Bethoven St. vs. Beethoven St.

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Driving through the area, I've often wondered about Bethoven St. in Polish Hill. Was it named after Beethoven? If so, why is his name misspelled? 

Well, the Post-Gazette archives have a bit of local history about that musical street, as well as a few of Western Pa.'s other quirky names. Check out this PG article by Torsten Ove from May 8, 1998, that explains it all: 

Up in Polish Hill, there's a street named Bethoven.

As far as anyone can tell, it's a misspelling of Beethoven.

A few years back, WQED and the city made a push to get it spelled right, even creating a sign with the correct name. But most of the people who live in the neighborhood said no, leave it alone, it's always been that way.

''So what we have here is the Beethoven Street sign in our studio,'' said WQED's Jim Cunningham. ''We almost got it spelled right, but not quite.''

Bethoven Street remains, leaving passers-by and newcomers to scratch their heads and wonder:
Who the heck was Bethoven?

It's the kind of question you can find yourself asking often in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Strange and interesting names for streets and towns abound.

Consider Turkeytown and Scalp Level, Hunker and Nanty Glo, Dragon Rouge Drive and Swamp Poodle Road.

And consider the names you've heard but can't quite place in the region's rich history: Forbes, Pitt, Lawrence, Aliquippa, McKee, Duquesne, Shinghiss, Monacatootha.

''The problem is that when you live here for a while the names sound all right to you,'' said Pat Bass, who moved to Level Green from Rochester, N.Y., 25 years ago and now works for the Chamber of Commerce in Greensburg.

''When I first moved here I thought, 'You've got to be kidding.' ''

Local names reflect the crazy-quilt heritage of the region.

They're a curious blend of French (Versailles, Jumonville Street), Indian (Monongahela, Guyasuta), English (Forbes Avenue, Chatham College) and German (Steuben Street) combined with such modern oddities as Four Wheel Drive in Richland, Allegheny County.

''It's tough to keep street signs on Four Wheel Drive,'' township secretary Dean Bastianini said. ''People like to steal them.''

Most likely, Four Wheel Drive got its name because it's steep.

How many people really care what places are called?

The late A. Henry Espenshade sure did. In 1925, he wrote ''Pennsylvania Place Names,'' which detailed the origins of counties, towns and villages across the state.

''It is a cause for regret that men and women who are otherwise well-informed should be so generally ignorant of the history and the meaning of the names they use every day,'' he wrote.

''It is a mistake, however, to suppose that most people are not interested in names, that they do not care to know their origin and meaning, or that they have no sense of their fitness or beauty.''

Of course, it can be hard to see the beauty in some names, such as Pit Hole City in Venango County or Slabtown in Armstrong County.

But all local names have roots, connecting residents to a past long forgotten or never realized.

Where do they come from?

Lots of sources.

Take Turkeytown in Westmoreland County. It was named because the local folks herded flocks of turkeys and geese to market.

Or Eighty Four in Washington County. It was named because the post office opened in 1884.

Or Scalp Level in Cambria County. According to one of several stories, an early settler, Jacob Eash, wasn't satisfied with the tree stumps workers had left while clearing land for a cemetery.

So he gave them an order: ''Boys, scalp them level.'' The name caught on.

Moon was named from the ''somewhat moon-shaped'' section of the Ohio River, and when a new township was carved out of the old in 1855, it seemed only natural to call it Crescent - for the quarter-phase crescent moon.

New Paris in Bedford County got its name after a resident visited Paris and came away inspired. New Paris sounds a lot better than the old name: Mudtown.

And Richland? In 1860, it was created from the townships of Pine and Deer. But people in those townships complained that the new community was taking up too much of the ''rich land.''

Names can get tricky, especially when stories about their origins prove to be dubious.

One explanation of Ligonier, cited in Espenshade's book, is that a hunter shot a buck that was ''leisurely scratching his ear with his hind foot.'' The bullet penetrated both the ''leg an' ear.'' The name Ligonier evolved from there.

In truth, Ligonier is named for a British soldier, Field Marshal Sir John Louis Ligonier.

Another tale has it that Loyalhanna in Westmoreland County is named for an Indian woman named Hannah who stuck by her father after he had become old and could no longer hunt.

Among the settlers, the story goes, the woman became known as ''Loyal Hannah,'' and the settlement was named in her honor.

The real story: Loyalhanna is an Indian name for the nearby stream, which means simply ''middle river.''

Street names can fool you, too.

Loop Street in Aspinwall used to be called Llawnipsa Street, which sounds like an Indian name.

