Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fear and loathing in Los Angeles

Four annoying boring fads that will not go out of style:

1.) Backwards baseball caps.

2.) Loud car stereos.

3.) Atonal "music."

4.) Silly stagings of Wagner operas!

Will they ever end? They were doing this when I was a kid and they are still doing it.
In today's Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson writes about this production in Los Angeles of "Die Walkure." You can read it here. It is called "A Perplexing Walkure."

That is a picture of the production above. The really sad thing is, it is not even as bad as other productions I have seen and heard about.

Waleson begins:

Achim Freyer's new production of Richard Wagner's "Die Walküre," the second installment of his "Ring" at the Los Angeles Opera, is a curious combination of the abstract and the whimsical. The severely raked stage is dark. Oversized, papier-mâché-like figures representing different characters loom around a central turntable. The singers stand still in large, sculptural costumes and gesture stiffly; a dozen silent actor/dancers who also represent the opera's characters perform what little interaction there is. Movement is slow and deliberate. A huge eyeball, high on stage right, watches over the proceedings. ...

Oh, for Pete's sake.


Plus, they are wasting Placido Domingo.

Waleson, to her credit, criticizes the production for dehumanizing "Die Walkure," which she points out is the most human drama of the "Ring" cycle. "Die Walkure" is that, judging from the number of Kleenex my sister Katie and I went through when we saw it in Toronto.

But first she puts in this tactful paragraph:

Mr. Freyer's distinctive stage pictures leave space for the opera's music and invite interpretation. Are the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde half blue and half black because they are half god and half mortal, or because they are really two halves of the same being, waiting to be joined together? In the beginning of the opera, the good guys wear white and carry luminous white rods; the bad guys get red. But in Act III, the angry Wotan, pursuing his disobedient daughter Brünnhilde, is wearing red. Has he switched teams? It's fun to watch, and speculate...

I disagree.

No it is not!

When I am listening to "Wotan's Farewell" excuse me, I do not want to waste time speculating on whatever this lesser mind who staged it had to contribute and whatever he had in mind.

I just want to lose myself in the drama and you know what? Goofy staging gets in my way. You know what would leave space for me to appreciate the opera's music? Just give it to me straight.

Even if the staging is minimalist, that's OK. I just do not want it to be intrusive. This "Wotan's Farewell" from Bangkok, it is not exactly traditional and it is not perfect but it does not bother me.

People do not always feel it necessary to louse up Shakespeare. You can stage "King Lear" in normal robes and tunics and no one says, "God, how backwards."

What is it about Wagner?

I have my theories. I can explain. The reason is --


Oh, look. I was going to go into this dandy rant. But darn, instead I found myself watching that clip from Bangkok that I linked to up above. That is an oddly affecting production. Brunnhilde is this petite beautiful Asian woman and there is this moment when she and Wotan rush into each other's arms that made me cry.

There is such a magic in this music. I guess all I wish is that everyone could respect that.

At least don't fight it, you know?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Noel, Noel

Today I was thinking about Noel Straus who was this long-ago music reviewer for the New York Times.

Noel Straus used to have kind of the young-pianist beat. He entered the orbit of my research because he used to pick apart Leonard Pennario, whom I am writing my book about, and William Kapell, Leonard's friend and fellow pianist.

The folks on this William Kapell Web site write that Kapell's teacher, Olga Samaroff, got so mad at a review Straus wrote about Kapell that she threatened to call him out on it and make him explain himself publicly point by point.

Definitely do not do that, I was thinking. Not a good idea! And she did not.

Luckily she let off her steam by playing the Ride of the Valkyries which, you can hear her doing that here.

I do not blame Madame Samaroff, I have to say that. This Noel Straus, his criticism just seems to me humorless, annoying and uninspiring.

“All his performances were technically glib and fluent," Straus wrote of Kapell. “But the tone employed had grown percussive, and was invariably brash and metallic. … Rhythms were restless and unsteady, while energy and brilliance, rather than imagination, insight and inner life, characterized the series of readings."

I think that was the critique that sent Samaroff over the edge.

But four years later, when Kapell was 25, things had not improved. “He had not even become acquainted with the proper manner of playing the ornaments in the Mozart work, and was as much at sea as to the composer’s intentions from the start to the finish of the masterpiece,” Noel wrote.

Now everyone talks about Kapell as if he is like this god and it is funny to think that he and Pennario got beat up like this. Kapell was two years older than Pennario but they seemed to be catching the same criticisms at about the same time.

I decided I wanted to see what this Straus was about so I went online and that is where I found the picture above. Straus is the finicky little guy in the background sitting on a couch and talking to a woman with her hair in a bun. Not the guy in the kind-of foreground, immediately to the right of the guy in the front with the beard. That is Virgil Thomson. The guy with the beard is Leo Lerman.

