Incredibly rare recording of Crane Chorus now part of SUNY Potsdam archives

02.26.09

The latest fashions, electronic gadgets and collectible items are all popular picks on eBay, but no one suspected an extraordinary piece of history from SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music would be offered there. In fact, many never even knew it existed at all until a Crane librarian stumbled upon it while looking for old recordings.

Crane Music Librarian Edward Komara was searching for Leopold Stokowski records on eBay and discovered the United Nations performance of Ahmed Adnun Saygun’s “Yunus Emre” by the Crane Chorus, conducted by Stokowski, from 1958. The incredibly rare recording was being auctioned off by a dealer in Turkey.

After many discussions about the recording and consultation with SUNY Potsdam President Dr. John F. Schwaller and College Archivist Jane Subramanian, Crane Audio Engineer Gary Galo made an offer to the dealer based on donations from Dr. Schwaller; Galo and his wife, Ellen; Subramanian; and Dr. Gregory and Tracy Wanamaker.

“The Saygun record remains the most elusive of all of Leopold Stokowski’s recordings. Although at least three Stokowski discographers have listed the record, to the best of my knowledge none have actually seen it,” said Galo. “The extreme rarity of this record, combined with the importance of this performance in Crane’s history, makes it an invaluable addition to our College archives.”

In 1957, Southern Music Publishing sent Helen Hosmer, director of the Crane Department of Music and conductor of the Crane Chorus, a perusal score of Turkish composer Saygun’s oratorio “Yunus Emre,” asking if she would be interested in performing the work. Hosmer secured the rights to the Western Hemisphere premiere, which would take place in Potsdam in December of 1958 with the composer conducting.

In the meantime, Stokowski had been studying the score for more than a year, and had made contacts with officials at the Turkish Embassy in New York regarding a possible New York performance.

The problem was that Crane had already been given exclusive rights to the Western Hemisphere premiere. Hosmer had to grant permission to allow the premiere to take place in New York City, in a performance sponsored by the Turkish Embassy, to be given in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations.

Turkish Ambassador to the United Nations Seyfullah Esin extended invitation to the 110 members of the Crane Chorus to participate in the U.N. performance under Stokowski.

Brock McElheran, then assistant conductor of Crane Chorus, prepared the chorus for the New York and Potsdam performances. The orchestra for the United Nations concert was The Symphony of the Air, the successor to Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra.

A limited edition LP of the performance was issued by the Turkish Information Office in New York, but the extent of the distribution is unknown.

“I had never seen a copy in my 45 years of record collecting,” noted Galo. “Crane received a copy of the original tape after the performance, which remains in good condition. I first learned of the existence of the Turkish Information Office LP in 1982 when it was listed in the Stokowski discography published in Oliver Daniel’s ‘Leopold Stokowski: A Counterpoint of View.’ I asked Helen Hosmer and Brock McElheran what they knew about the record and, surprisingly, neither was aware that a record of the concert had been issued.”

Galo has now cleaned the record on the Crane Library’s VPI Record Cleaning Machine, made a digital transfer, and made high-resolution scans of the labels. It now resides in the College Archives for safekeeping.