Friday, March 20, 2009

Riled by O'Riley

There is this pianist, Christopher O'Riley. He came here to Buffalo a couple of weeks ago to tape his national radio show, "From the Top." I got to interview him for The Buffalo News. You can read my interview here. It is insightful, erudite and engrossing!

But there is a hilarious part of my conversation with Christopher O'Riley that did not make it into the paper. That is when I brought up the book I am working on about Leonard Pennario.

Normally I would not do that. I know it is hard to believe but I do not bring up Pennario with every pianist I talk to. But O'Riley was in Pennario's address book. I figured that was because in 1981, O'Riley placed fourth in the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, and Pennario was on the jury that year as he was many years. Pennario was one of only two permanent judges of the Van Cliburn Competition, the other one being the Hungarian-born pianist Lili Kraus. There is a biography of Lili Kraus, by the way, that brags on the back cover that she was the competition's only permanent juror. Not true. Thanks a heap, Lili Kraus biographer!

You can read about the 1981 Cliburn competition here, on the Van Cliburn Foundation's Web site.

Pennario was a judge on a number of competitions -- the Van Cliburn, the Naumburg, etc. -- and I have been given to understand that he was generous with the young musicians, offering them advice and encouragement. A number of former contestants wound up in Pennario's address book and I figured that was why. Pennario was very meticulous about keeping track of people he met.

Anyway. I bring this up with Christopher O'Riley at the end of our conversation. Which, admittedly it was not a great conversation because they scheduled it at 4:30 p.m. when I am always tired and out of it.

And O'Riley had no recollections of Pennario at all!

I said, "You didn't talk to him or anything?"

O'Riley: "No."

Me: "Because often he would offer advice to the kids who competed. He would go out of his way to do that."

O'Riley: "I remember he liked to play bridge."

Me: "Bridge! That is a word I do not want to hear again!"

O'Riley: "Well, he played bridge."

Me: "Well, the reason I thought maybe you had some recollection of him was, you were in his address book."

O'Riley: "I was????"

And then so he would not feel so flattered I assured Christopher O'Riley that Pennario had a big address book, a lot of people were in it.

What a ridiculous conversation! I keep laughing about it. It is funny how I find myself taking it personally when people display no knowledge about Pennario or no interest in him.

This definitely goes under the category of "no one told me being someone's biographer would be like this."

No comments:

Post a Comment