"It seemed difficult to believe that his interpretative gifts, meager as they proved, or even his technical abilities, were superior to those of Dussek, Moscheles, Dreyschock or Stradal, to mention the first Czech pianists who come to mind." That is Straus crabbing over Rudolf Firkusny, who was recklessly billed in 1938 as the greatest Czech pianist.

Wow, the power critics used to wield! I was just on the New York Times' Web site searching for Straus' name and all these obituaries come up, quoting Straus and his oh-so-faint praise.

But I could find no obituary for Straus himself.

Perhaps he is still among us!

Anyone out there want to invite him to your piano recital?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My dinner with Andre

A couple of weeks ago I was astonished to realize that Andre Previn, the conductor and pianist, is 80 years old. You do not think of Andre Previn as being 80.

As a matter of fact I made a note in this notebook I carry around with me, because I thought maybe I should put that on the, ahem, Web log. I wrote: "Andre Previn is 80 (!)"

I was not the only one thinking that! Today in the Wall Street Journal there is a big story by Barrymore Laurence Scherer on Andre Previn being 80 and it begins by acknowledging what a youthful image of him we all have. The story goes on to list all the celebrations going on in his honor.

You can read that story here.

Oops! Mistake! That was a gossipy story I found when I was looking for a picture and could not stop reading. Those British, they love their gossip! Here I was just looking for a picture and I wind up finding this dirt.

Here is the story from the Wall Street Journal.

Where was I? Previn's birthday celebrations. For one thing he is playing tonight at Carnegie Hall with his ex-wife Anne-Sophie Mutter and also the great cellist Lynn Harrell.

Here is a picture of Previn with Mutter.

I do not care for Anne-Sophie Mutter, I have to be honest. Her playing is too self-indulgent for me. It is as if she always goes out of her way to do something different and that distracts me from the music. She did one recording of Brahms that began to make me seasick, it was so this way and that.

But Lynn Harrell, I think he is terrific. And he was so nice to me talking to me about Leonard Pennario for my book. It makes me feel honored when I think about it, that Pennario trusted me with calling all these people he esteemed. I do know that he thought Harrell was great and loved playing with him.

Next I would like to catch up with Andre Previn. He and Pennario worked together in the early '60s. They recorded Rachmaninoff's Piano Concertos No. 1 and 4. That is the album cover up above. I always liked that picture of Pennario.

The Rachmaninoff First has the most beautiful slow movement. The opening makes me think of "Tristan and Isolde." Here it is with Andre Previn and Vladimir Ashkenazy. I will have to work with my YouTube friend Larry and get Pennario's performance up there.

Meanwhile, here is what I will do. I will give Andre Previn's birthday celebrations time to taper off, and then he will get a call from me.

We have much to discuss!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Pulitzer puzzle

Yesterday Steve Reich won the Pulitzer Prize for his "Double Sextet." It was commissioned by eighth blackbird with money from a bunch of institutions and foundations, the usual.

That is a picture of Steve Reich up above. He is not a bad-looking guy!

You can read about Steve Reich's "Double Sextet" and see a video at the nifty Collaborative Piano Blog here.

Also if the spirit moves you, you can go to the Carnegie Hall site and hear a slice of it here.

One of the many things funny about living in Buffalo is that because our city clings like crazy to the avant-garde, like this koala clinging to a tree...

... we are no strangers here to either eighth blackbird -- whom I have interviewed at least once -- or to Steve Reich. Reich was in town a few years ago with his wife, Beryl Korot. They showed this video they made of three ominous events: the Hindenburg, Bikini Island and the cloning of Dolly the sheep.

Why do I get the feeling I have written about this before? I am getting like this old person. I do not know what I have written and what I have not written. It is like the time I almost called the Muir Quartet twice in one week! Maybe it was the Miro Quartet. Wow, can you tell what kind of a morning I am having?

Focus, Mary, focus!

The Reich/Korot video. I liked it. It gave me all these new ideas on how to organize stuff because I liked how Reich and Korot made this kind of pastiche of sound and video and image and interview. I seem to remember the screen was divided at least part of the time. Anyway, to me it suggested all kinds of new ways of telling a story and it's funny, working on this book on Leonard Pennario, I find myself thinking of that video now and then. I guess you could say it has inspired me. "Three Tales" was the name of that piece. I looked it up.

But this "Double Sextet."

Like a lot of new music it falls into my category of, do I admire the work that goes into this thing? I guess. Will I come home from work and pour a glass of wine and listen to it? Uh...

