolk, Conn. in the early 80s.
The story of Nonesuch is incomplete without the name Teresa Sterne. It was her vision that made Nonesuch such a remarkable label during the 1960s and '70s. Nonesuch remains a valuable enterprise, but it seems a shame that the current management's taste does not encompass more of the kind of composers that were represented on the label during Ms. Sterne's tenure.
On a personal note: I once experienced a memorable elevator ride at Carnegie Hall, riding in the same car with Tracy Sterne and Issac Stern. (no relation.) Ms. Sterne took the opportunity to bring up the apocryphal review of Mr. Stern's violin playing, headlined "No tone left un-Sterned." There is a wonderful reminiscence by Ms. Sterne of the recording sessions for Ancient Voices, found in the C. F. Peters volume about Crumb, issued in 1986. The all-night session for Ancient Voices took place not in a studio, but in the unheated, freezing cold ballroom of a New York hotel. Incredible that one of the greatest recordings I know was made under such circumstances.
Thanks again for your stimulating writing.
Trivia, did you know the potato chip was invented by a different George Crum, who was an African/Native American? But back to the music, another classic Nonesuch recording here.
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