Johannes Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem [excerpt]. Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra. Monteverdi Choir. John Eliot Gardiner. Philips 432 140-2.
Reynaldo Hahn 7 Chansons grises “L’heure exquise.” Mischa Maisky, cello. Daria Hovora, piano. DG 457 657-2.
Leos Janáček String Quartet No. 1 “The Kreutzer Sonata.” First movement. Guarneri Quartet: Arnold Steinhardt, violin; John Dalley, violin; Michael Tree, viola; David Soyer, cello. Philips 456 574.
Gabriel Fauré Après un Rêve. Boston Symphony Orchestra. Seiji Ozawa. Jules Eskin, violoncello. DG 289 469 268.
Eleni Karaindrou “Ulysses Theme” from Theo Angelopoulos’ film Ulysses’ Gaze. String Orchestra. Lefteris Chalkiadakis. Kim Kashkashian, viola. ECM 1570 78118-21570.
Arvo Pärt Da pacem Domine. Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Paul Hillier. Harmonia Mundi 907401.
GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” where my guest today is the acclaimed interior designer, David Easton.
He is regarded as one of the foremost interior designers whose classically inspired traditional rooms embrace what has been called a “sophisticated elegance.” He is much sought after around the world. And for his work he has received a multitude of awards and honors. But it has always been music, he says, that penetrates the soul more than any other art form—a topic we’ll explore today. David Easton, welcome to “Mad About Music”.
DAVID EASTON: And gratefully am I here. I am looking forward to being with you today.
KAPLAN: Now I suppose we should start with the connection between design, architecture and music I guess if there is one. And of course I think of you not only as an interior designer but also an architect and so you’re familiar with the famous quotation from Goethe that he said, “I call architecture frozen music.” Does that mean anything to you?
EASTON: Yes, because like everything that’s beautiful in this world, there’s a rhythm to it. And the structure that goes into music is like the structure that goes into architecture. There’s the foundation, the organization of the planning and all of those other issues that are just like weaving a tapestry. Music is the same.
KAPLAN: Now, I’ve listened to the selections we’re going to hear today, the music you brought. And I would say that – could be wrong about this but I don’t think it’s characterized essentially by structure. It’s very sort of free-flowing and I wonder are you attracted to music with structure -- the same degree you would be in your own work?
EASTON: No. Simply said and truthfully spoken, no - and I don’t mean this as - in a pejorative way, but rather music is something that reaches into the heart and soul and I want the comfort of something that is unstructured as you were just describing. I want to be carried away; I want to dream.
KAPLAN: All right, well we’re going to come to some dream-like music I think but I see your first selection today is Brahms’ German Requiem which has some dream-like quality to it in places but certainly is very, very formally structured. So tell me why you picked that one to start with.
EASTON: Well, that’s a long story going all the way back to Pennsylvania and growing up and my mother having one of those early Victrola things. I’m 185 years old. And listening -
KAPLAN: Those are the ones you wound up with a hand.
EASTON: No, no, this was, that was the first one. That’s my grandmother had that. It had a dog on the front and you did different things. But the music at my grandmother’s was not quite the music my mother listened to. Although I will say my family was always interested in music because of living in Chicago and the Chicago Symphony and things like that. But basically this was as a result of a time and place in my life when music first struck me. It could bring tears to my eyes. It is about death but it’s beautifully presented. It is a rhythmetic thing that catches you and you feel the length and depth of what the music is which is speaking of a requiem but this is not a mass; it was rather an ode to the departing of people from this earth.
KAPLAN: But of course you were probably so young then that you couldn’t have known all of these ideas but yet you responded to the music. How old were you when you heard that?
EASTON: I have to think about that one. You know, I was probably 12.
KAPLAN: So these would not be ideas yet I suppose you would have thought about too much, the message of the music. But you responded to the music itself.
EASTON: Music reaches deeper than a painting, than architecture, than the next meal. The only thing that would come maybe second is travel. Music is just something that is like a wonderful massage for the mind and soul and heart.
