Sunday, May 31, 2009

Creeds and screeds

Today on this priest's Web log that I look in on from time to time they were duking it out about whether or not orchestral Masses are a good idea. Meaning, do you allow Masses by Mozart and Haydn or do you stick with Gregorian chant?

This is the hard-core Catholic crowd I run with. Leave it to them to find Haydn controversial.

You know me, I had to weigh in. Above is a picture of me preparing my screed. And now here is what I wrote. Ahem.

I love this topic! As the music critic at The Buffalo News, as well as a trad Catholic who attends the TLM, I have thought a lot about it.

When I began attending the TLM a year and a half ago it made me think about the Mass for the first time in my life and how mind-bending it is. You are asked to believe the impossible, often before you have even had your first cup of coffee. Anything that helps you with this is good. That is one reason we have beautiful cathedrals and churches, artwork, etc.—even the beautiful words of the Latin Mass. Great art and music is a mystery in itself and it helps bring us closer to understanding what cannot be understood.

I have thought for a long time what a shame it is that most Massgoers are stuck with these modern uninspiring songs I once saw the Wall Street Journal describe as “light Broadway”—when the Catholic Church can claim many of the most glorious musicians who ever lived. The great sacred works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, Vivaldi, Bruckner and many others are deeply personal expressions of these composers’ Catholic faith. And I find it tremendously moving to think of the great Catholic composers in Elizabethan England, including Thomas Tallis, John Dowland and William Byrd, who risked their lives to create the music they did.

It is such a treasure we have, this wealth of music. And I find it helps my faith. The music is in many cases supernaturally beautiful. It speaks to our subconscious and brings us—me, at least—closer to the sacred mysteries we are challenged to get our minds around. I also think that by presenting this music as prayer, we are doing honor to God by offering Him the best of ourselves, the best that the human mind has been able to create.

I am passionate about Gregorian chant, too. Since I have gotten to know it better because of the TLM, I sometimes notice how classical composers, who I would imagine grew up with this chant, were inspired by it. I do not think we should have to choose between the two genres.

What we do have to choose between are good music and bad music. And in this P.C. era, that’s where things can get dicey. Bravo to Pope Benedict for confronting what has become a very problematic situation. I am so grateful!

Hmmm. Now I think it is a bit term paper-y but still. It is fun to have your say.

On second thought I am not sure I did have much of a say. I read the other comments but it does not appear anyone read mine. I was wondering if anyone was going to jump in and challenge me, say, on Beethoven's Catholic faith. I probably should have left the word "Catholic" out of that sentence and just said "faith." But no one challenged me!

Well whatever. Now they are up to 101 comments!

If you like you can join the fun here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My teen-age crush

Normally I am not a big classical music birthday observer but I make an exception today because it is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's birthday. I had a crush on him when I was 15, 16 and he has remained my favorite singer ever since, as anyone can probably guess because I write about him all the time.

Normally I do not say "favorite" anything because that word is overused but I am sorry, I have to make another exception in this case.

I make a lot of exceptions when it comes to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau!

That is a picture of DFD, as he is often abbreviated on the Internet, up above. He is amazingly handsome as is often pointed out by people who comment on the videos of him on YouTube. I always did like the most handsome and greatest musicians which is why I ended up the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario. I go straight to the top!

I was just going to disclose details of my correspondence with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau but it is so much fun finding pictures of DFD that here is another.

Looking back on my love for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I have to say I knew quality when I heard it. I was up late one night watching Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" on TV. And the guy singing the part of the baddie, Count Almaviva, he caught my eye. Who is he, I was wondering. It is hard to imagine me being new to opera but I was, then. He's good, I thought.

Then he winds up being one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. If you were going to name one single greatest singer I believe it would be he. Did I call that or what?

Check out that "Figaro" link above. That is the actual production I saw when I was a kid. I just found it. It is funny, I have not seen it in so many years. But I remember that moment where the camera shows Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's eyes from underneath.

He is a riot when he puts on that wig!

Where was I??? Oh, I was going to tell about my correspondence with Fischer-Dieskau.