Lastnight I made Howard listen to it to get a second opinion. Howard used to own a music store and he comes from the background of rock so sometimes he will give you a new perspective. Howard said it just sounded like a dime-a-dozen MIDI piece that a musician might churn out for a movie soundtrack.

To be honest, I have heard worse. Your ear can kind of hook onto this thing. It struck me as kind of like a long noisy vamp, a noisy jazz piece.

But is the world really the richer for it?

Plus the Pulitzer prize. Is this piece really the best our country has to offer?

Things like this make me wonder about the future of new music. I am sorry. People love to tell you that in Beethoven's time, there was a disconnect between him and the audience. But it was not like this.

Yeah, people raised their eyebrows at Mozart now and then. But it was not like this.

Back then you did not need a doctoral thesis to be able to find new music appealing. It appealed to more than niche audiences and ivory tower types.

I do not dislike all new music and sometimes I surprise myself. A little while ago at work I needed something to listen to so I could blot out something that was distracting me. So I put on a string quartet by Elliott Carter. And I was surprised how contentedly I worked with this Elliott Carter in my ears. I lasted through the whole piece. It was just his First String Quartet which is not as thorny as the others. But still.

"Thorny" is a word you always see applied to new music. It is that!

Frequently I know enough of the composers and performers behind a piece of new music that I can admire the work and scholarship that go into the piece.

I just cannot find it in my heart to love it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Someone else's ditzy interview

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I went on and on about the ditziest interview I ever did in my life? That reminded me of someone else's ditzy interview. I read it -- gee, it has to have been a year ago. But I just stumbled on it again.

This time I have to share it.

Ditzy interviews can be an art form all their own. You get all kinds of unexpected stuff, things that most scholars and musicologists would never stumble on. Particularly if the person plays along. Mark O'Connor, my ditzy interview, was a good sport. I should point out that he was only my latest ditzy interview. There have been others.

But I do not know if any of them approach this one I am going to share today. This one is glorious! It is so ditzy that I cannot even find the name of the journalist. He identifies himself only as David Bundler, har de har har.

But anyway.

This is an interview with the virtuoso pianist Shura Cherkassky. That is dear Mr. Cherkassky on the left in the picture above. Emil Gilels is on the right and in the middle is, ahem, Denise de Vries.

You can read the interview in its glorious entirety here but I will share my favorite excerpts. Enjoy!

It was great fun talking with Cherkassky and of all the interviews I've done over the years, it's the one I recall most fondly -- even though we didn't cover anything of substance. I spoke with Shura Cherkassky on November 14, 1987.

That is from the introduction.

Then you get:

SC: Could you speak a bit louder? It’s very dull the way it (sounds).

DB: Oh, okay.

SC: That’s better.

DB: How’s the weather back there, by the way?

SC: It's all riiight. Fine. It's not too cooold, noooo.

DB: That's good; I thought they had a blizzard back there in New York.

CS: But you know, I tell you, that's good for interviews. I’m a bit egotistic and it's selfish of me, but when I’m working, I like bad weather.

DB: You like bad weather?

CS: Yes, becaaause I don't think I'm missing anything in life. Because this life is a bit of a slavery. You devote yourself to music, and if it's wonderful outside, you say, "Oh my God, I wish I went out to friends outside, to go for a walk or do something." If it's bad weather, so I say then I'm not missing anything. It's very selfish of me, but that's the way I aaaam. I give you complete permission to put that in the paper.

Ha, ha! Already this is killing me. There's a lot more. We will break for a witty picture of Shura Cherkassky and then continue.

CS: See if you can speak a bit loud. I’m not deeeeaf or anything. It just sounds kind of distant. Yeah.

DB: I guess it’s the connection. May I ask you this? What’s the best thing about the musician’s life?

CS: Well, I can’t answer you that, frankly, because every musician is different -

DB: Well, I mean your life -

CS: - every musician is a different person. I mean, it's the way you arrange your own life. You know, I don't quite understand what you like me to -

DB: Well, I suppose, what you like about being a musician as opposed to something else.

CS: Yeahhhh. Well, of course it is my life and I love to do what I'm doing.

DB: Okay, well maybe it's a bad question. You have such a number of different likes. Let me ask you another kind of a strange question.

CS: Yeah.

DB: If you made a list of the things that you like and the things that you didn't like, which list would be longer?

CS: What, you mean the things that I like and I didn’t like. What do you mean? In the way of music?

At some point Shura Cherkassky becomes "CS" and not "SC." I like that about the interview too. I love so much about it. I am going to print it out and keep it.

Can you stand a little more? Sure you can.

DB: When you’re on tour, do you really have a chance to get around and see things or do you have to reserve that for your holidays?

CS: Very, very, very, very little. Veeeery little. Sometimes I have two hours free, and I hope that somebody to driving around to.

DB: That's terrible!

