1950s/ FELBER/ Two Pianos, Two Poulencs

Francis Poulenc (b. Paris, 1899; d. Paris, 1963)

French composer Francis Poulenc was a man of contrasts.  Dubbed "half monk, half delinquent" by a 
critic, this moniker might be appropriate.  His music is by turns sacred and profane, dreamy and
rhythmically driven, playful and prayerful.

His career as a composer started while he was in his teens.  He was introduced to Stravinsky's music at
an early age.  Francis knew he wanted to be a composer from the moment he heard Petroushka and The
Rite of Spring.

Largely self-taught, Poulenc proved to be a versatile and prolific composer.  He wrote for various groups
of instruments (especially woodwinds), for voice, symphony orchestra, piano and harpsichord.  His first
work was performed in 1917, and he composed steadily throughout his life, publishing new works up to 
the time of his death in 1963.

His influences were Igor Stravinsky and Eric Satie.  Poulenc was also exposed to the music of Arnold Schönberg at an early age, but did not adopt his twelve-tone row.  Poulenc remained true to himself, and his compositions remained melodic throughout his career.

When still a very young man, Francis Poulenc became associated with other composers of the day who
wanted to distance themselves from German romanticism and French impressionism.  Les Six, as they were called, were influenced by eclectic elements from a variety of different sources:  Poulenc loved vaudeville, while friend and fellow composer Darius Milhaud loved Brazilian dance music and American jazz.  Poulenc and Les Six knew how to have fun.

Francis Poulenc's years as a young composer were during an exciting time in French history.  Poulenc
was associated with avant-garde artists and musicians of the 1920s and 1930s.  He composed the ballet
Les Biches for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which had its première in 1924.  It was
met with great success.

In 1932, Poulenc composed the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, in D minor.  Influences of 
Mozart and even Indonesian gamelon music are heard throughout, suffused with rhythmic vitality and
engaging melodies.  The composer himself played one of the solo piano parts at the première in Venice.

After the death of a friend in the 1930s, Poulenc returned to his Catholic faith.  This profound transformation was reflected in his creative output:  from masses and motets, to the Stabat Mater (1950),
the opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites (1956), and the Gloria (1959).


Alice's edition of the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos


                                     (click on article to enlarge)

Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, in D minor (1932), was given its first-ever
performance by the Kalamazoo Symphony under the baton of Dr. Herman Felber, Jr., at Central High School Auditorium (now Chenery Auditorium), on February 22, 1959.  Alice Mullen and Ruth Currie were the piano soloists.  The presentation of this work went along with Felber's plan to program more modern works for Kalamazoo Symphony audiences.  They loved it.  Here is R.A. Patton's review in the Kalamazoo Gazette, from Monday, February 23, 1959:

                                            (click on article to enlarge)

                                                             (click on article to enlarge)

The Kalamazoo Gazette's Women's World column reported on all the social activities in Kalamazoo.
A reception following the concert was at the home of Cameron and Irene Davis, faithful Symphony supporters and friends.   Nice to know who was "pouring" for the occasion.

While working on the Poulenc Concerto, Alice and family acquired a ginger cat.  They named him
"Poulenc", naturellement!  This charming letter was sent to Alice's young daughters the day after the
performance.  Maestro Felber may have even typed the letter himself.

                                  Poulenc the cat says, "Two thumbs up!"

                                                                                                       -Alice's Archivist  (2/7/11)


1950s/ FELBER/ The Upjohn Company Photographs the Kalamazoo Symphony

                                                                                           Photo:  The Upjohn Company, 1957
                    Looking like a maestro "out of central casting",  Herman Felber, Jr. was Music
                    Director of the Kalamazoo Symphony from 1934 to 1959.  He used to board
                    a New York Central train in Chicago and commute to Kalamazoo for rehearsals
                    and concerts throughout his entire 25 seasons with the Kalamazoo Symphony.

                    Son of a Chicago Symphony cellist, Herman Jr. was a precocious talent on violin
                    and joined the Chicago Symphony string section at age 18 as its youngest member.
                    He studied violin and composition at the Columbia School of Music in Chicago, and
                    took up conducting as well.  Felber served in the U.S. Navy during WWI, and con-
                    ducted the First Symphony Orchestra.  He returned to Chicago at the end of the war
                    to take up the baton as Director of the WLS* Radio Orchestra.  He also taught at
                    Lake Forest College and Northwestern University, and served as concertmaster of
                    The Chicago Little Symphony AND commuted to Kalamazoo to conduct the KSO!

