Richard Haass who serves as the President on the Council on Foreign Relations, America’s leading think tank on foreign policy, has had a distinguished career. Most recently he was the Director of Policy Planning for the State Department and earlier served as Special Assistant to the first President Bush.
In this interview with “Mad About Music” host Gilbert Kaplan, Haass reveals the enduring power of music in his life:
- How meeting legendary pianist Emil Gilels also introduced him to Beethoven’s “Waldstein Sonata”, now a favorite.
- Asked to pick his favorite love song for the upcoming Valentine’s Day, he picked “Old Devil Moon” sung by Frank Sinatra.
- Drinking at a British pub called “The Trout” introduced him also to Schubert’s “Trout Quintet”.
- Why he doesn’t connect to the music of either Debussy or Tchaikovsky (too much “schmaltz”)
- In his youth, his career goal was to one day join The Kingston Trio. Today his fantasy is to be a star oboe player.
- His musical choices include works by Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Saint Saëns.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart The Magic Flute Papagena/Papageno aria. Vienna Philharmonic. Sir Georg Solti. Lotte Leitner, soprano. Michael Kraus, baritone. Decca 433 210-2.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Requiem “Benedictus”. Berliner Philharmoniker. Wiener Singverein. Herbert von Karajan. Anna Tomowa-Sintow, soprano. Agnes Baltsa, alto. Werner Krenn, tenor. Jose Van Dam, bass. Deutsche Grammophon 429 821-2.
Franz Schubert Piano Quintet in A major “Trout”. Fourth movement [excerpt]. Alfred Brendel, piano. Cleveland Quartet: Donald Weilerstein, violin; Martha Strongin Katz, viola; Paul Katz, cello; James van Denmark, double-bass. Philips 475 7574.
Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Sonata no. 21 “Waldstein Sonata”. First movement [excerpt]. Emil Gilels. Deutsche Grammophon 419 162-2.
Tom Glazer & Dave Guard “A Worried Man”. The Kingston Trio. Cema Special Markets S21-18249.
Saint Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. William Steinberg. Jascha Heifetz. BMG Classics 9026-61753-2.
GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” with my guest, Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, America’s leading think tank on foreign policy.
Before being tapped to lead the Council on Foreign Relations, he already had a distinguished career in foreign policy, most recently as Director of Policy Planning for the State Department. Earlier, he served as Special Assistant to the first President Bush and on the staff of the National Security Council. He is the author of countless articles on foreign policy, and the author or editor of eleven books on subjects ranging from the analysis of the two Iraq wars to a book titled, “How to be Effective in an Unruly Organization.” Along the way he received many honors, including the Presidential Citizens Medal and honorary degrees from four colleges and universities. Richard Haass, welcome to “Mad About Music.
RICHARD HAASS: Good to be here.
KAPLAN: Now, I always find it fascinating to learn how music enters the lives of people who then become passionate about music. So, how did you come to music?
HAASS: Slowly, in a word. I grew up in a house without much music. It wasn’t a big part of my family’s life. For my parents, probably the only music was Broadway: My Fair Lady, South Pacific, what have you. But like a lot of families in the 1950s it was de rigueur that their children took piano lessons, so one Mrs. Greenbaum trooped into our house once a week and had the frustrating experience of having me as a pupil. It lasted several painful years. I don’t know who was more relieved, Mrs. Greenbaum or myself, when it came to an end.
KAPLAN: Now, since then we are no longer talking about your childhood, you have children yourself. Have you encouraged them to play instruments?
HAASS: Actually I have, with some success with my son. He was a decent pianist and then switched to the cello. He recently graduated Collegiate where he was the first cello in the school orchestra and with luck will continue it now that he is off in college. A little bit less luck with my daughter, perhaps we are not forceful enough as parents to have insisted on it. But hopefully she’ll pick up the guitar again.
KAPLAN: Alright, I think we should go right to your list of music and get a sense of what your flavor and taste is. And I see the first selection comes from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
HAASS: Exactly. I got introduced to it when I was in fifth grade. At that time growing up in Long Island, I was a student at Forest Road Elementary School and what was then called Green Acres and Valley Stream out on Long Island. And for some reason the music teacher decided to mount the production of The Magic Flute. I was in fifth grade, no way I was going to sing in it, partially fear, partially lack of talent. But I was part of the crew doing the mechanics, the lighting, some sound, moving chairs and props around. We did this production of The Magic Flute, but before she wrote the music critic of The New York Times. As you recall, then it was Harold Schonberg. And he decided to come and review it which she invited him to do for one simple reason: her name was nothing less than Jane Beethoven. And the idea that this elementary school music teacher had that name was obviously something he couldn’t resist. And I recall that he came to the school, and I remember several days later reading it in the newspaper and he wrote it straight up, just did an analysis -- the strengths, the weaknesses of the production. And that was the first opera that I ever recall hearing or seeing in its entirety. And I’m glad to say not only did I love it then and love it now, but it was the first of many operas because opera has become an important part of my life. And the selection I’ve chosen from The Magic Flute is where Papageno, having given up all hope of ever winning over the love of his life, Papagena, tries to commit suicide. Fortunately, his hand is stayed before he gets to the point. He is told by the fairy, or what have you, that he should ring his magic bells and none other than Papagena appears -- and thus begins their very famous duet.
KAPLAN: The well-known Papageno/Papagena aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, sung by Lotte Leitner and Michael Kraus. The first selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, America’s leading foreign policy think tank. Alright, let’s see if we can find a connection between music and your profession. We often hear the term “soft power” or “cultural diplomacy.” Now, how effective is cultural diplomacy -- and of course I’m hoping there will be some role for music in cultural diplomacy. You know, I recall that when Yuri Andropov became head of the Soviet Union, it was said he loved American jazz, which wasn’t true. But I wonder if he did, and if he had to meet a president who loved jazz, for example, would that have helped the relationship? Would that have changed, you know, politics in any way?
HAASS: I think cultural diplomacy matters. You mentioned jazz. I actually think during the Cold War jazz was something that broke through, literally and figuratively, the Iron Curtain. I think at other times music, say folk music, whether it was the American Civil Rights Movement or the sort of music that came out of South Africa, was something of a galvanizing force, a coalescing force for opposition. More broadly, dance, film, what have you, there is very little in art that is devoid of ideas, and ideas are powerful tools. So I actually think the marriage of culture and diplomacy can be quite important because part of history is the competition of ideas and the competition of systems. One important feature, a facet of a system, is what kind of culture does it produce? Part of America’s appeal, historically, has been the strength of our culture.
KAPLAN: But take for example some of these initiatives more recently of organizing say, an orchestra, of Israeli and Arab musicians. Do you think that sort of initiative has any impact on the pace of the Middle East peace process?
HAASS: At best it forms something of the context. I think it’s a useful demonstration effect, but I also think it would be wrong to exaggerate it. Can it compete with what Hezbollah or Hamas or someone like that does tomorrow? No. It has a place, it has a role, but it’s probably useful not to get overly romantic about how it can trump, if you will, hard power. Soft power has a role, but it’s just that; it’s a limited role.
KAPLAN: Then I would like to explore a cousin of that idea, in a way, about the connection of music and political events. When the today Minister of Defense of Israel, Ehud Barak, was on the show, he mentioned that when he was once on a commando raid he stayed in a safe house where the woman, his hostess, was constantly playing Scott Joplin on the piano. He was a good pianist, and he went home right after this, and that’s all he could do is play that piece. Have you ever had a moment when you were involved with something political and something musical intersected with it?
HAASS: For sure, and it brings me to my second choice, if I may, and this is Mozart’s Requiem. And the reason I chose it is when I was a college student, this is May 1970 which was the end of my first year in college, in this case Oberlin College in Ohio. If you recall, this was the height of the controversy over the Vietnam War. And in May, Richard Nixon made the controversial decision to expand the war into Cambodia to get at certain sanctuaries that were affecting the ability of North Vietnam to prosecute the war in South Vietnam. There was tremendous student protest throughout the United States and nearby Oberlin was Kent State University and four young people got killed by the National Guard. Kent State then closed and the students from Kent State were then invited to come to Oberlin to continue, if you want to call it the protests or mobilization or what have you. Classes were cancelled, not just at Oberlin but around the country. But at Oberlin the conversation became how do we combine what Oberlin is and does, which was music, great Conservatory of Music, one of the best in the country, with politics? And the professor of I guess choir or chorus at Oberlin was a guy named Robert Fountain, later became the head, the Dean of the Conservatory of Music, and the whole idea was to put together a requiem mass for these four students who had just been killed at Kent State. And over the next few weeks, we practiced it and Oberlin got the opportunity to perform it at the Washington National Cathedral. My role in all this was at that point my first major at Oberlin was communications and I was then asked by the school to make a documentary about the Oberlin reaction to the student controversies, to the deaths. And what I then did was follow the Oberlin choir and orchestra through all the preparations, all the rehearsals, went with them to Washington and was there at the National Cathedral. And the soundtrack of Mozart’s Requiem became in some ways the backbone to the movie, not just because it’s this powerful, powerful piece of music, but also because it represented, as strongly as anything I’ve ever been a part of, what you just asked about, this fusion of the musical and the political. Every time I hear it -- and I try to hear it about once a year -- every time I hear it, it’s that fusion; it’s that power of politics and music that comes back to me.
KAPLAN: “Benedictus” from Mozart’s Requiem, with soloist Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Agnes Baltsa, Werner Krenn and Jose Van Dam, along with the Wiener Singverein chorus and the Berlin Philharmonic, all under the baton of Herbert von Karajan -- music chosen by my guest, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. When we return, as this is the month of Valentine’s Day, we’ll talk about romantic music.
This is Gilbert Kaplan and my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. Well, as I said before the break, February is the month of Valentine’s Day, so I thought it might be appropriate to ask you whether you had a favorite love song?
HAASS: Well, I do, but I would be remiss, not to mention in trouble, if I didn’t mention that Valentine’s Day, besides the obvious, is also the birthday of my daughter, Francesca Maria Beatrice. So for me it’s a doubly important day, and I do. An old Frank Sinatra tune, as perhaps you would expect, “Old Devil Moon”. It was one of the first songs I actually learned how to sing, but I will spare you that agony.
KAPLAN: But tell me, do you also have any favorite music, this is from your youth no doubt, when you might put it on to create a romantic atmosphere?
HAASS: Sure, then you go back to all the, everything from early Beatles, but even before that, groups like The Everly Brothers, Silhouettes on the Shade, and so forth. It’s late ‘50s, early ‘60s, which is when the hormones first started kicking in.
KAPLAN: Now, February will also mark the return of what might be called a major foreign policy opera: John Adams’ Nixon in China. Are you familiar with this work at all?
HAASS: Barely. I hear it is not for the faint-hearted.
KAPLAN: Okay, I want to return to your music list, which I see is a piano quintet. But before then I want to ask you something about your headquarters building at the Council on Foreign Relations, the original one, where one of the rooms with its rich paneled walls seems ideal for chamber music. Have you ever had music there?
HAASS: Perfectly enough, we have. It was about five, six years ago when David Rockefeller, who was formerly the Chairman of our Board, I believe is our longest serving member, probably some 60 years now, and has been a real pillar of this Institution in many ways. When he turned 90 in May of 2005, we asked ourselves how could we recognize this and how could we say thank you in a way that would be special to David. And we know how much he likes music, and as I said, he has been so supportive of the Council on Foreign Relations, so we tried to combine the two. So we asked a young pianist who he really likes, a young man named Bruce Livingston, to come and Bruce did a mini concert of Chopin, Schumann, Philip Glass, Debussy and Schubert. And it was, at least in my seven and a half years there, it was the one time we’ve really done something like that, and all I can say is it will not be the last time. I’d like to find other ways, whether it’s for something personal -- or coming back to something we talked about before -- something more political, to find ways to fuse the politics, which is what we do on a day to day level, but the music as well. I should say one other thing when it comes to music at the Council, which is besides specific performances and wood-paneled rooms, I’m lucky enough that two of the people who I work with most closely, both my immediate assistant, Eva Tatarczyk, she sings with the St. Cecilia Chorus, and my research assistant, Lindsay Iversen, she sings with The Dessoff Choirs. So, I couldn’t escape music at work, even if I wanted to.
KAPLAN: Is this the secret to getting a job with you? You have to be a singer?
HAASS: Your research is overrated, but a good voice takes you far.
KAPLAN: Alright, the last piece he played was Schubert, you say, and I see that Schubert is the next work on your list today.
HAASS: It is and I’ve chosen the “Trout” Quintet for a good reason. I was lucky enough after finishing Oberlin College to go off to Oxford to do my graduate work. And I set a rule for myself that when it was sunny, I would take off and enjoy it, but when the weather was poor, cloudy, rainy, what have you, I would stick to the library. Given the meteorological history of the United Kingdom, it will come as no surprise to you that I studied an awful lot during my three years at Oxford when I did my graduate work. But I was good about taking off when it was nice. And one of my favorite things to do when I would take off was go to a pub to have a pint or two, and one of my favorite pubs was a pub called “The Trout.” I lived in a house -- I was at St. Anthony’s college -- I lived in a house right off the Woodstock Road which is where St. Anthony’s college was, and about a 20, 25 minute walk. And it was a sensational walk through paths and all that, through the English countryside, you come to this pub and there were tables outside as well the normal wooden inside and you could sit by the water. And on a Sunday afternoon there were few things better in life than to be out there. It would be clear, sparkling air, you’d have a pint of cider, or a pint of beer. Unfortunately, you’d probably be cutting your way through something like a Scotch Egg or some other indescribable English foodstuff -- and that is why besides the music itself -- that is why the “Trout,” was and is such a special piece of music. I’ll be honest with you; it’s probably my favorite piece of chamber music.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, performed by an expanded Cleveland Quartet and pianist Alfred Brendel -- music chosen by my guest, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. Let’s talk a little bit about music in your life. How often do you have time and are able to attend live concerts?
HAASS: Not as often as I’d like. Partly because of having two kids -- at least one is going off to college now, but having two kids at home, partially because of the social/institutional life that comes with having a job like mine where dinner parties are a fairly prominent part of life. But I’m also lucky enough that people are often asking me to go to operas with them, or go to concerts with them, or go to dance with them, or sometimes we just seek it out ourselves. So I would say periodically, but not with anything like the frequency that one should have.
KAPLAN: Now, as I mentioned in my introduction you are a prolific writer. Do you keep music on in the background when you write?
HAASS: I often do, though I yell at my son for doing it. But yes, I do keep music on often in the background. What I found is, with Sirius radio, you know, I have it in my car, but then for an extra couple of bucks a month I can also have it played at my computer in my office. So I find it very comforting at times, just to have it on in the background. Though I will admit there are times when I get so focused on writing that I just need to close the door and have silence. But much of the time I actually like having music on in the background, even though I don’t do justice to it because you can’t listen to it with the intensity you should at the same time you’re really focusing on your writing.
KAPLAN: I was thinking about that because if you were putting on a CD then you could control what kind of music you heard, but if you’re listening to a show on Sirius radio, you might very well get distracted by something powerful that would draw you away.
HAASS: But it’s also the way for someone like me who hasn’t had as much of a formal education in any of this, as someone like you, it’s also just a way to hear new things and to be exposed to things. If I were limited to my own choices, I think I’d simply be too limited.
KAPLAN: Now, when it comes to composers, you have very traditional, classic ones on your list today which are popular. Are there any others in the mainstream like those names with which you just don’t connect? You’ve tried, but don’t like them.
HAASS: I don’t connect with Debussy. I don’t connect with Tchaikovsky. I don’t connect with most of the 20th century with maybe a little bit of Copland as an exception. I almost felt that a lot of the more modern stuff was, intellectually I was told I should like it, but emotionally and in every other way I couldn’t quite bring myself to, so I guess I’m pretty classic. And in some ways, the earlier the better. I didn’t include today, for example, any Haydn, but love a lot of his work and actually love a lot of the earlier music. I talked before about Oxford, the evensong kind of music, a lot of the choral music, a lot of the late medieval music. I love for example a lot of the earlier work with countertenors. I just find a lot of those melody lines really quite powerful.
KAPLAN: And what’s wrong with Tchaikovsky? Most people find that very soothing.
HAASS: I find it too obvious, at the risk of alienating one third of your audience. The Million Dollar Movie theme, I perhaps liked when I watched Million Dollar Movie on those days I was able to stay home from school when I was sick. But in general I just, you know, the word schmaltz is what comes to mind. It just lacks a certain subtlety.
KAPLAN: Alright, then let’s come back to your music selections and someone you do like whose name is: Beethoven.
HAASS: Not exactly a wild choice. What I chose here was the “Waldstein Sonata,” one of the most beautiful piano pieces written by Beethoven or anyone else. And the reason I chose it is not simply because of the beauty and the clarity of the music, but it was one of the pieces I first heard when I lived in London. After Oxford, I did a post-doc in London and that was probably the time in my life where I had the greatest opportunity to listen to music, perhaps several times a week. I was single, didn’t have kids. Music in London was plentiful, they have all sorts of halls and the like. It was affordable. You know, I was making hardly anything financially, but even in those straits I could afford to go. Plus one of my good friends, she had left Czechoslovakia in ’68, and she became something of my guide to a lot of music, my friend Katja. And one of the people, and the reason I chose the piece I chose, she introduced me to a pianist from the Soviet Union, from I think Odessa. I could be wrong in that, Mr. Gilels, or Gilels, I guess it is -- hard “G”. And we went to hear him one night. And that is when I heard, among other things, the “Waldstein”, and besides being one of the cleanest pieces of music I know, it just represents to me a time in life when I had the luxury of hearing music on a regular basis.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no.21, the “Waldstein Sonata,” performed by Emil Gilels, a favorite of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. When we return, we’ll hear Richard Haass’s “wildcard” selection, music from either outside opera or classical music.
KAPLAN: This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. Alright, we now come to that part of the show we call the “wildcard,” where you have an opportunity to make a selection that is neither opera nor classical music. No limits on what you can choose, so what did you choose?
HAASS: It was a tough choice, and I debated between two. One was “The Highwayman”, a song written by Johnny Cash, at least the lyrics by Johnny Cash, and my favorite recording of it involves Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. And I thought of doing it, but in the end, instead will choose a different song, which is one by The Kingston Trio. It’s not so much that I like the music of The Kingston Trio better, or in this case “A Worried Man”, though I do love the banjo that begins it, so much as for a lot of my youth my career goal was to join The Kingston Trio. Now, it wasn’t quite clear to me whether I was going to replace one of the three or we were going to turn it into The Kingston Quartet. But either way, there was a comfort level I had with that music, and you know, again, the problem was my own lack of skill, as a girl I once dated in high school would attest to if she were sitting here. When she tried to teach me the guitar, it was clear I was never going to break through and make that. But all the same, I will admit, even when I hear The Kingston Trio play today, it brings back a lot of those yearnings. A little bit like wanting to play third base for the Yankees, or some other things, and that perhaps for me is as close as I get. Again, the song is “A Worried Man”, which has a fantastic introduction, I think, of banjo.
KAPLAN: “A Worried Man”, sung by The Kingston Trio, the “wildcard” selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. Now, I noticed that all of your music today, we are coming to the end of your list, relate primarily to experiences you’ve had where music showed up. But if I were to ask you, without those experiences, just sitting at home and wanting to listen to some music you absolutely love, do you have a few favorites that aren’t on your list today but have a place in your heart?
HAASS: Sure. I would probably put on Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto. I would probably put on any number of things with clarinet and oboe. I particularly like oboe, lots of things, say, played by Heinz Holliger. I mentioned before how much I like early music, so whether it was Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, or any number of choral pieces, some with religious overtones I would put on -- so no shortage, no shortage.
KAPLAN: And before you mentioned, when I asked you about Tchaikovsky, that it was perhaps a bit too sentimental, schmaltzy. I’m wondering what is your own emotional response to music? Does music ever make you cry?
HAASS: It makes me cry lots of times. I guess this is my John Boehner moment when he talks about crying. Sure, but the music that often can make me cry could be as simple as “Amazing Grace”. Context matters so much. It’s not simply the music per se, but the context. But my circuits can get overfilled pretty easily.
KAPLAN: Alright, well, let’s then turn to your final selection today, a piece by Saint Saëns.
HAASS: I chose this even though I can’t remember the first time I heard it, I will confess, but I can remember the last time I heard it, at least live. That was about a summer or so ago at Aspen. I was there for one of the ideas things or it might have been the strategy group. But one of the things I always try to do when I go to Aspen over the summer is go to as many musical events as I can and particularly I like going to master classes. I find the whole process of watching a master class about as interesting as it gets because I love to hear the piece of music broken down. And then I love to hear it put back together again and almost invariably when it’s put back together again, it sounds different than it did beforehand. The young person usually learns something. So in this case it was Bobby McDuffie, who funnily enough lives down the street from us here in New York. He is a well-known violinist who was teaching some young girl, who also, I think, went to one of the public schools in New York. It was a master class, and for the piece she chose, it was this piece by Saint Saëns, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. And she played it flawlessly. And he heard her do it, didn’t interrupt her and afterwards he said, “that was fantastic. I really have nothing to teach you, except one thing.” And she stood there watching him, waiting expectantly, and he said: “practice less”. He said, “you’re so good technically, what you really need to do now is focus on having things to play about. Go study English, do poetry, go have experiences. You have the technical mastery, but what you really now need is something larger to express.” To me it was a great moment in a master class. That said, when you hear this piece of music, it has got to be one of the most technically demanding pieces of music that any violinist could happen across. And I simply find it, and the reason I chose it, I simply find it the most pure, powerful piece of music I’ve ever heard. I defy, well that’s always dangerous to do, but I’d be surprised if too many people who aren’t familiar with it and are hearing it now for the first time, if they did not feel like this wave come over them and just sit back and say, wow. This is music to me at its purest and most powerful.
KAPLAN: Saint Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. The RCA Victor Symphony and soloist Jascha Heifetz with William Steinberg on the podium. The final selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, America’s leading foreign policy think tank. And I suppose in full disclosure, it’s the end of the show, I ought to say that I am a member of such Organization. Alright, as we approach the conclusion of the show we come to what we call “Fantasyland,” where guests have an opportunity to reveal, and they have to, their fantasies, their musical fantasies. So, if you could be a superstar in any aspect of classical music, what would it be? Singer? Composer? Conductor? A violinist? We’ll leave The Kingston Trio out of it this time.
HAASS: I’d love to play either the cello or the oboe. I just love the register of that instrument. When I look at a YoYo Ma or Heinz Holliger, I would give up a lot to trade places for a few minutes.
KAPLAN: And if you are only allowed to play one?
HAASS: The oboe.
KAPLAN: Then the oboe it will be. Richard Haass, you have been a superb guest today, revealing a side of your life that until now is probably not very well known to your friends or colleagues. Thank you for appearing today. This is all testimony to the power of music in our lives. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
Heidi Bryson, Producer
Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
Leszek Wojcik, Recording Engineer