CS: Yeah, there’s very little time leeeft. Now for instance, I'm coming to Pasadena. You know Pasadena.

DB: Oh, sure.

CS: I used to stay at the Sheraton-Huntington, isn’t it?

DB: Huntington-Sheraton. I believe that's closed now.

CS: That's pulled down, so I’m gonna stay at some other hotel. And generally, I always have a piano and my room like I have it right here. But I don't suppose I'll have it for one day in Pasadena, so I just hope the managers will - I don’t know what time I'm arriving - hope he'll accommodating with practicing. To me, that’s very important. For one day, it's not worth having a piano in the room.

DB: How often do you practice? Do you try to practice every day for several hours?

CS: Oh yeeees. Certainly. And then the next day, from Pasadena, I'm flying to Utah - Provo. It's the second city after Salt Lake City. And then to Europe.

The connection was bad. Mr. Bundler, or whatever his real name is, tells us that at the beginning. That is part of the fun. I once interviewed Andrea Bocelli with an incredibly bad connection. We got disconnected twice. I actually only got about three sentences out of him but I was able to build a whole Sunday story around the goofiness of that phone call.

Back to Shura Cherkassky. At the end of it he says: "It will probably be a different kind of interview, yeah."

Here is a clip of Shura C. playing a piece by Josef Hofmann. I love what one commenter writes: "This little old man was always underrated."

I will say this: I am a fan!

Of Mr. Cherkassky, and of whoever did this interview.

It is a classic!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Five short films about Lang Lang

The pianist Lang Lang is in residency in London and the BBC did a cute interview with him that you can see here.

Five quick things:

1.) Can we for once not see or hear the word "hottest"? "He is the hottest classical music artist on the planet." There is a dumb quote for you.

Although here on this Web log we are allowed to talk about Beethoven's hot nephew.

And I have to say also that in the BBC interview it is hilarious to see that proper British interviewer in her high-waisted dress say "the hottest pianist on the classical music planet" in that accent of hers. Ahahahahaaa!

2.) Is anyone else sick of hearing pianists talked of in terms of the competitions they have won? Granted, my views on competitions are colored by all my conversations with Leonard Pennario, who was a judge for the Van Cliburn Competition and the Naumburg and would get me laughing about them sometimes until I was almost in tears. But even before I met him I used to worry that because it is all about these competitions, we are starting to see pianists like a bunch of champion fleas. Practically every pianist's bio I see begins with a long list of contests the person has won. I do not think that is right.

3.) Lang Lang says he was initially drawn to classical music because of Tom and Jerry cartoons. That supports my theory that it's not rocket science how people discover classical music. All you have to do is run across it.

4.) He practices three hours a day. Pennario always practiced for two hours. Many pianists practice for hours and hours. I am always interested in how much musicians practice. Sometimes they have told me that is a dumb question but in that case I always shoot back that no, it is not!

5.) Fie on the BBC for not letting Lang Lang get through his Chopin Polonaise. As soon as it gets to the good part the woman barges in and goes: "Absolutely stunning." Leaving me dying to hear the whole thing.

These shows are always all talk and no action!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Out of the mouths of frumps

Last night I caught the clip of Susan Boyle, above, winning millions of people over by singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Mis" on the show "Britain's Got Talent."

Howard and I laughed happily at it. You had to. This dowdy woman, showing off such a voice. The crowd loved it.

It was fun to see the pop music crowd, accustomed to everyone looking plastic and perfect, suddenly discovering what the classical music crowd has long known: Sometimes the greatest voices come out of the biggest frumps.

A few years ago I read "The Toughest Show on Earth," Joseph Volpe's entertaining account of running the Metropolitan Opera. I believe that was the book where I picked up that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, one of the greatest and most beautiful sopranos of the 20th century, was really a frump.

Here is Schwarzkopf done up. Incredible.

And in "Der Rosenkavalier," no one made a more beautiful Marschallin.

But as the great musicologist Pee Wee Herman said, everybody's got a big but. And in Schwarzkopf's case that big but was that offstage, she was a frump. Apparently after every concert she would immediately change into frumpy clothes which, German frumpy clothes are even frumpier than normal people's frumpy clothes. Her frump get-up included a dirndl skirt. That is what I read!

Schwarzkopf even showed up once at a post-concert party in her frump clothes. She had gone home and changed. Ha, ha! The hostess looked at her and said: "Elisabeth. How ... how charming." I remember reading that!

I tend to believe it because I do have a picture of Schwarzkopf being a frump. It is a shot of her rehearsing and somehow it ended up on the back of a record album. She probably did not object. Well, she obviously didn't, or else it would not have been there.

I remember looking at it as a teenager going, "What in the world?"