A while after seeing "The Marriage of Figaro" I wrote to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau using my high school German and I told him how good I thought he was. Being a teenager was so much fun! You felt licensed to do anything.

To my parents' amazement, DFD wrote me back right away. He sent me a picture of himself which he signed and wrote what opera it was from and what part he was playing.

Then I wrote to him again, suggesting that he give a concert in Buffalo.

Then he wrote back again, explaining politely that he couldn't but sending me another picture of himself from another opera.

Now it is a million years later and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is 84. I guess I owe him a letter!

I wonder if he is on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not dissin' Kissin

Eduard Kunz made the semifinals of the Cliburn Competition! My plan is rolling forward on schedule to add prestige to my name. You can read the list of his competition here.

I see that Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii also made the cut. So Kunz will have him to contend with. Cousin Eduard will also have to steamroll over two Chinese pianists. Those Chinese pianists are tough!

Well, it is of no moment, to use a quaint expression I cribbed from "The Three Musketeers." Kunz's competition is of no moment. He will triumph. I have a feeling.

I rejoice that he is on his way!

I also rejoice in a crabby comment I got yesterday on my earlier post about Kunz and the Cliburn. What a classic crabby anonymous comment! I will reprint it here in case you do not feel like reading back.

Your comments are so superficial and miserable, you do not understand about music.This is not about who is in or who is out, or who is better looking...The fact that Kunz is really a wonderful pianist, doesn't mean that Kissin is out. Shame on you Mary Kunz!

That is the greatest! Usually I reply to negative anonymous comments by writing, "Oh, Anonymous, I was just kidding." Which is the truth! But in this case this classic is too good to neutralize it.

Instead we celebrate it! Perhaps it came from Kissin's mother. Hey, you never know.

Let us also celebrate the playing of Evgeny Kissin which I have always admired, I do not care what certain critics say.

This is charming.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The clarinetist's last bow

Neat story in the Wall Street Journal today by Barbara Jepson about 80-year-old Stanley Drucker. He is the principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic and he is stepping down after a million years. Isn't that a nifty ad I found featuring Drucker? That looks like a cigar he is holding!

Anyway, I enjoyed Barbara Jepson's story. There is only one thing I love more than reading stories about veteran musicians.

That is talking to veteran musicians myself!

Young musicians, they can be fun and relaxing to talk to. But it is not the same as being able to sit down with some old guy and ask, "So, what was it like, performing with Dimitri Mitropoulos?"

That is the greatest!

That is why I loved my experience with Leonard Pennario. Months of just us, sitting around like Calvin and Hobbes. No wife to get in my way. "Leonard, what was it like, playing with Leopold Stokowski?"

Talk about fun!

There is a poignant note in the WSJ story where Drucker talks about how some younger musicians were grumbling that he should retire so a younger musician could have his job. That is a nasty way of thinking. I think just for that he should stay on the job for another five years.

Anyone remember Saffire, the Uppity Blues Women, and how they spoofed that Whitney Houston "I Will Always Love You"...

If I should stay
I would only be in the wa---ayy...

Someone should play that for Stanley Drucker.

It might not be too late for him to change his mind!

Monday, May 25, 2009

My stake in the Van Cliburn Competition

I am anxiously monitoring the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which is going on right now down in Texas, because, as I have admitted before, I have a horse in the race. I want my namesake, Eduard Kunz, to win. That is a picture of Kunz up above. He is a nice looking young man! Photogenic, is the word often used. That is what they used to say about Leonard Pennario, too. It is as if they do not want to come out and say the guy is great-looking.

I want Kunz to win first of all because we have the same name, second because he is my Facebook friend, plus I have his cell phone number so I can be a pain and call him right away if he wins. When he wins. I am going to think positive here.

Also a Kunz win in the Cliburn will make my name, Mary Kunz Goldman, sound that much more distinguished.

Kunz, who is from Russia, played Scarlatti in his preliminary round which you can hear here.


