Weekly Bulletin
November 15, 1999
Vol. 89, No. 9
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Thinking about math
Real-world problems
Randall manages musical banquet
In print
Nassau Notes
Page one
In the news

Randall manages musical banquet

By Nancy Beth Jackson


Nate Randall in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall
(Photo by Denise Applewhite)


Concerts are like big dinner parties--except 800 people are coming," says Uni versity Concert Manager Nathan Randall. "Putting together an audience and performance is like orchestrating a successful banquet."

As a one-time professional chef, Randall should know. But with more than 200 events a year to schedule in Alexander and Taplin auditoriums, he scarcely has time to crack a cookbook these days. Out of a white-siding building tucked behind a service station on Alexander Street, he manages the Friends of Music at Princeton and Princeton University Concerts, as well as parceling out space to other groupsfrom on campus and off, and not always musical.

Randall just completed arrangements for the 2000-'01 concert season, and he and the program committee have already begun work on engaging artists for 2001-'02. When he started doing the job in 1988, there were 10 University concerts and "about 15 Friends of Music concerts," Randall recalls. Since then, "the University Concerts has added jazz and world music to its formerly all-classical mix, as well as the Richardson Chamber Players, for some 16 programs a year. And with the inauguration of the Music Department's Certificate Program in Musical Performance, the number of Friends concerts has grown to more than 50."

In booking artists, Randall works through "a behind-the-scenes mechanism that operates in the world music market"a global network of agents, artists and concert managers linked by the Internet, flyers and personal contacts. People often seek out Princeton, he says, because "we have a hall." More specifically, Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, whose Steinway and excellent acoustics are well known, particularly among chamber groups.

Organist, oboist, music historian

What visiting artists don't always know is that the man who booked them is also a musician. An organist, oboist and music historian by training, he came to Princeton as part of the Smith-Princeton tradition that began in 1934 when Princeton hired Smith professor Roy Dickinson Welch to establish the music department here. Princeton-educated professors taught Randall in his graduate studies in music history at Smith; he then enrolled in the musicology program at Princeton, receiving his MFA in 1981.

In the 1980s Randall performed on campus as an organist at the University Chapel, including three years as principal organist, but he rarely plays in public these days. No time to practice, he explains sadly. He was project manager for the renovation of the Chapel organ in 1991, and he keeps a musical hand in as artistic codirector of the Richardson Chamber Players with Michael Pratt.

Great railroad story

But Randall always has time for music history, particularly the history of music in Princeton. Sitting beneath a large stuffed tiger, he settles into some Tiger tales, beginning 100 years ago with a ladies' gardening club determined to broaden Princeton's musical horizons. "It is just so 19th century and wonderful," he says. "And it's a great railroad story."

Even before the railroad, traveling entertainers stopped over in Princeton on their way between appearances in New York and Philadelphia. The village provided a gracious stagecoach stop for the likes of Mrs. Emma Thursby, "the Jenny Lind of America."

By the end of the 19th century, a group of women led by Philena Fine, wife of the dean of the departments of science, decided that Princeton needed chamber music on a regular basis. They established the Ladies' Musical Committee and began a long-term relationship with the Kneisel Quartet. Led by Franz Kneisel, first violin of the Boston Symphony, the quartet performed in Princeton between three and five times a year, beginning on October 29, 1894, and ending in 1917. The musicians would stop off for an afternoon concert on campus while traveling by train to perform in Philadelphia.

Into the 20th century, musical greats such as pianist Ignaz Jan Paderewski, harpsichordist Wanda Landowska and violinist Jasha Heifetz followed the same route.

"And that's how music came to Princeton. We were on the railroad," Randall says. He adds that Princeton is "still on the railroad," with many visiting performers doing "run-outs" between concerts in New York and Philadelphia.

From the start, Mrs. Fine included the students in the concerts. "[W]hen a few people exhibit enough public spirit to secure such a series of concerts as we have recently been given, then throw them open to students under such favorable conditions, all are under deep obligation," noted the Daily Princetonian after the first concert.

Mrs. Fine enlisted three prominent faculty members as advisers to the Ladies' Musical Committee: her husband, math professor Henry Burchard Fine, who had played the flute in the college orchestra; art professor Allen Marquand, who encouraged students to attend the concerts by excusing them from his classes; and classics professor Andrew Fleming West, who served as the series' first administrator even after he became the first dean of the Graduate School.

Whenever the series found itself in financial difficulties, Mrs. Fine went to work. Selling tickets, accepting gifts, she raised thousands of dollars over the years. A $50,000 memorial fund established after she died in 1928 continues to help support the series.

Most musical community

"On a per capita basis as well as a per diem basis, Princeton is certainly the most musical community in which I have ever lived," Randall says.

"There's a wider variety of musical events than can be found in most major citiesclassical, jazz, world music, rock, and everything in between. As for quality, whether one speaks of the performing organizations at the University, in the larger community or visiting artists, I don't believe it could be surpassed."

As for the University itself, he says, "Princeton has one of the best music departments in the country. We're not trying to be a conservatory, not trying to be Juilliard, but we have a lot of students who come with multiple skills. They score 1600 on their SATs, major in molecular biology and play a superb violin." Some of them, he says, are keeping their options open for graduate studies in music.

Randall has no tales to tell of demanding divas or fussy flutists. "One of the wonderful things about this job is the people you deal with," he says. "I don't think you can play music if you don't love the world."

One surprisingly important off-stage concern of his fellow musicians, he finds, is which brand of mineral water is served in the dressing room. Whatever water they want, he just adds it to the menu.