12 September 2022

Stafford James

Herbert von Karajan – The Meaning

When I was a young student in conservatory at the original Mannes College of Music in New York in 1970 there were a mere few of us who had the audacity to carry our LP recordings of the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan along with our books.

My two favorites were Sibelius Konzert für Violine und Orchester op. 47 and Bartók Konzert für Orchester Sz 116. The other students did not think highly of us, as we were listening to this “Avant-Garde” concept of orchestral playing to which it would take another ten years for the music of Bartók to reach a larger audience. Herbert von Karajan was still in the conceptual forefront of conductors and one who had brought us into the digital age of listening to orchestral music. There was a sort of vindication for me in 1976 in that the maestro was in attendance to a concert that I had performed at the then new and modernized Berlin Phiharmonie with the legendary trumpet virtuoso, Woody Shaw. I cannot put my jubilation into mere words as it made me reflect on my student years, all of the criticisms but above all, when you believe in something in life, you must stick to that belief for the realization of your prospective goal. Maestro Karajan had the acoustic sense to know the setting for each work to be recorded as this gives the ambience not only for that particular work to be performed but also in how the musicians interact with the given work. This is paramount and a lesson learned.

Herbert von Karajan had the vision of the future. He gave breath to a young Klaus Stoll, a young Yo-Yo Ma and a young Anne-Sophie Mutter. He had the foresight to put his confidence into my teacher, Ludwig Streicher of the Vienna Philharmonic and he put his trust into all of the great musicians that he performed with including the great bassist, Rainer Zepperitz. This is the mark of a great leader and visionary and something that has inspired me conceptually in this life as a musician to where I was invited to the Herbert von Karajan photo exhibit in 2007 in Paris at the Theatre de Champs Elyseé. It was there that I met Ricardo Muti, now conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and it was also at this time that the birth of the Stafford James String Ensemble took place. The ensemble was created to give a voice to the kontrabass and to give the listening public another listening alternative just as maestro Karajan did with his superb rendition of the Rossini String Sonatas and the Boccherini Quintettino.

I am most thankful to TIMELESS Records of the Netherlands in releasing the new CD of the Stafford James String Ensemble “Live”. Their belief in the concept is one reason why, as musicians, we strive to reach the apex of the creative process. I am also extremely pleased with just receiving a new copy of Herbert von Karajan conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden in a superb rendition of Schostakowitsch’s 10th Symphony recorded “Live” at the Salzburg Festival in 1976. He has been an inspiration in my life to which he has above all else, inspired me and many others to be the very best that we can be and to the Herbert von Karajan Institute I say thank you for this wonderful recording.

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