Ernest Bloch,

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

as­so­ci­ated on that oc­ca­sion to the City where I have the priv­i­lege to live. … The seven weeks I spent in Santa Fe … were in fact, the first pe­riod of real hap­pi­ness I found in Amer­ica. … Mr. Lans­ing Bloom [then edi­tor of the New Mex­ico His­tor­i­cal Re­view] put at my dis­posal the beau­ti­ful St. Francis Au­di­to­rium of your State Mu­seum. There I had peace, quiet.”

Two decades ago, Agate Beach (by then sub­sumed into the ad­join­ing town of New­port, Ore­gon) be­came home to an Ernest Bloch Fes­ti­val. O’Con­nor was among the mu­si­cians who par­tic­i­pated in its first in­stall­ment, and he was in­vited to re­turn as the fes­ti­val’s di­rec­tor, a po­si­tion he held from 1990 to 1994. “It was a re­ally amaz­ing set­ting,” O’Con­nor re­called, “es­pe­cially in com­par­i­son to our land-locked sit­u­a­tion here in New Mex­ico. New­port has the ocean on one side and the Yaquina Bay on the other: two to­tally dif­fer­ent aquatic en­vi­ron­ments. Bloch’s home was sit­u­ated on a high bluff with a sheer drop-off to the wa­ter — a log-cabin house with a huge fire­place, with a di­rect view to the ocean, a great place to watch storms. It was a per­fect place for him in that it was a geo­graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of who he was: stormy, emo­tional, tem­per­a­men­tal. There’s a bronze plaque by the road­side that marks Bloch’s home. His pres­ence is still very much ac­knowl­edged there.”

The Con­certo Grosso No. 1 (a sec­ond would fol­low in 19521953) be­came a pop­u­lar fa­vorite. Within a year of its Cleve­land pre­miere it was con­ducted by the com­poser (lead­ing the San Fran­cisco Sym­phony) and by an A-list of other con­duc­tors: Fred­er­ick Stock with the Chicago Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, Leopold Stokowski with the Philadel­phia Or­ches­tra, Serge Kous­se­vitzky with the Bos­ton Sym­phony (in both Bos­ton and New York), Fritz Reiner with the Cincin­nati Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, and Ernest Anser­met with the Orchestre de la Suisse Ro­mande. It has been recorded 44 times, be­gin­ning as early as 1929, and a 1959 record­ing by Howard Han­son and the East­man-Rochester Sym­phony Or­ches­tra was le­gendary in its day. Nonethe­less, the work’s reper­toire sta­tus has un­ac­count­ably faded in re­cent years.

“The piece has some­what slipped away,” O’Con­nor said, “and in gen­eral Bloch hasn’t gained the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a ma­jor com­poser. Maybe, in all fair­ness, that was be­cause the bar was set too high. I do have some faith in the col­lec­tive wis­dom of the au­di­ence, which iden­ti­fies the best pieces and sees to it that they are re­peated be­cause the pub­lic loves them. Those pieces gen­er­ally do de­serve it. Bloch was a con­ser­va­tive com­poser. He wasn’t ‘cut­tingedge’ for his time. In that sense, he shares some­thing with Sa­muel Bar­ber, whose mu­sic has been en­joy­ing a resur­gence of pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years. But the Bloch Con­certo Grosso is an im­me­di­ately com­pelling piece — very dra­matic, with a strong sense of big things hap­pen­ing.”

Con­grat­u­la­tory let­ter to Bloch from New Mex­ico gover­nor Richard C. Dil­lon, 1926

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