Unfortunately I don't have time now to go running around looking for this picture and scanning it in. Perhaps I can do that over the weekend. For now you will just have to take my word for it: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was a not-so-secret frump!

It is a little early in the day to be hitting the Dowland but here is a cute YouTube clip of Schwarzkopf singing Dowland and then a Mozart song. There are neat pictures of her with it including a couple of semi-frump shots. One shows Schwarzkopf clowning with an ass. No jokes about her husband, the opportunistic and much-disliked Walter Legge! I mean an actual donkey.

There is another good shot of her pouring a big glass of red wine for a sexy-looking young man who I think could be Herbert von Karajan.

Imagine if Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had put on her frump face and gone on "Britain's Got Talent."

That would have been something to see!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lather, rinse, repeat

Oh, no! They are at it again!

Every now and then we report on this Web log about the ideas people are floating to make classical music appealing to the young who would rather go and listen to, I don't know, U2. Or 50 Cent. Whoever.

What do people listen to these days? I don't even know. When I was a kid I was not allowed to listen to pop music and by the time I grew up it was too late, I didn't want to.

That is my nerdy background! That is how I got the way I am.

The new idea being floated is from Greg Sandow, who writes for the Wall Street Journal. I admire Sandow's writing and I pay him the ultimate compliment of following him on Twitter. Sandow was apparently asking his students at Eastman for ideas they had to make classical music appealing to the younger crowd.

One kid in his class comes up with this idea that we can have a Democratic Composition, where all kinds of people contribute bits and pieces to some 15-minute piece and then we all go and sit through it, I mean listen to it.

You can read Sandow's blog post here.

Now, as I said, I admire Sandow. He seems to have his eyes and ears everywhere. And some of the things he likes, I agree. I already said I did not mind the idea of Prokofiev's grandson being a deejay and spinning all kinds of records side by side.

But this Democratic Composition idea.

Can we just not do this?

If anyone does this where I am I will pan it, I will say that right now.

These gimmicky desperate ideas people are coming up with are getting on my nerves. They are indicative of a kind of impatience in our society. We want to lure people into the concert hall. That is a nefarious word I love, "lure." But we are looking for a silver bullet that does not exist.

There is a secret to how people can start to get their minds around classical music, and I am going to reveal it now. It comes from my husband, Howard. Howard used to be more of a rock guy but since meeting me he has been dragged more into the concert hall and now he is a classical music guy, were we to use those terms.

How did he do it? He told me last night.

"You have to listen to the piece 10 times, and then you start to like it."

Why don't we try that? Instead of listening to pieces generated by chance, computer or chimp?

Why don't we have people listen to this?

This video is not much to look at, I have to say that. A couple of guys who look like old furniture. Not only that, but they look half asleep! I am just warning you.

But the music will get you. Here is what you do. Listen to it once. Listen to it again. Listen to it 10 times, as Howard says. Put the music on your i-Pod. Take it walking in the park. Play it for your friends. Play it again for your friends. Talk about it. Listen to it with your coffee in the morning. Have it with a glass of wine at night. When you go to bed you can even put the earbuds into your ears and enjoy that music one more time. Howard sometimes does that.

Lather, rinse, repeat!

That is what will bring people into the concert hall.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My ditziest interview

Now that the fiddler Mark O'Connor has come and gone there is something I have to confess. Before O'Connor's concert, which was with the Orchard Park Symphony, I interviewed him on the phone. And I have to say this:

It was the ditziest interview of my life!

Now, the competition in that department is keen. I have done some mighty ditzy interviews. Once when I was interviewing Julius Rudel I had a momentary brain power outage and I forgot that Gregor Piatigorsky was a cellist and I thought he was a conductor.

Ha, ha! Now that I am writing this book on Leonard Pennario, that is not a mistake I will ever make again, I will say that! I feel as if Piatigorsky is my cousin or something. He is practically family!

But back then I was in this daze. And after that I was in the doghouse for a good portion of the conversation and it took a while for me to work my way out of it. I forgot what got me out of it. I think I demonstrated a familiarity with the conductor Hans Knappertsbusch and that was what redeemed me.

Back to Mark O'Connor and our interview a few weeks ago. What happened was, I had a million things going and I did not have time to prepare as well as I should have. My ultimate downfall was that the interview was moved up a few hours. Those were the couple of hours when I was going to do my research.

Then what O'Connor's publicists did was, they sent me this interview the Associated Press had just done with him. So I printed that out and went with that.

That was my real mistake. Because everything in this story was wrong!

Why had they sent it to me??

It got to the point where O'Connor was patiently correcting me. "No, I did have formal training." "No, my family was not from there." Then all on my own, without the help of that A.P. story, I got the name of one of his major works wrong. He corrected me on that, too.

