Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A WHIRLWIND STORY - our Music Librarian the superhero

While we often here of crazy stories involving performers or conductors (running off of a plane directly onto a concert stage, flying batons, forgotten music or instruments, strings breaking during a performance...), it's not often orchestras get to thank their music librarians for their diligence and perseverance.

Our Librarian, Joe Tersero, jumped through major hoops recently to secure the ASO with the parts for Korngold's Midsummer Night's Dream at our last concert. He captured his thoughts on paper:

Due to numerous high hurdles to jump, this story was one of the best examples of the question “To Be or Not To Be” for one very exhausted music librarian.

When I did my preliminary search for the sheet music, I found that the music to Korngold’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was not readily available from any of the major publishers. In addition, I was surprised to find out that none of my major symphony orchestra colleagues knew anything about this work or how to get the sheet music.

An internet search revealed a recording from 1999 by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra in Berlin, with Gerd Albrecht conducting. I thought for sure this would reveal the source of the sheet music; but unfortunately, I received no response from either Gerd Albrecht or the Berlin Orchestra. I found out later that there have been several orchestras in Berlin with the name “Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra” and several of those have gone bankrupt.

Further research also revealed that Eric Korngold re-orchestrated Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 1935 Max Reinhardt film on the same story staring James Cagney and Michey Rooney. Part of the difficulty in finding this work is due in part because Korngold really didn’t want to take credit for his contributions to this endeavor, instead leaving most of the credit to the original source composer, Felix Mendelssohn. Knowing that the music was taken from a motion picture limited the possible sources. I thought for sure I had my sheet music. A call to the most knowledgeable individual of motion picture sheet music, John Waxman, son of the great composer Franz Waxman, revealed JoAnne Kane Music Service, in Culver City, CA, as a possibility. Unfortunately, they did not have the music but were able to refer me to the correct studio, Warner Brothers.

I was first met with a negative response and was informed that the sheet music was no longer in the Warner Brothers Library and that it had been donated to the University of Southern California (USC) library. Sadly, I was told that the odds of my getting the sheet music were next to zero.

However, an encounter with Mr. Keith Zajic at Warner Bros., Executive Vice President, Business Affairs (Music) was extremely positive. In my faxed request, I had mentioned that we wanted to perform this work as part of the “Shakespeare in Washington” event beginning in January 2007 (lasting for six-months) to honor the works and influence of William Shakespeare. Apparently, these were the magic word - I received a faxed & signed letter of permission, as follows: “This will confirm that Warner Bros. Picture (“WB”) grants permission for the use of the orchestral sheet music including score and parts to the above mentioned film for the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra concert as specified in your October 25th correspondence…”.

Wonderful! October 25th 2006 - I thought for sure we were done! Unfortunately, the fax also came with the following note, “you will coordinate the copying details of such sheet music, score and parts with Noelle Carter at the USC Film Archives Library. It is my understanding that Noel works on a part-time basis.” Part time basis was correct, Noelle only worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays and was about to go on vacation.

She was able to copy all 532 pages of the old, over-sized manuscript score. Unfortunately, by the time she finished, December was here and we both went on our respective vacations. By January, I was very concerned as the concert was on February 3 and there were no parts to be had! Conductors are absolutely phenomenal when it comes to interpreting music and keeping 70+ musicians together. Unfortunately, when they wave a stick and the musicians don’t have music nothing happens! To wit, the librarian suffers.

Upon Noelle’s return, my next step was to tell her exactly which sections we wanted to perform and have the pages of the performance parts copied. The Korngold score was one of the most meticulous manuscripts I’ve ever seen, extremely easy to read and understand. I thought the individual parts for the musicians would be the same way. Wrong! Unfortunately, Noelle is not a music librarian and could not understand all of the road maps found in sheet music. As a librarian used to getting music to the musicians in plenty of time to practice, I was starting to question my abilities and really began to wonder whether this concert was going “to be or not to be.” Fortunately, Noelle was able to recommend someone who had done previous music research in the USC archives, Gary Dov Gertzweig, a wonderful composer and violinist.

With his help we were able to identify all of the pages we needed to make this performance happen. First, we received the string parts. Except for a few missing pages, I thought we were really almost done this time. The missing pages were copied and sent along with the winds, brass and percussion parts. The string books were now complete and ready to be sent to the Concertmaster, Claudia Chudacoff, to start the bowing process.

Much to my dismay, the winds, brass and percussion parts were not so complete. The USC Archives was missing these parts for two of the 19 sections we wanted to perform. In addition, Noelle had been offered and accepted a new job with the LA Times. She would no longer be available to help. With the first rehearsal less than a week away, I put on my Super Librarian outfit and used the music engraving software program Finale™ to extract the rest of the parts. I finished a day before the first rehearsal. Despite not having the practice time normally provided to musicians, the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Kim Allen Kluge, gave an absolutely brilliant performance of this historic work on February 3, 2007.

Other information about the motion picture:


Brendan G Carroll said...

As Korngold's biographer and President of the International Korngold Society, I write to commend you on your herculean efforts. I wish I had known about your project as I could probably have helped..but no matter, you succeeded where many have failed! BRAVO! And how nice that this happened in the 50th Anniversary Year of Korngold's death! See details:-
Kind regards and good wishes from

The ASO said...

Wow! Yes, we definitely wish we had all been in touch earlier. I'm sure our librarian would have had far fewer headaches.
Thank you for introducing us to the Korngold Society.

Adrien Finlay
ASO General Manager

Anonymous said...

As Korngold's granddaughter, and a long-time friend of Brendan Carroll's, I too applaud your librarian's "above-and-beyond the call of duty" efforts. In 2001, the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra (CA) sought and found the famed MSND parts with a bit of assistance from Brendan and me. Please feel free to be in touch should you seek any other, shall we say, more obscure works of Korngold in the future.
With all best wishes,
Kathrin Korngold Hubbard

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