Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pianists on the verge of a nervous breakdown

This is the week for musicians having meltdowns, that is for sure! Yesterday we dealt with the situation involving Keith Jarrett. That sparked quite a discussion! Today we have a case of a classical musician gone wild. It is Ivo Pogorelich.

Ivo Pogorelich misbehaved in Israel, according to this story in the Jerusalem Post. The paper said that during a piano recital he was giving, he began yelling at the audience for talking. Then someone from the crowd yelled at him. It was a lot like the Jarrett incident.

I do not know where to begin to ask questions.

Is it something with the moon?

Also I did not know that people in Israel have a habit of talking in concerts. Is that so? I would not have thought that.

The story in the Jerusalem Post was by Jonathan Beck. It was well-written, I thought, and contained this analysis of the situation:

There is a paradox to every performance of classical music: while instrumentalists or singers may attain superstar status, there is always a measure of servility inherent to their art, in that their abilities are measured by the extent to which they can make the composer’s intentions shine through their own work. Thus, the player is, even at his finest, only a vessel for something greater than himself; he is there merely to make the notes on the page come to life, and anything he manages to express should already be implied by the score, waiting to be brought to life.

I have caught myself thinking that -- or something like that, anyway. I mean, Glenn Gould played fantastic Bach, but it was not as if he was Bach.

I wonder if along with seeing the end of the tyrannical conductor, we will be seeing the end of the tyrannical soloist.

On the other hand hot tempers make good copy. Always have, always will.


  1. Hans Von Bulow thought nothing of telling off his sponsors and audiences. As for Pogerelich, there seems to be no middle ground; some swear by him, others at him. The best pianist/audience story I know is when Oscar Levant was playing a Poulenc piece in recital when he saw a bejewled society matron making a latecoming grand entrance. He stopped and began to vamp show biz walking music to her gait. She stopped; he stopped. She hurried; he vamped faster. By the time she got to her seat, she was pulverized and the rest of the audience was helpless with laughter. I don't know how he got back into the concert pieces after that.

  2. Occasionally, tyrannical behavior by artists is rewarded with decreasing engagements. As fine a technician as she is, Kathleen Battle has been cited as an example of this phenomenon. (She was famously fired by the Met in 1994, and hasn't done opera since; her website lists a half dozen recital appearances for 2009, she has had two in 2010.) I managed a couple of her recitals in the 1980s, and must not have pressed any wrong buttons.

  3. A concert manager I know once hosted, for a concert, a very well known African American soprano. She flew into town on a four jet broomstick and was so consistently aggressive and nasty to all she dealt with that, when he dropped her off at her luxury suite and she started carping about nonexistent pieces of lint, he said "May I tell you something?"

    She said "What?"

    He said "You know, don't you, if not for a tiny quirk of nature, you would be cleaning toilets somewhere in Alabama!"

    She stared for a couple of seconds, then said "I won't sing."

    He said "Fine! We will then take the exorbitant fee we are paying you and engage another singer just as talented and more deserving!"

    She got on the phone to her agent. Bottom line? She sang the concert.

  4. I LOVE the story about Oscar Levant! And the story about the soprano who shall remain nameless. Prof., you are on a roll!

    Ward, who knew you were in concert management? I have read about Kathleen Battle's meltdown at the Met. She has wound up being kind of a sad story.

  5. Mary -- the anti-diva was Yo Yo Ma. He walked up three flights of stairs, shook my hand and said, "Hi--I'm Yo Yo."

    After he got settled in and tuned, he played a Bach partita, just for me. (After that, to tie into Prof. G's story, I'd have surely cleaned his toilet.)

    I think the great ones are so appreciative of the gift they've been entrusted with, that they are a bit humbled by it.