Thursday, June 30, 2011

My dream job

Today the Wall Street Journal has a huge story about the Naples Philharmonic in Florida getting a new executive director, Kathleen van Bergen. To be honest I am really tired of thinking about orchestras and their problems. I just am. But there is one fascinating thing in this story.

That is the job that this Kathleen van Bergen is leaving.

She is, or was, the artistic director of the Schubert Club in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Schubert Club!

Imagine that!

Monday mornings would be less onerous if instead of going into an office like everyone else, to meet my deadlines and squabble with my supervisors, I was beginning a new work week at the helm of the Schubert Club. I would spend my days listening to Schubert. Perhaps I could call musicians and talk about Schubert. I would spearhead and implement educational programs involving Schubert.

I could spend days adjudicating whose version of "Normans Gesang" is superior, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's or Thomas Hampson's.

My head spins to think about it.

Just to say it. You are at a party and someone asks, "So what do you do?" And you get to take a sip of wine or beer, as the case may be, and reply: "I am the director of the Schubert Club."

How did this woman get a job like that, and why would you ever leave it?

Looking up the Schubert Club the story just gets better. They have the coveted domain name They have programs coming up featuring Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau and -- slaver! -- Matthias Goerne and Leif-Ove Andsnes. We never get lieder in Buffalo.

What Schubert are these people performing? Let me check.

Well, now I am a little less jealous. Susan Graham is singing a "predominantly German" program with a little Schubert but also Purcell, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Duparc, Sondheim, Noel Coward, etc. Sondheim, what the heck? Why do they have to throw in Sondheim? Let these Sondheim fans have their own club.

Goerne is singing Mahler and Shostakovich. Nothing against them but ... who is supposed to be the reason for the season? Schubert!

The instrumentalists are not much better. Violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Andrew von Oeyen include no Schubert on their program. Neither do violinist Julia Fischer and pianist Milana Chernyavska. Andre Watts is playing Liszt -- probably the same program he played recently here which, while dazzling, is not Schubert.


No wonder Kathleen van Bergen is leaving.

Perhaps I should declare my candidacy for her job.

Someone had to bring Schubert back to the Schubert Club!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grouchy old man

There is a problem I have in that the things I like to listen to, I listen to over and over, and the things I like to read, I read over and over. It is not a bad thing but it is hard to find the time to do it. I wish I were a teenager again, when all I had to do was sprawl on my bed and listen to Bach.

Now I sneak in pleasures here and there.

The other day at a second-hand book sale I spent a buck on a book I get a kick out of, David Dubal's "Evenings with Horowitz."

It has been a long time since I looked at this book and there are some things I am foggy on. The book tells how Dubal's friendship with old pianist Vladimir Horowitz collapses because the Horowitzes will not let him bring a date to any of the parties. I am not sure why that is. Also I am not sure why Horowitz gets addicted to having students playing for him. Did he just want to feel like the Maestro or was it more nefarious? Probably what I should do is sit down with this book and read it cover to cover. But when? I do not even have time to dry my hair.

So what I do is, I open the book here and there, and read this and that, often when I am drying my hair, which was the mental connection there. "Evenings With Horowitz" is always fun.

I like the book for its insights into Horowitz's personality, which I think must be pretty accurate. Also, not to sound too nerdy, but I like Dubal's use of adverbs.

"Wanda ardently agreed."

"Horowitz said glumly."

"Horowitz and Wanda nodded vigorously."

That is Horowitz and his wife, Wanda, the daughter of Toscanini, up above. By the time Dubal knew them, though, they were much older.

One paragraph last night got Howard and me laughing.

Dubal wants to bring his girlfriend to a party the Horowitzes are having and he is arguing with Horowitz about it.

"You know Wanda is in charge of these things," Horowitz says. "She likes only married people. She's Catholic."

I said, "Come now, Maestro. Are Woody Allen and Mia Farrow married? And I can name other exceptions who are allowed to your parties. ..."

There was no doubt Horowitz was rather upset at this confrontation. Just then, we were called to dinner.

"We go down now. I go peepee first. After a good dinner, you will feel better."

When he returned, he sat, as always, at the head of the table, with me at his left side. During his absence, he had regained his composure and started talking about the people who had been ostracized from his life.


That is what cheers Horowitz up!

Well, Dubal makes the point that Horowitz was thinking of ostracizing him, making a subtle threat. But I think even besides that, Horowitz probably liked to think about the people he had ostracized. Like notches in his belt.