Eventually I had to get off the phone just because I knew it was only a matter of time until I really blew it. You can only make so many mistakes, you know?

But the thing is, he was so charming. I could not get over that.

At the end I said, "Mr. O'Connor, I want to thank you for being so nice to me. I think it was obvious I was flying by the seat of my pants."

The reason I am telling this, besides just because I love laughing about stuff, is that I am endlessly fascinated by the process of interviewing musicians, especially from my ant's-eye perspective. I will have to start sharing some of the experiences I have had. You would not believe it.

Plus, I have a theory, that the greatest musicians are the nicest musicians. There are almost no exceptions in my experience. Perhaps one exception would be Karl Muck, whom we talked about the other day. But alas, I never interviewed him.

Here is Mark O'Connor's Appalachian Waltz which I listened to, naturally, after our interview. Why could I not have listened to it beforehand?

I guess that is all part of the adventure.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The maestro and the magic

On the Leonard Pennario blog today we were talking about the "Good Friday Spell" from "Parsifal." And Prof. G sent me this link to a 1928 "Parsifal" performance.

The conductor was the legendary Wagnerian conductor Karl Muck. Prof. G writes: "Apparently one of these excerpts allows you to hear the original Bayreuth temple bells which were destroyed in World War II. Wagner had a lot of trouble coming up with convincing bells for the temple. Nothing quite satisfied him."

I regret the loss of those bells. So many things, lost in the madness of World War II. In one book I read how the Wagners, at Bayreuth, were desperately worried about the safety of the Wagner/Liszt correspondence. They packed half of it off in one car and sent that car off in one direction, the other half in another car headed in another direction. The hope was that at least half the collection would survive.

Terrible days.

Maestro Muck was quite the character from what I have read about him. I am flying to work at the moment so I do not have time to look this up but I am pretty sure it came from one of New York Times critic Harold Schonberg's books: A violinist was asking Muck's advice about a pain he had in his arm. "Cut off your arm then," Muck said. Or something like that. What I remember is how the author -- Schonberg, I think it was -- described him. "Turning away with vast indifference."

I also recall reading from the same book that Muck's career at Bayreuth ended without fanfare. "The sorrowful old man crept away. No effort was made to keep him there." I am pretty sure I remember that from Schonberg's book word for word.

The trivia we music fans wind up carrying around in our heads!

That is Karl Muck up above. He is obviously inspired by Wagner! In the picture it is as if he and Wagner have become one.

Here is Maestro Muck without the hat.

Here is a historic Bayreuth program.

Wagner, not a nice guy. Karl Muck, not a nice guy. But the music, so beautiful and transcendent!

I am glad I do not have to be the one to sort all this out in the afterlife.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Dvorak family album

I have found this great Dvorak Web site. It is all in Czech but still.

The site is full of photographs of the Dvorak family. Above is a picture of Dvorak's daughter Otilie and her husband, the composer Josef Suk. For the record that is one romance I am kind of sick of hearing about, how Dvorak's daughter married Josef Suk. They have been talking about it practically nonstop on our classical music station since I was 17. But I do love Suk's String Serenade. And I do not remember ever seeing this picture of them.

You sort of have to deduce who is who in this site because, as I said, it is all in Czech. But you can make pretty educated guesses.

"skladatelovy dcery Anna, Otylka a Magda," reads the caption for this picture. Clearly that translates to: "Back then kids behaved."

This appears to be Otilie with her son, the next Josef Suk.

Otilie's son Josef Suk, the baby in that picture, is the father of the violinist Josef Suk. Other than that, I wonder what he did with his life. Did music skip a generation?

I love this picture of the Dvorak family relaxing.

And here is a sweet picture of the old man.

Another sweet picture.

To complete the nostalgic picture, here is "Songs My Mother Taught Me."

The old man, he could sure write.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My friend Philippe

I got to talk on the phone the other day with Philippe Quint. He is the violinist who got a lot of unwanted publicity about a year ago because a cab pulled away from the curb, taking with it the Stradivarius violin Quint had on loan from Buffalo couple Clement and Karen Arrison.

There is a story I am working on related to all this, which is going to run Sunday and I will go ahead and link to it then, should anyone want to check it out. Which I would suggest. It is a goodie and I worked hard on it!

For now there is one thing neat about Quint that I want to report.

I got in touch with Philippe, which he cued me that I could call him, by email. "I interviewed you a couple of years ago," I wrote. "I don't expect you to remember."

But he did remember! He wrote me back:

Not only I remember the wonderful you conducted a few years ago I also want to thank you for your article back when the taxi fiasco happened. I think it was called " musicians in the fast lane". It was the only real sincere article of support coming to musician's defense while the rest of the publications were looking for some sensational new material and details that were arguably hurting me and the chances of violin's return.

