Category Archives: Cambridge in the News

WBZ4’s Lev Reid Features Cambridge’s Black Trailblazers

Congratulations to the Cambridge Black History Project and their wonderful work, celebrating the lives of fifteen extraordinary Black Cantabrigians, Trailblazers, whose contributions and accomplishments have been often overlooked.

Stop by any Cambridge Public Library branch for a bookmark or come to the Main Library to view the Trailblazer exhibition, on display through February 28th.


Decrying winter weather hype, 1888 edition

As those of us in the Northeast batten down the hatches and prepare for what’s being described as potentially a storm of “historic” proportions, many of us are stockpiling supplies and entertainments to get us through the next 48-72 hours. If you’re looking for something to add to your list of the latter, the Cambridge Room’s Historic Cambridge Newspapers collection provides many hours of distraction, and, in keeping with the preoccupation of the moment, there are plenty of references to past storms and blizzards to be found. Fittingly enough, the Wikipedia article for The Great Blizzard of 1888, known as one of the harshest snow storms ever in the United States, cites one of them.

Article from the Cambridge Press, 17 March 1888


This article suggests that, locally at least, The Great Blizzard of 1888 was not so great and that it was felt to be much worse than it was because of the loss of communication systems, making a side jab at people feeling deprived to not know “every five minutes of the day, what is happening in New York or San Francisco or London.” (One can probably feel pretty confident of what the writer would think of our 24-hour news cycle of today.) We’ll see when we come out on the other side later this week whether Winter Storm Juno lives up to its fearsome advance billing. In the meantime, please stay safe, stay warm, and stay entertained — and why not correct a few newspaper articles or old weather logs while you’re at it?

Participate in “If This House Could Talk…”

What happened in your neighborhood two, twenty, two hundred years ago? For the past three years, Cambridgeport residents, businesses and non-profits have posted signs in front of their properties telling interesting tidbits from their recent or distant, personal or public past.

In October of 2009 over seventy signs cropped up for the first “If This House Could Talk…”; in 2011, over 150 signs. Signs told about whatever local residents found interesting:

  • Residents, including writers, social activists, Shakers, and “regular people”;
  • Houses extensively renovated or virtually untouched, built as wedding gifts or boarding houses;
  • A church where Martin Luther King and J.F.K. once spoke; and
  • Gardens that grow potatoes for homemade fries or colorful dahlias–and plots that grew wartime vegetables.

Last year “If This House Could Talk…” was featured on WBUR’s Radio Boston.  Listen here:

If you would like to participate in the 2012 “If This House Could Talk…” contact Jay, Gavin, or Kit at

Occupy Harvard

Harvard Yard, November 10, 2011.  Photograph courtesy of the Cambridge Chronicle.

The Harvard Crimson has recently published two special editions on Occupy Harvard with articles ranging from restricting freedom of speech on college campuses to the University’s refusal to allow Ahmed Maher, Egyptian revolutionary and Nobel Peace prize nominee, to address the protesters.  Both editions can be read online here.

For those of us who live and work in Cambridge and often pass through Harvard Yard, it is rather disconcerting to see the police presence and padlocks on every gated door.  When was the last time Harvard University, which prides itself on being part of the Cambridge Community, closed its gates to the public?  Was it during the student protests of the late 1960s early 1970s?  Was it during the Harvard Square riot of April 1, 1970?  Does anyone know?

21 Famous Cantabrigians – Sort of recently created a slideshow on 21 famous Cantabrigians, along with a section where readers can vote on their favorite Cambridge celebrity. It is always tricky to assign a town or a city to a celebrity, and some of’s picks work and some don’t.

It’s safe to call Henry Wadsworth Longfellow a famous Cantabrigian, even though he was born in Portland, Maine.  The Affleck brothers (Ben and Casey) and Matt Damon grew up in Cambridge and went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin.  They are famous and technically from Cambridge.  Would they call themselves Cantabrigians?  What about Julia Child?  She wasn’t born here nor did she retire here but she lived here for 40 years and filmed her famous cooking shows in her TV-ready kitchen in Cambridge.  Is she a Cantabrigian?  And what about John Malkovich? Does residency make you a Cantabrigian – famous or not?  More importantly how is a Cantabrigian defined?

