John Axelrod

Thu, Aug 14th, 2014

Folks, Im sorry to say but our Route 66 Brahms Beloved tour has come to an abrubt end.  We had our kicks.  At least half of the way.  The beautiful truck lost its back right wheel, it cannot be repaired in time, and there was no appropriate replacement car available in Amarillo to keep us on schedule.  At least we ended in Texas.

Being from Texas, where the 3rd largest German population in America lives, I can say there's no place like home for Brahms.  For all of you who enjoyed following the posts on my site, facebook and sinfinimusic, there is still a chance to win CD's and more.  All you have to do is register at sinfinimusic.

And Brahms?  Well, I think he made some new fans.  Some people you would never expect bought and played the Brahms Beloved CD.  In bars, pubs, garages, coffee shops, motels, diners....That is America.  Open and honest.  What did I learn?  Not only that many people still love Brahms, but that the old man would have fit right in on Route 66.  Sausages, beards, big bellies and, well, places of ill repute were common on the road. His cup of tea.. Or beer, that is.  Maybe Clara would not have approved.  Then again, maybe he was just the sort of cowboy she liked.

Some words of advice if you ever attempt Route 66:

1.  Make sure you have a truck that is inspected before you drive.  500 miles a day in the heat does its damage.  Don't choose the company I did.

2.  If you break down, try to do it in Texas.  Everyone is nice in America.  But there's no place like home.

3.  If you want to eat meat, dont do 72oz.  You will regret it the next morning.  That being said, the Big Texan Steakhouse is loads of fun for the family. And for a little flavor of Texas, and not the meat, go listen to Cowboy fiddler Bill Smith and his rendition of the Cotton Eyed Joe.  It's not the Brahms concerto.  But it will make you smile.

4.  Keep a good attitude.  And make sure you have a good playlist for hours.  And do it with somone you love.  That is the only way to make it no matter what.

And so, with great disappointment not to finish, but with many good memories to inspire a return for the 2nd half, there is little to say but, in the immortal words of Elmer Fudd:  ""Th-th-that's all, folks!"

Wed, Aug 13th, 2014
Bittersweet Brahms

Brahms wrote the majority of his 4th Symphony in the summer of 1884 in Mürzzuschlag.  “The cherries don’t ever get to be sweet and edible in this part of the world,” he said, adding that something of their bitter flavour was to be found in his new symphony. When Brahms unveiled the work, some of his supporters found it “difficult,” and not only because of the tragic ending.  The critic Hanslick said listening to the first movement played through by two pianists was like “being given a beating by two incredibly intelligent people.”

Our departure from Tulsa started off with construction on the route and therefore delayed our arrival in Edmond at KUCO for an interview with Brad Ferguson.  While the interview was great, sharing Brahms with the classical public at the only classical station I know of on Route 66, the drive to Amarillo was like a journey through the bittersweet world of Brahms Symphony 4.  We arrived at the Cherokee Nation outpost in Calumet, and though the goods on sale were authentic, and some not, and the big chief a route 66 attraction, I was reminded of the trail of tears and the tragic history of native Americans.

The bittersweet symphony continued.  Just as we arrived in my home state of Texas, the wheel bearing of the back wheel of the truck began to squeal and smoke.  Not a good sign.  Even after a pitstop in Shamrock, hoping for a lucky break, (and a mechanic who loved Brahms!), there was that pervasive feeling of doom.  A quick exit into Mclean, a route 66 historic city, the wheel could bear no more and off it came with a right turn.  What to do? Stranded in Texas?  But, being Texan myself, I knew we were safe.  Bobby Richardson, and his wife Missie, came to the rescue.  He was a former mechanic and a musician, who now provides audio/visual systems to churches in the Bible Belt.  His is a brotherly love, and Bobby and Missie took us in their truck to Amarillo, into the sunset, leaving our green truck behind for repairs.