KAPLAN: All right. Well with that I think we should listen to your first piece then, Brahms German Requiem.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Brahms German Requiem performed by the Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra and Monteverdi Choir with John Eliot Gardiner on the podium – the first selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the award-winning interior designer and architect, David Easton. All right, now I’d like to explore a bit your response to music. You’ve been talking about this and you – you said “music more than any other art form can penetrate your soul.” Will you elaborate on that a little bit?
EASTON: There’s no piece of architecture, there’s no painting, there’s nothing that reaches I think into the heart and soul of anyone in this world than music. I don’t know whether it’s the vibrations of sound in the brain and its relationship that reach the heart and you think about it. But I can’t explain it. I literally can’t. I’ve never researched it but I do think that the ears and the brain are attenuated by music. It is a rhythm that goes deep into your soul and I know that sounds very strange but I really believe that.
KAPLAN: No I don’t think it’s strange. But I find a little strange, to use your word, is that you gave it a superior role to almost anything you said except travel. I wouldn’t have thought that travel is in that category.
EASTON: Travel is for the mind also as well as the heart. I love travel, I love planning for travel, etc. It’s just something - I have wanderlust as the Germans call it.
KAPLAN: Now I’ve read many interviews that you’ve given and articles about you so I sensed certain themes running through, at least the way you talk about your life and your interests and I read, you said “Music is a dream; an escape from life.” And is life something you need to escape from?
EASTON: I think that it’s the rhythm of the lives we lead perhaps always, but the world we are now living within, this globe, is a world that’s filled with so much tension and so much drive and it’s so complicated, so pressured. And I’m not being all negative, that’s really abstractly what I feel. I mean - music softens the world we live in for me.
KAPLAN: All right, now I was a little surprised though, then, back to those interviews I’ve been reading, you were asked to name five things you could not live without. And you will recall what you said: friends, travel, challenge, a glass of red wine, and books – but not music.
EASTON: I didn’t mention music because music to me is something that is different than something possessed. It is something ethereal. It is something that [rolling of tongue] in your brain, your ears. I don’t own it. Most of those other things are something that are part of my life that I own; I can possess. But music is, I mean, I can possess a CD but it’s not as if I possess that sound because that sound goes and leaves and comes and goes and it’s not something that’s permanent. It’s not a picture on a wall. It’s not a glass of wine – although I’d put that about top of the list.
KAPLAN: I was going to say that disappears too. You know, when the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was on the show, he made a rather outrageous statement I thought in terms of job security. He said he wouldn’t want to do without works of art, but he couldn’t live without music. I mean that’s the way he described it. Now one last reference to your interviews and then we’ll get away from that. You were asked to name your favorite luxury which turned out to be reading in the bathtub. But I wonder, is there music…
KAPLAN: Is there music that goes along with that?
EASTON: Yes there is.
KAPLAN: Is there special music that’s good for the bathtub?
EASTON: It comes right in. Well I will tell you in the morning, and I don’t mean this cloyingly, it’s WQXR.
KAPLAN: Ah, that will get you a lot of goodwill.
EASTON: Well it’s absolutely true. It goes on and it plays until I leave.
KAPLAN: I see. All right, well we’re speaking of luxurious baths, and I think the opening of your next piece by Reynaldo Hahn sounds to me a little bit like music you might even hear in a spa. Do you agree with that?
EASTON: I don’t know what a spa music is. I’m joking. I don’t actually. If it makes, if it makes people feel comfortable, yes.
KAPLAN: Tell us about your selection.
EASTON: Like most everything I’ve chosen, it’s something that’s mysterious to me. First of all, I think Hahn is mysterious, a fleeting character. I – think he wrote only, he wrote very little music and he went on to a whole other life. And this music is just one of those things that reaches deep inside me and is comforting and is mysterious. But part of that mystery is Hahn himself who I’ve never been able to quite put together as, you know. Brahms I can; I’ve read. Hahn I’ve read and there’s no - it seems like everything is in flux. And as I said, he wrote very little music and then just went off.
KAPLAN: How did you discover this piece?
EASTON: I don’t mean to compliment you but it was probably on WQXR. I don’t know how else I would unless I was wandering around and picked it up which sometimes I do in the record stores, and came back with it. But I’ve always loved the music. I wish there’d been more written.