In an indirect way,’s slideshow gets to the heart of a very important aspect of an archivist’s work:  defining the parameters of a collection and prioritizing what should be collected.  Since the Cambridge Room collects the history of Cambridge, the definition of a Cantabrigian (famous or not) is very important.  Our collection has materials – albeit reference materials – on Longfellow, the Affleck brothers, and Child but not on Malkovich.  (But if Malkovich was more involved in the Cambridge community all that could change.  Can you imagine Malkovich running for Cambridge City Council?)

Think for a moment if the Cambridge Room collected information on every “famous” person who lived in Cambridge at one point in their lives?  The Harvard professors alone would require an entire library to house their papers.  Archivists can’t collect everything – it wouldn’t be possible – besides famous Cantabrigians are only a  small piece of the vastness that is the history of Cambridge.

Brattle Street Estates from

William Brattle House, 1727. Now the site of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, it was the Tory General Brattle’s home until war broke out in 1775.

In the Cambridge section of today’s Boston Globe, there is a nice, short piece on a selection of Brattle Street estates that have been designated a local landmark by the Cambridge Historical Commission.  To view the Boston Globe‘s Brattle Estate photo essay, click here.  To view photographs of all Cambridge’s designated landmarks, click here.

From the Desk of Roger Hecht (CPL’s Classical Music Specialist): Pierre Monteux Conducts the BSO at Saunders Theater, Part II

Doriot Anthony Dwyer, principal flutist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1952 to 1990, the first woman to hold a principal chair in a major symphony orchestra.

By Roger Hecht, Reference Librarian and Classical Music specialist at the Cambridge Public Library.

Pierre Monteux Conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Made in Sanders Theater, Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma in 1959
Brahms Tragic Overture, Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Hindemith’s Nobilissime Visione.

This video, made in 1959, is the only one I’ve seen with Monteux on the on the podium. It is in black and white, and while the sound is not first-rate, it is good enough to convey the performance. The TV direction of Boston Symphony concerts was excellent in its old (and regrettably discontinued) Evening at Symphony series, and you can see the roots of that excellence here. Unlike so many televised orchestra concerts, the director is not obsessed with the conductor (though we see plenty of Monteux), and he does not try for showy shots of rows of instruments, close-ups of trill keys, and other nonsense. Orchestras are made up of human beings playing instruments, and that’s what we see. The director knows the scores, so cuts to various instruments make sense and are well-timed.

Along with Monteux, you see some of the stars of the Boston Symphony in the orchestra’s heyday near the end of the Charles Munch period. Most notable is flutist Doriot Dwyer, the first female section principal in an American orchestra. There is also principal oboist Ralph Gomberg, trumpeters Roger Voison on the right, and a young Armando Ghitalla second from the left. Experienced watchers of the orchestra will recognize many others.

The performances are exemplary. Monteux was 84, but his unspectacular beat is firm and clear. He conducts from memory and has no problems with the complex meters of the Stravinsky. (The original Petrouchka that he conducts here has some treacherous rhythmic moments that Stravinsky simplified in the 1947 revision.)  While he is not known as a Hindemith conductor, Nobilissime Visione is very good as well. (Has the BSO played this before or since? I’m not sure.)

View an excerpt of the performance here:

From the Desk of Roger Hecht (CPL’s Classical Music Specialist): Pierre Monteux Conducts the BSO at Saunders Theater, Part I

Pierre Monteux

By Roger Hecht, Reference Librarian and Classical Music specialist at the Cambridge Public Library.

The Paris-born Pierre Monteux began his musical career as a violinist before moving on to viola, and finally to conducting, starting in 1910.[1] The next year, he took a post at Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. In this capacity he conducted the premières of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) (yes the one with the riot in Paris). He also premiered Debussy’s Jeux (1913) and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé (1912), among several others. Monteux moved to the United States in 1916 where he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera from 1917 to 1919.  In the latter year, he became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1924. Monteux succeeded Henri Rabaud, who held the post for a year. Before that, the orchestra’s conductors were Germans or from the German school of conducting. It was Monteux who established the BSO as a “French” orchestra (though not without some resistance from players), both in style and repertoire. In 1924, he began an association with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and in 1929 he took over the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris, which he conducted until 1935.