I am a little worried about Kunz and his Scarlatti. Other people were playing Liszt and I wonder if that Scarlatti was too laid back, too bloodless, next to these flashier offerings. His playing in that clip has little drama. Also, I understand he played five Scarlatti sonatas in a row. Which, I am sorry, that is just too much.

Plus he is up against this 20-year-old blind Japanese pianist which, I would not like to be up against him. The Japanese pianist, Nobuyuki Tsujii, just because of his raw abilities, you got to figure he has to win one of the medals. Tsujii got a five-minute standing ovation which is very unusual and Van Cliburn said his performance was "like a healing service."

Here is Nobu, as he is called, Tsujii playing Chopin etudes. Arrgh.

Eduard Kunz has changed his Facebook picture and that is not a good sign. His old one showed him slouched on what looked like a balcony, smoking a cigarette, looking cool and confident. His new one shows him pulling a terrible face.

Oh, wait. I just checked and the old picture is back. So that is all right anyway. That is Eduard Kunz's Facebook picture on the left. It is too good not to share.

Plus here is a Texas Web blog suggesting Kunz is the front-runner so far. The writer of this blog has a wonderful name! It is Olin Chism.

Here is the writer of the Cliburn Web log evaluating Kunz's performance as if it were sports. Ha, ha! He even talks about "half time." I wonder how you get that gig, blogging about the competition on the Cliburn site. That sounds like fun. Except you know me, I would get into trouble and get thrown out the first day.

Here is a little Q&A with Kunz. They give the pronunciation as "koonz." Interesting. Anyway, Kunz says he rarely smokes now. "I like a cold beer," he says. Just like his Buffalo relatives!

Also he says he would love to have a shot with Van Cliburn. That is great! I can not remember if Van Cliburn ...

...drank when we were at his house but I will say this, I can imagine him knocking back a shot. And yes, that would be cool to have a shot with Van Cliburn. There were a few times I had a glass of wine with Pennario so I can say with authority, it is fun to drink with a great pianist.

How did I get onto all this? I am distracted. I am nutzed! It is just that I want Eduard Kunz to triumph at the Cliburn. It would add immeasurable oomph and prestige to my name.

Go, Cousin Eduard, go!

You are my ticket outta here!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A classical music manifesto

On Sundays it is fun to ruminate on religious matters and today there is a goodie. Someone on Twitter twittered me this story from Inside Catholic. It is this kind of manifesto from Inside Catholic's music critic declaring that classical music is the greatest music.

This is a kick.

First of all I love that this Inside Catholic, which I had never heard of before, has a music critic. His name is Robert R. Reilly. It is about time someone in the Catholic Church paid some attention to music, I will say that.

Mr. Reilly, can you fix it so we do not have to listen to this?

Second of all the Catholic Church is great for this kind of thing. And I love it. It keeps life exciting and it is sure nicer than all that sensitivity stuff they fed us in high school.

I remember a few years ago when Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict, came out with this statement that said, in effect, that the Catholic Church was the one true church and all other religions were in error. As I recall he just released that statement out of the blue. And the media picked it up and it went everywhere. Some of my Catholic friends were calling their non-Catholic friends to apologize. It was a total zoo.

I did not understand what everyone was so upset about. I mean, if another religion told me that because I was Catholic I was in error, as long as they were not about to saw my head off or anything, it would not bother me. They can say what they want, you know? Knock yourself out.

My husband is Jewish. He knows the Pope says all this stuff and it doesn't bother him.

But anyway. This music manifesto, from last August, is another great example of the Catholic Church running its mouth, which I always get a kick out of.

Classical music is the greatest music. This assertion is not based upon my preference or opinion; it is as much a fact as the statement that the noble is higher than the base, or the beautiful than the ugly.

That is how the story starts! With the first sentence in boldface, no less.

The essay ran with the picture I copied and put at the top of this post.

Naturally Mr. Reilly's declaration is followed by a lot of argument. I started to follow the comments but got bogged down. People complain that he is fostering elitism, that pop music is more elaborate than he thinks, etc. Maybe they have a case. But I don't care.

I love just the audacity of this essay. I did not know you were even allowed to say things like this.

Tell 'em!