But it was actually Aspinwall spelled backward.

Aidyl Avenue in Brookline is like that, too. Named for landowner Lydia Flemming, Aidyl is Lydia spelled backward.

Some streets turn out to have perfectly plausible names, even though at first blush they seem scandalous.

In Pittsburgh, Philander Street brings to mind adulterous doings, but it has nothing to do with philandering.

''We're not quite French enough for that,'' said Michael Eversmeyer, former city historical preservation planner.

The street is actually named for Philander Knox, U.S. senator, secretary of state and attorney general of the United States.

Wars have always played a role in naming streets.

Pittsburgh has the Mexican War Streets with names like Buena Vista, and several streets are named after Civil War heroes, such as Meade and Sherman.

Modern history is responsible for many names, too.

New Kensington has streets named Marne Avenue and Argonne Drive, famous and bloody World War I battles. The Boulevard of the Allies was named after the World War I protagonists. And during The Great War, Berlin Road in Forest Hills was changed to Washington Road.

Some streets have very little history to draw on. When developers map out housing plans, they often name the roads after a theme, such as species of trees.

Occasionally they're more imaginative, as in the case of the King of Arms development in Richland.
That's where you'll find Dragon Rouge Drive and Lord Lyon Drive, names reminiscent from the days of King Arthur.

Richland also has a newer development where the roads are named after patterns of china, such as Lenox Court and Tiffany Court.

Out in Beaver County, you can find a few road names that are downright weird.

In Brighton, there's Windy Ghoul Drive, named for a rocky, wind-whipped region in Scotland called Windyghoul featured in the British novel ''The Little Minister'' by James Barrie, who also wrote ''Peter Pan.''
Swamp Poodle Road in South Beaver Township is another head-shaker.

But it makes sense once you understand that a swamp poodle is another word for groundhog.

A few street names defy explanation.

Many Pittsburgh alleys have bizarre names ending in ''Way,'' such as Ionic Way, Cake Way, Comet Way, Cobalt Way and Costume Way.

''It just strikes me that a committee got together,'' Eversmeyer said, ''grabbed a dictionary and chose a name.''

But most local names were established long ago.

In the 1700s, the British fought the French and their Indian allies for control of the Pittsburgh region. The British won. Prominent men on all sides lent their names to towns and roads, and so did some women.
Aliquippa, for example, is named for Queen Aliquippa (sometimes spelled Allequippa), a Seneca Indian woman known as the Queen of the Delawares.

She was born in 1680 and lived on the site of McKeesport.

In 1753, she took offense at George Washington for not paying his respects to her when he traveled across her land. So when he returned, he appeased her with a bottle of rum and a watch-coat.

Speaking of Washington, he didn't really land at Washington's Landing, according to local historian and author Hax McCullough.

Washington and his guide were marooned on an island near the 40th Street Bridge, McCullough said, when their rowboat sank. That island isn't there anymore. But McCullough said nearby Herrs Island had taken the name Washington's Landing anyway.

Many Pittsburgh streets are named for famous generals, such as John Neville, John Stanwix, John Forbes.
But Grant Street is different.

People assume it takes its name from Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War hero and president.

Some Grant streets in Western Pennsylvania are named for him, after all.

But the Grant Street Downtown is named for Maj. James Grant, a pompous British officer who led 300 Scotchmen to a disastrous end in 1758 during the French and Indian War.

Grant is only one name in a pantheon of historical figures, each one with a story to tell.

Carlton Bates, for example, gave his name to Bates Street.

''He was in a duel,'' McCullough said. ''It was one of those duels of honor of long ago. I think he killed the guy.''

Smithfield Street is named for Devereaux Smith, a pioneer Indian trader and one of Pittsburgh's first merchants.

General Robinson Street is named for General William Robinson, the first white child born in old Allegheny and the first mayor of that town.

Butler Street — and the town of Butler — is named for Maj. Richard Butler, a Revolutionary War soldier.

Lawrenceville was named for James Lawrence, a sea captain killed off Boston harbor during the war of 1812 who uttered the famous line, ''Don't give up the ship.''

''You go by these streets all the time and you don't know who they are,'' McCullough said. ''That's sort of silly, because the people who originally named those streets expected you would be honoring those people.''

