Over the last few months, four artists with whom the company had important associations have passed away. Here we remember Hamza El Din, Ali Farka Toure, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and Edward Aldwell.
Over the last few months, four artists with whom the company had important associations have passed away: Hamza El Din, Ali Farka Toure, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and Edward Aldwell.
Hamza El-Din's Escalay (Waterwheel) was made during Tracey Sterne's years at the label, and he also performed the piece with Kronos Quartet on their Pieces of Africa recording. He later worked with Joan Jeanrenaud, a former member of Kronos, who worked yet another wonderful arrangement with Hamza for Waterwheel for cello, and recalls:
I have never known another musician who unequivocally touched everyone who heard them-except for Hamza. My first introduction to Hamza El-Din was through Kronos Quartet while in Japan in1989. Hamza was living there, came to our concert and gave us a private performance of his signature piece Escalay, singing and playing the oud. David wisely requested an arrangement of the piece and shortly thereafter we were performing and recording the work for Nonesuch, the first company to have recorded this piece back in 1971.
Upon my leaving Kronos in 1999, Hamza invited me to play on his CD A Wish and from there our personal relationship grew. I was just starting to explore improvisation and composing and Hamza became my most encouraging mentor. I began performing Escalay with him and soon developed an arrangement I could play as a soloist with the assistance of a looper. Every time I played for Hamza he would show me a different path into his music and encourage me to make it my own. Hamza became such a dear friend and supporter welcoming me into his life and music, which I began to understand were one and the same. He lived his life with such dignity, honesty, respect and generosity.
We will all truly miss him especially his dear wife Nabra who has lost her best friend. But I am comforted in knowing that by playing and listening to the music of Hamza El-Din he always remains with us.
The great Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure recorded for Nick Gold's World Circuit label, and his albums were released through Nonesuch in America and other parts of the world. One of the characteristics of Nick that is most endearing has been his complete devotion to the musicians he works with. After the great success of the Buena Vista Social Club, instead of using that moment as a platform to expand his company, Nick dedicated tremendous time and effort to help the Cuban musicians, in terms of touring, financial management, setting up publishing deals and becoming profoundly involved with their lives. He became deeply involved with Ali Farke Toure's life, even more so when he learned that he had terminal cancer. In his last months, Ali made, many of us believe, the most profound album in Ali's life, which we are privileged to have released.
Nonesuch President Robert Hurwitz recalls Edward Aldwell:
Ed Aldwell came to Nonesuch through both Tracey Sterne and Norma Hurlburt, who was a close friend and colleague of Ed's. I had heard, about a year ago, that Ed was ill with cancer, and one cold morning this winter in Central Park, a man in a ski cap came up to me and said, "Bob, it's Ed!" He took off his ski cap, his hair was cut short, and he seemed fine. I later heard he had beaten the disease, and was ready to continue with his life. Tragically, a few weeks ago, he was killed in an auto accident, when an all-wheel drive vehicle he was driving toppled over when he was out looking for his dog.
Ed made two recordings for Nonesuch—both of the books of the Well-Tempered Clavier. On the urging of Tracey and Norma, I went to Merkin Hall about 15 years ago, and saw two or three of his concerts of the complete WTC, and it was a complete revelation. He was a profound musician, and one of the most distinctive things I remembered—and actually admired—was the fact that perhaps once each evening, he actually stopped in the middle of a fugue and started again. It was not about a lack of preparation or ability, but the fact that he was so deeply involved and engrossed in both the details and the long line that he became lost in the music. It reminded me of a story in Toni Bentley's first memoir about Balanchine, where she told the story of falling on her behind during the "Snowflakes" section of The Nutcracker, and turning around to see Balanchine standing behind her. Instead of being angry, Balanchine had a big smile on his face, because he know that sometimes these "mistakes" were the result of total concentration, and it was something he greatly admired.
Norma Hurlburt is now the director of Chamber Music Society. Here are her thoughts about Ed:
The live performances by Ed Aldwell were among the greatest musical experiences of my life. His Bach concerts in the mid-‘eighties, in which he performed both books of the WTC as well as the Goldberg Variations and the French Overture, were riveting. It was as though his concentration itself was a palpable entity, filling the hall from the moment he stepped on stage, and holding the audience powerless to do anything but concentrate in return. There was never a sound to be heard beyond those coming from the keyboard, and at the end of the concert it was hard to believe one had been listening for more than a brief moment: time had stood still. At intermission, it was still all about the music, as people held hushed and dramatic interchanges, comparing notes on this fugue vs. that. Where had this man come from? I heard someone say it sounded as though he had just wandered down from the Himalayas to deliver the concert. It is indeed a blessing that he left recordings of his work. There is no way they can capture the intensity that so stunned everyone at his live performances, but they are a vivid reminder. I was grateful for them, as I as I listened almost daily during his illness—as though, ironically, I were the one who needed help! I wish I had an amusing personal anecdote to relate about Ed, but I don’t. It was an honor to present his concerts, and during our so-called business meetings, we mainly spoke about music—by the hour. I found him to be an utterly calm, rational, honest, articulate man—a profoundly decent human being.