Gotta love him, you know?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fingers flying

Here is a treat for pianists. Stephen Hough, the British concert pianist, has written on his Web log what amounts to a free piano lesson on how to do trills.

Is this a marvelous age we live in or what? You hop onto the Internet and you never know what you will find.

I am trying to think of the trilling-est piece I ever played. I think it would have to be Beethoven's Sonata in E, Opus 109, which ends in showers of trills in the right and left hands with all kinds of other things going on too. Once I, ahem, played this sonata in recital and Howard said that when the trills all finally wound down, his heart could stop pounding because it meant the plane had landed safely. Ha, ha! Playing a sonata like this is like being at the controls of a jet. If you listen to the music you can actually feel the wheels touch ground.

Unfortunately my recital was not recorded for posterity so here is Daniel Barenboim playing it. What a sonata. It is intoxicating. The first theme, heartbreaking! The middle voices get to me. Then the beginning of the first variation always gets me. Barenboim gets to this at about 2:18. It is almost like a very slow waltz. I know I should not think about it like that but still.

Barenboim is the slowest pianist I have ever heard doing this! Also I had not realized his fingers were that stubby.

When you get to 4:10, 4:11 the music kind of hurts. I remember my teacher, Stephen Manes, talked about that. Sometimes music has to hurt a little bit and this is one of those times.

The third variation sounds like sleigh bells and there are things that given my overactive imagination I read into that. The variation that starts at 6:45 is one I love. It is so tender and so direct.

The fun starts about 10:40 when he states the theme simply, then doubles up the notes, then triples them. Beethoven likes this trick. Then it picks up .... you can think of a train, but I like to think of being on a plane, when the engines really start going and you are flattened against the back of your seat and you take off.

The trills get under way slowly at 11:00. At 11:16 they speed up and by about 11:30 they are going full blast. Wow, Barenboim! Look at those stubby fingers fly! As you gain altitude, the trills keep going in the left hand while the right has all this other exciting stuff going on. It builds and builds and then starts coming down. There can be some discussion about when exactly the wheels touch down but I would ... say ... right .... about ....

... 11:37.

That is one thrilling 30 seconds!

Did I say thrilling?

I meant trilling!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Great Scot

Looking at pictures of Edvard Grieg I found the oddly pathetic picture up above.

I am thinking, what is this, some joke?

It was an unfortunate period for men's fashions. He just looks like a sad sack, you know?

This site reports that Greig's ancestors were from Scotland and the family name was originally "Greig." Too bad it is not still! Because every time I type it it comes out Greig.

Such Norwegian nationalism swirls around Grieg that I wonder if they mind that his family was from Scotland. I hear that his picture is on Norwegian Air planes, along with Jenny Lind's and Ole Bull (a name I love).

A young Grieg.

An artistic photo of a young-ish Grieg.

Grieg did not have much of a chin!

Here is my Grieg story. I was a teen-ager and in the middle of this Mozart craze which, I have to say, has lasted my whole life. I was buying records one fevered afternoon and one that I picked up was Mozart's ballet "Les Petits Riens," which translates to "The Little Nothings."

On the other side of the record was Grieg's "Holberg Suite."

I went home and when I got around to that record I played the Mozart. I realized pretty quick that Mozart was on autopilot when he wrote that thing.

But the other side!

The Grieg!

That was a different story!

I held onto that record over the years all on account of that Grieg. That "Holberg Suite." I have played it hundreds of times. That was how I first got to know the "Holberg Suite," by accident.

So lovely.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A novelist's dream

I am happy to hear there is a new novel out about Mozart. The British music writer Jessica Duchen writes about it on her Web log. It is called "Mozart's Last Aria."

Jessica Duchen calls it "a cracking read." That is a British expression I will have to pick up.

The book is by Matt Rees and it is a fictional exploration of how Mozart could have died. Admit it, his death has always been mysterious. I like how Rees apparently hinges his story on Mozart having said in a letter that he thought he had been poisoned. I always thought that was pretty important, you know? You cannot exactly dismiss that.

Jessica posts the book trailer. That is one long and leisurely book trailer. When I do my book trailer for my book on Pennario it is going to be shorter. Because I will tell you one thing, if I were not pathologically fascinated by all things Mozart I would never have sat through this thing.

The one thing I hope is that Rees' book does not blame Mozart's death on the Catholic Church. Fiction that blames things on the Catholic Church has a way of sticking and before long everyone will be quoting it as fact.

Blame it on the Masons. Blame it on anyone else, you know?

Well, I should not get all nutzed up. I have not even seen this book.