Friday, May 22, 2009

More opera sob stories

That was fun yesterday, exchanging opera sob stories! I am just reading the most recent comment, about "The Marriage of Figaro." Why is that comment-writer anonymous? "Figaro" fan, stand up and be counted!

But anyway. Do not get me on to "The Marriage of Figaro."

I think I could cry through that entire opera, start to finish!

Not to give the impression that I am a nut not in control of my emotions. But there is something about opera, about that combination of music, words and drama, that triggers tears in a way that other music does not. Does not usually, anyway. I can think of a few concert-hall pieces that do it, too.

In "The Marriage of Figaro" it used to be the first act that got to me the most. All these characters keep appearing, and you get the beautiful "Non so piu" and the Countess' "Porgi amor."

But now it is the last act that overwhelms me. All of them in this garden, every melody more beautiful than the last. I remember writing once that it reminds me of the finale of a fireworks display. He just sends of those melodies soaring off one after another, so you are just sitting there with your mouth open.

This "Pace, pace," so beautiful. Wow, a clip with a translation! That never happens.

Here, from the same production, is "Deh vieni non tardar."

"The Marriage of Figaro" just gets that bittersweet note just right. I have read that it inspired Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" and that makes sense. It is such a cliche about not knowing whether to laugh or cry but that is what both those dramas do to you.

Someone else yesterday mentioned the Trio from "Der Rosenkavalier." That is a weeper! For sure.

The Presentation of the Rose...

... gets to me too.

That is a beautiful poster for "Rosenkavalier" at the top of this post. I love opera posters and one day when I am rich perhaps I will collect them.

Thinking about "Figaro" and "Rosenkavalier," which I go through life doing a little too often, here is one thing I keep coming back to. I think that this bittersweet magic, a composer cannot plan on it. You cannot set out to do it. I think it just happens. I think Mozart was probably just doing what he did, cranking something out on deadline, having a little fun. Strauss probably saw it as a neat exercise, writing an opera that paid tribute to Mozart and would also, fingers crossed, make him a lot of money.

Then they created these great operas.

These operas that make us cry.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Crying at the opera

Today I was listening in the car to Wotan's Farewell in "Die Walkure" and it got me thinking of all the times I have cried at the opera.

That is funny because I have not been to the opera that many times in my life. We do not have an opera company in Buffalo. We are working on it though! It would be funny if at the same time opera companies are folding in other cities we get one in Buffalo. Could happen!

But I digress. I have been lucky enough to go to a bunch of operas up at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto and at the Metropolitan Opera a few times and a dozen or so operas at Chautauqua. And I have also been to operas in Vienna and Munich.

Twice I have seen "Tosca" and twice I cried during "Vissi d'arte." There is something about that aria that gets me. This woman backed into a corner. What do you do, where do you go, you thought you did everything right and now this.

We have all been there, in one way or another!

That part where she talks about bringing the flowers to the altar and bringing jewels to the mantle of the Virgin. That kills me.

So that is one opera I have cried in, "Tosca." Then there was "Tannhauser" at the San Diego Opera which I went to with Leonard Pennario when I was with him for those months in California. The reason I cried in "Tannhauser" was not all because of the opera, it was because of a whole lot of stuff, most of which will have to wait for the book. I was about to go home. That was one thing. Also Leonard was sitting next to me, and for months we had been talking about going together to this opera, and now here we were.

The part where she sings, "Dich, teure Halle." It felt as if we had reached the end of this long road. Here is a picture of the production.

The biggest cry I ever had at an opera was during "Die Walkure." I went to Toronto to see it, with my sister. We cried and cried. I have probably written about this.

All through Wotan's Farewell we were thinking about our own dad whom we had lost in an accident some years before. You know how you have complicated relationships with your parents. That is what that opera is about. It is what Father Owen Lee, who used to do those opera commentaries, wrote. Those Ring operas are not about gods and dragons, they are about us.

Would we have cried watching this recent "Star Wars"-like production by the Los Angeles Opera? I cannot be sure!