One of the highlights of any Route 66 tour is the Big Texan Steak House in Amarillo, home of the 72oz steak.  If you eat it all, plus the extras, the meal is free and lots of prizes.  Not many succeed.  But we were determined.  For any vegetarians reading this post, you might want to skip to the end and not see all the photos.  And I want to assure you, the leftovers were given to the hungry.  We lost the contest.  The only consolation was making new friends, kindred spirits who shared our love of adventure.  As Lennon and McCartney wrote in The Long and Winding Road:  “Don’t leave me waiting here, lead me back to your door.”  The passicaglia finale of Brahms 4 has 32 variations leading to its conclusion.  Our Route 66 truck ended in Mclean, yet on we go, down that winding road, on to Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Tue, Aug 12th, 2014
Brahms Harvest and Lullabies

Oklahoma is a mosaic of landscapes, like Brahms is a mosaic of sounds and rhythms.  Layers and layers upon each other, hills and rivers, steers and horses, the sunsets are dramatic, the horizion gets wider, the clouds seem farther away, the super moon fades into the distance and the land is marked by the plains that are red and dry, yet bountiful when harvest comes.  This is home on the range.  This is a lullaby of that brings to mind a ballade written by Rachel along the route:

When the storm is coming like in Oklahoma, there is no way to escape the tornado, you just have to let it pass.
You just have to wait.
Eventually the next day, you look at your man, and you know you were right to be patient, but you have to make it right, otherwise you're caught in a tornado.
And here it is, the nice harvest, the treasure of love and life.
Ripe and sweet as the light on the fields and you breathe in and you know it feels like home.

Home for us was the Ambassador hotel in Tulsa.  But the day began from Lebanon, with a tuneup of the truck.  The mechanics at C&J Muscle Cars had the usual heavy metal in the metallic garage.  I asked them if they had heard of Brahms.  The head mechanic, Kirk, said his mother played Brahms on the piano all the time when he was a child. He remembered the Lullaby.  I told him there is a symphony with the lullaby theme, and even some of Clara Schumann's lieders were lullabies.  So, we put the Brahms Beloved CD on, and for the next hour, the garage was an oasis of sound, a harvest of nuts and bolts and Brahms no doubt would have been pleased.  They bought both CD's and on our way we went.  At the village of HarBer, built by a couple who recreated a frontier village from the 1830's-1890's, we visited the music house (can you see the incredible old Jukebox?) and of course had to go to prison and then to the gallows!  I noted how this period was precisely the epoch of Clara and Johannes, from their first meeting in 1853 to Clara's death in 1896.  Can you name which symphony has the Brahms Lullaby and which lied from Clara Schumann is never a parting, but a lullaby itself?  The ebb and flow of the music is like the wind and water of the rivers, like the tornados that sweep through the fields, like the harvest that brings life to the land.

Mon, Aug 11th, 2014
Brahms was a melancholy man-if only he ate BBQ on Route 66...

Brahms wrote to his publisher on November 22, 1877, that the Symphony #2 "is so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it. I have never written anything so sad, and the score must come out in mourning."  Sounds like the blues to me. Indeed, after a morning at the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, bearing witness to history and this melancholic, yet humble man, I found new friends who love both the blues and Brahms at the famous Luna's Cafe on Route 66.  But seeing my old friend in St. Louis was the best pleasure, Byron de Lear, who recently achieved national fame for his having discovered and published the origins of the phrase: "The United States of America".  We all gathered for some Lager at the German Hofbrauhaus Schneithorsts and toasted to Brahms.  Then it was on to the Super Smokers in Eureka, not for a smoke (Route 66 is not in Colorado!), but for the championship best BBQ in Missouri.  And was it good!  Reminds me of the story of Mahler visitng Brahms in Bad Ischl, seeing the old bearded composer, ridden with cancer, cooking his own pork sausage. Such melancholy. But all my melancholy went away after the taste of this sweet full slab of ribs. After that, a good night sleep in Lebanon, Mo. at the famous Munger Moss Motel made a full day feel complete.  Onwards to Tulsa.....

