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Sarah Cahill

Classical radio list: James Irsay and Sarah Cahill

I’ve added some more programmers to my community based classical radio show list: James Irsay and Sarah Cahill, both classical pianists.

Irsay has a show on Pacifica station WBAI in New York City. He’s been around the station off and on in one capacity or another for quite a while. Back in the 1970s he hosted a program called Irsay in the Afternoon. A somewhat typical installment of the show focused on the performances of Raymond Lewenthal (see WBAI folio circa 1976), who rocked NYC with his wonderful renditions of Liszt in the mid-1960s. Here’s a YouTube of an Irsay interview with the young Joseph Villa, performing live in ‘BAI’s studios in 1972.

I was a devoted listener to WBAI back the 1970s. It’s been a while, but I am pretty sure I heard Irsay perform Schumann’s Toccata for piano at one of the station’s “free music stores,” popular during those years. This was an act of courage. The Toccata is not only very difficult, it is totally exhausting to perform.

Anyway, if you want to hear James play the piece (quite beautifully), it’s up on the Piano Society’s website as a free download. Nice to have added him to the list.

Meanwhile it was great to hear Sarah Cahill the other day here in San Francisco. My wife Sharon Wood and I went to see her earlier this month at the Old First Presbyterian Church, where she performed with violinist Stuart Canin. They did a marvelous rendition of Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant, which has this amazing Gigue that just goes on and on and stays fun through the whole thing.

The program for the concert mentioned that Canin performed for President Harry Truman at the Potsdam Conference of 1945 (he is 89). So I want back stage after the performance. “Gosh,” I asked Canin in my best fanboy voice, “what was that like?” Canin described it in great detail (he’s also told the story to NPR). He’d been deployed to the German front, but the war ended, so he wound up entertaining the troops. The next thing he knew he was serenading Truman, Churchill and Stalin at the gathering that resolved to divide Germany into four occupation zones. At some point Truman, who played piano, took Canin and his fellow musicians aside. ‘Maybe the country would have been better off if I’d become a band leader rather than President of the United States,’ Canin told us he whispered to them.

Sarah Cahill, of course, has a wonderful classical music show on San Francisco public radio station KALW-FM. Here’s a YouTube of her performing a beautiful contemporary piano work, Sparkina and Her Kittens, by Christine Southworth.


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