Let me see what teasers are out there.

Here is a video of Mr. Rees reading from it. I like the glass of red wine! Man after my own heart.

Here is another. I appreciate how the author refers to Mozart's son, who called himself Wolfgang II, visiting Mozart's sister, Nannerl, in her older age. That is a historic turn of events I have always found touching. Another real-life aspect of the Mozart story I love is when the biographers Mary and Vincent Novello, long after Mozart's death, went looking for the people close to him and found Nannerl, Aloysia Weber (Mozart's old flame), and Konstanze (his widow), all living in the same town. These three old ladies, all there, with all their old rivalries.

What a strange story, on all levels, surrounds Mozart's death. It is not anything anyone could ever make up.

It is a novelist's dream.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mid-summer magic

Music with me goes sort of with the calendar. There are certain things I like to listen to on different days.

For instance on New Year's Day and on my birthday I like to play Bach on the piano. It puts me in a sunny frame of mind.

On the first day of summer, which is today, I like to listen to "Die Meistersinger," the chorale that starts it. It is the chorale to St. John because in June 21 is the feast of St. John the Baptist, or Johannestag. 

I would go crazy trying to find that on YouTube so forget it. Instead here is this clip of the unique Glenn Gould working his way with enjoyment through Wagner's Prelude to "Die Meistersinger." I love how he sings along. In this case it adds to it.

There is the Mendelssohn "Midsummer Night's Dream" music, obvious but I have to mention it because I like to listen to it. You know me, I love warhorses. I could do a whole separate Music Critic Web log on warhorses.

It is hard for me to name my favorite part of the Mendelssohn score because I love the whole thing. Mendelssohn at 17, already at the top of his game.

It is wonderful to play the Nocturne at night. Listening to it, you know, I wonder what this kid's parents were thinking. "Holy cow." I mean, there are kids today who are talented as teenagers, but ... not like this.

To have come up with this. Again, obvious, but has to be mentioned. I knew Howard was starting to think about marrying me when he started working this theme into his jazz playing. Then we walked down the aisle to it at St. Gerard's. I know, boring, been done, but some things you just have to do, you know?

One other midsummer matter.

I love how Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" takes place all in one day.

So does "Die Meistersinger."

Both of them filled with all this crazy hazy romantic action and packed into this one long up-and-down day. The longest day of the year.

So there is something else I associate with them and that is "The Marriage of Figaro." Another dreamy creation that takes place all in one day. It is not necessarily Midsummer Day, as far as I know, but it could be.

That last scene in the garden. Warning: Do not listen to this clip in the morning. Your whole day will be shot!

Well, who gets work done today anyway?

It is Mid-Summer Day!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tell 'em, Maestro

Riccardo Muti is like me!

I was dazzled to read that Muti has spoken up on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI and his drive to clean up Catholic church music.

"When I go to church and hear four strums of a guitar, or choruses of senseless, insipid words, I think it's an insult," says Muti, who is the music director of the Chicago Symphony.


"I can't work out how come once upon a time there were Mozart and Bach and now we have little sing-songs. This is a lack of respect for people's intelligence."

I love this guy!!

It is time someone spoke up about this music mess. It is great that we have a recognizable musical figure chiming in.

You know what, I am not denying that John Paul II was a holy man. But his powers apparently did not extend to fixing the Catholic Church's music. The whole time he was pope this whole situation just got worse and worse and worse. And I am sorry, music matters. Perhaps it should not but it does. The human spirit responds to music on levels we do not understand.

As well as on levels we do understand. A lot depends on your particular Mass -- more than should depend on it. If you are stuck with a Mass that grates on you, it makes it awfully hard to go back the next Sunday, I will tell you that right now, because I have been there.

I am so personally grateful to Pope Benedict XVI for pushing to fix the music and the liturgy situation and take out the trash even if it makes him the heavy and even if it makes him unpopular. Someone has to show leadership here. I pray every day that the pope stays healthy and lives long, because God knows we need him. I need him, that is for sure.

Wow, this Riccardo Muti, I should pray for him, too. Google Riccardo Muti and it is not pretty. The Google system prompts you with other people's searches and so you get:

riccardo muti health
riccardo muti fall
riccardo muti pacemaker
riccardo muti accident
riccardo muti injury
riccardo muti illness

The poor maestro! Well, it seems that after blacking out earlier this year he has gotten a pacemaker and is recovering. So, though I am but the casual observer here, things appear to be looking up. I wish him renewed health.

And, at long last, decent music at Mass!