KAPLAN: Reynaldo Hahn’s “The Exquisite Hour” from Seven Gray Songs, Mischa Maisky on the cello and Daria Hovora on the piano – music described as a dream – an escape from the world by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the award-winning interior designer and architect, David Easton. When we return we’ll continue to explore David Easton’s musical tastes.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the award-winning interior designer and architect, David Easton. All right, let’s talk about music and your work. Have you ever designed a performance space?
EASTON: Yes, in Houston, Texas.
KAPLAN: And what was it?
EASTON: It was a place where people play music and give concerts. It’s unusual in this day and age, from my viewpoint of what - I mean, we’ve all got audio equipment, I mean, everything is available. But to have actual live performances in a house is something special. And these clients give concerts in their house.
KAPLAN: Can you tell a bit more? Is it a - how large a room is it?
EASTON: It is a room that’s now being having some changes made to it - but the fact is that it’s a room that’s probably 18 x 24 with spaces adjacent to it and they set up chairs and they have seating arrangement, they add chairs to it. And they have people come in for concerts as well as the lady of the house sings.
KAPLAN: All right now, when you’re working, do you have music on in the background?
KAPLAN: And is it a particular kind of music that you can still work to because sometimes music can be so compelling that you stop working and you listen? You need music you can continue to work at.
EASTON: Good question. When you’re working – I hope the response is as intelligent as the question – you are tuned in for a brief moment basically, but when you’re focused on your work, you lose that except that there’s still the vibration behind you. I mean, you’re not focused any more. You might not listen to every note but the vibration of sound I think is like a massage.
KAPLAN: Now when I called you earlier to discuss the interview and I was put on hold and there was classical music playing. Do you pick that music?
EASTON: It gets changed every couple of weeks.
KAPLAN: Who decides?
EASTON: I do. It’s another way of hearing the music for other people so I’m always curious to make change.
KAPLAN: All right, let’s return then to your music list and I see Janácek comes next.
EASTON: Tolstoy has always been a hero of mine and I’ve read about his convoluted life and the madness of his relationship with his family and, etc. And then, about a year ago I saw the movie, “The Last Station” featuring Tolstoy’s very complicated life. I raced to the theater and saw the movie and that enthused me even more about Tolstoy –which led me to a book about Sophia Tolstoy which led me into a discussion in that book about The Kreutzer Sonata. And she was a big part of his life. This was what he listened to allot of the time.
EASTON: Yes. But it’s just something because of my admiration for him – as wild and untamed a creature as he was, nevertheless, the music – I felt that if this extraordinarily complicated man found comfort in this, I should. And I love the music.
KAPLAN: But you didn’t pick Beethoven.
EASTON: No I didn’t. I picked Janácek because that’s the one that I like the best but it’s still – I know they’re different but it’s something that I – this is very recent to me, Janácek. It’s a new piece of music to me and that’s why I picked it.
KAPLAN: All right. Before we hear the music let me tie up all these interconnections. Beethoven writes The Kreutzer Sonata, which upon hearing moves Tolstoy to write a book by the same name, and that book in turn moves Janácek to write his first string quartet, which he also called, The Kreutzer Sonata. Does that sound about right to you?
EASTON: Well that’s wonderful. That’s a weave of life. That’s great; all around the ear.
KAPLAN: The opening movement of Janácek’s first string quartet, called The Kreutzer Sonata performed by the Guarneri Quartet and a selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the award winning interior designer, David Easton. Let’s talk further about your musical taste. And here I’d like to focus really on music you haven’t picked for the show. For example, there’s no opera. Now, I can’t imagine given your design background and your love of dreamy music that you don’t love opera.
EASTON: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Opera is not something that entices me, I cannot help it. I find it distracting to see all that performance on stage. It doesn’t appeal to me.
KAPLAN: Well, it doesn’t have to. Now what about contemporary music? You do have a piece on your list today by Arvo Pärt, but, he’s a contemporary composer of course, but on the other hand the piece you picked is not contemporary at all. It’s a throw back to earlier times. No contemporary music. Can you respond to this contemporary sound?