                    Intense and energetic, he brought big city sensibilities to Kalamazoo, establishing a
                    tradition of offering ambitious programming and hiring first rate soloists.  He also
                    featured local talent in solo performances.  Alice began performing concerti with
                    the KSO, starting in 1957.  Herman Felber encouraged Chicago musicians to come
                    and play in the orchestra.  A number of them settled in Kalamazoo, such as Lillian
                    Pringle Baldauf, who established herself as an excellent cello teacher and long time
                    KSO member.  Her husband Hans helped establish the first planetarium at the museum.
                    * Note to baby boomers:  Yes, it's the same Chicago radio station we listened to in
                     the 1960s.  With all the great rock and roll played then, it's hard to image the same
                     station having a symphony orchestra as its "house band"-- different era!

                                                                                         Photo: The Upjohn Company, 1957

                   Pictured above are members of the Bass Section.  Among them, on the far left, is
                   Otto Wimmler.  Originally from Chicago, Felber invited him to come and play in
                   his symphony orchestra in Kalamazoo.  Wimmler accepted Felber's offer.  Decades
                   later, Otto Wimmler was granted the title of Bass Emeritus for his years of service
                   to the Kalamazoo Symphony.

                   Next to Otto is Clark den Bleyker, who was practically synonymous with the KSO
                   itself.  He served the orchestra in countless ways and was a friend to everyone he
                   worked with.  As personnel manager, librarian, and operations manager, he juggled
                   logistical problems and personnel problems and gossip with the greatest of ease.
                   He stood almost as tall as the bass he played, and wore a large oval signet ring with
                   a mysterious black stone.  It was a family ring, passed down from earlier generations
                   of den Bleykers who were among the first Dutch settlers in Kalamazoo in the 1800s.

                                                                                        Photo:  The Upjohn Company, 1957

                      Above is harpist Vincent Fanelli.  Upon his retirement from the Philadelphia
                      Orchestra, Fanelli and his wife moved to Michigan to a cottage on Gun Lake,
                      not far from where his family had spent their summers.  When KSO founder
                      Leta Snow found out he was in the area, she offered him a job.  He travelled to
                      Kalamazoo on the bus for rehearsals and concerts, and stayed at the YMCA.
                      A champion handball player, he convinced the staff at the "Y" to construct
                      several handball courts.  The son of a harpist, this four foot-eleven inch man
                      brought with him an old world charm and sophistication.  He played in the KSO
                      from the 1930s to the 1960s.  Clark den Bleyker called him a "harp with legs".

                      These three 8" x 10" black and white glossies were from a 1957 photo shoot of the
                      Kalamazoo Symphony on stage at the Civic Theater.  The pictures were taken for
                      the April, 1958 issue of Upjohn News Magazine, by the Photo Section of the Upjohn
                      Company's Mechanical Engineering Development Department.
                      THE LEGACY OF THE UPJOHN COMPANY

                       It all started with the invention of the "friable"pill that gave birth to the Upjohn
                       Company, whose founder Dr. W.E. Upjohn in turn fostered a tradition of giving
                       back to the community.  He invested and re-invested in Kalamazoo to make the
                       quality of life better for its citizens, whom he considered to be its most precious
                       resource.  The Upjohn Company itself became the gold standard of corporate
                       giving.  The pharmaceutical giant knew the value of the arts as being good for

                       There are two excellent Opinion columns in praise of Dr. Upjohn's legacy that
                       were originally published in the newsprint version of the Kalamazoo Gazette.
                       You can now read them online at by clicking these links:

                       "Upjohn understood the value of investing in the arts and we're the better for it",
                         by James M. Marquardt, Opinion, Kalamazoo Gazette, Thursday, April 2, 2009.


                       "Southwest Michigan must continue Dr. Upjohn's circle of leadership", by
                         Heather Smith and Ron Kitchens, Opinion, Kalamazoo Gazette, Thursday,
                         September 9, 2010.



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