Interviewing the talent

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

The stories behind the stories: I won’t assert that they are more interesting than the stories themselves, but they’re not without interest. I’ve learned a lot about classical musicians, both individually and as a group, interviewing them through the years. Composers, to my mind, are the best interviewees. They’re smart, they work alone and they seem to enjoy the opportunity to talk about their craft. Singers tend to live up to their reputation for shallowness and flightiness, I’m not sure why.

You never know what you’re going to get, phoning up or sitting down with a classical musician for the first time. It can be nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what to expect when I phoned the great pianist, intellect, essayist and poet Alfred Brendel. He was one of the all-time best scowlers on stage, glaring at coughers, barely breaking a smile in response to thunderous applause. I was intimidated. It turned out he was an absolute delight, funny, easy to laugh, spilling his tea (and laughing at that), willing and interested to talk and reflect about everything, even his inner self. “Well, I don’t think I’m really driven,” he said. “I’m not a fanatic, I dread fanatics. Fanaticism is something that frightens me. So I have given myself the appearance, or the idea, that I do what I do out of my own free will.” And then he laughed.

Pianist Ivo Pogorelich didn’t laugh at all. He was difficult. I sat down with him for a radio interview once and he didn’t like the microphone the engineer gave him. It fit on his head; he apparently didn’t want to muss his hair. Pogorelich told us that unless he got another microphone, one that sat on the table, he was going to walk, quite the diva. We found a table microphone for him and I proceeded with the interview, delicately.

Oh, I’m sure, dear reader, you want to know what they’re all like. Cecilia Bartoli? Adorable. Riccardo Muti? Exceedingly charming, humble, a gentleman. Philip Glass? Friendly, bright, a real talker, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind having a beer with. Pierre Boulez? Gracious, and so intelligent in response to my questions I felt brilliant for asking them. Daniel Barenboim? Gritty, philosophical, committed.

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Weissenberg plays ‘Petrushka’

Here’s one of my favorite concert videos. It features pianist Alexis Weissenberg playing Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. The director is Ake Falck, and while he didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, the lighting and the camerawork here are superb. Notice how they actually focus your listening rather than distract, as visuals often do. Weissenberg reportedly recorded the piano part in the studio and synced to the recording for the film. –TM

André Watts, 16, debuts with New York Philharmonic

The 16-year-old André Watts debuts with the New York Philharmonic in a Young People’s Concert, nationally broadcast in prime time on CBS, Jan. 15, 1963. Leonard Bernstein introduces him with distinct references to Watts’ race. (His parents were Hungarian and African-American.) This was the Civil Rights Era, after all.

“Look, he was a very smart man, he thought this through,” Watts, referring to Bernstein’s speech, told me in 2016. “I’m sure he discussed it, ‘Can I say this? Can I not say this? How far can I go?’”

With this same piece (Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1) a couple weeks later, Watts substituted for an ailing Glenn Gould on New York Philharmonic subscription concerts, Bernstein conducting. Watts had to ask his mother if it was OK first. A commercial recording on Columbia was also made at the time and is still in print.

Watts performs Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto tonight and tomorrow with Pacific Symphony.

Here are two interviews I did with Watts, nearly 26 years apart.

André Watts Sounds Off. Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 1990.

André Watts Looks Back on a Storied Career. Orange County Register, May 27, 2016.

Ticket deal for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’

Dmitri Shostakovich

Readers of this blog will receive 20 percent off of their ticket purchase for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’ by going here and entering the promo code “blog”.

The concert features the venerable André Watts as soloist in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Shostakovich’s epic Tenth Symphony, one of the greatest of the 20th century. Carl St.Clair conducts. The orchestra is just back from its triumph at Carnegie Hall.

The concerts takes place at 8 p.m. on May 3-5 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

Friday in New York

Friday was an eventful day for the orchestra as well as for me.

First, on the personal front, the wife and I grabbed a cab and took in the fabulous Thomas Cole exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During our ramblings there, she snapped this rather grand photo:

Some hot dogs from a street vendor, mustard on my pants and a chilly walk along Central Park …

…and I was off to Steinway Hall to hear a discussion moderated by Pacific Symphony president John Forsyte with conductor Carl St.Clair and Carnegie Hall director of artistic planning Jeremy Geffen.

Geffen, it turns out, grew up in Orange County listening to St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony and studied viola at USC. He gave the audience of Symphony patrons some insights in the artistic side of running Carnegie Hall, which is the venue for some 700 concerts a year.

St.Clair spoke movingly and emotionally about the program he has brought for the orchestra’s Carnegie debut, and offered some deep insights into “The Passion of Ramakrishna” by Philip Glass.

Steinway Hall is also a showroom for the famed piano brand. I liked this one:

After the discussion, a young pianist, Drew Petersen, winner of a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant, gave us a short and impressive recital that included Beethoven’s Sonata, Op. 54, Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s song “Devotion,” and the crackling finale (a fugue) of Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata.

The biggest news of the day, though, was this:

The orchestra has sold out its Carnegie Hall debut concert and the poster duly went up at the entrance.

Pacific Symphony’s 2018-2019 chamber music series announced

Pacific Symphony announced today programming and dates for the 2018-2019 Café Ludwig chamber music series. Pianist Orli Shaham will again serve as curator and host of the concerts and teams with members of the Symphony. Performances are held in Samueli Theater on Sunday afternoons. Coffee, tea and pastries are offered to listeners, seated at tables.

The season’s programming is off the beaten path. The Oct. 14 opener delves into French music and features the Bassoon Sonata, Op. 168, by Saint-Saëns, the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp by Debussy and the Violin Sonata by Franck.

The Feb. 24 (2019) concert focuses on transcriptions of Bach and includes Mozart’s arrangements for string quartet of fugues from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”; Liszt’s arrangement of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543; and David Robertson’s new arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations” for piano quintet. George Perle’s rarely performed “Classic Suite” for piano, which draws on Baroque dance forms, begins the program.

On May 19 (2019), the series’ finale explores storytelling in music with pieces by Ridout, Brahms and Janacek on the slate, and climaxing with Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale.”

The Symphony’s new concertmaster, yet to be named, is scheduled to perform on all three concerts.

Current subscribers may renew their subscriptions online here. New subscribers may sign up here. Renewing and new subscribers may also call the box office at (714) 755-5799 to purchase subscriptions.

Just a few tickets remain for the last Café Ludwig concert of this season, featuring music by Poulenc, Fauré and Rebecca Clarke, held at 3 p.m. on April 29.