Kaplan Welcome to this special edition of “Mad About Music” where for the next two hours we celebrate our 5th anniversary.
Kaplan And what a remarkable five years it has been – with appearances of some fascinating personalities from many diverse fields, but all tied together by their passion for classical music and opera, which after all is the essence of “Mad About Music” – presenting people of distinction and achievement who happen to love classical music. There aren’t so many, by the way. Our guests’ tastes in music were certainly wide-ranging – they selected music from no fewer than 79 composers – but certain trends did emerge: Bach, for example, was the most popular followed by Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler and Puccini. For individual selections, Bach's Goldberg Variations was No. 1, closely followed by the aria "Visse d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca. Other popular choices included Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Mozart's 40th, Bach's Fifth Brandenberg Concerto and the “Vorpsiel” and “Liebstod” from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. We'll hear some of that music today as we relive some of the most memorable moments from about 40 of our shows – moments that illustrate as nothing else can the power of music in our lives. And we begin with a topic I have always found fascinating – the defining moment when people actually discover their passion for music. Often it occurs in childhood, but sometimes lightening strikes only much later. For film director William Friedkin, who would win an Academy Award for “The French Connection” and a nomination for “The Exorcist,” that magical moment had to wait until he had already started his career and, as it happened, suddenly, in the wee hours of the morning on a deserted highway.
Friedkin I sort of discovered classical music when I was in my early 20s, when I was in Chicago. I can remember the night, not the day, the date, but I used to work at WGN Television in Chicago, I was a director, I started as a floor manager, then became assistant director, and then a live television director. And I used to sign the station off. In those days, the station would sign off at 2 o'clock in the morning, now they go 24 hours. But we would sign the station off and then I would either go home or go to a jazz club or something, and I lived on the north side of Chicago, the television station was downtown and I used to go along the outer drive. I’d be virtually alone at night, along the beautiful outer drive next to Lake Michigan and I used to listen to jazz on the radio and one evening I turned past the jazz station and there was something very strange emanating from the radio that I had never heard before. It sounded otherworldly. It sounded like it was coming from the planets or somewhere else. And it was a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. And it just completely captivated me. And I pulled over to the side, I stopped driving, I pulled over to the side and listened to this, and it was an absolutely life-changing experience.
Kaplan The riveting concluding moments of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the London Philharmonic led by Kent Nagano, music that launched the Hollywood director William Friedkin into a lifelong passion for classical music – he even directs opera now. This is Gilbert Kaplan and we are celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of “Mad About Music” with this two-hour special revisiting appearances of nearly 40 of our fascinating guests. William Friedkin wasn’t the only one from Hollywood to discover the power of classical music while driving his car. Actor Alec Baldwin was another, but in his case, it often got him into hot water.
Baldwin When I moved to Los Angeles, suddenly you're in a car and you're driving everywhere, as opposed to New York, where somebody else is always doing the driving. And that was at a time, I guess in the early 80s, when just about everything that was on popular radio was unappealing to me. I didn't really care about rap, and just all the music that was playing then had lost its luster for me. So I was putting on classical stations in L.A. and just got pulled in on this incredible level where I was pulling my car up to auditions and the classical piece had not finished, so I'd sit in the car and wait for the piece to finish and then write down the name of the composer, and the disc label, and the disc number and so forth, and the conductor, and the symphony, and I'd write all the pertinent details down. Then my agent was yelling at me, saying I was late for my auditions.
Kaplan So both actor Alec Baldwin and director William Friedkin discovering the power of classical music driving their cars. From Hollywood we jump across the Atlantic to hear a strange tale from the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King. He spent the first 40 years of his life being told he simply was unsuited to appreciate classical music.
King Well, my story with music got off to a very bad beginning. In Britain, it used to be the case that at the age of eleven, you would take a competitive aptitude test, I suppose, and that would determine which secondary school you went to. So, when I arrived at the first day of my new secondary school, all the new entrants to the school were asked on the first morning to sing up and down a scale, on their own, in turn. We all lined up, I made my attempt and I failed. And I was told that the sheep and the goats meant that I was a goat. I wasn’t in the school choir, I wasn’t allowed to have lunch in the first sitting, I had to have lunch on the second sitting every day for the rest of my school career, and I was told that I was "not musical." We were divided into two groups – those who were musical and those who weren’t. And for many years, I thought that was my fate. Then, years later, I listened to a radio program – this is only about 12 years ago now, which said, "Are you tone-deaf? There is no such thing. Listen to this," they said. "Here is a recording of a school choir made up of children who are tone-deaf." And it sounded wonderful. So I did something that I always wanted to do, which was to rush out, buy a CD player, buy a CD, and listen to it.
Kaplan Well, that first CD was a great one for Mervyn King to begin with, Carlos Kleiber, a conductor many regard as perhaps the best ever, leading a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Mervyn King soon became a classical music addict. An odd beginning, but for so many of our guests early encounters with music were in fact unique. Consider former President Jimmy Carter.
Carter But when I was a child I grew up on a farm in Georgia. We didn't have electricity, we didn't have running water. But we had a radio operated by battery, and my father would let us listen to a few programs every day. Our family usually went to bed as soon as it got dark, but he gave me special permission to stay up until Glenn Miller would come on every night at 8 o'clock for 15 minutes. So I would lie in front of the fireplace and go to sleep sometimes, but wake up at 8:00, turn on the radio, and listen to 15 minutes of Glenn Miller's music, "Moonlight Serenade" and so forth, and then I would go to bed with the rest of the family.
Kaplan Like President Carter, the defining moment for actor Alan Alda also came when he was quite a young child. Alda is best known for his portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce in the hit TV series M*A*S*H. But less known is the huge impact he has had in spreading the magic of Mozart by including the famous Clarinet Quintet in the final episode of M*A*S*H. The New York Times estimated that more people probably heard the Quintet that night than had heard it since Mozart wrote it. The Quintet was a suitable choice for Alda because his introduction to classical music, in fact, was an amazing glissando – an eerie slide – on the clarinet.
AldaI think I was 7 years old and the reason I heard it was that my father was playing the part of George Gershwin in the movie called "Rhapsody in Blue" which was the film biography of Gershwin. I had these vivid memories of lying on the carpet when I was seven, eight, nine years old, listening over and over again to the recordings from the movie itself. But the experience of hearing at that age, music that to me was just exciting music, it wasn't music that I was supposed to like. Nobody said to me, "Listen to this, it'll do you good." It wasn't like eating your vegetables – to me it was ice cream. I loved hearing it and I can still smell the rug as I lay on the floor. I can still smell the electronics in the big cabinet and see the vinyl record going around and that glissando that comes out at the beginning.
Kaplan An excerpt from Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy with Oscar Levant at the piano. Music selected by Alan Alda to reflect his discovery of classical music. This is Gilbert Kaplan and we’re celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of “Mad About Music” as we revisit some of the most memorable moments from nearly 40 of our shows. As we continue to recount the unusual ways our guests first discovered classical music and their passion for it, we look next at lawyer Alan Dershowitz who got hooked on opera in his teenage years. He made his first discoveries, though, by devising a tricky way to get into the Metropolitan Opera for only 50 cents.
Dershowitz Early in my life, I fell in love with opera. And I was very, very lucky. For a nickel, I got right on the train, in Borough Park in Brooklyn, and I was at 40th Street and the Metropolitan Opera in no time at all, and in those days, for 50 cents, if you had a score of the opera with you, and I couldn’t read music, but I went to the library, the public library, and I borrowed scores of operas, me and a couple of friends of mine, and we would be given chairs and seats with lights over them, at the old Met, for 50 cents, and they were wonderful seats, and I must have gone to fifteen or twenty operas that way. I saw some of the great performances, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, in many, many performances together. Risë Stevens and so many of the early stars of the Met, Roberta Peters, and I just fell in love with the Met and continue to go to opera all the time.
Kaplan Now, what would you say to any of your students about this experience, where you pretended to read music – and snuck in at a lower price? What would Professor Dershowitz have to say about that?
Dershowitz Well, you know, I didn’t tell them I was, they didn’t ask me if I was a music student, they just said, “Do you have a score?” I had a score …
Kaplan Don’t ask, don’t tell!
Dershowitz But I did follow the opera.
