Saturday, January 9, 2010

Remembering some great talents we lost just recently

In my mid-week entry, I wrote about the loss of two local musical and theatrical talents in the area, Don Deyme of Ryson's Music and Goldie Semple of the Shaw Festival. Today, I'll look at three other musical luminaries from two different generations and totally different backgrounds we lost late in 2009 and early 2010.

Back in September, we lost the last half of a classically-trained piano duo who hit it big on the pop charts and never looked back. Art Ferrante, of Ferrante & Teicher fame, passed away September 20th at his home in Florida. He was 88. His piano teammate, Louis Teicher, passed away just last year. With their passing we've lost a long enduring piano duo who made some great music together for many years after first meeting at Juilliard.

Now, great music is a subjective term, of course. I say great music because I was drawn to their arpeggio-packed arrangements in the 60s and 70s like many others were. They specialized in the easy-listening musical genre popularized by contemporaries like Percy Faith, Mantovani and Bert Kaempfert, among many others. The art form is all but lost now, but their recordings survive and still sell well today.

The early F&T recordings in the 50s were full of special-effects designed to show off new-fangled hi-fi systems of the day, but their real fame rested on their recordings with full studio orchestra starting around 1960. The Theme from The Apartment, Exodus and Midnight Cowboy all hit the charts and did very well. The latter hit, from the late 60s, also featured a so-called "dripping guitar" accompaniment along with orchestra that became briefly popular. Always travelling with their trademark Steinways, Ferrante & Teicher also began to pioneer the gaudy stage outfits later popularized by the likes of Liberace and Doc Severinson.

I interviewed the pair by phone back around 1980 when they were appearing in Toronto, doing the club circuit when their recording days were all but done. They could still draw a crowd, however, and they wore gaudy outfits even then. Of course, by 1980 it didn't seem to look all that out of place! I still have a signed 8X10 black and white photograph of them wearing tuxedo jackets so loud they'd make even Don Cherry blush! But their music has stood the test of time, and we'll not likely see their likes again.

The second passing, from the world of opera, was that of Met singer Mary Curtis-Verna, who appeared in nearly 100 performances at the Met from the late 50s to the late 60s. Her voice was large and flexible, and her looks were picture-perfect. Curtis-Verna was also known to have a very tame temperment, quite unusual for sopranos of the time, such as Maria Callas, who was also one of the new hires at the Met for the 1956-57 season. Curtis-Verna taught at the University of Washington after retiring, and was emeritus professer of music there when she died at the age of 88 on December 4th.

As good as her voice was, her temperment seemed to hinder her career somewhat, as critics felt she lacked the fire of some of her contemporaries. But her real talent lay in her ability to totally absorb musical scores on short notice, and as a result, in the space of little over a month, she filled in for three ailing sopranos at the Met, each time on short notice. December 1st, 1957, she filled the title role in Aida when Renata Tebaldi's mother died; December 28th she subbed for an ailing Eleanor Steber as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni, after only finding out she would be in the role at 5:30; and on January 4th, 1958, 51 years ago this week, she took over another leading role in a Met performance, replacing an unavailable Zinka Milanov in Aida.

That kind of reliability would win you a lot of kudos and friends in the opera world, and Mary Curtis-Verna made it work to her advantage for the next several years. When you think about it, that is an amazing talent: knowing all the music and learning the stage directions almost at the last minute - at the Met! Amazing...

Finally, last weekend we lost the young Montreal singer Lhasa, who died at the age of 37 after succumbing to breast cancer. She had just released her latest album last spring, but was unable to tour to promote it due to her illness. Her voice was truly one-of-a-kind and especially evocative, causing many to remark her unique voice and stage presence were truly her own and struck a deep emotional chord in people. Born to a Mexican father and American mother, Lhasa was comfortable with her music and voice, and felt her last album was probably her most satisfying. It's very sad to see a talent like hers go; at 37 it is even harder to accept.

At A Web of Fine Music, we specialize in finding music you want; if any of these artists pique your interest, drop me a line at or through my website at and I will see what is available by them for you.

January 9th, 2010.