Remembering Leonard Bernstein: Exploring Bernstein’s Family

By Casey Margerum

Leonard Bernstein is the son of immigrants Samuel Bernstein and Jennie Resnick, both of whom came to the United States to escape anti-Semitism and a life of hardship in the Jewish ghettos of the Ukraine. Though their villages were only about a day’s walk from each other, Sam and Jennie didn’t meet until they were both living in the US.

Jennie was born Charna Resnick in 1898. Her parents, Simcha and Perel Resnick, were devout Jews and lovers of music. Simcha came to America ahead of the rest of his family. After arriving in the States, Jennie, though intelligent and imaginative, had to give up her dreams of teaching to work in a textile mill and help provide for her family.

Sam, who was born Shmuel Yosef Bernstein in 1892, came to America at only 16 years old and against his family’s wishes. His uncle Harry, already living in the US, helped him find a job, first at a fish market and then at Harry’s own barber shop. From there, Sam got a job at Frankel & Smith, and he would later start his own business. He was a fervent believer in the American Dream and rose to a position of wealth by monopolizing the sale of the extremely popular permanent wave machine in New England. He was also an extremely religious man and a Talmud scholar.

Sam and Jennie were married in 1917, and they had their first child (Leonard) the next year. Two siblings, Shirley Anne and Burton, followed in 1923 and 1932, respectively. Unfortunately, Sam and Jennie were not well-matched, and Sam disliked Jennie’s family. Leonard also had a turbulent relationship with his father, who, remembering of the impoverished klezmer musicians in the Ukraine, did not want his son to become a musician.

Casey Margerum is a senior English and music double major at Davidson College. She sings with the Davidson College Chorale and Collegium Musicum, and she intends to pursue graduate studies in vocal performance next year. 

In 2018, music lovers everywhere are celebrating the centennial of legendary artist Leonard Bernstein. To help give our listeners a deeper dive into Bernstein’s life and musical genius, we have partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Bill Lawing’s seminar on Leonard Bernstein to produce a blog series sharing details about Bernstein’s family, career, friendships and more. This intimate look at Bernstein’s personal life is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts highlighting a different aspect of Leonard Bernstein’s experience.

Please consider also joining us for a production of Bernstein’s Mass at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts on Sunday, September 30th at 3pm at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem. A private reception for WDAV listeners will follow the performance. For more information, visit our webpage here.

Clarinetist Gene Kavadlo Retires after 50 year career

After 43 years as the principal clarinetist with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Gene Kavadlo is retiring. He began his career as a music educator in the Manhasset Public Schools on Long Island before taking a gamble to become a symphony musician. In addition to his symphony activities, Kavadlo is an active recitalist and educator on Klezmer music. He reflects on his musical journey, living in Charlotte and what comes next as he turns the page on an incredible career.



Q & A with WDAV’s Summer Interns

WDAV is dedicated to providing opportunities for young people to learn about the work we do here at the station, and allow students to gain experience and work collaboratively with our professional staff.

Each year, WDAV employs several Davidson College students throughout the school year in a variety of roles. They work on our website, offer creative ideas for social media, take donations during our fundraising campaigns, write innovative blog posts, and help us produce events.

During the summer, we hire two interns to work with us for ten weeks. These students get the chance to work with many departments and contribute meaningfully to WDAV during their tenure. Learn more about our two great interns for the summer below!


Grace MatthewsMeet Grace Matthews

I love music, books, history, and cooking. A fun fact is that I share a birthday with Leonard Bernstein.


When did you first get into classical music? / What’s your music background?
When I was young, my parents used to turn on classical music while I played, so I grew up with an affinity for the genre. When I was in elementary school, my father drove me to the bus stop each morning. We normally listened to the news or music on the radio, but one day, he turned on a CD of Puccini hits and told me that he thought I would like it. That was my first taste of opera – Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” in a recording I have only heard once off that CD. The music drew out such strong emotion, and does to this day. My father took me to my first opera a few years later when I was eight – a screening of Maria Stuarda from La Scala. Someday I’d love to become an opera singer.

What sort of things do you do at WDAV?
All sorts of things! Each week I work on WDAV’s weekly eNews; update the Biscuits and Bach, Minute with Miles, and Concierto pages on the website; and do various administrative tasks like answering the phone, filing, and mailing membership benefits. I really enjoy working here.