KAPLAN: And what is it that turns you away from it?
EASTON: I think it’s too much a part of my life – our lives already. The cacophony of the way the music reaches you is not comforting to me and I’m sure other people would say that and I’m sure other people would say they found it magical.
KAPLAN: You said it was cacophony.
KAPLAN: Well some people say street noise for some of it.
EASTON: Well to me it could be that it just is not comforting to me, personally.
KAPLAN: And that’s the primary role that music would play for you is to lose yourself in it and feel good.
EASTON: I want a massage – a musical massage.
KAPLAN: All right, now, are there any mainstream composers, names that everybody would know that you just don’t connect to?
EASTON: You’re going to find this an awful admission but Bach, I like, but I don’t love. It’s too repetitive and too strong and too forceful.
KAPLAN: Yes. Well Bach certainly would not meet the test of being dreamlike and taking you some place; probably regarded as, you know, the best composer in music by some people but that’s for a different reason than you listen. All right, now, the most amazing omission in your list is you have not picked a “wildcard.” And our audience of listeners knows that the “wildcard” means you pick something that’s not classical. It can be rock, it can be jazz, it can be gospel, it can be anything – but you and I talked about this so I know your reasoning and I think you ought to explain yourself. I gather you have never ever connected with that whole world of music growing up as a child.
EASTON: I just don’t find it comforting because I guess I like to feel taken away and therefore – yes, I can listen to Porgy and Bess I mean if you want to take an example of music – and South Pacific – yes, but I forget them. This I don’t forget.
KAPLAN: Frank Sinatra couldn’t take you away.
KAPLAN: OK. And let’s come back –
EASTON: Nor Bing Crosby or …
KAPLAN: Then let’s come back to your list and more dreamy music and this time its Fauré.
EASTON: Yes. Fauré is someone that really can massage the mind and heart and soul. We both keep using the word dream and here’s Après un Rêve. And there we are. It enhances your feeling for comfort, for escape, for not facing up perhaps to jazz for instance – would never do that – but this is a dream world that Fauré has created for me, you know, when I listen to it, and in that I find it very comforting. You could call it escapism, but whatever it is, it is something that is solace to me.
KAPLAN: Fauré’s After a Dream, the Boston Symphony with cellist Jules Eskin and conductor Seiji Ozawa – music chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the award-winning interior designer and architect, David Easton. When we return we’ll hear a film score David Easton has selected for the show.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the award-winning interior designer and architect, David Easton. You know, before we were talking about music you don’t connect to and I didn’t ask you about film music, an often neglected genre by the way, because you picked a film score today, a soundtrack by the Greek composer Elenie Karaindrou. How did you discover this?
EASTON: Ulysses Gaze is a movie that brings both music and history all in one to the ear and to the eye, in terms of dreaming of what that music is about. Seeing the movie led me on to searching out what was the theme in the music and it’s ancient, it’s ancient times and it’s fascinating because there’s always a mystery about the past. It’s not watching the military channel today seeing everything you dream about, these heroes that are, that are climbing the mountain, etc. and that’s – other than the beauty of the music - I have never heard anything else she’s written. This is the only music that I have of hers but whatever it is it enhances my life.
KAPLAN: Elenie Karaindrou’s “Ulysses Theme” and some of the variations, from the score of the film, Ulysses Gaze – performed by an assembled string orchestra led by Lefteris Chalkiadakis, another dreamy selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the award-winning interior designer and architect, David Easton. Now, you’ve spoken so many times on this show about how music can provide comfort. Do you often turn to music for consolation say after a horrible day with an impossible client?
KAPLAN: And do you have certain pieces that can just surround you with a warm blanket and make you feel it’s going to be all right?
EASTON: I would add to that that music in the morning is comforting also facing the angst of the day so maybe in the morning and then at night you get a dose of medicine in both, in both cases.
KAPLAN: Now am I right – and I’m making a stab here just from the way that you’ve been talking about this music - am I right that music can often bring you to tears?
KAPLAN: And is it often that it happens?
