Gregorian Chant “Gloria”. Benedictine Monks of St. Michael’s de Laudes. Dom Julio Fernandez. The Monks of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Benoit. Albert Rhuland. The Ambrosian Singers. Denis Stevens. Cobra 14164.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Swan Lake [excerpt]. Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre. Valery Gergiev. Decca 074 3216.
Johannes Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra [last movement]. Philadelphia Orchestra. Eugene Ormandy. Isaac Stern. Sony Classical 89835.
Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive”. Bee Gees. Reprise R2 162748.
Rod Stewart and Martin Quittenton “Maggie May”. Rod Stewart. Spectrum 5311170.
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 9 “Choral” [conclusion]. London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Bernard Haitink. Twyla Robinson, Karen Cargill, John Mac Master, Gerald Finley. LSO0592.
GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” with my guest Stephen Schwarzman, founder, Chairman and Chief Executive of the leading investment management firm, The Blackstone Group.
After receiving his MBA from Harvard, he joined the investment bank Lehman Brothers and soon became a star in mergers and acquisitions. At only age 31 he was the subject of a major story in The New York Times citing him in a headline as “Lehman’s Merger Maker.” Five years later in 1985, together with the former Lehman Chairman Peter Peterson, he founded Blackstone, to manage a wide range of investments that came to be known as alternatives – private equity, real estate, and hedge funds. It became the largest firm doing this with 98 billion dollars under management today. Along the way, he joined boards of many cultural institutions including the New York Public Library, the New York City Ballet, and is just completing his term as Chairman of Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. But before all this happened, while still in college, he had a fatalistic injury playing touch football that would trigger his encounter with classical music – a most unusual story and one we’ll explore today. Stephen Schwarzman, welcome to “Mad About Music.”
STEPHEN SCHWARZMAN: Thanks a lot Gil.
KAPLAN: Now, I’m always fascinated to learn how my guests first came to classical music. Did you study an instrument as a child?
SCHWARZMAN: I did. I think I was good for about three months on the violin. I was relatively mediocre and I gave it up.
KAPLAN: Was it a disappointment to your parents. Did they try to encourage you to continue?
SCHWARZMAN: Well it was hard to encourage me to continue because I had no talent.
KAPLAN: I see. But was there music in your home at all?
SCHWARZMAN: My dad liked classical music actually.
KAPLAN: But when did you first know that this was music you really wanted to get to know better?
SCHWARZMAN: Actually, it was between my sophomore and junior year in college and I had been playing touch football in the courtyard right before school vacation and I slipped, fell down and separated my shoulder and so I wasn’t going to be able to have any activity that summer and I was confined basically to my house more or less in the suburbs of Philadelphia. And I was sitting there and I decided to take on a project of learning classical music.
KAPLAN: Now, how did you know you wanted to do that? I mean - why that verses Shakespeare, for example?
SCHWARZMAN: I don’t know to this day. I just thought it would be an interesting thing to do. I didn’t know that much about it. I went as a child to the Philadelphia Academy of Music. My parents had a subscription series and I just wanted to learn more.
KAPLAN: Now how did you go about it? Did you get one of these study-at-home packages? How did you know what to listen to and what to pick? What guided you?
SCHWARZMAN: I decided to listen to literally every composer and I started with purchasing all of this music with Gregorian chants.
KAPLAN: Now, Gregorian chants are, I suppose, what start off every Music 101 course in college. That’s how you started and I think it’s appropriate, as I look at your music list here today that we’re going to start with those first. So tell me about your interest in Gregorian chants.
SCHWARZMAN: I started trying to teach myself classical music and that seemed a logical place to start. And I remember sitting in my parent’s living room and speakers were in the ceiling, cathedral ceiling in a split level home – an attractive element in Philadelphia – suburban Philadelphia actually. And I remember putting the music on and it was ethereal, had a mystical, religious quality. And the voices were remarkable and with an imagination this could take you back to the middle ages, going into any church or cathedral, imagining what people were wearing at that time; the temperature in the room and what the concept of religion must have felt like at that point, with a relatively illiterate group of people sitting in the pews, listening to this majestic, remarkable music which could transport somebody to a different type of expectation.
KAPLAN: “Gloria,” a Gregorian chant sung by the Benedictine Monks of St. Michael’s, led by Dom Julio Fernandez. The first selection of my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the Chairman of The Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman. Now, I understand that around the same time you started your intensive study of classical music you discovered ballet and quickly developed a passion for that as well. True?
SCHWARZMAN: I discovered ballet in the same place as the Gregorian chants, in my living room in Philadelphia - actually a tiny bit earlier. When I was around sixteen years old, Nureyev and Fontaine were traveling around America and they went to the Convention Hall in Philadelphia. And we never paid enough money to have a really good seat -- I was pretty far back -- but I remember watching Nureyev who was an astonishing balletic figure. His vertical leaps were astonishing. And his power and dominating presence on the stage and animal magnetism was riveting from almost any place in the Convention Hall. And Margot Fontaine was elegant, and obviously older, and much more experienced and sophisticated than the raw power of a Russian dancer like Nureyev.
KAPLAN: Now, I understand from an article I read about you in The New Yorker, that you were sort of an impresario yourself a bit while you were at Yale with ballet. Is that right?
SCHWARZMAN: That’s true. After the summer I spent listening to music – I decided to start a ballet society at Yale which I did and had a lot of fun with.
KAPLAN: But there are only men at Yale.
SCHWARZMAN: Well, that’s true, so what we did is we imported women from the seven sister colleges. And I contacted the heads of the ballet programs at the different schools and put on ballet festivals at Davenport College at Yale. I even got Walter Terry, who at that point was the critic for the Saturday Review, to come up and review those performances and I sort of faked my way into the stage door at the relatively new, New York State Theater and managed to convince a group from the New York City Ballet to come up to Yale and perform even though there was no such thing as the Yale Ballet Society. I sort of convinced them that this would be a good thing to perform in front of and then once they agreed we organized a show and subsequently I took students from Yale, and the seven sister colleges to New York to see a dress rehearsal of the Nutcracker. We didn’t have any money back in those days so I figured we could convince the New York City Ballet people to let us in for free to a dress rehearsal which was almost as good as one – a real performance. And, you know, we got hundreds of people who came to that. So I found it interesting and rewarding to be in a way a junior impresario in the ballet world.
KAPLAN: More than that. It sounds like you were just completing one of your first deals for which you have become much better known on Wall Street. All right, well let’s then come back to music, ballet music – and the second item on your list which is Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
SCHWARZMAN: Well as I was going through my own self-taught history of music, when I was sitting there, in the living room on this black and white couch, with a green carpet, I remember closing my eyes when Swan Lake went on, and I had never really heard Swan Lake before, and I could – as unlikely as this sounds – I could literally see figures, you know, in front of my eyes. I mean, I closed my eyes and I could imagine people dancing to this music.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, led by music director Valery Gergiev, ballet music chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the Chairman and CEO of The Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman. When we return we’ll talk about violin concertos and one of Stephen Schwarzman’s favorite violinists.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the Chairman of The Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman. Now I’d like to turn to an aspect of music that I often discuss with guests on the show: whether they can have music on when they’re working. There’s a real division on this. When Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating and Alan Dershowitz, the well-known lawyer, were on the show they said they couldn’t really work without music on, they got their best ideas from listening to music. Condoleezza Rice on the other hand, said she could never have music on because she found herself listening to it too intensively and simply couldn’t work. Now, I assume you are one who can work while music is one because if the story is true, I read that once you attended a concert at Carnegie Hall and you actually read financial reports throughout the entire concert. True?
SCHWARZMAN: Well, I think I just had run out of time to prepare for something for work so I had to do the work and couldn’t show up at work the next day unprepared so I was reading some stuff during a concert but fundamentally I don’t enjoy listening to music if I’m doing something else. I tend to like to really focus on one thing at a time and I find music distracting in the sense that I’ll fall right into it. And so, when I’m doing what I would term to be my type of work – I never listen to music.
KAPLAN: Now are you a user of the iPod?
SCHWARZMAN: I’m not a user of the iPod.
KAPLAN: And at home when you listen to music, do you go in for what they call, you know, “high end audio,” you know, fancy equipment to perfect the sound?
SCHWARZMAN: No, I’m not a technological person at all. And I’m actually sort of a primitive in that regard so I don’t have any special room or equipment of that type. We have obviously good general you know type of system but no I’m more of the Condi Rice you know variety. I like going places and listening to music or I like listening on the radio when I’m going places or I like dancing with music but I find it utterly distracting to when I need to focus on written work.
KAPLAN: All right, then we’re going to come back to your music which is neither primitive nor simple and it’s going to be violin music, the Brahms Violin Concerto.
SCHWARZMAN: Well, as I was doing my own self-taught history, I got to an early violin concerto, and before that, things like the Four Seasons and other types of music, and I realized as a subset, I wanted to learn about all the great, or supposedly great violin concertos and so, what I would do would be to buy the same violin concerto recorded by different artists which is how I could learn how music was interpreted differently. And so, whether it was Isaac Stern’s recording or others, I could get a sense as to how technical or how emotional they would play the piece and whether it was the Paganini which was always a lot of fun because it was incredibly complex and difficult, wasn’t quite as lyrical as some of the other pieces, that I came sort of to appreciate each of the major violin concertos and the different types of ranges of how one could play it.
KAPLAN: Did you discover a violinist who you particularly appreciated more than others?
SCHWARZMAN: I liked Isaac Stern. He was a sort of, at least for me, an emotional and accessible type of violinist and I really enjoyed his playing.
KAPLAN: All right then – let’s listen to Isaac Stern.
KAPLAN: The conclusion of Brahms Violin Concerto performed by Isaac Stern with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy, music selected by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the Chairman of The Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman. Now I understand you’ll soon conclude your term as Chairman of Kennedy Center. What do you regard as your most significant contribution leading that organization?
SCHWARZMAN: You know, the chairmanship of the Kennedy Center is a real honor to serve, and in terms of contributions that’s for others to make a judgment on. I think that the President of the Kennedy Center, Michael Kaiser is a terrific executive with great taste and great business judgment.
KAPLAN: But did you take an interest at all in the artistic initiatives of the institution? Did you have a voice in maybe we should be doing more of this or less of that?
SCHWARZMAN: When I took over, I sat down with Michael and I looked at the program and I said I think we ought to be doing a little more ballet, we ought to be you know doing something different from a Broadway perspective and we went over each of the kind of programs, how much there was, and whether we should change the balance of what we were doing.
KAPLAN: All right. Now, two of my prior guests on the show, Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Scalia, were passionate, are passionate about the opera. They don’t dance too well together but they love to go to the opera. Are there any other well-known senators or members of the cabinet who you’ve seen show up regularly there?
SCHWARZMAN: Well, there are a lot. I mean, I’ve been at events with both of them, sitting with them, and there are a lot of different senators -- actually Laura Bush was extremely interested and was actually, this is not well known, was the First Lady who went to the Kennedy Center more than anybody else. Condi Rice who was here, we used to sneak Condi in. She lived next door at the Watergate. And you know usually, when we have people like that you usually seat them one row back in the presidential box so nobody knows they’re there, they can have their privacy, and listen to the music. So we have a number of Washington people who like to come.
KAPLAN: How about President Obama? Does he come for an occasion other than a grand event?
SCHWARZMAN: I think the answer to that is no because talk about somebody with absolutely no spare time. His wife comes, the First Lady, and her mother comes with some frequency actually. So the Obamas definitely partake of the Kennedy Center and add a certain importance to it whenever you have the First Family that actually really enjoys the programming and likes to come, it’s a good thing for the Kennedy Center as a venue.
KAPLAN: All right, one last question about the Kennedy Center and then we’ll come back to your music. You often hear how valuable it is for musical or performing arts institutions when a top executive comes and gets involved because that person can bring certain sound business practices. I’d like to ask you a question that goes the other way. Did you learn anything from your experience at Kennedy Center that you have found it useful in the management of Blackstone?
SCHWARZMAN: That’s an interesting question. Actually, I guess in one area would be more in the public speaking area. One of the unusual aspects of the Kennedy Center compared to a New York arts organization is whenever you’re there, in Washington, and you’re the chairman of an institution like the Kennedy Center, they put you onstage. The first time that happened I was absolutely stunned. They gave me a script and said you’ll be on to open the event. And in New York this is really sort of - only happens in some like major anniversary of an institution, and is quite unexpected and odd, and they just sort of push you out onstage, and you know there are 2,000 people or whatever in front of you and the lights go down and you’re on.
KAPLAN: So would your colleagues at Blackstone agree then that over the years you’ve become a better public speaker?
SCHWARZMAN: I’ve probably on the margin have no choice for survival other than to be a bit better as a public speaker and so that was, that was actually one ultimately a pleasant type of thing that I got from the Kennedy Center.
KAPLAN: All right, now you mentioned before that the scope of Kennedy Center’s presentations include just about everything and does cross in a way into pop culture with Broadway type plays such as a rock music Hair. And this is a natural transition into the part of the show that we call the “wildcard” where you have a chance to pick something other than classical music or opera. It can be anything, rock, jazz, and I should mention that – so I guess we’ll have a better understanding of your capabilities as a deal-maker: you are the first to negotiate that you could play two “wildcards” on the show. So, I said we’d do it and we will do it, so what’s your first?
SCHWARZMAN: I selected a song from the Bee Gees; “Stayin’ Alive” is the name. And I selected that song because that music as most rock music does for people of a certain age has resonance of what you were doing at that time. And this music was number one, song number one album from the Bee Gees 1977 and that was the year, and right at that time when I did my first large merger deal, it was the second biggest in the world. I was 29 or 30 years old, there was no partner involved, it was just myself –
KAPLAN: And you stayed alive.
SCHWARZMAN: And not only did I stay alive I had never done a merger deal before, so I basically barely knew what I was doing and it was without question one of the most stressful days in my entire life, just sort of feeling my way to figuring out what I was supposed to be doing, representing a company called Tropicana, which makes orange juice as you probably know, being sold to a company called Beatrice Foods. And having worked on that deal for basically a 24 hour period and then flying back in a snowstorm to New York from Bradenton, Florida and arriving home around 2:30 in the morning, I put a fire in the fireplace and I poured a glass of brandy and I don’t drink. And I looked in the fire and I put the Bee Gees on and I just sat there and was so grateful for having survived this entire experience that it’s made a lifelong memory for me and I love the music.
KAPLAN: The Bee Gees performing “Stayin’ Alive” from the film Saturday Night Fever, a “wildcard” selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Chairman and Founder of The Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman. All right, now for your second “wildcard.”
SCHWARZMAN: My second “wildcard” is from Rod Stewart and it’s “Maggie May.” And the first time I heard that was in 1971 and I had gone to New York and actually, I was living in Boston at the time and got engaged. And I was driving back to Boston. I was on the East River drive in a green Pontiac convertible, and put the music on and there was “Maggie May.” I’d never heard the song. I didn’t know the artist and it just sounded magical. You know, sun was like right in your eyes, the wind was in your hair and it was good to be sort of 24 years old, whatever I was at the time, and it was a sense of freedom and just a great, great rock song – and it still is.
KAPLAN: “Maggie May,” sung by Rod Stewart, a “wildcard” selection of Stephen Schwarzman, Chairman and Founder of The Blackstone Group, and my guest today on “Mad About Music.” When we return we’ll talk about some of Stephen Schwarzman’s enormous gifts to cultural institutions.
This is Gilbert Kaplan, with my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the Chairman and Chief Executive of The Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman. Let’s now return to philanthropy and talk about major gifts. Now you have made some of those major gifts to cultural institutions; 10 million dollars to Kennedy Center, 100 million dollar gift to the New York Public Library. So I guess this leads me to ask that in light of your passion for classical music whether you can envision the possibility of your making a major gift to one of New York’s musical institutions.
SCHWARZMAN: Well, I got close to one of them that was very, very large and for whatever the reason that one didn’t go forward.
KAPLAN: Can you talk a little bit about what are the kinds of things that make a gift not work out?
SCHWARZMAN: Well actually, I’d rather not, but sometimes somebody wants you to do something and there are different times when you might want to do it, when they want you to do it, whether they want you to announce it and you don’t want to announce it. There’s a variety of things when you’re dealing with philanthropic institutions that are basically controlled by no one. It’s a large board and sometimes you can’t work things out exactly the way that you might if you were just dealing with one person.
KAPLAN: All right, we now come then to your final musical selection which is Beethoven’s Ninth, the choral symphony, and tell us about that one.
SCHWARZMAN: Well, at least when I went through my own study of classical music, Beethoven was a very difficult character. He was probably the most muscular of the composers, with the strongest voice, the most assertive voice, and still a methodical, melodious voice. And, I always had to ramp myself up a bit to be able to deal with him, because he’s not for the faint of heart. And this one just captured me with its majesty, its grandeur, its perfection, its utter perfection. And I found that I wasn’t always prepared for perfection, but every once in a while you can loop into this piece of music and understand the grandeur of the human spirit. He absolutely captured it. I don’t know if it was ever exceeded by anyone.
KAPLAN: The riveting conclusion of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with soloists, led by Bernard Haitink, the final selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Chairman and Chief Executive of The Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman. All right, now as we head towards the conclusion of this show we come to a section that deals with fantasies, musical fantasies, and the question is very simple, if you could be a star in any aspect of classical music; a composer, a conductor, a violinist – after all you did study the violin – an opera singer, what would it be?
SCHWARZMAN: Geez, that’s a great question because every one of them are terrific if you could really be that star. It would be fun to have the talent to be a star.
KAPLAN: These are questions for people who might not have the talent.
SCHWARZMAN: Well, I definitely don’t have the talent. There’s no doubt about that. I guess I would be, on the one hand I’d be a conductor because -
KAPLAN: Why doesn’t that surprise me?
SCHWARZMAN: You’d be interpreting and controlling just the marvelous musicians, the music itself and how it’s interpreted, people’s listening experience, it’s collaborative. And that would be a marvelous place to be though I may say that almost every position on the stage, done by a great performer, would be something that I think anyone would love to be – including myself.
KAPLAN: Well, I guess we’re going to have to get you a baton. But in the meantime let me thank you for appearing today. Stephen Schwarzman, you’ve been a wonderful guest revealing quite a bit about yourself personally, things – and after all I’ve known you a long time, things I should say I’ve learned myself today. So with that in mind, we wish you great success in the future. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”