Why did you want to work at the station?
The simplest answer is that I love WDAV. I think that it is an amazing service- 24 hour a day classical music for everyone with access to a radio or computer. In a world that is often very complicated, that is not. I wanted to learn more about how the station works, and to do whatever I could to help out.

What’s your favorite piece of music?
My favorite composers are Mozart, Donizetti, Rossini, and Handel, but recently I’ve been listening to a good bit of Bach and Jake Heggie. Some of my favorite pieces are Handel’s “Hallelujah, Amen,” Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” and the finale of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony. My all-time favorite opera aria is “Tanti Affetti in tal Momento” from Rossini’s La Donna del Lago sung by Joyce Didonato. It is a wonderful piece for all occasions- as a confidence bolster before exams, as a way to celebrate, and everything in between.

What’s next? What’ll you be up to in the fall?
I’ll be attending Princeton University in the fall with an eye towards studying vocal performance and European history. Ultimately, I’d love to become a singer, professor of European history, or perhaps a curator. At this point I’m keeping my options relatively open.



Noah ClineMeet Noah Cline

I’m a recent college grad who grew up in Vale, NC. I went to UNC Greensboro where I studied music performance (flute) and communication studies. When I’m not at the station or practicing my instrument, I’m probably drinking coffee or heading to an amusement park for the day.

When did you first get into classical music? / What’s your music background?
I started piano lessons in fourth grade (inspired by Arthur, the cartoon aardvark on TV) but mostly played for fun. I picked up the flute in middle school band class, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

What sort of things do you do at WDAV?
A little bit of everything! From updating the website, taking listener phone calls, and hosting the Sunday church broadcasts, I’m getting an idea of what it takes to keep the station running from all angles.

Why did you want to work at the station?
Classical radio seemed like the perfect place to put both of my degrees to use. I grew up listening to WDAV, so when I saw an open internship, I applied right away.

What’s your favorite piece of music?
Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is one of my favorites – it has a prominent flute solo, so I’m biased.

What’s next? What’ll you be up to in the fall?
In the fall I’ll be starting a Master’s degree in flute performance at Northwestern University. Chicago is one of my favorite cities, so I’m looking forward to making the move and building a life there!

Weekend Host Tom Burge says “Adieu”

After eight years of hosting Sunday evenings at WDAV, Thomas “Tom” Burge will host his final show on June 24, 2018.

Upon reflecting on his time working with the station, Burge shared the following message:

Thomas "Tom" Burge

Tom Burge

Sunday, June 24 is my final show. I can’t believe it. WDAV took a chance eight years ago, and we’ve been going strong since then, and loving it. But unlike Leonard Bernstein who seemed to fit many professional lives into one, the time has come for me to hang up the mic and focus on my performance and teaching career.

Thank you so much for the opportunity, for the fun, for the good friends I have made at WDAV and in the community, and through this true wonder of classical music.

It’s not really a goodbye, though! Please come and find me at performances! I’ll still be around the cultural circles and sharing music – it’s what I do!

Please keep the love of classical music alive, and support this wonderful station, and all the live music organizations in this region!

And so, as Beethoven said so beautifully in his 25th Piano Sonata,


Thomas Burge

Dispatch from Spoleto: A Night at the Opera

Pictured: Elliot Madore in the US premiere of Tree of Codes, with music and libretto by Liza Lim. Photo by William Struhs.

By Lawrence Toppman

Every opera at Spoleto Festival USA that gets a U.S. premiere – in this case, both fully-staged offerings for 2018 – begins as a mystery. Have long-lost pieces by masters been unreasonably neglected? Have current composers remained obscure for a reason?

On the evidence of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Pia de’ Tolomei” and Liza Lim’s “Tree of Codes,” which run in repertory through June 8, I’d answer “Yes” to both questions.

Donizetti and librettist Salvatore Cammarano, who collaborated on eight operas, premiered “Lucia di Lammermoor” in 1835. “Pia” came along two years later and seems like a little sister: Beautiful, worth knowing, but living in the shadow of an immortal.

Amanda Woodbury and Valdis Jansons in the US premiere of Donizetti's Pia de' Tolomei. Photo by William Struhs.