Well, the Canadian Opera Company production was not exactly attractive either. They had ladders and construction materials and stuff lying around everywhere on stage. I mean, I could have designed something better. But still. As Wotan put Brunnhilde to sleep with the Magic Fire Music, my sister Katie and I cried and cried. Sitting there passing this soggy Kleenex back and forth. When the opera ended we could not get up. We were just huddled there exhausted and devastated. I think we were the last people to leave the Hummingbird Centre. Finally we pulled ourselves together and went and got a glass of wine and something to eat.

And Wotan and Brunnhilde were eating at the next table! I will never forget that. They were eating Buffalo wings, too. Wow, that was funny. We went and talked to them.

What a night to remember!

I wonder if Katie and I are the only ones who cry at operas.

I somehow doubt it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hear the castrato sing

One of my Twitter buddies is a pianist named Chris Foley who is on the faculty of the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. He has this blog called the Collaborative Piano Blog that I am going to link to as soon as I figure out how to do links. But yesterday he veered from the business of piano and he posted a recording of the world's last castrato.

The world's last castrato was Alessandro Moreschi whom you can read about here, thank you Wikipedia. He was born in 1858 and he lived long enough to be captured on recordings.

Here is a picture of Moreschi at 22.

The clip Foley posted was of Moreschi singing Schubert's "Ave Maria." As Foley buzzed me just now, it is fascinating how mannered it sounds by today's standards. I like corresponding with a pedagogue at Toronto's Royal Conservatory! I am getting to like my virtual self.

I am not crazy about Moreschi's sound, though from what I read on the Internet, he was past his prime by the time those recordings were made. But then I am also not crazy about modern countertenors either. I admire them as artists and some of them are hip and good-looking but I just cannot warm up to their sound. To me there is just something weird about it, a man singing in a high voice.

But I find it fascinating to hear Moreschi. It is a glimpse of a vanished era!

Other clips of Moreschi are also on YouTube. Here he is at the Sistine Chapel and here he is singing Rossini's "Crucifixus."

Whatever you do, do not look at the comments! They are scary! A lot of fear and loathing and stupidity and anti-Catholic ranting.

Admittedly the concept of castratos does seem barbaric to us now, like Chinese foot-binding or slavery or public hangings in the square. But once upon a time at least in certain parts of the world those things were a fact of life, and smart and respectable people accepted them. As a Catholic in the 1700s, Mozart was used to castratos, or castrati, to use the correct plural. He is not on record as saying they were weird. I remember reading how he knew a castrato named Del Prato. Mozart would crack this joke and refer to him as "mio molto amato castrato Del Prato."

Which means "my dearly beloved castrato Del Prato." Dear Mozart. You had to love him!

Mozart also witnessed several hangings and floggings in the square, as long as we are talking about this kind of stuff. Judging from his letters the flogging bothered him more than the hangings. Maybe it was just the mood he was in. I will tell you one thing, if I saw just two seconds of one of those things, I would pass out.

How styles change, as Mr. Foley points out.

And how times change, too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Collectors' edition

I love it when people collect music. For instance I collect recordings of Schubert's "Die Schoene Muellerin." I am not organized, so I am not sure how many I have. They are scattered throughout the house and in my car and in my desk drawers at work.

You never know when you will feel the need to listen to "Die Schoene Muellerin" and you have to be prepared! That is my reasoning.

My big regret is that I had a "Schoene Muellerin" sung by Peter Schreier with a guitar, and I traded it in a moment of weakness to my friend Peter in exchange for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing the complete Schumann lieder, on vinyl. I love vinyl and I love Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. But I miss the Schreier-with-guitar CD and I will have to give in and buy it on Amazon.

I should not have let Peter bully me into that.

But that is a matter for another day. My point is, I collect "Schoene Muellerins." I have maybe 30 of them.

And every once in a while, I realize that is nothing.

