PUC owes much of its legacy to Maida Pollock, a former and beloved director of Princeton University Concerts from 1964 to 1986, so we asked her to share some memories about her 22 years at Princeton, and we created this next installment of our Collective Listening Project that features artists and repertoire that was presented during that time.
Dame Janet Baker, Mezzo-soprano — appeared on the PUC series on March 3, 1969 and again on October 19, 1970
JOHANNES BRAHMS Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53
I was born in Hungary. My father played in an amateur string quartet, and my family regularly attended concerts. I took piano lessons, which I loved. I had many friends who were singers: How I envied them! I loved to accompany them on songs by Schubert and Brahms, but I always wished I could sing. One of my singer friends insisted that “If you can talk, you can sing!” At the end of my first lesson with her, she conceded, “Maida, you are the exception.” The end of my singing career! However, I always loved presenting singers at PUC.
Nathan Milstein, Violin — appeared on the PUC series on March 22, 1965 / Rudolf Firkusny, Piano
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 "Kreutzer" (Movement 1)
Ultimately, I studied piano at the Conservatory in Budapest. I knew that I didn’t have the ambition to be a soloist, but I always loved chamber music. My husband was a doctor and a great violinist, and we would often play together, especially Beethoven violin sonatas.
JUILLIARD STRING QUARTET — Among many appearances on the PUC series, they were part of Maida's first season on October 19, 1964.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 132 (Movement 3, recorded in 1964)
BEAUX ARTS TRIO — Among many appearances on the PUC series, they were part of Maida's first season on December 7, 1964.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 ("Ghost") (Movement 1, performed on the PUC concert in 1964 and recorded in the same season)
I came to the United States in 1946 and lived on Long Island. I had a childhood friend who lived in Princeton, and when visiting her, I fell in love with the town. Upon moving to Princeton in 1964, I went to the employment office at the university. Knowing my musical background, the woman asked if I might be interested in a job in the music department. She sent me directly over to Woolworth Center to interview with musicologist and Bach scholar, Arthur Mendel, chairman of the department, who asked, “Ms. Pollock, do you know what job you’re applying for?” But I didn’t. He proceeded to tell me about the job, and at the end of the conversation, the job was mine!
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, SIR GEORG SOLTI, Conductor — appeared in Jadwin Gym on December 4, 1972
GUSTAV MAHLER Symphony No. 5 (Movement 1, performed in its entirety on the PUC series in 1972)
In the “really old days,” PUC presented a major orchestra once a year: Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, etc. In my first season [1964/65] it cost $5,000 to book the Cleveland Orchestra. When I retired in 1986, I called up their manager and told him how nice it would be to have them again. I asked him if they would consider coming to Princeton and how much it would cost. He replied, “For you, Mrs. Pollock: $50,000.” But the concerts committee really wanted to continue booking orchestras, but at the time, the university didn’t have a concert hall big enough for a symphony orchestra. (Most concerts were held at McCarter, the Chapel, Proctor Hall, or McCosh 10). The university decided that the newly opened Jadwin Gym would make a wonderful concert hall, so I hired the Chicago Symphony and their conductor Georg Solti. It was a total disaster! The acoustics weren’t good, and noise from the heating system forced Solti to take an unplanned intermission in the middle of Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Regarding the experiment of using a sports arena as a concert venue, a Town Topics reviewer quipped, “On Monday night, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played Mahler’s 5th and Mahler lost.”
ALFRED BRENDEL, Piano — appeared on the PUC series on April 14, 1986 in Maida's final season
FRANZ SCHUBERT Impromptu in C Minor, Op. 90, No. 1, D. 899
There were so many great performances. I remember the performers more than the specific music. I loved the cellist János Starker (I knew him personally from back in Hungary) and mezzo-soprano Janet Baker. The last concert before I retired was by Alfred Brendel, always one of my favorite pianists. The Town Topics described as “indeed stunning, coming as close to musical perfection as one can imagine.”
MILTON BABBITT String Quartet No. 2
These days, I’m still listening to music, and I like a little bit of everything. One piece that comes to mind is former Princeton music faculty member Milton Babbitt's String Quartet No. 2, which is very listenable. He was gifted composer and a wonderful person. (There is no recording of this on Spotify but you can hear this quartet in its entirety on youtube.)
ROBERT HELPS, Piano — appeared on the PUC series on March 31, 1975
Three Hommages for Piano, to Fauré, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel
If I could have presented one more concert, I would have loved to present some more singers. I also admired pianist and composer Robert Helps. Robert taught at Princeton and performed for PUC and [the former] Friends of Music series. I miss Princeton, but these days, I’m reading a lot and enjoying the beauty from my home in Maui.
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