Sun, Aug 10th, 2014

From the beginning of the Route 66 Brahms Beloved tour, here are some highlights.  The apple green 1953 Chevy Truck has made quite an impression already.  From the top of the world the call was to Go West!  But, just around the corner from where Route 66 begins, I was suprised to see the exterior of Symphony Center does not have our beloved Brahms carved on the outside wall, even if Theodore Thomas and the CSO performed Brahms Symphony 1 in 1894, and there have been countless cycles since then,   Can you see it in the photo?  Some mighty musical names are there, but where is Brahms?   I was, however, pleasantly surprised to meet some Harley bikers who love Brahms!  And even a Rabbi blessed the truck! These are certainly signs for interesting things to come on the Mother Road.  For those who follow Sinfinimusic, don't miss your chance to win their bundle of CD's, T-shirts, souvenirs, and more.   You can like, comment and share as well my facebook, twitter and even the corcordmusicgroup facebook page.  Here is a trivia question to win a Brahms Beloved CD:  How long did it take Brahms to complete his 1st symphony?  Gestation and completion dates please.

First ones to answer at and win!

Mon, Aug 4th, 2014
John Axelrod brings Brahms Beloved to the Heartland of America on Route 66 from August 7-August 20, 2014

John Axelrod, conductor and pianist, has done many innovative projects. But this time, Axelrod does what no classical conductor has done before. In a 1953 Metallic Green 1/2 ton Chevy Truck, courtesy of Blacktop Candy's, Axelrod will drive the historic Route 66 while promoting Brahms Beloved, Vol. 2. Why? Axelrod combines in a unique way two legendary paths: one through a mythical love story in classical music, and one through the mythical road of America.

Released by Telarc on July 22, Brahms Beloved Vol. 2, the 2nd of Axelrod's acclaimed recorded cycle, features Symphonies 1 and 3, performed by the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, and Clara Schumann lieder sung by legendary soprano Dame Felicity Lott and Lieder specialist Wolfgang Holzmair. Route 66, the iconic "Mother Road," starts in Chicago and ends at Santa Monica, California. Axelrod will play his CD, write daily blogs for classical website SinfiniMusic at, make interviews with local radio stations, and share social media updates on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Some of the legendary Hotel+Motels to be visited during the John Axelrod Brahms Beloved Route 66 Tour include:

  • Palmer House, Hilton, Chicago, IL.- Aug 7-8
  • The State House Inn, Springfield, IL- Aug 9
  • Munger Moss Motel, Lebanon, MO.- Aug 10
  • Ambassador Hotel, Tulsa, OK.- Aug 11
  • Ambassador Magnuson Grand Hotel, Amarillo, TX.- Aug 12
  • Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, NM.- Aug 13
  • El-Rancho Hotel, Gallup, NM.- Aug 14
  • La Posada Hotel & Gardens, Winslow, AZ.- Aug 15
  • Wigwam Hotel, San Bernardino, CA. - Aug 16
  • The Gregorian Hotel, Santa Monica, CA - Aug 17

Following Santa Monica on August 18, the tour will continue up the California coastline on Route 1 to San Francisco, ending the tour on August 20.

Why Route 66?

"As a Texan, I have grown up with the myth of the West and the history of Route 66," says Axelrod. "This drive is a great way for me to share my love of Brahms's music with the many people I will meet. I think most will know his music and be open to hear my message that Brahms is for everyone. Most of all, especially as I work mostly in Europe, it is an opportunity for me to reconnect with my own country, to feel that optimism of possibility that made Route 66 so iconic. I will be getting a kick in a 53' Chevy truck in the heat of August, but I'll also be playing my Brahms mix on Route 66."

Route 66 is one of the essential icons of America, both for Americans and for people abroad. It represents a multitude of ideas: freedom, migration West, and the loneliness of the American heartland.