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Liner Notes Vol. XII

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

From the New York Times, the state of subscriptions 

From the Wall Street Journal, fixing education through music 

From the BBC, Jonny Greenwood's views on classical concerts 

From the Boston Globe, the 200th anniversary of the Handel and Haydn Society 

From the Wall Street Journal, a WikiLeaks opera (by Ted Hearne, whose concert-length work "The Cage Variations" was commissioned and performed by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble) 

From the Washington Post, the pianist who tried to have a negative review removed, using the law 

From the New Yorker, did Mrs. Bach write the Bach cello suites? 


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Maazel tribute on Friday in NYC

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

To honor the late Lorin Maazel, the conductor's family has organized a tribute on Friday in New York. Involved in the event include Alan Gilbert, James Galway and others. There's a live-stream available for those not in NYC. Additional information from the press release:

The Maazel Family's tribute to conductor Lorin Maazel, on Friday, October 31, 2014 at 12:30 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (Two West 64th Street, New York City), will be streamed live on for those unable to attend. Five cameras will capture the program in a 720p feed.

The tribute will include remembrances from Maestro Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, Sir James Wolfensohn, and members of the Maazel family.

Artists include Sir James Galway performing an excerpt from Gluck's "Orfeo," violinist Eric Silberger performing "Meditation" from Thaïs by Jules Massenet, soprano Jennifer Black performing "Tu che di gel" from Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, tenor Dominic Armstrong and baritone Paul LaRosa performing a duet from Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi; Mr. LaRosa will also perform with Ms. Black the Love duet from 1984 by Lorin Maazel, Mr. Armstrong will also sing "Pourquoi me réveiller" from Werther by Jules Massenet. Baritone Javier Arrey will perform "Ombra mai fu" from Serse by Händel, mezzo-soprano Erika Rodden will perform a Lied by Brahms. John Arida will be the piano accompanist throughout the program. Ilann S. Maazel will play a Valse by Chopin, and a quintet from the New York Philharmonic will perform Hasenöhrl's "Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders!", an arrangement of Richard Strauss' tone poem Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28. Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director for Jazz at Lincoln Center, will perform a Spiritual, accompanied by Dan Nimmer. Also presented will be a short film highlighting the Maestro's legendary career.

Lorin Maazel was one of the world's most esteemed conductors, devoting his life to music professionally for 73 years. Maestro Maazel completed his seventh and final season as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 2009-10 and continued through 2011-12 as Music Director of the Palau de les Artes "Reina Sofia," in Valencia, Spain. He became Music Director of the Munich Philharmonic in 2012 and pursued a broad range of guest conducting activities with the world's leading orchestras, enjoying particularly close associations with the Philharmonia Orchestra, London, and the Vienna Philharmonic. Maestro Maazel was also a highly regarded composer, with a wide-ranging catalog of works written primarily over the last 15 years. His first opera, 1984, based on George Orwell's literary masterpiece, had its world premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and a sold-out revival at La Scala, Milan. A second-generation American born in Paris, Lorin Maazel began violin lessons at age five and conducting lessons at age seven. At 11, he made his debut with NBC in New York at the invitation of Arturo Toscanini. In addition to his prodigious performing activities, Maestro Maazel devoted much time to nurturing young artists. A significant philanthropic gift and enduring memorial is his Castleton Festival, which benefits over 300 young musicians yearly. The Festival takes place in the rolling hills of Rappahannock County, Virginia, on the Maazel Family's 600-acre farm.

Tributes to Maestro Maazel have been held by the Cleveland Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the London Philharmonia, NHK in Tokyo, and by the Munich Philharmonic and Bavarian Radio in a combined concert event. The New York Philharmonic will soon announce its own tribute to Maestro Maazel for May 2015.

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A big flute orchestra

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

I got an email today from Wendy Kumer, the president-elect of the Pittsburgh Flute Club, who sent me some details of the club's collaboration with other local flutists for a performance before the Pittsburgh Symphony concert on Oct. 26. Almost 150 flutes in the Heinz Hall lobby should prepare audience members for the Nielsen Flute Concerto on the PSO program, performed by Lorna McGhee.

There's much to love about this pre-concert performance, which includes lots of new music; one piece features the Club's oldest member, 91 year-young Joe Bonadio. More from the Pittsburgh Flute Club: 

The Pittsburgh Flute Club (one of the oldest ones in the country at nearly 100 years old) is teaming up with the Flute Academy in Oakland and several area and university flute choirs to play a special "Grand Lobby" pre-concert at 1:45 prior to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Sunday, October 26, 2014 2:30 Heinz Hall program that features the PSO's Principal Flutist, Lorna McGhee in the "Concerto for Flute and Orchestra" by Carl Nielsen.

We were hoping for about 40 flutists but this event has blossomed into an amazingly HUGE group of more than 140 flutists! Rehearsals for the 35-minute program began in July. The all-inclusive roster includes flutists aged 12 through high school, college, local adult amateurs, to about 35 professional flutists. Our oldest member, Joe Bonadio, 91, began playing flute for the first time at age 79. We have 1 piccolo player, 14 bass flutists, 14 alto flutists, and are pleased to have Western PA's only contrabass flute in the ensemble. University flute choir members from Slippery Rock, Seton Hill, West Liberty, WVU, and even Ohio State are participating in this one-of-a-kind concert.

Here are some additional highlights about this performance:

Pittsburgh Flute Club commissioned local composer (Oberlin trained), Gay Kahkonen, to write a piece for this event. She came up with a jazz-styled blockbuster in nine harmony parts dedicated to our 91 year-old, favorite PFC member, Joe Bonadio. Titled "Joe's Treat," this delightful composition features Joe on several one-measure solos in his favorite jazz idiom. This will be its world premier and well worth an early arrival to the PSO concert.

Under the direction of Wendy Kumer from the Flute Academy in Oakland the massive flute orchestra will perform seven works including three original compositions, three world premiers, and four spirited arrangements. When Long Island, NY composer, Laurence Dresner heard we were programming his newest oeuvre, "Flutes Gone Wild," he made travel arrangements to hear it played. Local music arranger, Bob Bollman, brilliantly adapted a mid-century favorite, The Theme from "A Summer Place." They will also play Pittsburgh native, Dorli McWayne's adapted version of Mozart's "A Little Night Music," and as a nod to Lorna's chosen composer, Nielsen, a beautiful Praeludium from his "Little Suite." Plan to get to Heinz Hall early on the 26th. The incredible timbre and ambiance created by a flute orchestra is unparalleled.


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PSO to collaborate with artist Baron Batch

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

The Pittsburgh Symphony has announced a year-long collaboration with local artist Baron Batch:

PITTSBURGH—A chance encounter between Baron Batch, founder of Studio A.M., and Michael Sexauer, vice president for sales at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, at a pop-up art event on the South Side this summer has led to a season-long artistic collaboration between the two organizations.

"I fell in love with Pittsburgh because of organizations like the Pittsburgh Symphony who are open to creative collaboration. A few years ago I would have never imagined that I would be live painting with the orchestra but of course things change, and thankfully for the better," said Batch. "It is an honor to live in the city of Pittsburgh during this time of renaissance in the arts community, and my team of creatives and I am pleased to help take part in the city's redevelopment. Pittsburgh is changing."

Batch, a Pittsburgh-based artist, entrepreneur and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back who retired from the NFL in 2013, is the founder of Angry Man Salsa and the multimedia marketing agency Studio A.M., based in Homestead.

The creative partnership between Batch and the Pittsburgh Symphony began with a live painting event at the symphony's opening gala, For Your Eyes Only, in September. Batch created a painting on the spot at the event's cocktail hour, which was later auctioned that evening. (Studio A.M. produced a brief video of the event that can be seen at

Batch will make his next appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Fiddlesticks Family Concert Presented by Macy's, "Fall Festival," on October 18. Batch will do a live painting of Fiddlesticks during the Discovery Time Adventures at 10 a.m., prior to the start of the concert at 11 a.m.

In November, Batch will be featured during the PNC Pops "Sci-Fi Spectacular" weekend on November 13-16. He will attend the Jack Heinz Society Happy Hour on November 13, providing a Studio A.M. D.J. for the event, which includes a social hour and access to the concert rehearsal that evening. During the concerts on November 14, 15 and 16, Batch will paint live in the lobby of Heinz Hall prior to the concerts and during intermission. The paintings will fit the sci-fi theme of the weekend and will be displayed from stage at the end of the concert.

Finally, Batch will help the Pittsburgh Symphony produce a Bach tribute video for the worldwide Bach in the Subways event in March ( Bach in the Subways started in 2011 as a celebration of Bach's birthday — his 330th birthday is March 21, 2015 — and to expose more of the public to live classical music. Along with the video, Studio A.M. and the Pittsburgh Symphony will work together to promote the March 20 & 22 BNY Mellon Grand Classics performances, "Bach's Coffeehouse," as part of the celebration of the composer's life.

"Collaboration provides the opportunity to create something new and unique," said Jim Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. "Working with Baron Batch and Studio A.M. this year is a very exciting opportunity, and we are looking forward to the new and creative experiences it will provide our patrons."

Learn more about Baron Batch at and more about the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at

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