Amanda Woodbury and Valdis Jansons in the U.S. premiere of Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei. Photo by William Struhs.

The authors took “Pia” from a quatrain in “Purgatorio,” where Dante writes of people who were penitent at the times of sudden violent deaths. Nello, Pia’s jealous husband, imprisoned her after an accusation of infidelity by Ghino, who wanted her but couldn’t tempt her. The man she keeps in the shadows is her brother, Rodrigo, who has escaped jail as a political refugee.

The libretto’s no clumsier than most from the mid-19th century, and director Andrea Cigni makes it more plausible and relevant by updating it to Fascist Italy in the pre-war 1930s. Rodrigo has been jailed not for belonging to a different family but for leading the Resistance; Ghino’s unconvincing fatal wound in battle in the original narrative has become an accidental killing at the hands of sentries.

Cassandra Zoe Velasco (center) in Donizetti's Pia de' Tolomei. Photo by William Struhs.

Cassandra Zoe Velasco (center) in Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei. Photo by William Struhs.

Pia now tries to save great art from destruction by right-wingers, including a portrait of her by Eliseo Sala (painted after the opera premiered). This irrelevant but unobtrusive subplot doesn’t hold the production back. Nothing could on opening night, including a power outage at Sottile Theatre that left only one floodlight operating at last. (Well, the final scene is set in a dungeon.)

Matthew Anchel (center) in the US premiere of Donizetti's Pia de' Tolomei. Photo by Leigh Webber.

Matthew Anchel (center) in the U.S. premiere of Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei. Photo by Leigh Webber.

The melodies show Donizetti near the peak of his skill, from one of the soprano-mezzo duets he loved — this time in friendship, not enmity — to a somber “Lucia”-like ensemble for four soloists and chorus. Amanda Woodbury’s creamy soprano served the title role well, and Cassandra Zoe Velasco’s hefty voice made Rodrigo a presence with whom to be reckoned. Isaac Frishman’s small, flexible tenor put Ghino’s arias across in the smallish hall, and baritone Valdis Jansons brought unexpected complexity to the mostly snarly Nello.

Spoleto’s pick-up orchestra, augmented in “Pia” by Westminster Choir, remains a marvel, and Lidiya Yankovskaya conducted with the brio and tenderness this opera demands. Those same musicians played with equally scrupulous dedication for conductor John Kennedy in “Tree of Codes,” though nobody in the audience would’ve known if they’d hit clinker after clinker.

Elliot Madore in Tree of Codes, with music and libretto by Liza Lim. Photo by William Struhs.

Elliot Madore in Tree of Codes, with music and libretto by Liza Lim. Photo by William Struhs.

Virtually everything about Lim’s opera seemed random, from the wisps of orchestration to the rambling dialogue. (She wrote her own libretto.) Extensive program notes promised a philosophic piece I’d like to have seen onstage but never did, except for hints of one theme: Received wisdom from the past lies heavily and perhaps foolishly on us in the present.

The disconnection between idea and execution began with Scott Zielinski’s set. According to the notes, an “onstage monolith evokes the loss of Jewish lives in the last century, which is the loss for all mankind.” This edifice resembled a maquette for a six-story parking deck that had sunk into the ground at a 30-degree angle, and nothing in the text referred to it. (I did enjoy the lights that slashed across it, from bilious green to celestial white.)

Elliot Madore and Marisol Montalvo in the US premiere of Tree of Codes. Photo by William Struhs.

Elliot Madore and Marisol Montalvo in the US premiere of Tree of Codes. Photo by William Struhs.

Soprano Marisol Montalvo and baritone Elliot Madore had excellent pitch and diction as Adela, a mystic, and Son, a boy mourning (or perhaps simply missing) his father. Yet singers can’t seem anything but ridiculous while sitting at center stage, clutching megaphones and repeatedly uttering “I wish. I want. I wish. I want.” (Or, to be precise, “I wiiiiiiiish. I waaaaant.” Melismas were the order of the day.)

Elliot Madore and Marisol Montalvo in Tree of Codes. Photo by William Struhs.

Elliot Madore and Marisol Montalvo in Tree of Codes. Photo by William Struhs.

A mute character dubbed The Dreamer (costume designer Walter Dundervill) placed props, occasionally dressed or undressed the singers and pulled them around on wheeled platforms meant to lend mysterious grace to their movements. Dundervill retained a stone-faced dignity even as Son ranted in Russian (or was it Esperanto?), which suggested he wisely wasn’t paying attention.

To learn more about the performances at this year’s festival, visit Spoleto Festival USA.

Dispatch from Spoleto: Seven Memorable Moments from the Chamber Music Series

Pictured: Geoff Nuttall (far left), the Director of the Bank of America Chamber Music series, with members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet and pianist Pedja Muzijevic at the Dock Street Theatre. Photo by William Struhs.

By Lawrence Toppman

Geoff Nuttall, host of every chamber music concert at Spoleto Festival USA, was about to begin the downstroke of a Mozart piano concerto adapted for sextet. Suddenly, upon a sign from another member of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the first violinist turned to the audience.

“There’s a secret signal we use – I’m not going to tell you what it is – to let me know…my fly is open,” Nuttall informed the Dock Street Theatre crowd. Hiding his indiscretion behind his instrument, he fiddled with his trousers. Somewhere, the ghost of Mozart giggled. Then pianist Pedja Muzijevic, double-bassist Doug Balliett and the quartet galloped happily into the reduction of Piano Concerto No. 12.

That’s the reason seeing music live makes a delightful difference. Recordings and broadcasts can’t capture the excitement, humor and full educational value of a live concert. (Who but violists knew that violas carry so much emotional weight in the string orchestra version of Barber’s “Adagio”?)

Here are six more reasons, all made palpable in the second and third of 11 concerts in the Bank of America Chamber Music Series, which runs through the last day of Spoleto on June 10.

1) Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, perhaps the most-anticipated of the fine guest artists on opening weekend, broke your heart one day with a Handel aria from “Amadigi di Gaula.” The next day, aiming for hipster credibility with the Peggy Lee song “Fever,” he tried in vain to flick a lighter open and set a “cigarette” aflame in the break between verses. Even he laughed. (He eventually succeeded.)

2) Charles Wadsworth, now 89 and creator of the chamber music program at Spoleto USA, missed only his second festival in 42 years. Nuttall, who took over for him nine years ago, asked the crowd to holler “We miss you, Charles!” We did, and wife Susan Wadsworth recorded us on her cell phone. After that tender moment, Nuttall and Costanzo segued into a conversation about the 17th-century process for creating castrati and the unresonant noise Costanzo would make if he had vocal chords but no head: “It would sound like a kazoo.”

3) The St. Lawrence played a relatively early Haydn quartet, the sixth and last of the Op. 20 set, with such passionate affection that the room rocked and strings came loose from their bows. Nuttall, who all but idolizes Haydn, preceded it with a mini-lecture on the revolutionary use of folk music and democratization in the string quartet, where each instrument got a chance to shine. You could see this music pointing the way for Mozart, Beethoven and their descendants.

4) The St. Lawrence Quartet and the JACK Quartet (named for the first initials of its original members) lined up at opposite sides of the stage for a 16th-century rarity by Giovanni Valentini. With Balliett accompanying both quartets as “referee,” this “Enharmonic” Sonata turned into a battle of the bands, and variations bounced back and forth. The visual element added suspense. Who can guess the last time any American – perhaps anyone at all – heard this music?

5) Balliett, this year’s composer in residence, debuted “Gawain’s Journey.” The music was lush, angry, sweet and melancholic, always in conjunction with supertitles telling a chunk of the British legend in which Gawain battles the Green Knight. Someone hearing a broadcast at home would wonder why the crowd laughed. The answer? A title reading, “He had no one to talk to but God…and his horse.” The work dealt with Gawain’s bloody, violent, footslogging attempt to reach the castle of the Green Knight, without knowing if he ever would – Arthurian chivalry meets “Waiting for Godot.”

6) In Pauline Oliveros’ mystical “Horse Sings From Cloud,” the JACK quartet spread out around the hall. They and selected members of the audience activated xylophone-like cell-phone apps that played tones of various pitches, volumes and durations. That created a contemplative atmosphere and made the wood and cloth of the theater part of the piece. Was this really “music?” A discussion for another time, perhaps – but it was worth hearing, either way. And you had to be there in person to appreciate it.

To learn more about the performances at this year’s festival, visit Spoleto Festival USA.