EASTON: It just comes right from here and it moves right up into your head right into your eyes. Yes, it does.
KAPLAN: All right.
EASTON: And there’s no painting that’s ever done that to me. I don’t mean to be crude or rude. I’m just saying music reaches differently. I just, I wish I understood the chemical thing that it does to our brain.
KAPLAN: I think Schopenhauer once said that the reason that music is the most emotional of the art forms is that it comes to us without any disintermediation, meaning, if you look at a painting it’s a representation of a tree – it’s not a tree - while music is the real thing it goes directly into your ears and nobody’s filtering it in any way. All right now, the next questions is a question - it has nothing to do with your health or anything but I often ask guests on this show who are -
KAPLAN: Who are over forty, have you thought at all about music you want played at your funeral?
EASTON: Well, first of all, I don’t intend to die, but if I did - god, we’ve lived such wonderfully long lives. I’m 185 years old. I don’t want church music. So I would say that I would probably like something that was quiet and peaceful and the music would probably not be any different than what I have here.
KAPLAN: No, we probably have your list right here.
EASTON: I mean, I don’t know. I can’t think of any piece of music other than I’ve already evinced here that I would want and Fauré’s Après un Rêve, I’ve lived a dream of life, so off we go.
KAPLAN: Off we go. All right, off we go to your final selection then which is a work by a living composer as has been some others, a man who’s widely regarded as one of the most likely to endure, Arvo Pärt. But here, as I mentioned before, unlike most of his music which can sound very modern, this one draws on the historical motet. I would say sort of a parallel to your turning to neoclassical design for most of your career, even though there’s allot of modern going on in front of you – so tell me about the appeal of this work.
EASTON: Well, I think part of the appeal is Arvo Pärt’s seeming distance from the world. He’s a - I mean, I’ve never, I’ve never seen him quote “on stage.” He always remains a mystery to me that image of him and you know, he lives in another world and the music has that and I respect that in him, but it’s very strange – his music is very strange to me also in many, in many parts.
KAPLAN: Now, I’ll ask you this next question and please don’t say WQXR again – how did you discover him and this work?
EASTON: Actually, I did not discover him with WQXR, I discovered him because of a friend that I knew and no longer – he’s gone to Jesus – knew in Chicago. He loved Arvo’s music and I immediately was attracted to it. I listen to it allot. It’s not as easy. I don’t think he’s a very easy man. He looks, you know, I mean, he looks complicated and the music sometimes is that but there’s always a generous undercurrent in that music that is different than everyone else’s that I, as I feel.
KAPLAN: Arvo Pärt’s Da pacem Domine, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir led by Paul Hillier – the final selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the award-winning interior designer, David Easton. We now come to the concluding part of the show which we call “fantasyland” where you’re asked to reveal a musical fantasy and the question always is the same, everybody has to answer it -
KAPLAN: That includes you too. If you could be a star in music, in any aspect of music, would you want to be a composer, would you want to be a singer, would you want to be a conductor, would you want to play the violin, the piano, or any other instrument? What would be your fantasy?
KAPLAN: Piano. Well we guessed in the office today what you were going to pick and none of us got it. So tell me why you’d like to play the piano. You did start to play the piano as a child -
EASTON: As a child I-
KAPLAN: And you’ve regretted giving it up ever since -
EASTON: Well, I just couldn’t keep up with all of it – but whatever it was, I can’t imagine strumming a violin; I can’t toot a horn; but I can and have had experience playing a piano. And I love the rhythm of the piano and the quality of sound is different than any other instrument – to me – and it’s a strong impact and yet, at the same time I would quickly add, some of the most marvelous musicians in the world have played the piano and there at Carnegie Hall; that sturm und drang of watching them hit the keyboard and you know, run back and forth and it – I don’t know, somehow there’s a control with a piano that I don’t sense with any other musical instrument.
KAPLAN: Well that’s true, I mean, Bach once said to someone who said “it’s so difficult to play.” He said “it’s not difficult you just put your finger on the right note and push down.”
EASTON: God only knows there’s allot of things in life like that.
KAPLAN: David Easton, you have been a superb guest and 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