Kaplan Indeed he did. Lawyer Alan Dershowitz recalling his first encounters with opera. And now what surely must be the strangest tale of a defining moment for discovering music. It comes from fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi who revealed that he actually had a past encounter with Mozart himself – well…at least that’s what he was told by a psychic he once consulted.
Mizrahi Actually, I have this really funny story about a psychic, once, in L.A. I was having a psychic reading. And he said, “Oh you play the piano. Is that right?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Who taught you to play the piano?” I said, “Well, I had a teacher, Miss Rivlin, I had Mr. Small, then I had this other guy, blah, blah.” “No, no, no,” he said, “Who taught you how to play the piano? You knew how to play the piano before you had lessons, right?” And I said, “Yeah, you know, I had an ear, and I could play the piano.” He said, “No, no, here’s who taught you how to play the piano. Mozart taught you how to play. If anyone asks you, you tell them that you were a lady in that time, that he taught her to play the piano. He was in love with you.” And it was this whole reading about how Mozart was in love with me. And I thought, well, that’s right. And maybe I was Marie Antoinette, too, in my former life, you know. So I have this strange affinity with Mozart.
Kaplan Well Mozart certainly found his way into many shows – as I mentioned at the beginning, he ranks No. 3 as the most popular among our guests. But he wasn’t everyone’s favorite. If British thriller writer Ken Follett was perhaps the most enthusiastic about Mozart, actor Alec Baldwin just couldn’t connect with the composer at all. So first: Ken Follett.
Follett When I think about what I do as a creative artist, and what we creative artists do for people, in my more optimistic moments, I think what we do is, we create happiness. After all, when you listen to a piece of music and enjoy it, or look at a wonderful picture, or get deeply absorbed in a novel, it’s pure happiness, isn’t it? It’s pure delight, when it’s good. And if you had to pick the person who has brought the most happiness to the most people in the history of the human race, it would have to be Mozart. All those tunes, such good tunes, such a variety of tunes. Mozart is probably the greatest man ever, in my pantheon. And what I like about him – it’s like a fix, you know, there's a rush, it begins so happily, it makes you want to jump up and say, “Yes! Life is just terrific, isn’t it? Thank you, Mozart!”
Kaplan Well, you certainly can’t get more enthusiastic than that. But for an opposite view on Mozart, actor Alec Baldwin.
Baldwin Well, it's funny, and this is going to sound blasphemous in a way, I would imagine some people are going to cringe, but I think the person who I listen to the least is Mozart. For some reason, I just don't respond as much to Mozart's music. Again, I don't hate it, but I would much rather have a dark, brooding piece from Mahler or Beethoven than the gaiety of some of Mozart's music and the kind of, the vanities of some of Mozart's music. It's clever to me, it's well laid out. But I find I play Mozart the least of anyone.
Kaplan Two very different views of Mozart from author Ken Follett and actor Alec Baldwin. For some of our guests, though, it was not the composer or even the work that triggered their musical selections. Often it was a unique interpretation of a particular artist. This was certainly true for architect Rafael Viñoly, whose design credits include several concert halls, including the new Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. As Viñoly once considered pursuing a career as a pianist himself, he is especially choosy about performers, and when it comes to Chopin’s Preludes, in Viñoly’s view one artist stands far above them all.
Viñoly I think this absolutely wonderful construction, which are the Chopin Preludes, has an enormous well of extraordinary interpreters in history. I remember catching a couple of recordings of Lipatti just recently, not long ago that are absolutely stunning. But for me, Martha Argerich is a sort, the epitome of this kind of interpretation for my taste, and I think that in my view, there is very rare occasion in which a pianist really appropriates the ownership of the music in a way that goes beyond interpretation, and I think that Martha plays these pieces as if she had composed them.
Kaplan Chopin’s Prelude No. 16 performed by Martha Argerich, a selection of architect Rafael Viñoly when he appeared on “Mad About Music.” “The epitome of interpretation,” he said. And when we return, we’ll hear about another performer whose interpretation of Bach is so unique it always brings one of my guests to tears.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan and we are celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of “Mad About Music” in this two-hour special, revisiting the most memorable moments in nearly 40 shows. We just heard architect Rafael Viñoly explain why he finds Martha Argerich’s interpretation of Chopin unique. Like Viñoly, Hollywood director William Friedkin also chose a work, in his case by Bach, because of what he regarded to be a remarkable and unique performance – one he says always brings him to tears.
Friedkin Well, certainly I don’t think any selection of music is complete without something by Bach. This particular piece and the way it’s played by Dinu Lipatti, who died very young, he died at about the age of 37 years old, but he had a simplicity of touch that I find to be very spiritual. And this piece is about as simple as you can get. It is simply a quiet, solo piano playing nothing but the notes, simply and with great reverence. Anyone who can read the simplest musical score can play this piece. But there is something in the way that he plays it that I find so emotional that it reduces me to tears.
Kaplan I suspect William Friedkin spoke for many of my guests when he said that no selection of music is complete without Bach. As I reported earlier, Bach ranked No. 1 among my guests during our first five years. But the person who best captured the reason why this is so was Clive Gillinson, executive director of Carnegie Hall.
Gillinson I think probably for any musician, Bach altogether, if there’s anything you want to come back to throughout your entire life, it’s Bach. And through my entire life as a player, it was always what I came back to. They are the most beautiful music. They just take you off into a completely other world. It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the day; it doesn’t matter what you’ve been involved in; it doesn’t matter what tensions or pressures. You play Bach, and somehow everything is right with the world.
Kaplan Carnegie Hall executive director Clive Gillinson on the enduring appeal of Bach. Just before William Friedkin revealed that Dinu Lipatti’s performance of Bach brings him to tears and in a way this is not so surprising – most of us do cry at times under the spell of music. But some of my guests, such as Alan Aldaand former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, confessed they never cry to music. The issue came up with Chancellor Schmidt when I asked this question about the music that was performed to mark the collapse of the Berlin Wall:
Now Bernstein felt that this occasion called for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and I see that it is on your list today as one of the works you would like to play. Do you think that was an appropriate piece of music to play for that occasion?
Schmidt Oh yes. Yes, no doubt about it. But I must tell you that the moment in which the Wall came down or to be more correct, the moment at which the Wall became perforated, and symbolically, Brandenburg Gate was opened up, was one of very very few moments in my lifetime when I couldn't avoid to shed tears. I was overwhelmed.
Kaplan You say that's a rare moment when you came to tears. Does music ever move you to tears?
Schmidt Has not happened as yet.
Kaplan Well, perhaps one day it will; but in the meantime, I put the same question about crying to Alan Alda.
AldaI don't. For a long time I was like what's his name? The famous comedian who said that he was so emotional he cried at card tricks? But I don't cry that easily anymore and I also have never, as far as I know, I have never been that moved, or moved in that way, by music. And I always envied people who could be. For instance, I envied my wife Arlene who when she hears several pieces by Brahms she tears up. It really affects her deeply and I've always wondered what that was, how people can get that kind of contact with music. And then one day Arlene, who's first instrument was the piano – has gone back to practicing the piano almost every day; when she started to work on a "Mazurka" by Chopin, every time that music went through the house, I'd be in another room working on something, I'd turn away from the computer and just listen to it and it made me both sad and it filled me with images of longing and romance and introspection and I had a powerful emotional reaction to it, so much so that when she starts to play it, I think, oh, not now, I don't want to get sad now, wait a minute, but don't, just hold off for a few minutes.
Kaplan In contrast to Alan Alda and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi often cries to music and I made the mistake of suggesting that one of his selections, Benjamin Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes, wasn’t likely to be a tearjerker.
Mizrahi Oh, Benjamin Britten! Are you kidding? That makes me cry like crazy! It’s written to make you cry, it’s built like an orgasm, that thing! It’s – he keeps all this tension, all this tension up, and finally you get the release, you know. And it’s usually of tears, for me.
Kaplan For me, a somewhat original view on Benjamin Britten from fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Whether music moves you to tears or not, for any music-lover, the chance to meet and get to know a star performer is always an emotional occasion. And quite a few of my guests had great stories to tell. We start with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A passionate opera lover – she once even appeared as a super (that’s what they call “extras” in operas) in a performance of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos at the Washington Opera. For Justice Ginsburg, the legendary diva Maria Callas had no equal. They met in a chance encounter before Ginsburg was appointed to the Court – an encounter she’ll never forget.
Ginsburg To my great sadness, I never saw Callas perform, although I did meet that great diva. I met her in an elevator at the Hay Adams Hotel. She was in town for a concert. I was in town to make an argument at the Court. I stepped into the elevator and there was Callas in white mink with her poodle with the same color as her coat. She looked every inch the diva that she was and I mumbled something about how much joy she had given me through her recordings and then I felt as if I had been touched by magic -- that there was no way that I was going to lose that argument -- and as things turned out a couple of months later, the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court was unanimously in favor of my client.
Kaplan That’s a wonderful story and it’s of course a pity that you could never have experienced hearing or seeing Callas sing. I suppose you would have liked to have done that. Where would have been the moment? What would have been the work?
Ginsburg The opening night of Tosca at La Scala. Tosca was one of Callas’ best roles and her recording of Tosca has been described as perhaps the best recording of opera anyplace.
Kaplan Maria Callas singing “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca with the Orchestra of La Scala led by Victor de Sabata, a selection of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and many of my other guests during the past five years. It ranked No. 2 as the most chosen work just behind Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Callas’s career was sadly a short one. By the time she was the same age as one of the most acclaimed sopranos of our time, Renée Fleming, Callas had already lost the magic of her voice. I asked Renée Fleming if she too worried about this.
Fleming Oh, I worry about it every day, and have for years. The voice is a very fragile instrument. So yes, it’s something I worry about all the time. In fact, I had a whole year, you know, my inquiry for the whole year was – this was many years ago – was asking everyone I met, so what happened to Maria Callas? What happened to Maria Callas? I really wanted to know.
Kaplan And what did happen to her?
Fleming Well, no one really knows, but my theory is that – we all know that she had, you know, she was on an emotional roller coaster – but she lost so much weight so quickly. My theory is that she never reworked her support system in her body, because one of the advantages to carrying a lot of extra weight is that it creates a support system without trying. I mean, I noticed when I was pregnant, it was incredibly easy to sing.
Kaplan Renée Fleming speculating on what destroyed Maria Callas’s voice. This is Gilbert Kaplan and on this special two-hour show celebrating “Mad About Music’s” Fifth Anniversary, we are revisiting some of the most memorable moments and during this part of the show exploring colorful and often surprising encounters between some of our guests and famous performers. Which brings us next to the White House with President Jimmy Carter and another legend, pianist Vladimir Horowitz. Of all our presidents, President Carter was perhaps the greatest classical music enthusiast. Classical music was constantly played in the background at the White House – sometimes causing perplexed congressmen to complain they couldn’t hear the President on the telephone. But there were also many live performances for special occasions. And for one of them, Jimmy Carter succeeded in luring Horowitz – it was the first time he returned to the White House since he had played for President Hoover in 1931. But Horowitz presented the President with a surprising challenge.
Carter When Mr. Horowitz came to the White House on Saturday afternoon to get ready, we had the East Room prepared with a platform there, he brought his own Steinway piano, but he thought the room was too harsh sounding. So I went upstairs myself, with my blue jeans on, as President of the United States, and brought down a oriental carpet and Horowitz and I placed that carpet at different places against the platform until he was satisfied that the resonance in the room suited him. But this is one of the high points of my life to sit there and hear Rachmaninoff's music played by Mr. Horowitz, who had in the past always refused to come to the White House.
Kaplan The remarkable first meeting between President Carter and pianist Vladimir Horowitz. Another world leader, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, was especially intrigued with conductors.
Schmidt First class conductors came to Bonn from time to time and I couldn't go because I had to be busy. My wife went and she brought the conductors to our home afterwards.
Kaplan And who were the ones you got to know the best?
Schmidt Two of them: Lenny Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan. Two absolute extremes in character and personality. And both fascinating musicians. Bernstein was a man interested in politics. He wanted to know about the world. He was, he had a philosophical mind. Karajan had a knack for high technology and he flew his own airplane, he sailed his own yacht. A man of unbelievable self-discipline. Lenny Bernstein had no discipline, except when the concert had begun. But before and after he was without discipline.
Kaplan Leonard Bernstein was also the focus of James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank when he appeared on “Mad About Music.” He showed up so often at his concerts, that Bernstein started to refer to him as a groupie.
Wolfensohn Yes, in fact, in my office at the World Bank I have two remarkable photographs of Lenny, which are inscribed to me as "leader of his groupies." I had the great good fortune to get to know him as an admirer and subsequently as a friend. My history with Leonard Bernstein really goes back to Australia where I was born. And indeed, the first recording that I ever owned was of the Jeremiah Symphony. And I was just haunted by this work. The reason that I choose the work that I did, which is the Candide Overture is really because of the most poignant moment that I can remember when Leonard Bernstein died. You will recall the tremendous sentiment that there was in the City at that time where construction workers, if you'll remember, during his funeral were paying tribute to him as the cortege was passing by. But there was nothing more remarkable than the performance of the New York Philharmonic here at Carnegie Hall. And the first work to be played was the Candide Overture. But on this occasion, the podium was bare and the orchestra came out and a spotlight illuminated the podium and there was no one conducting and the orchestra started, as you will now hear in this remarkable performance.
Kaplan An excerpt from the Overture to Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, this time with the composer conducting the New York Philharmonic, a selection of James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank when he appeared on “Mad About Music.” Bernstein called him the “leader of his groupies.” When we return, we’ll continue to hear some of these remarkable stories of encounters between our guests and star performers.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan and we are celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of “Mad About Music” in this two-hour special, revisiting the most memorable moments from nearly 40 shows. During this segment of the show, we are hearing some remarkable stories of how our guests came to know some great artists and we come next to the late Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post. In her case, it was a visit to her parent’s home in the country that produced an unexpected opportunity to hear what would become one of opera’s most famous arias and to meet the composer who was still working on it.
Graham Well, one of the earliest ones to come up there was a great friend of my sister Bis's. She had these glamorous friends and one of whom was George Gershwin. His friends complained that he would never let the piano alone and I wouldn't have wanted to have him leave it alone, but I guess they got tired of it sometimes. But anyway, we were playing tennis and he began talking about this show that he was engaged in producing and that was going to come on, I believe, in 2 or 3 months in the fall. It was Porgy and Bess. When we went in from tennis, he sat down at the grand piano and he told my sister to beat a certain rhythm on the piano with her hand and she did and he played the opening notes of "Summertime."
Kaplan The late Katharine Graham recalling her encounter with George Gershwin. For another media personality, NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, covering the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana led to a chance to get to know the acclaimed soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa, who performed at the wedding.
Brokaw I suppose the best story that I have about all that is that when I was covering the wedding of Charles and Diana, we were doing a lot of things for the “Today” show and Kiri Te Kanawa was going to sing at St. Paul’s, Handel’s “Let the Bright Seraphim.” And so I interviewed her the day before and we got along famously. She was anticipating this eagerly, understandably, she was so winning, and I was having a good time with her, and so I said to her at the end, “When you finish, leave St. Paul’s and make your way to Buckingham Palace, where we’ll have the ‘Today’ show, we’ll be live on the air, and find your way to our platform, we’ll put you on the air.” Services conclude, the couple retreats to Buckingham Palace and are about to come out on the balcony, when I look out into the crowd surrounding our little platform there, and there is this world-class operatic singer with this wonderful flowered hat, waving her arms and saying, “Mr. Brokaw, I’m here!” and it was Kiri Te Kanawa. And we brought her up and put her on the air, and she could not have been more excited to have performed well and to have been a part of all this. It was a magical moment for us.
Kaplan Encounters such as Tom Brokaw’s with Kiri Te Kanawa were rare for most of our guests. But for Joseph Volpe, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera for sixteen years, such encounters were part of the job. Sometimes though, the occasion could be a bit bizarre. One involved soprano Karita Mattila who made news when she performed nude in Strauss’s Salome. Volpe had stopped a New York Times photographer from using a photo of that scene. But later, he included that very photograph in the book he wrote about his years at the Met and I reminded him of that.
Volpe And you want me to explain that.
Kaplan I want to know if that’s being even-handed.
Volpe Very even-handed. When the production was in rehearsal, there was never a discussion between the director, Karita, or myself about her stripping down to be completely nude, ever. That was entirely Karita’s decision. The reason that I stopped The New York Times’ photographer is because I did not want that photo to appear in the newspaper. Now, it is in my book because Karita Mattila agreed.
Volpe I called her, and I said, “Karita, I’m writing my book, and I would very much like to use the picture of you when you are completely nude.” And she said to me, “Joe, first, I trust your judgment. You have good taste. It’s entirely up to you.” I was very concerned about the televising her in the nude because when the new production opened and the press all over the world had photographs of her in her stripped-down position, she was quite upset because her relatives from home were just talking about her breasts, she told me, so she was very upset about that. So when it came to the television, I said, “Karita, you know, we can edit that out. We don’t have to do that.” And she said, “Don’t you dare.” And I said, “Well, what about your relatives?” She said, “The hell with the relatives.”
Kaplan Joseph Volpe living up to his reputation as portrayed in the title of his recent book about his years at the Met, The Toughest Show on Earth. Now we turn to the role of music in politics. As I mentioned earlier, in the Carter White House classical music was on nonstop in the background. I asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, herself an outstanding pianist, whether this was also the case with President Bush.
Rice No, we don't have music constantly on at the White House and it’s a good thing. I actually have never been one of those people who could work with music in the background. I get very caught up in what's going on with the music, so only when I'm exercising can I have music as background music.
Kaplan Have you ever discussed music with the President?
Rice The President and I don’t have the same musical tastes, I’m afraid. He loves, he does love music. I like country western too, which is what he likes very, very much. But he knows that it’s very important to me and he even asks me once in a while, well, are you playing the piano, because he knows it’s a very centering experience for me.
Kaplan When she was on the show, Condoleezza Rice revealed that in a few days after her appearance, she would accompany the President for his first meeting with Russian President Putin. For fun, I asked her if she could pick some music that would be an appropriate soundtrack for that meeting – she replied without skipping a beat.
Rice “Getting to Know You” would come to mind as a soundtrack for that meeting. I think this is going to be great fun for the two presidents as I suspect they will get along very well. But anything in the musical world that would suggest two people getting to know each other, getting to take the temperature a little bit and showing a vision for a peaceful world with a US-Russian relationship that is healthy at its center.
Kaplan Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her soundtrack for a meeting of world leaders. But for the distinguished British actor Patrick Stewart, Elgar’s Second Symphony served as a surprise soundtrack for a shocking event. Stewart had already listened to the first three movements.
Stewart The next day, I had lunch in a pub, and then I had a photo call in the theatre, got into my car, and started this beautiful drive, and then I remembered: Ha! The fourth movement of the Elgar – of course, I’ll put it in! I played it, and yet again was simply overwhelmed by it. I mean, as I speak now, the memory comes back to me. But I was also in this glorious landscape, and the road that I drove was generally deserted, it was a narrow, narrow winding road, going over these high moorlands. It finished, and I turned it off. I didn’t want to hear anything else. I just wanted to stay with the feelings of that extraordinary last movement it induced. And after a time, 15 minutes or so, I flipped on the radio to hear the very end of a news broadcast that something had happened in New York City. And I was quickly to learn what it was. What it was, was the tragedy and disaster at the World Trade Center. It is become now for me, those things have become so interconnected, the Elgar and the feelings that I experienced that day, and in some way, the emotion, the compassion, and the intensity of the disturbance, that is so redolent in Elgar’s great work, will live with me for all time, associated with that terrible day.
Kaplan Actor Patrick Stewart and the power of music. As we continue our exploration of music and politics, for one guest music provided a warm-up for a politically charged moment. It was the first meeting between former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, himself an accomplished pianist, and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Barak I met Arafat for the first time in my life when I was a foreign minister in the government of Shimon Peres after the assignation of Rabin. We met at Barcelona in a Euro-Mediterranean gathering of leaders. Out of security considerations, they sent myself and Arafat in different convoys, ahead of all the other leaders, into a royal palace when the reception by the King had to take place. So I came, I had to wait some half an hour for, I looked around and I saw a very lovely brown grand piano. So I sat down, I ordered my security guy to be close enough to the door to avoid surprises and I played the Military Polonaise of Chopin. In the middle of it he, the security man, noted to me, "Arafat is coming." I didn't know that they are preparing it and I found myself stopping it immediately, closing the piano and running to the entrance and this was my first meeting with Arafat.
Kaplan The first of many such meetings. Hopefully, peace will come one day to the Middle East and, when it does, Prime Minister Barakhas an unusual plan to celebrate together with former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, an accomplished amateur cellist. But as Wolfensohn lamented when he appeared on “Mad About Music,” they have already waited many years for this to happen.
Wolfensohn In the case of Ehud Barak we agreed some three years ago that when the peace would come we would do a Haydn Trio together, the Haydn C-Major Trio and that we would look for a Palestinian violinist to play with us. Sadly, that peace is not yet with us and so I know that Ehud Barakis ready and I'm ready, but we have to pray for the peace first before the world will hear that performance.
Kaplan Another performance by connecting politics and music featured the late Sir Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister. He was the first Prime Minister since Arthur Balfour to install a piano – and later a clavichord as well, in the historical residence at 10 Downing Street. He turned to music to celebrate a political victory – in this case it was the successful persuasion of the British Parliament to vote in favor of the country joining the European community. But following the vote, Prime Minister Heath’s way of celebrating was to go home, all alone, and play Bach on his clavichord.
Heath Well, that was at the, just after the vote was taken in the House of Commons. We had ten full days of debate in Parliament: four before the summer break and then six after we got back and there has never been a debate like that in the House of Commons on a single subject before. It was a very emotional occasion. I wound up the whole debate and others went off and I knew their parties were all arranged, they all wanted me to go, but I said no, not so soon after the debate and I went back to No. 10 and there I sat down at the clavichord and started with the No. 1 of the Bach 48 Preludes and Fugues.
Kaplan The first Prelude from Book One of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier performed by Ralph Kirkpatrick, the same work that Sir Edward Heath played, all alone in his case, in the quiet of the Prime Minister’s residence, as his way of celebrating a political victory in the British Parliament. As Prime Minister Heath later became a conductor, I decided to ask him what might appear to be a frivolous question – namely, who really has more power, a Prime Minister or a conductor. And when we return at the top of the hour, the Prime Minister tackles that question.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan and we are celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of “Mad About Music” in this two-hour special revisiting the most memorable moments from nearly 40 shows. Our first hour concluded with the late Sir Edward Heath, the former British Prime Minister, rounding out our discussion of the connection between music and politics. But as Prime Minister Heath was also a conductor, I asked him who really had more power, a Prime Minister or a maestro?
Heath That is a very interesting question. And I think the answer is quite clear – the power of the podium is far greater than that of a Prime Minister. A Prime Minister in this country, of course, is Prime Minister in the Cabinet and all are equal. He has to get agreement for what he wants and has to handle the discussion of all the members of the Cabinet on the things that they want. And this has to be very realistic, very realistic or else the Cabinet begins to break up. Now when you're conducting an orchestra, that's quite different. You are absolutely in charge and if you show signs of not being in charge then the orchestra ignores you.
Kaplan That sometimes combative relationship between conductors and orchestras that Prime Minister Heath touched upon was further explored by the music director of the New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel.
Maazel Well, I think the main problem in the relationship between music director and the orchestra he has been asked to guide, is the vanity of the conductor to the extent that it is overblown. There will be increasing friction with his colleagues in the orchestra because that simply doesn't wear well in the long run. And orchestras are also a captive audience – conductors that go on forever telling jokes or explaining what the music is all about eventually become very unpopular and rightfully so. I'm someone who's interested in making music. I get along well with the music I'm making and love to perform and I think I communicate this to the folks around me and I find that it, a good relationship is really based on mutual respect.
Kaplan That need for mutual respect took on a further dimension when the high-voltage Russian conductor Valery Gergiev appeared on “Mad About Music.”
Gergiev Cooperation with orchestra is very important. Orchestra should never feel that conductor hates the music. Because if they start to feel it, they become totally – let's say – abandoned.
Kaplan Did you say that a conductor would be hating the music he’s conducting?
Gergiev Well, sometimes you feel that conductor maybe doesn’t like the music.
Kaplan Why is he conducting it?
Gergiev Well, that’s a good question. But we are all professionals. It’s a very good word, but it’s also a very dangerous word. Some people think they have to simply professionally do it. They go and do it. Maybe some of them just beat the time, some of them are fantastic professionals, they will beat time very well. But do they really love the music, and why they love it? The answer is go and listen to a Furtwängler recording of Toscanini; I addressed to the same spot, that any young conductor who will hear, he will be disturbed, maybe by a couple of pizzicato played not together. But if he’s really gifted young man, he will have to be shocked by the depth of reading of Brahms Fourth Symphony, for example.
Kaplan Gergiev also cautioned today’s conductors not to make the mistake of thinking they are more talented than they actually are.
Gergiev And there are performances which, after you do it, you start to think that, well maybe this performance was not a must, it was not maybe needed, it was just – believe me, many performers, many artists, if they will be honest enough, they will say that only a portion of what we do is really important, and maybe really successful or really good. Conductors normally are very egocentric, so they think of themselves of course very highly, but at the same time, subconscious always tell them, well, there were big people in the past, and they were so big, can we compete? So at least I always feel that we have shortcomings rather than advantages.
Kaplan Gergiev’s idea that there will always be a challenge for today’s generation to measure up to the great performers of the past was also taken up by violinist and concert master of the New York Philharmonic, Glenn Dicterow, when he appeared on “Mad About Music.” In inviting him, I stressed his musical selections should be works he loves as a listener, not as a performer. When I saw that so many of his selections were violin pieces, pieces which he surely must have played, I asked him for an explanation.
Dicterow Well, basically, these particular pieces I feel are owned by either the composer or the violinist playing them. In the particular case of Fritz Kreisler, he put such a mark, an individual mark, on those works that I can’t even conceive of doing them in any other way but as an imitation of what the original master did. And therefore I feel that even though you’re not hearing the live performance, we still have wonderful recordings of these masters playing, in particular Fritz Kreisler playing this fantastic Caprice viennois; the way he achieves these double stops, and the fact of the matter is the way it was recorded, the old-fashioned way of into the horn or with a very, very basic mike, onto a 78. You still hear an amazing amount of overtones that only he can achieve. I’ve never heard anything like that before, so I am really in reverence. I can’t just conceive of it in any other way. So, I leave it to the great Fritz Kreisler.
Kaplan The legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler playing his own Caprice viennois, a performance so shattering that, as New York Philharmonic concert master Glenn Dicterow told it, many outstanding violinists, including Dicterow himself, refuse to perform the work. Such are the challenges sometimes posed by great artists of the past. But soloists more often face a different challenge, one when they and a conductor don’t see eye to eye. We learned about a classic when the director of the Museum of Modern Art, Glenn Lowry, appeared on the show. He reported on the now legendary confrontation between Leonard Bernstein and the acclaimed but highly idiosyncratic pianist, Glenn Gould.
Lowry But of course there are the rare moments when a performer or a conductor gets an insight and compels us to rethink the way we understand a work. And one of the great examples of that, to me at least, is Glenn Gould’s performance of the Piano Concert No. 1 by Brahms, and Leonard Bernstein’s comments and reaction to that performance, in a recording that is absolutely mesmerizing. Bernstein introduces Gould’s performance by talking about how deeply disturbed he is by the way in which Gould has changed the tempo, slowed it down in certain passages, and he questions whether or not it’s the right thing to do, and in fact he even questions, as he introduces this piece, whether he should be conducting it. And then he comes to the conclusion that Gould is a brilliant pianist, and that his interpretation is not frivolous, but the result of deep meditation and thought, and feels because of that that the audience needs to give Gould the chance to argue his case and listening to Leonard Bernstein talk about Glenn Gould and Brahms is one of the great, I think, musical introductions to why we should always give our sympathy, our understanding to performers who are willing to take risks.
Kaplan Museum of Modern Art’s Glenn Lowry on the odd coupling of Leonard Bernstein and Glenn Gould. Conductors do exercise a certain amount of power, but sometimes they too can be subjected to power, as we discovered when the conductor and composer Pierre Boulez appeared on the show. When conducting in Switzerland, Boulez was shocked when the police suddenly arrived at his hotel before dawn and arrested him, still in his pajamas. I asked what had happened.
Boulez Well, I don’t know, still. I must say, they apologized, but they did not give me any explanation, but it was surprising, I must say that to be woken up at 6:30 in the morning, and by the police precisely, and they asked for my passport, they asked for my plane ticket, everything – and two hours later, it was cleared, but they never explained to me why. So I had to accept this part of the mystery.
Kaplan Ah, well, the mystery to some extent was explained, if you believe the press accounts. They said at some point in your career, you had written a speech or in a book, in I suppose a metaphorical way that we ought to bomb the opera houses and this in turn put you on the list as a possible terrorist. Do you think it might be that?
Boulez: Well that was an interview in the magazine, German magazine, Der Spiegel. And that was the title of the interview. Let’s go bomb the opera houses because of the routine, and I said, it would not be the most economical but the most radical solution, and it was not without humor; but people very often have read the title, and not the article.
Kaplan Being misunderstood has also been a problem for Pierre Boulez as a composer. So many music lovers have rejected modern music, including Pierre Boulez’s because of its difficulty and lack of melody. I started to explore this issue by asking Boulez this question:
Well, let me sort of throw an idea at you and see what you think about it. One of the reasons that’s often given by people who don’t embrace contemporary music is there seems to be a law that has been passed by the contemporary composers that it is against the law to write a beautiful melody, with any of the traditional harmony that one has grown up with. And I think that you would agree this is not a characteristic of most modern music. Or almost any modern music. Now why is that melody, as we know it, has been banned from music?
Boulez That’s not banned at all, that’s the same argument always! And that’s a different type of melody, different type of harmony, and then, if you know how to listen to it, you recognize the melodic line. That’s simply a kind of new territory, and you have to get familiar with it, that you can recognize really the melodic aspects.
Kaplan So you would make the case that contemporary music has in it real melodies, hummable melodies, which you might leave the hall being able to reproduce.
Boulez Well, I think, if you ask, I don’t know the last string quartets or even in Mozart, some symphonies, and you know, if you want to, to whistle the G-minor Symphony, you would have some problems, I suppose.
Kaplan [Whistles the melody]
Boulez Well, the beginning of course! But then after the beginning, please go on.
Kaplan Well, I actually could have whistled quite a bit of the whole movement! But all right, we’ll leave conductors and their power and turn to a different aspect of power – the romantic power of music, a topic explored by many of our guests. But curiously, it was a politician, President Jimmy Carter, who provided the most remarkable tale of the potent effect of music.
Carter Well, when Rosalynn and I were in the Navy in my earliest days of married life, we made a total of $300 a month and we spent over $150 on food and lodging which only left us a little bit. But I was assigned to go to Philadelphia to learn about pending new radar equipment and one night we decided to splurge and went out to an actual restaurant and afterwards we went to Sigmund Romberg's performance of The Student Prince. It was so overwhelming to us to hear this music in live that I guess became a little more romantic than usual and that night we decided to have our first child, so our oldest son Jack was conceived that night after we heard The Student Prince.
Kaplan The “Drinking Song” from Sigmund Romberg’s The Student Prince, music so romantic, as President Jimmy Carter told it – he was our first guest on “Mad About Music” in 2001 – so romantic that it led to the conception of his first child – perhaps the most personal and revealing story about the power of music told by any of our guests. I always encourage guests to select music for which there is a good story to tell and I often pass on President Carter’s tale as an example. One guest wrote back though just before his appearance that he wouldn’t have any stories that could possibly match President Carter’s, but he was encouraging his wife to listen to The Student Prince. Well romance was certainly the theme when award-winning Hollywood director Mike Nichols was on the show. His love of Richard Strauss was in a way a family matter. It turns out that his grandmother translated Oscar Wilde’s original French libretto for Salome into German, the German we hear in performances of the opera. In fact, so many of his musical selections, including another Strauss opera, Rosenkavalier, were so romantic that I asked if he regarded himself as a true romantic.
Nichols I would say in the end, probably and ineradicably. I’ve tried to do things about it, but I end up romantic, no matter what. And the Trio from the Rosenkavalier was just out and out, a way of getting girls, you know, it was simply saying, have I got something to play for you, and sitting them down and playing them the Trio, which it has to be said, almost always worked. It just breaks your heart. It is sort of a definition of bittersweet, which means that you feel for all of the characters and that sort of sense of one of them giving something up, and two of them finding love is just touching and it’s sexy, and Strauss had this thing that he did, that gets me every time, which is, he just makes you work quite hard for a long time, and then, finally, finally, at the end of the opera, comes through with this sea of music that transports you and puts girls in the right mood, and just makes you love life.
Kaplan It sure does. Mike Nichols and music for seduction. When we return, we’ll continue our exploration of these remarkable stories about the romantic power of music.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan and we are celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of “Mad About Music” in this two-hour special, revisiting the most memorable moments from nearly 40 shows. Just before the break, we learned that Strauss’s Rosenkavalier was Mike Nichols music of choice for seduction, but it was Bach that philanthropist Mercedes Bass turned to for comfort after a youthful romance ended sadly for her.
Bass Ah, yes, when I was very young, I had as every young person does, an unsuccessful and sad romantic experience and I would come home every night and listen to the concerto for two violins by Bach.
Kaplan Mercedes Bass also disclosed she had music that connected to a highly successful romance when I asked if there was any work she shared especially with her husband.
Bass Yes, there is. I think he will kill me for revealing this to you in public, but when we met, and he said to me, “If you really want to know me, just listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Third Movement, and you will know what I’m all about.” And it has remained one of our favorite pieces. Whenever it’s being performed, anywhere in the world, we go together, we listen to it and it’s a very, very romantic moment. And we do not invite any guests with us.
Kaplan If Beethoven was a musical link for Mercedes Bass and her husband, Bach has provided a bond between the dean of Harvard, Jeremy Knowles, and his wife.
Knowles Over the years, I and my wife had sung in various cantatas and knew a number of them. Slowly and incrementally I obtained all 69 CDs of all the Bach Cantatas. Where are they? They're all in Vermont. We have a little house in Vermont and it is a routine that for breakfast in the middle of the forest my wife and I have a Bach Cantata. This one, No. 50, is unique amongst all the Bach Cantatas in having just a single movement. It's an eight-part chorus of the most wonderfully intricate contrapuntal writing.
Kaplan An excerpt of Bach’s Cantata BWV 50 by the Bach-Ensemble conducted by Helmuth Rilling, a work chosen by the Dean of Harvard, Jeremy Knowles, who always shares a Bach cantata with his wife over breakfast in the romantic Vermont forest. But if music can trigger romantic impulses, a story told by the president of the New York Public Library, Paul LeClerc, revealed that music can also serve as a warning signal that a romance was not meant to be.
Le Clerc Many, many years ago, I do remember being on a date and taking a person to a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Church of the Ascension Saint-Germain des Prés in Paris. And I realized when the person I was with started yawning throughout the whole performance, that this was a romance that wasn’t going to go anywhere.
Kaplan And finally, actor Patrick Stewart demonstrated that sometimes the romantic power of music can be so overwhelming that it can actually create a false sense of falling in love.
Stewart One night I was wrapping my work on “Star Trek” early and I didn’t know if there was anything on at all, but I called down to Peter’s office, and there his assistant said, “Yes, there is, but I’ve got to warn you, it starts very soon, it’s a long opera, it’s five hours, we’ve got Berlioz’s Les Troyens on tonight.” Oh, gosh, I said, well I love the story of Troy, and yes I think I know a little bit of it – I'm on my way”, so they held a seat for me and down I went. Well, I was simply overwhelmed by the experience! You may hear the emotion rises in my voice, as I recall that night. Five hours, it passed all too quickly. Oh, there’s a little additional story. I actually did take a date to The Trojans, and I was very attracted to this woman, and I began to think, as I listened to the great duet that ends Act IV, between Dido and Aeneus, that I might just possibly have been falling in love. I realize now in looking back that I think it was entirely the music! And there was no reality about my feelings at all!
Kaplan So, actor Patrick Stewart and more documentation on the romantic power of music. Our final look at music and romance brings us to the tango, a dance discussed by both the current president of Juilliard and the former President of Brazil. Juilliard’s Joseph Polisi took tango lessons to prepare for his daughter’s wedding. But he revealed that he had long been attracted by the dance’s sensuous allure.
Polisi I brought you a tango that was composed by Carlos Gardel, Por Una Cabeza. I first heard the melody in the film, “Scent of a Woman,” and I thought it was charming and I’ve always found tango to be a fascinating experience, how people can dance in such a sensuous and in many ways, emotional way, with all sorts of variations of movement that seem to be quite choreographed, but yet are not.
Kaplan Yes, there’s no denying the potent force of the tango, so I asked Brazil’s former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso if the differences in the temperament, in the personality of the Brazilians versus the Argentineans, could just possibly be explained by differences between the samba and the tango.
Cardoso Well, you know, the tango is dramatic. The tango is waiting for disaster. Brazil is the opposite, we are waiting for a good life. You see? And the samba is always much more – basically love is the subject matter. Maybe sometimes you are not very happy with your lover, but then you believe that it could be improved, even when she decides to leave you for another man, you say, “Wow, you see that God will take care of that.” So we are much more optimistic than the Argentineans. The Argentineans have the Hispanic sense of tragedy.
Kaplan It’s interesting you characterize the tango that way. I’ve always imagined the tango as a great love dance between two people.
Cardoso But tragic. Love is a tragedy, not just love. It’s a passion capable to kill. And Brazilians prefer not to kill.
Kaplan Por una Cabeza, a tango by Carlos Gardel, which many of us will always associate with the movie “Scent of a Woman” and Al Pacino dancing to it. The tango, a topic explored by Joseph Polisi, president of Juilliard and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president of Brazil. This is Gilbert Kaplan as we continue our two-hour special edition of “Mad About Music” celebrating our Fifth Anniversary, we are reconnecting memorable moments and guests from about 40 of our shows. Whether a tango or Beethoven, the musical choices we all make are so personal that I have often wondered if the character of that music is really a mirror of our own personality. A comment Secretary by State Condoleezza Rice about Brahms certainly seemed to suggest this.
Rice Brahms someone once described to me as passionate without being sentimental and that's how I think of Brahms and I just love – Brahms is probably my favorite composer at this stage in my life.
Kaplan Passionate without being sentimental. Could that be a description of you?
Rice Oh, now that's a good question. I suppose I'd like to think of myself as passionate about life. I'm certainly passionate about music and I'm passionate about my work, passionate about family and about my faith. I can be sentimental as well, but I prefer my composers pretty straight.
Kaplan You know, I wonder if you have two personalities, the music personality and your regular personality, if I can call it that. Media accounts always mention that you're impeccably dressed, which I can testify to today, tidy, and disciplined. But my question is, what happens when you sit down at the keyboard? Is there a different Condi Rice lurking beneath the surface?
Rice When I sit down at the keyboard, I think it’s the same Condi Rice, but it’s a Condi Rice that has to be really disciplined.
Kaplan Well what about just playing with abandon and disregarding all that tidiness, organization, discipline and just going for it?
Rice Well, one reason that I love Brahms and Mozart is one can't play with abandon. You have to be pretty disciplined. I'm one of those people now if you put it in front of me, I can read it. But if you ask me to play it by ear or with improvisation, I have a much harder time, so I guess I'm tidy and disciplined even when I'm playing the piano.
Kaplan Tidy and disciplined. If Condoleezza Rice was willing to play the game of matching music and personality, actor Alec Baldwin certainly wasn’t. He had selected Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. Wondering whether Mahler’s music matched Baldwin’s personality, I posed this question:
It is very profound music and continuing with my attempt to connect your musical selections with your personality, this symphony combines in an almost surreal way, two opposing personalities. The third movement, which Mahler called the "Rondo-burlesque," is really a demonic whirlwind charging ahead, almost out of control. Then, it turns into perhaps the most reflective, probing, sensuous music Mahler ever composed. Do you see anything of yourself in that description?
Baldwin You missed your calling! You should be a forensic psychiatrist with the police department. Well, I'm going to cop out here and say, these analyses of yours might apply maybe more to the characters I play than to me myself. I mean, I might have an appreciation of....
Kaplan You're a mild-mannered reporter of The Daily Planet.
Baldwin ... of a quaint metropolitan newspaper, who fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.
Kaplan Well, tell me about your feelings about this Ninth.
Baldwin Well, the Ninth was probably, I would say, like many people, when you first hear this piece, it's just so searing, and so powerful. This was the first Mahler piece I think I heard when I was in Los Angeles, during that time I was listening to classical music on the radio incessantly, and it just had this incredible effect on me. And it's one of the few symphonies, actually, where the whole piece, I could sit and listen to the whole piece in one run. Sometimes I'll take some certain symphonies and listen to movements, I don't really feel the need to listen to the whole piece in one meal. And this is one where you just almost have to play this whole thing.
Kaplan Well, I wish we could play it end to end, but of course it would take the whole show. So let’s hear that clash of personalities I talked about before as that whirlwind “Rondo-burlesque” dissolves into the dreamy opening of the Finale.
Kaplan The concluding moments of the Third Movement and the opening passage from the Finale of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Sir Georg Solti, a musical selection of actor Alec Baldwin when he appeared on “Mad About Music.” I had asked Baldwin whether Mahler’s Ninth with its many different but intense moods mirrored Baldwin’s own personality. And I explored a related issue – whether the personality of the performer we see on the stage is their true, but sometimes hidden, personality. I put this question to acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming:
You have said so often throughout your career in interviews that you always regarded yourself as the quintessential “good girl.” But then I read recently that by now, you say it is really the erotic aspect of music that attracts you. Quote, "My real taste, my real sensibility, lies in the music I feel is sexy.”
Fleming Well, you know what it is? You’ll find this in a lot of actors will make statements about how kind of quiet and nerdy they were, and there’s always in secret that, the wild secretary who takes off her glasses and lets her hair down, in a lot of us who perform. So, I think in every performer and in many performers, there is this dual personality, the one who wants to come out and the one who is inhibited, and that’s why we go onstage, so we can actually lose that for a little while, and become someone else.
Kaplan Well, the onstage/offstage personality issue also showed up when the late Peter Jennings, ABC’s news anchor, appeared on the show. As delivering the news is also a kind of performance, I asked whether his detached cool delivery was the real Peter Jennings.
Jennings Well, I think training is easy – it’s not a difficult answer for the stuff I do on television, though I lose it on occasion. When Ronald Reagan went to Houston some years ago to comfort the wives of the Challenger astronauts who died, he was doing the thing that Ronald Reagan, I think, did as well as any President in modern history, probably better; Bill Clinton does it quite well also. Which is to comfort people, to physically and publicly comfort people. And in the background they began to play the Navy Hymn and I just was – I could hear my producer in my ear saying, "steady, steady," because I was about to lose it. But it's true. On the air, it's not my role to superimpose my emotions on other peoples' who have their own, God knows, when they're listening to what goes on everyday. But it's quite true, off the air, as I think you know a little, I'm quite a different person.
Kaplan He certainly was and is surely missed. A wonderful and moving story from the late Peter Jennings. Beyond keeping their own emotions under control, though, artists also have to cope with the audience’s emotions which can often be quite cruel. I asked Renée Fleming how she does this when the audience – rarely, in her case – starts to boo.
Fleming You know, one becomes accustomed to it, it’s kind of a way of life in certain theaters and in certain houses, and singers can also develop a thick skin, just as we may have to develop a thick skin in regards to reviews, of booing. Another thing that has always amazed me, is if you go to a baseball game, if you go to Shea stadium or Yankee stadium, the insults and the screaming and yelling that comes from the gallery, even from fans. I always think, gosh, these guys, how do they just – do they ignore it? How does this just roll off their backs? So, it really depends on what’s normal for any given theater or any given sport, you know. Opera has been called a “blood sport” as well. For me, it was difficult, because I wasn’t used to it!
Kaplan Renée Fleming on coping with the audience. But beyond the audience’s reaction, there is also the matter of the critics. On Broadway, a really bad review in The New York Times can sometimes actually kill a play. But what impact do the critics who cover classical music have? I put this question to the president of the New York Philharmonic, Zarin Mehta.
Mehta Look, critics are a fact of life in every city and New York is no different. Again, historically, the critics of the New York Times have never liked the music director of the New York Philharmonic. Mitropoulos was run out of town, by how he was treated. Lenny Bernstein was devastated by the New York Times. Boulez did not have a good time, my brother did not have a good, Masur was good and bad, and so on; and Lorin has become good and bad – it started off badly, but now they’re raving about him. It does not have an effect on us. We think that the public is smart enough to make up its own mind, and it has made up its own mind.
Kaplan The president of the New York Philharmonic, Zarin Mehta, making the case that the audience can make up its own mind and doesn’t have to listen to the critics. But what about performers? Do they really care what the critics write? I asked conductor Valery Gergiev about this.
Gergiev Could be. I certainly have to be criticized and happily I accept that I have to be criticized all the time because as Georg Solti, famous colleague and supporter and friend of mine, Sir Georg Solti told me, "Don’t read reviews". Why, I was shocked, surprised and upset. It was a time when out of ten, nine reviews would be so-so good about me. I was a young conductor 94, 95, 96. And he told me, well, if you believe good ones, then you have to believe bad ones. Don’t read them.
Kaplan Don’t read them indeed. Advice I suspect Maestro Gergiev has never followed. But critics are hardly an issue for most of the guests on “Mad About Music” who, after all, are not performers, but only love music. Some, though, harbor intense fantasies about what it would be like to be a performer and when we return, we’ll learn about some of them.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan and we are celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of “Mad About Music” in this two-hour special, revisiting some of the most memorable moments from nearly 40 shows. Very few of our guests on “Mad About Music” are performers, but a few do play an instrument – some remarkably well. Others can only fantasize what it would be like to be a performer. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is one of those who could have developed a professional career as a pianist. But being the realist she is, one day she concluded she ought to do something else.
Rice I planned a career as a concert pianist but I realized in my sophomore year, at the end of my sophomore year in college that I was pretty good but not great. I went to one of those Aspen Music Festival summer programs and I met 11-year olds who could play from sight what had taken me all year to learn and I thought I'm maybe going to end up playing piano bar or playing at Nordstrom, but I'm not going to end up playing Carnegie Hall and so I started looking for something else. But the great thing about music is that you can love it all of your life, you can pick it up at different phases. Fortunately, when I made the decision to leave, I was good enough that I could now bring it back into my life and play chamber music and it’s a real joy.
Kaplan While Condoleezza Rice continues to play the piano – even encouraged, she says, by President Bush to do so – the late Peter Jennings of ABC News never really got started. He never studied an instrument but told this charming story how as a child he tried to fool people into thinking that he really could play the piano.
Jennings My mother taught me a tiny little thing with my left and right hand on the piano and I still play it with great adroitness. My grandfather had a player baby grand piano. I used to sit at the piano, put the roll in, and I would just wait for people to look in from the streets so that they would just really think it was me playing the player piano! That's as far as I ever got.
Kaplan The director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello, got much further than Peter Jennings, but at some point found it too daunting to continue his studies. Still, he found a way to continue to play at least a certain kind of music and it always provides an extraordinary experience for him.
Montebello I can read music and I follow music, I follow scores. I love to follow scores, especially with complicated music, lets say chamber music where there are many voices, and I can play the right hand of a lot of let's say slow pieces of music. And one of the great moments of solace for me at the end of a long day, I sit at the piano and I have a number of slow movements, Mozart, specifically Schubert, and I just play for myself the slow movements of Schubert. So this to me is music in which I have a direct participation and really goes deep into the soul. That Andantino – achingly nostalgic and sad – is just such a dream.
Kaplan An excerpt from the Andantino from Schubert’s Sonata for Piano in A major performed by Alfred Brendel on this recording but also played – only the right hand part, that is – in quiet personal moments by the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello. This is Gilbert Kaplan as we continue to celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of “Mad About Music.” “Deep into the soul” was Philippe de Montebello’s description of the impact of the Andantino. It could also describe the impact Beethoven had on the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, but for a different reason. He has played the piano since childhood, but as Prime Minister, the only time he found to play was around two o’clock in the morning, often prompting his neighbors to call the police to complain. For a long time he was afraid to attempt Beethoven’s challenging “Appassionata” Sonata. But one day he did finally manage to learn it and his first performance is one I’m sure he will never forget.
Barak My father was clearly the real engine behind my awareness of the beauty and sensation of listening or performing in music. He was the one that always escorted me to every, almost every training session on the piano and more than any other individual, was encouraging me to try never to be deterred by either technical or other obstacles in playing the piano. He passed away several months ago at the age of 92. But I believe that one of the most moving moments for him was when he was already lying in his dying bed. I remember that all along my life he tried to encourage me to play the "Appassionata." And I thought that I will never be able to perform the "Appassionata" just by listening to it and he insisted that I try. And in fact it happened that I tried in the last year and found it possible after all. I played it to him through the telephone. He could hardly talk, and when I ended he told me, "I told you all along your life, never be deterred from experiencing more in music."
Kaplan If Prime Minister Barak needed encouragement to pursue Beethoven, the chief executive of Sony, Sir Howard Stringer , certainly didn’t to play Handel. He was a natural musician as a child, an outstanding boy soprano who earned pocket money by singing at weddings and funerals. Early on he distinguished himself on the trumpet. Then came a performance of The Messiah.
Stringer By the time I was seventeen, I was first trumpet in the school orchestra and we were going to be recorded playing the Messiah and obviously the trumpet part in the Messiah is quite tricky. I played the solo, “The trumpet shall sound,” and I had played it in rehearsal that morning and I got it perfectly, I had done it perfectly. I was complimented by the conductor. I played it with the soloist. Then when the time came, at the end of a long period of sustained trumpet playing that is part of the Messiah, before the Messiah comes the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which has a wonderful high trumpet part with cascading trumpets and so forth, and I attacked that with ferocity. And then came the moment when I stood up to play the solo for “The trumpet shall sound” and I got half way through it and I blew up. My lip went. I just sagged. And it was heartbreaking – the organ stepped in and played the trumpet part.
Kaplan Oh my.
Stringer And I sank to my seat in despair. It is and still remains the most traumatic experience of my life. Nothing at Sony is going to match that feeling in front of friends and colleagues failing to finish off that solo and it was cut out of the record. So, that was the final ignominy.
Kaplan Sir Howard Stringer facing every performer’s nightmare. For most of our guests, though, performing on the stage is only a fantasy. I sometimes ask guests, especially those who love opera, to confess the role they would most like to perform in their fantasies. Philanthropist Mercedes Bass had no trouble selecting a role to play, but actually she had something much more ambitious in mind.
Bass Traviata. Actually, I would probably like to do all of it. I would like to direct it, I would like to produce it, I would like to design the costumes and I would definitely would like to sing Violetta. And I would like to choose my Alfredo. If I could have my own way.
Kaplan Do I dare ask who that would be?
Bass Placido Domingo, I think, would be my Alfredo.
Kaplan But do you think that you would become, then, one of those unreasonable and demanding divas?
Bass You ask Joe Volpe, he would say yes!
Kaplan Joe Volpe being the general manager of the Met for 16 years. If the idea of performing Traviata was a dream for Mercedes Bass, it was a nightmare for actor Alan Alda.
Alda I think Traviata was my first opera – and some of it delighted me, but the older I got, the more difficult it was for me to watch some of the acting and the staging. People would come out and wander around until their cue comes. I know what this sounds like to somebody who really knows it and loves it. I'm just giving you an outsider's view of it, which I hope is amusing to you.
Kaplan Do you think you would be capable of directing an opera that would come off with the staging and the drama and the acting that you think it really needs?
Alda I would find it very hard to find an opera that I would be interested in being involved, but first of all I should only do things that I love. I mean, I'm not trying to conquer new worlds. I saw Norma the other night and the libretto goes: "The Romans have defiled our altars (these are Druids singing) and we have to get rid of them and we have to stab them and kill them and make their blood flow like rivers." This is pretty strong stuff and the music goes "Yep ba ba da bump da bump da bump…." What is this? I wouldn't know how to direct that.
Kaplan All right, then, let’s turn to your next selection….
Kaplan And so it went with Alan Alda! If Alan Alda had no interest in directing opera, Will Shortz, the celebrated crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times, wasn’t particularly interested in any classical music. Needless to say, I was surprised.
Shortz You know, people do assume that something intellectual like the Times crossword has to be put together by someone who likes classical music. People make that assumption all the time. But, as you could guess from my “Wildcard” selection, “Do Ya” by the Electric Light Orchestra, I’m really more of a rock-n-roll sort of guy. I like music of all sorts. You know, I do listen to classical music, but what excites me the most is good, hard rock.
Kaplan Still, I invited Will Shortz to appear on “Mad About Music” because being a crossword puzzle addict myself, I noticed that some of the words that show up most often in the puzzle are musical terms. I asked him why this was so.
Shortz Well, if you ever try to create a crossword puzzle, you’ll instantly understand the importance of short words with lots of vowels, so a word like "oboe" or "aria" is very useful to a puzzle maker – it’s the glue, it’s the mortar of the puzzle that allows you to do the construction.
Kaplan But the oboe appears to be an easy word to get, but it shows up all the time in the puzzle and I know that you structure the puzzles so that each day during the week it gets harder and harder, and so the oboe shows up not only on Monday, but also on Friday. I mean, how do you work that out?
Shortz Well, that’s right. If it’s a Friday puzzle, I would like the clue for "oboe" to be harder. For a Monday puzzle, it might be straightforward like, a clue might be "Woodwind instrument," or "Double-reed instrument." For a Wednesday, Thursday puzzle, which is medium in difficulty, I might say “BLANK d’Amore” or “Relative of an English horn.” And on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, where it should be the most challenging puzzle, I might say “Orchestra seat,” or my favorite clue is, “It’s in the winds.”
Kaplan Will Shortz went on to reveal that the operas that appear most often in the Times crossword puzzle was first, Aida, followed by Tosca and Otello. For conductors, Otto, as in Otto Klemperer, with only four letters and two vowels in his name, often appears, as does Renée Fleming, three e’s in her name. The No. 1 composer was not exactly a household name – Thomas Arne – again, four letters, two vowels, best known for “Rule Britannia.” Now as we head for the final section of “Mad About Music’s Fifth Anniversary special, I’m sure you’ll agree that our guests have eloquently testified to the enduring power of music in our lives. But in case anyone has any lingering doubts about this, consider these final thoughts. First, the director of the Metropolitan Museum, Philippe de Montebello. Someone had told me that he preferred music to art, that he had actually said that he could easily live without art in his life but couldn’t survive without music. I asked if this was true.
Montebello I obviously didn't have job security in mind when I came out with these unfortunate words, but its true. Still if I had to think myself on a desert island I would far rather had a discothèque with me than all of the Skira editions of books. That's just the way it is in terms of reaching deep into the psyche. To me music is fulfilling in a very different way.
Kaplan Then this even more remarkable confession from an actor at the top of his game, Alec Baldwin.
Baldwin Well, sometimes I do think that people in my profession, you know, acting, is something that they do because a greater artistic yearning they had, eluded them. If I could sing – what I wouldn’t give to have that ability! I would just do that for a living, and sing all the time, if I could sing.
Kaplan And then this comment from the late Sir Edward Heath, former British Prime Minister, a few years before he died.
Heath And I find now today that if I’m deprived of music for some reason or other for three or four days, then I feel starved. Got to find it somehow or other.
Kaplan And finally, Hollywood director William Friedkin, who I suspect probably speaks not only for all the distinguished guests that appeared on “Mad About Music” these past five years, but for most of us as well.
Friedkin I turn to music when I’m feeling high or low. It completely engulfs my life – the sound track of my life is classical music.
Kaplan Remarkable comments on the power of music in our lives, under which I put my own soundtrack, the slow movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, performed by the Cleveland Orchestra with George Szell on the podium. And that concludes our Fifth Anniversary celebration. Before we close, I want to recognize our talented and committed team that creates “Mad About Music,” Gail Ross, Producer; Heidi Bryson, Associate Producer and Leszek Wojcik, our recording engineer. And to Tony Rudel, producer during our early years. If you missed part of this show, or want to share it with a friend, you can hear the complete Fifth Anniversary show or read a full transcript by logging on to WNYC.org and then click on “Mad About Music.” Until Sunday then, November 5th, when we’re back at our usual time of 9:00 PM, this is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”
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