The romance of Route 66 continues to captivate people around the world. Running between Chicago and Los Angeles, "over two thousand miles all the way" in the words of the popular R&B anthem, this legendary old road passes through the heart of the United States on a diagonal trip that takes in some of the country's most archetypal roadside scenes. If you're looking for great displays of neon signs, rusty middle-of-nowhere truck stops, or kitschy Americana, do as the song says and "get your kicks on Route 66." But perhaps the most compelling reason to follow Route 66 is to experience the road's ingrained time line of contemporary America. Before it was called Route 66, and long before it was even paved in 1926, this corridor was traversed by the National Old Trails Highway, one of the country's first transcontinental highways. Many immigrants, particularly Germans and Irish, populated the towns along the Old Trails. For three decades before and after World War II, Route 66 earned the title "Main Street of America" because it wound through small towns across the Midwest and Southwest, lined by hundreds of cafés, motels, gas stations, and tourist attractions.

During the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of farm families, displaced from the Dust Bowl, made their way west along Route 66 to California, following what John Steinbeck called "The Mother Road" in his vivid portrait, The Grapes of Wrath. After World War II, many thousands more expressed their upward mobility by leaving the industrial East, bound for good jobs in the suburban idyll of Southern California—again following Route 66, which came to embody the demographic shift from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt.

Later representations of the road were a little more upbeat. Probably most famous is musician Bobby Troup's eponymous tribute song, which enjoined listeners to "get their kicks on Route 66". A TV show in the 1960s, also called "Route 66", featured two young men exploring America's highways. Although Jack Kerouac only mentions 66 briefly in his book On the Road, it acquired something of the aura of Beatnik cross-country driving. In the 1980s, the aging highway was decommissioned. Much of its stretch had been overlaid or routed around by broader, newer interstate highways. But the embedded idea of Route 66 refuses to die – as demonstrated by the 2006 Disney/Pixar movie Cars – and millions of kicks-seekers continue to follow the remnants of the road from Chicago to Los Angeles to this day. And now John Axelrod take Brahms on the road.

Axelrod Drives Route 66

Departing Chicago, Axelrod heads southwest through several small, scenic towns and communities. Springfield, IL, home and resting place of the sixteenth U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, is a natural first layover. Grab a classic bite at the 1950s-styled Charlie Parker's Diner, tour the Illinois State Capitol or visit the historic Abraham Lincoln home, office or tomb. Then, after a short off route diversion to the Monster Truck Nationals in Indianapolis, it's on to St. Louis to journey to the top of the Gateway Arch, the nation's highest monument soaring 630 feet over St. Louis. Next, a side-trip to Branson, Missouri may be on the agenda.

Get Your Kicks on a Route 66 Road Trip

On the Arkansas River, at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains awaits Tulsa, Oklahoma—the state's cultural and arts center. Axelrod will drive Route 66 to beautiful Elk City, OK home of the National Route 66 Museum and an area replete with museums, state parks, wildlife refuges and historic sites. Route 66 takes Axelrod to his next stop in Tucumcari, New Mexico—a small city frozen in time and highlighted in the 1946 hit "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66." He spends the night in the newly renovated, totally retro 1940's Blue Swallow Motel before heading on to Santa Fe—another center for great American art, culture and architecture.

Travel Like A Star

Axelrod will then then roll into Gallup, NM, which was a 1940s and 50s hotspot for filming Hollywood Westerns. Stay at the Historic El Rancho Hotel—just like Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn—among many others. He will enjoy a night in beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona before traveling to Williams, AZ—by way of the Grand Canyon—one of the 7 natural wonders of the world! Then it is time to relax, play some games and enjoy world-class dining on a side-trip to Las Vegas, before driving to San Bernardino, California—where the site of the world's first McDonald's now hosts a Route 66 museum. Also, just an hour west of San Bernardino is the oldest operating McDonald's in the world, unchanged since 1953.

The Sunset Strip
Axelrod's final destination takes in the array of sites, celebrity attractions and the famous Sunset Strip in Hollywood before arriving at the historic end location of the Santa Monica Pier. At the pier Axelrod will enjoy some great seafood, enjoy a classic egg cream or phosphate, and ride the ferris wheel.


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