Former New York Times 'Conductor' Bill Keller Shares Musical Memories

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

For eight years, Bill Keller served as the top editor of The New York Times, likening his job to that of an orchestra conductor. He joined the paper 28 years ago in its Washington bureau. Two years later he was tapped for the challenging assignment of Moscow, where his five years of reporting on the collapse of communist rule and the breakup of the Soviet Union resulted in his winning the Pulitzer Prize.

Working his way up the ladder – first as foreign editor and then managing editor – in 2003, Keller was appointed as the paper’s editor. He stepped down this past fall to return to writing as a Times columnist and as a feature writer for The New York Times Magazine. Along his impressive trajectory, music has always accompanied him – often appearing at key moments in his life.

In a wide-ranging interview with host Gilbert Kaplan, Keller reveals:

-- He probably regrets that his mother never forced him to continue piano lessons as a child (his two daughters both study piano now).

-- He feels a “sort of slender attachment” to star soprano Renee Fleming (their children have attended the same school).

-- Music he’d like at his funeral: no Wagner, but “probably a lot of Bruce Springsteen.”

-- In his fantasies, he’d like to be a star rock pianist like the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis.

-- His musical selections that "uncork memories from his life" and include works by Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner and Massenet.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, “Kuda kuda vy udalilis.” Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Valery Gergiev. Ramón Vargas, tenor. Decca DVD 074 3248.

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto, “La Donna e Mobile.” London Symphony Orchestra. Richard Bonynge. Luciano Pavarotti, tenor. London: 414 269-2.

Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser. Overture [excerpt]. Staatskapelle Berlin. Daniel Barenboim. Teldec Classics 8573-88064-2.

Alfredo Catalani: La Wally (arrangement by Vladimir Cosma for the soundtrack of Diva) [excerpt]. London Symphony Orchestra. Vladimir Cosma. Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, soprano. Pomme Music: 950 622.

Kate McGarrigle: “Go Leave.” Nonesuch: 2-527267.

Jules Massenet: Manon, “Je marche sur tous les chemins...Obéissons quand leur voix appelle.” English Chamber Orchestra. Jeffrey Tate. Renée Fleming, soprano. Decca 458858.

Comments [4]

Diane from Maplewood, NJ

Again, an intriguing show. The guests seem always honest and yet so vulnerable. Whenever I hear the program I have a greater respect for the guest who always becomes more real and multi dimensional after such a broadcast. Thanks for creating it. And yes, I also think Bill Keller was a "superb guest" as Mr Kaplan put it.

Mar. 05 2012 06:59 PM


I think it might have been Kate McGarrigle: “Go Leave.” The playlist for the show is listed above.

Mar. 05 2012 11:18 AM
Amie Ilva Tatem from Staten Island, New York

I enjoyed tonight's show. The music chosen by Keller was a wonderful assortment of uplifting classics. Doesn't music do amazing things for the soul!

Mar. 04 2012 10:18 PM
Nina van Dyke from New York

What is the name of the Tango piece played by a female artist. The piece was performed on wqxr sometime between 9:00 - 9:30 PM Sunday March 4, 2012.

Thank you very much for your immediate attention.

Mar. 04 2012 09:56 PM

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