When Mike Wallace Interviewed Classical Musicians

Sunday, April 08, 2012 - 07:41 PM

Friends and colleagues are remembering CBS correspondent Mike Wallace as a dogged reporter and interviewer who took on presidents, tyrants, celebrities and other major historical figures over a 65-year career. He also went into uncharted territory with some of the biggest names in classical music.

Wallace died on Saturday at 93 after a long illness. A list of his interview subjects over the years includes Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Maria Callas, Vladimir Horowitz, Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman and Beverly Sills.

Wallace asked the tough questions of musicians that few other interviewers would. Personal experience may have been a factor: He played the violin while growing up in Brookline, MA, and served as concertmaster in his high school orchestra. He also spent summers at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.

In his 2005 memoir, Between You and Me, Wallace described his upbringing. "Because I grew up in a musical family (my sister, Helen, was a gifted pianist) and because of my own teenage adventures with the violin, I felt comfortable in and conversant with the worlds of concerts and ballet.

"But I regret to say that my enthusiasm for classical music did not extend to opera, the dubious charms of which have always alluded me," he adds. "Still, exceptional talent must be recognized wherever it is found, so I made occasional visits to that hybrid world of robust arias and florid librettos."

Here are three notable Mike Wallace interviews:

1. Vladimir Horowitz (1977)

Wallace has said his all-time favorite "60 Minutes" interview was with pianist Vladimir Horowitz. He adopts his confrontational mode when discussing the 74-year-old pianist's salary and his long self-exile from the concert hall: "The fact remains that you did not face the public for 12 years…On one occasion, you did not leave this house for two years," says Wallace. It is defused with an anecdote; Horowitz’s wife, Wanda, recalls a patron who boasted, "I waited in line 12 hours" for Horowitz's triumphant return concert in Carnegie Hall and her reply: "That's nothing; I waited in line 12 years."

Here Wallace also goads Horowitz into playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

2. Maria Callas (1973)

Wallace walks the soprano through her storied and tempestuous career. He grills her on her “walk-outs and sicknesses and affairs and anger and jealousy” before asking, “what’s the drama?” She replies, “If you don’t get angry sometimes, you don’t obtain the results.”

3. Luciano Pavarotti (1993 and 2003)

In 1993, Wallace got Pavarotti to admit to feeling the pressure of critics and fans. “Now, at my age, when everybody is trying to kill me… If you do something wrong, they can protest, they can boo you.” The piece cuts to a clip of the loggionisti at La Scala expressing their displeasure. Wallace also talks with the tenor about his marriages and, for a charming moment, rides with him on his scooter.


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Comments [3]

Is this -- "But I regret to say that my enthusiasm for classical music did not extend to opera, the dubious charms of which have always alluded me," he adds. -- really from his book? If so, he and his editor should be ashamed.

Still, sorry to see the passing of a master.


Apr. 10 2012 09:01 PM
Dorothy from Leonia, N.J.

It was so good to listen to the interviews and then to the corresponding
music of the interviewees. Thanks.

Apr. 09 2012 01:23 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

One always could count on MIKE WALLACE to draw out those he interviewed with snipes at their pretentiousness.
He did not accept spin controlling, so his interviews presented those interviewed as candidly as one could ever expect. One such interview with BARBRA STREISAND was among the most biting, moist invasive of one's self image. IF WALLACE COULD EVER INTERVIEWED WAGNER ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS AGO, Wallace would cringe and beg off, NO MAS ! I have much respect for MIKE WALLACE's aim at getting at the truth, it is just his utter disrepect for the individual's personal life that I object to. I am an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare," a Wagnerian heldentenor and the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. At my website, www.WagnerOpera.com, one may download at "Recorded Selections," free, 37 complete selections from the over one hundred I have sung in four three hour long solo concerts in the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, of Carnegie Hall. They are all LIVE performances. On Saturday June 9th, I will sing a program of 28 selections, BRING HIM HOME, that will deal with the love of country, the desire to return our valiant military to their families, and songs celebrating hope and pride, at the YOGA EXPO at the New Yorker Hotel, at 6 PM.

Apr. 08 2012 10:34 PM

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