So this is a thank you for your kindness!!

Wow, I had almost forgotten I had written about that incident on The Buffalo News' Artsbeat blog! Here it is, complete with creepy comment from anonymous reader who clearly did not appreciate the story as much as Philippe Quint did. For some reason almost all the comments I get on that blog are nasty! It has gotten to the point where I dread reading them and sometimes I do not.

On the other hand it amazes me and gladdens me that Philippe Quint saw it, and that it gave him some comfort at a stressed-out time in his life.

I have to say it again ... I love the Internet age.

Here is a neat glimpse of Quint and William Wolfram, a pianist I like a lot, recording music by the great Miklos Rozsa. I have been reading a lot of Rozsa's letters working on my book on Leonard Pennario. It has gotten so I am familiar with his handwriting and his stationery! He feels like a friend.

What a beautiful sonata!

I would guess that Quint is playing the famous Strad.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Penguins and princesses

My blog buddy Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont, the French concert pianist, has an interesting post today about the endless struggle these days "to make classical music cool."

Let us pause for a moment while I savor these words: "my blog buddy Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont, the French concert pianist."

I love the Internet.

I love my life!

Where was I? Pierre-Arnaud's blog. I should say "Web log." It is more elegant and that is what I have been doing in the last few days.

Pierre-Arnaud says that musicians love to see people dressed like penguins. And he is a pianist so you can take it from him! Read what he has to say here.

The dress, be it the artist or the public, is a way to communicate. Both communicate their mutual respect to each other through the sartorial code. When one knows how easy it is to slip into a dress or a suit, it would be a shame not to do so.

That is so French!

He would have loved Muza Rubackyte, the Lithuanian pianist at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra over the weekend. That gown she wore!! It was like something out of "Eugene Onegin." I was not reviewing the concert for the paper that night and I am glad I was not, because I would have had to mention that gown. And then you always get emails: "Why are you mentioning what the pianist wore? If the pianist were a man would you have been mentioning how he dressed?" Blah, blah, blah!

The thing is, I was looking at Miss Rubackyte thinking, she looks more beautiful than any soloist I have ever seen on stage at Kleinhans Music Hall! And there is something to admire in that.

I was hoping to find a photo of Miss Rubackyte in her gown but I could not. But that is a picture of her up above.

We do a lot of kidding around on this blog. Really, this is not all about looks and clothes. It is about maintaining the tradition of music, and whether you believe it is worth maintaining.

I am always hearing from my editors and everyone about this business about attracting younger audiences. And I realize I always begin feeling defensive. Rightly or wrongly, I detect an element of blame: You people are behind, you don't like change (that is a favorite), etc. etc.

And as I wrote a few days ago I have nothing against concerts that mix things up a little. But I do not want them to become the norm.

I do not want to lose what I have!

I have a theory as to why the audience for classical music is not bigger. Well, it is not my theory exactly. It is Noam Chomsky's.

Once I went to hear Noam Chomsky speak and I am no big fan of Noam Chomsky but I admire his intellect. And one thing he said stuck in my mind: that only a tiny percentage of people, like 1 percent, think about anything.

He said: "The other 99 percent either watch TV or do nothing at all."

I think if there is a problem that has to be addressed, it is that.

It's not us!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday morning low-hanging fruit

On Mondays I am sometimes going to let myself blog about stuff that is easy and not much work. Ahem.

Warhorses are warhorses for a reason. That is what I was thinking yesterday listening to the slow movement of Mozart's 21st piano concerto.

I have heard this piece millions of times, of course. It is totally lazy listening on my part, listening to it yet again. I should not be listening to it again. I should be listening to something new, blah blah blah. But I could not help it.

I think I could listen to this piece 300 times in a row and I would not get sick of it. I could be in a jail cell and they could play it at me 24/7 stupidly thinking it was going to torture me and I would love it.

There are so many wonderful things about this piece that never grow old. The calm, accepting bass line. And that moment near the end when the piano hits that high F and then drops into those final trills. I cannot listen to this piece in the car because I just have to close my eyes at that point.

Here is our friend Dinu Lipatti playing the piece. He does not give that high F the assertive, declarative feeling I like but that is a matter of taste. I have my deeply personal feelings about that high F and I am sure Dinu Lipatti had his.

Here is Alicia de Larrocha. That is a picture of Alicia de Larrocha above sitting in a bar. I just found it on Google. Isn't the Internet wonderful?

Darn, I love Alicia de Larrocha but this performance sounds a little anemic to me. I do not know what it is. When you love pieces you are fussy about them, is all I can think. Either that or the fact that it is Monday morning.