Monteux returned to the US 1935 (becoming a citizen in 1946) where he took over the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, remaining until 1952. In 1943, he founded The Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Musicians in Maine, where he taught Lorin Maazel, Neville Marriner, André Previn, David Zinman, and others. In 1951, he began working with the Boston Symphony again. He never resumed his music director status–Charles Munch held that post–but he led concerts in Boston until he died in 1964. His last music directorship was with the London Symphony Orchestra. He took the post at age 86, remaining until his death after blithely demanding a 25-year contract with an option for a 25-year renewal.

Monteux was a classic conductor of the Gallic style. His stick technique was second to none, and his interpretations were clean, detailed but in no way devoid of expression. He was not a great fan of recording, but he made several famous ones, many with Boston from RCA. Following is a partial list of what I consider the best known—many would make other choices. Included are all the BSO discs I know of and an occasional comment. Monteux made many fine recordings with the San Francisco Symphony, but I have not included them in favor of the better known ones.

Symphonie Fantastique
(Vienna Philharmonic)
Roméo et Juliette
(London Symphony). A classic.

La Mer
(Boston Symphony Orchestra
(London Symphony Orchestra)
(Boston Symphony)
Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien fragments
(London Symphony)

Symphony No. 7 (London Symphony)

Enigma Variations
(London Symphony). A classic to many, though somewhat overrated in my view.

Symphony in D Minor
(Chicago Symphony). One of the greatest of this piece.

Orfeo et Euridice

Symphonies 94 and 101
(Vienna Philharmonic)

Violin Concerto
(Leonid Kogan, Boston Symphony)

Franz Liszt
Les Préludes
(Boston Symphony)

(With Victoria de Los Angeles, considered still to be the best recording of this, though in mono)

Daphnis et Chloé
(London Symphony) Given that Monteux premiered this work, it’s too bad that he did not record it in stereo with the Boston Symphony. Perhaps it was because the BSO recorded it twice during Monteux’s time with the orchestra, with Music Director Charles Munch.

Ma Mère l’Oye (London Symphony)

(London Symphony). Somewhat overshadowed at the time by Scheherazades of Reiner and Beecham, a great performance nonetheless.

(Leonid Kogan, violin, Boston Symphony)

Symphony No. 2
(London Symphony). Another classic from his LSO directorship.

(1911 score, Boston Symphony). I don’t think Munch ever recorded this, so we get one of Monteux’s finest.

Rite of Spring (Paris Conservatoire, Boston Symphony). The Paris recording is in stereo, but not a very good performance. The BSO reading is better (not great) and in mono.

Symphonies 4, 5, 6
(Boston Symphony Orchestra). A surpise to me that these are as good as they are. Monteux did well in the Russian repertoire, but the BSO  brass of this era was nothing to write letters about.

La Traviata
. A wonderful example, along with Manon, Monteux classical way with opera.

Biographies on and recordings of Pierre Monteux can be requested through the Cambridge Public Library’s catalog, here:

[1] The famous (and apocryphal?) joke about Monteux was that he began his musical career on violin, when he found that too hard, he switched to viola, and finding himself daunted by that instrument as well, became a conductor.

Cambridge Featured on NPR’s Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me!

On Saturday’s airing of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me!, NPR’s news quiz, the City of Cambridge’s latest art project, “Crossing Non-Signalized Locations,” in which parking ticket envelopes are adorned with yoga poses in an attempt to bring out the poetry in parking enforcement, drew some laughs.

Peter Sagal nearly stumped Mo Rocca with the following question:

“Mo, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, traffic cops have begun a new program in which they’re adding something to parking tickets in an attempt to take a little bit of the sting out of them. What are they adding?”

Listen to the excerpt here (it begins at 4:37):

Along with yoga poses on parking tickets, “Crossing Non-Signalized Locations” includes six signs made to look like regulation signs with messages to pedestrians; car boots made of soft fabric; and an art installation inspired by the written excuses that Cambridge residents have submitted to dispute parking tickets.

For more information, read the Cambridge Chronicle’s article about the installation that runs through November 17 here: