Music with Minnesotans: John Pastor

May 16, 2012

Duluth, Minn. — John Pastor is a Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota Duluth — and a Hungarian by heritage. His entire playlist is Hungarian. Well, except for the first piece. Although it's played by a Hungarian emigre — and one of the most celebrated and influential cellists, Janos Starker.

A few years ago, John wrote a textbook on mathematical ecology — that's the mathematical modeling of biological systems. As he was writing, he tells me he became intrigued with a concept from the Enlightenment of a "clockwork universe" — that the universe is a very intricate clock or mechanism that produces beautiful rhythms from some simple processes.

And that led him to the music of the Baroque. It reminded him of this unfolding of a universal harmony from simple motifs, used especially in Bach's cello suites. Hungarian performer Janos Starker playing Bach played nearly continuously in John's office while he wrote his book.

John's passion for classical music goes back to childhood. He was not so much into rock and roll or any other popular music. Growing up in a Hungarian community in New Jersey, he learned to play violin from a Hungarian virtuosi who used etudes and duets from Hungary as teaching material. The passion and total engagement of John's violin teacher never left him and influnences his listening today.

In addition to teaching, John is an artist. He paints with watercolors and is a member of Project Art for Nature, a juried consortium of artists and illustrators who promote stewardship of threatened natural areas through art.

Going out into the field and capturing what he sees on paper may be a bit like his countrymen Kodaly and Bartok collecting folk music on wax cylinders in a kind of stewardship of the threatened art form of traditional music. We'll listen to one of those folk songs collected by Bartok — and then hear what Bartok did with it.

John Pastor's playlist:

Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suite No. 3 - Janos Starker

Ignace Pleyel. Violin Duo: Rondo - Vilmos Szabadi and Bela Banfalvi

Idvozlegy Istennek szent anyja (Hungarian Hymn) - Schola Hungarica

Hungararian folksong (Bela Bartok), Ha bemegyek ha bemegyek, a dobozi esardaba

Ferenc Muhr, Csardas No. 2 from Magyar Nota - I Salonisti

Next week we continue with guests from Duluth and talk with David Benson. He's the Executive Director of the Damiano Center, a birder, a published writer and an Eastern Orthodox Christian with an exquisite playlist.

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