But what a balance Mozart strikes in this piece! It is so beautiful but at the same time so sorrowing, somehow. Like life!

Back to the 21st Piano Concerto. I never saw that Swedish movie, "Elvira Madigan," it got the nickname from and I do not know anyone who has. Well, wait, I think my mother has. I think she told me that. Other than that, does anyone know anyone who has seen that movie? But the concerto is stuck with that nickname forever.

I am kind of glad I never saw it.

Music like this should stand on its own.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The last QRS piano roll

Howard shot this video of our friend Michael T. Jones recording what will probably prove to be the last piano roll ever made at QRS Piano Rolls. QRS is practically down the street from us here in Buffalo. We toured the place in its last days along with Buffalo lounge legend Jackie Jocko. The place was crammed with ancient equipment. Fascinating.

It's partly because we took that tour that we doubt QRS' assertions that piano roll production will continue in Seneca, Pa. How in the world are they going to move that equipment? Even if they were motivated, it would be expensive, if not impossible. Plus, QRS has worked ahead and stockpiled three years' worth of inventory. They had been planning a five-year inventory, which shows they have been looking ahead to this move for a long time.

So we think yes, this is probably the last piano roll every made.

It's a good one, though! Michael T. Jones is a heck of a pianist. He goes by Michael T. Jones, by the way, because there was another great Buffalo jazz pianist here first named Mike Jones.

Great pianists grow on trees here in Buffalo!

I thought I would post this today because a blog called the Collaborative Piano Blog was reporting that the piano roll had been released. It seems like a good time to revisit this bit of Buffalo history.

Play it, Mike.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Too hot to Handel

Today is all about Handel! That is the hand dealt me today.

I know, that means we won't have a sexy picture the way we had yesterday. But we will still have some good listening. That is for sure. And we do have a pretty good picture today, admit it. It is of Handel without his wig!

The first thing that happened today Handel-wise was my friend Larry emailed me with this story about Handel. Larry is my Internet friend who posts all those exciting Leonard Pennario performances on You Tube. He got onto Pennario because he was researching the recordings of the conductor and composer Rene Leibowitz, and he happened on the magnificent recordings of Liszt's Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 that Leibowitz and Pennario made together. Now we are a You Tube team, Larry and I.

Larry found this story about Handel that suggests that Handel was a glutton who died of lead poisoning.

Didn't they say the same thing about Beethoven? I know lead poisoning was supposed to have had something to do with his death. Last time I checked, anyway. These things change.

I wrote back to Larry saying that the sour humorless comments on the story cracked me up, and that if we ran this story in Buffalo everyone would be weighing in identifying with Handel and cracking jokes about wings and beer. Even with the sour comments, though, it makes for an interesting read. Poor Handel. Who can blame him for liking his food? Imagine living in the inhospitable early 18th century, with horse do in the streets and sewage everywhere and probably fear of getting your head chopped off for God knows what. You would have to take your pleasure where you found it. That is for sure.

Oh wait. We worry these days about getting our heads chopped off too! Or sawed off, anyway. Well, still.

The other Handel happening was the video that was sent to my Leonard Pennario blog by my erudite and generous friend Ward. It is of the "Hallelujah Chorus."

This makes for fine listening but you cannot cheat, you have to watch it at the same time. Access it here. I was wondering at first if it was from Buffalo's St. Paul's Cathedral because that is where Ward is from but Ward said darkly that no, he had the suspicion it was cribbed from Boston's Gay Men's Chorus.

Wherever it comes from, it is a hoot. The best part is how you can hear the people laughing as they are filming it.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Maurice Jarre and mood music

Ever since reading earlier that Maurice Jarre had died I have had the music to "Dr. Zhivago" on my brain. So we may as well get that out of the way and play it.

When I was in California with Leonard Pennario going to movies with him all the time we used to talk about movie music and he did not like Maurice Jarre. I am not sure why. I will have to look in my notes. But I like Maurice Jarre and his music.

"Dr. Zhivago" owes a lot of its magic specifically to Maurice Jarre's score. I remember vividly the first time I saw that movie, when I was 16 and my sister and I sat through it two and a half times. That scene where the little boy looks up from his mother's casket into the tree branches. The brooding Russian chants. The marvelous dances. I can hear the themes in my head.

I know this, that "Dr. Zhivago" would not be "Dr. Zhivago" without the music.

Just like "Spellbound" would not be "Spellbound" without the music by Miklos Rozsa.

And "Wuthering Heights" would not be "Wuthering Heights" without the music by Alfred Newman. Leonard and I agreed on that anyway. That music! That is why I can never watch a remake. Just the 1939 version for me, thank you very much.

There are movies like that. Without the music, they would be not nearly as good.

They are the best movies.