Re-creating WGY’s beginnings: Concert, drama will take us back to 1922

Musicians of Ma’alwyck founder/violinist Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz and baritone Charles Eaton.
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Musicians of Ma’alwyck founder/violinist Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz and baritone Charles Eaton.

Musicians of Ma’alwyck has concerts scheduled this Saturday and Sunday, but what they’re offering is completely different.

On Saturday, they’ll be at the Hearst Gallery of the Albany Institute of History and Art with baritone Charles Eaton in a song recital.

On Sunday, they’ll be at the Kenmore Ballroom in Albany to celebrate the 100th anniversary of radio station WGY in a re-creation of the first broadcast the station made. Needless to say, MOM violinist/founder Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, who is a local history buff, is especially excited about this event.

“It’s really cool,” she said.

She’d been reading a book (“Musical Reminiscences”) by Edwin T. Rice, a NYC lawyer who’d had eight children, of whom seven were outstanding musicians. This made her recall an elderly violin teacher, Edward Rice, from high school and she wondered if he was related. When she Googled his name, his association with WGY came up.

“He was the first violinist of the professional string quartet of the station and who played on the first broadcast,” Barker Schwartz said. “The string quartet played as a fixture of WGY for at least two decades.”

This piqued her curiosity to research WGY’s history and is where she discovered how General Electric provided the technology to create the station. Its first airing was Feb. 20, 1922, with an hour of entertainment. The Daily Gazette reported on that first show, which was said to reach listeners as far as Bayside, Long Island.

The station would become a pioneer in offering live music, including an orchestra that celebrated conductor Walter Damrosch would come up from New York City to lead; radio dramas with created sound effects and music interludes between acts; as well as the first World Series and speeches frrom then-Governor Nathan Miller.

“When I heard some of those old recordings of the WGY orchestra — it was a high quality orchestra, and I realized the connections with the 100th annivsary, I reached out to WGY,” Barker Schwartz said. “I suggested celebrating the first broadcast and they ran with that. They had already come up with the drama.”

The current “show” includes a bit of the original broadcast and the Aug. 3, 1922 broadcast, which aired the first of 43 dramatizations the station would perform that year called “The Wolf,” by Eugene Walter. Instead of that original 1908 drama, Ben McCauley was commissioned to write a take-off on it entitled “A Play of a Play in the Canadian Woods.” Thirteen actors from Schenectady Light Opera Company will perform with sound effects.

Barker Schwartz, pianist Max Caplan, and baritone Charles Eaton will provide the musical interludes: “Romance” from the second movement of Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2; Jean Sibelius’ “Rigaudon”; songs by Rachmaninof, Lohr, Jerome Kern and 1920s pop tunes.

Prior to the concert, miSci archivist Chris Hunter will give an hour lecture and exhibit some of the old stills as well as talk about the station’s first decades. Included will be items from the museum’s own collection of WGY’s first broadcaster Kolin Hager’s memorabilia. Hager, who was known as KH, signed on with the station’s call letters explaining that the “W” was for wireless, the “G” was for General Electric, and the “Y” was the last letter in Schenectady. Live music and announcements lasted about an hour.

The reason the Kenmore Ballroom, which was part of the Kenmore Hotel in downtown Albany, was chosen for this event was its history. Built between 1876 and 1878, it became a favorite spot of jazz musicians including Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington and notables like Frank Sinatra, Babe Ruth and “Legs” Diamond.

“It’s very lush, chic and vintage inspired,” Barker Schwartz said. “It still has that 1920s mural and a parquet floor to dance on. It enchants those who enter its doors.”

But Saturday’s concert at the Albany museum has its own thrills. Eaton is not only a prize winner in the annual Lotte Lenya Vocal Competition and a former young artist at the Glimmerglass Festival, he will be appearing with Minnesota Opera this spring in Bizet’s “Carmen.” Last summer he also sang in MOM’s production of “The Ship’s Captain.” Among the works he will be singing are six songs from Gerald Finzi’s 1925 song cycle “By Footpath and Stile” with poems by Thomas Hardy; and songs by Amy Beach, Kurt Weill and Broadway musicals. A new aria by pianist Max Caplan will be premiered.

Violinist Heather Chan, violist Andrew Snow and cellist Andre Laurent O’Neil will also perform.

Tickets for either event are through www.musiciansofmaalwyck.org. For both concerts, proof of vaccinations and masking will be required.

Musicians of Ma’alwyck

SATURDAY, FEB. 19
WHERE: Albany Institute of History & Art, 125 Washginton Ave. ,Albany
WHEN: 5 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $40

SUNDAY, FEB. 20
WHERE: Kenmore Ballroom, 76 North Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: 3 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $35

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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