The other day I heard from this medical doctor and professor, this stranger. He wrote to me because I am working on this book about Leonard Pennario. I get questions about Pennario all the time, big questions, small questions. I delight in them! Anyway, this man wrote:

I am a huge fan of Leonard Pennario and have many of his old LPs. I have since digitized them and put them on CD where they sound great.I am a collector of recordings of the Liszt sonata and currently have over 460 different recordings of this work. Leonard Pennario made two recordings of the Liszt sonata, one in 1951 which was recently re-issued on commercial CD and the other in 1959 (Capitol LP P8457). I have both recordings but my 1959 LP is not too good. While I can work wonders on the computer cleaning up old LPs, this one is difficult as there is a huge gouge in the LP. I have always been looking for a better copy of the 1959 recording and hope that...

The note continued but I heard a roaring in my ears.

This guy had 460 different recordings of the Liszt sonata!

I am wondering how many collectors like him there are out there. Organized, driven, passionate. God love 'em!

Here is Pennario's first recording of the Liszt Sonata which my friend Larry helpfully posted on YouTube. That is an alluring picture of Liszt at the top of this post. I could not resist running it, in honor of my new professor friend, the Lisztoholic.

And look! I just found a bit of that Schreier-with-guitar "Schoene Muellerin." The one my collection is missing. Here it is.

Neat, huh?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Magic in a Mozart mass

This being May it might be fun to explore, off and on, some music devoted to Mary. There is so much of it and it is so glorious!

Here is something to start with. I have always found it interesting that Mozart's "Coronation" Mass was written for the crowning of Mary and not for the crowning of a king. The whole "Coronation" Mass is exquisite. But there is one particular part of it that kills me.

That is in the concluding "Agnus Dei."

A crash course in Latin in case you are new to this: The words to the prayer are "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis": "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us." At first, Mozart has the soprano sing it straight, without pause, to a melody of rapturous beauty.

But then when it repeats comes this weird moment. The singer is singing "Qui tollis peccata" -- "Who takes away the sins" -- and right then Mozart makes a surprise stop and the orchestra echoes the melody. Since I was a teenager that has given me shivers. It is as if there is something invisible in the room with you!

So you hold your breath. And time stands still. And then he lets the phrase finish.. "Peccata mundi."

"The sins of the world."


That happens in this video at 3:42.

Then at 4:25 there is another magical moment where the music melts into the "Dona nobis pacem."

And at 5:10 all the voices start blending and building into the great triumphant fanfare that bursts forth at .. let's see ... 5:43. That is thrilling, almost like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Such faith, such power!

Admittedly I have an overactive imagination. But I see faith in that shivery moment at 3:42. It makes you stop and think about what the words mean. Mozart might not have thought that out consciously but that is the effect it has. He stops the prayer and you feel something and you are not sure what it is.

It gives you pause.

That is a nice video, I have to say. Herbert von Karajan is conducting and Kathleen Battle is the soloist and throughout that vast quiet melody, they both look as if they are in a trance. It is touching to see Karajan mouthing the words. And this is not just a performance. It seems to be an actual Mass.

At the end they all look as if they are coming out of a dream.

What a beautiful way to pray!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Liszt and self-indulgence

Today on my Pennario Web log I found myself talking about a walk I took yesterday to the beach. I was listening to Jorge Bolet, pictured above, playing Liszt's arrangement of the overture to Wagner's "Tannhauser."

They were playing that on the Historic Pianists podcast out of Aspen Public Radio. The host, Andrew Todd, advised us not to try this at home. Ha, ha!

When I got home I found the Bolet recording on YouTube. It is here!

The second part of it is here.

There is no Great Pianists of the 20th Century CD set devoted to Leonard Pennario. Grrrrr. Boooooooooooo! Well, one day that will surely change.

I have a confession to make. I love these overblown Liszt treatments.

Once I asked my piano teacher, Stephen Manes, if I could play the Liszt arrangement of the Prelude and Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde." Stephen said oh, Mary, that is so self-indulgent.

I went running to Earl Wild. I told him what Stephen had said. OK, full disclosure: I was calling Earl Wild to interview him for the paper. But I could not resist phrasing it the way I did. Because it was not long after I had that conversation, about "Tristan."

Earl Wild thought Stephen was out of line.

He said: "What's wrong with being self-indulgent?"

What a great philosophy to have!

Stephen gave me the Berg sonata to play instead and I have to say, it was a satisfactory substitute. I grew to love that strip tease of a piece, I will say that.

But I still would like to play "Tristan."

What's wrong with being self-indulgent? Wild is right.

Here is the man himself playing Liszt.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Susan Boyle and Sarah Chang

There is this British story flying around about Susan Boyle. Remember, the woman who sang that song from "Les Mis" and became a big celebrity last week on a show called "Britain's Got Talent." I had never heard of that show before!

And I have not thought of Susan Boyle much since.

But now along comes this story and I am thinking about her again. I guess the general public is still scratching its collective head over the idea that a woman who does not look great can sing great.

The Independent asks the question of has classical music gone too far in expecting its artists to look good. The paper interviews the glamorous 28-year-old violinist Sarah Chang. I interviewed her once! Sarah Chang, pictured above, is talking about how she chooses what she wears. "When I need a dress for the Brahms Concerto it must be substantial and robust, but if I'm doing a big Carmen concert the dress can be red and hot and fun."

That is funny. I could argue about the business of Brahms being "substantial and robust." I think Brahms...

... deserves a more romantic image. Also I do not think Sarah Chang ever wore a substantial and robust, whatever that means, dress in her entire short life.

But I don't feel like arguing about any of that now. I am sitting here drinking coffee and listening to the mourning doves and now turning my attention to that Brahms link above.

One thing, though, and I am sure I am right about this.

The Independent is wrong to blame the classical music world for this good-looks business. This is clearly a pop music world problem. The pop music world is the one that made news by sitting up and noticing Susan Boyle. The light bulb went on all these pop listeners' heads that said you know what? Every singer is not going to look like Beyonce.

The classical music world has always known this!

Besides which, complete lost in the shuffle is the fact that Susan Boyle did not sing a classical piece. She sang a song from "Les Mis." She is not even necessarily one of ours.

Why are our hands getting slapped?

Why is this British "tsk, tsk" directed at me as a classical music listener?

Haven't they ever heard the old joke "it ain't over till the fat lady sings"?

I guess not!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Books and old boyfriends

I am beginning to feel about the music journalist Norman Lebrecht the way I used to feel about old boyfriends. You would run across this guy after a couple of years, and he would seem so cute and nice, and you would say to yourself: "Why did I throw him back? I must have been wrong. Look at him. He is so smart and funny."

Then you agree to go out to dinner with him. And you have fun. And you go out to dinner again.

And then something happens, and you start to remember why you had those second thoughts. He's angry, maybe. Or he has issues. That is a phrase I love! Or he exhausts you. What I am getting at is, there is always something.

That is the way I am getting about Norman Lebrecht. I have his book "The Life and Death of Classical Music." And it kicks around my house. And every once in a while this book and I, we bump into each other.

And I read a few pages. And I think: This Norman Lebrecht, he is so cute and funny. There is so much in his brain that he cannot ever get to it all. And he knows everyone and he has all the dirt. That is a picture of Norman Lebrecht at the top of this post. He looks like a great guy to go out and have a beer with, I have to say that.

So I wonder: Why did I walk away from this book? And I pick it up again. And I might even -- shhh! -- go to bed with it. I am drawn in by all these stories Lebrecht is telling about which conductor threw which other conductor under the bus, and what record label exploited what performer, and this and that artist who looked nice but was really a nasty underneath.

But then it starts creeping up on me, why I let it go last time. It's angry, it's exhausting, it has issues. Plus I do not believe that classical music is dead. Last time I checked, which was five minutes ago, it was not.

I have to believe Lebrecht loves music but it does not come through in this book. I get a kick out of his blog especially this recent post he did on Bob Dylan. That is a great post!

Wow, you cannot say such things about Dylan in Buffalo, I have to say that. I wrote a review of a Dylan concert in Buffalo once where I brought up a few of the same issues Lebrecht did. I thought I was going to get killed. The Buffalo News got so many nasty letters they devoted a whole page to them.

So I like Lebrecht sometimes, for running his mouth. I guess I like him in small doses.

Like an old boyfriend.