Frédéric Chopin Fantaisie-Impromptu. Van Cliburn. RCA Victor 9026-60973-2.
Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”. Second movement [excerpt]. The Cleveland Orchestra. Vladimir Ashkenazy (soloist and conductor). London 421 718-2.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Sonata No. 11 "Alla Turca". Mitsuko Uchida. Philips 412 123-2.
A. Young and M. Young "Thunderstruck" [excerpt]. AC/DC. Columbia Records 9699-80213-2.
Franz Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody for piano No. 2 [excerpt]. Alfred Brendel. Brilliant 028421 992759.
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. Vladimir Horowitz. RCA Victor 9026-60526-2.
GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” with my guest today Robert Wittman, retired FBI agent and author of Priceless, in which he recounts his career as an undercover agent in pursuit of stolen art treasures.
KAPLAN: In reviewing his fascinating memoir Priceless, The New York Times concluded that it was a rare phenomenon to find an FBI agent who could play a Chopin Fantaisie and to boot was also an expert on art. For most of his 20 years at the Bureau, he was the senior investigator of the Art Crime Team where he recovered more than $225 million of stolen art. It was actually his own idea to create an art crime specialty within the Bureau and from the perspective of “Mad About Music”, it is significant that he hit on this idea while playing the very Chopin Fantaisie The New York Times wrote about. Robert Wittman, welcome to “Mad About Music”.
ROBERT WITTMAN: Thank you, Gilbert. It’s great to be here.
KAPLAN: Now, I first learned about you in an article in The New York Times, where they started off by saying there might only be a few FBI agents who could actually play a Chopin Fantaisie – and know something about the art world. Now, reading your book Priceless, aside from its recounting your tales of trapping crooks who take art, you did talk about a life-changing decision you made to pursue this career of focusing on art while you were playing that Chopin Fantaisie-Impromptu, which The New York Times talked about. Tell me about that.
WITTMAN: Well, I was trying to decide what career path to go into in the FBI. You know, I had gone through some rather traumatic events in my life up to that point, and at that point, I was looking and thinking about which way to go and I was sitting down in my family rec room, which was actually our basement, and I would have a piano down there which I used to have. I actually got it when I was fifteen years old. And I’ve had it with me my entire life. And I was playing the Fantaisie Impromptu, and as I was playing, I was thinking about how I got into music to begin with which was when I had admired Van Cliburn years and years ago when he won the Tchaikovsky competition in Russia. And while I was playing it, I thought, you know, there’s a couple of cases I had worked on earlier in my career; this was probably around 1994, 95, 96 at that point, and I thought, you know, the ones that were most important to me where I got the most self-satisfaction was the cases where I was able to recover artwork, cultural property, that belongs to all of us throughout the world, not just to museums or just to collectors, but they belong to humanity, and all generations past and to come. And I thought, this was what really moved me. So, as I was playing, I was thinking about Van Cliburn, and what he did, and how he opened up the East, or shall we say, the Eastern countries, the Eastern bloc countries to Western musicians, in the 1950s with his competition, and how he was not afraid to go out and try to do that. And it sort of inspired me to decide to go on that career path. It wasn’t something that was normally done by agents in the FBI; not many had done that, and I decided, well that’s what I wanted to do was to pursue these cases. And so, the music really swept me away at that moment and made a decision for me.
KAPLAN: Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu performed by Van Cliburn – the first selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, Robert Wittman, former FBI agent and author of Priceless, a memoir in which he recounts his undercover activities to recover stolen art. All right, let’s talk about how music developed in your own life – did you come from a musical family?
WITTMAN: I did. My great aunt, Aunt Margaret, she was a pianist, and she used to play for the church in Baltimore in the 1890s, 1900s. She died in 1971 at the age of 86. So we inherited her upright piano in my home. And my father, Robert A. Wittman, he would play that piano—he played by ear. I think he did one year at Peabody in Baltimore, and then after that he stopped. And he played basically mostly by ear, and he used to put on little concerts for us on Sundays, it was just wonderful. So I grew up around that, and then between the ages of around five to ten, I took piano lessons from a professor at the Peabody named Otto Ortmann who was well-known at the time in Baltimore, and Professor Ortmann, he used to take me up to his third floor of his flat on St. Paul Street and, for an hour on Saturdays, and we’d sit and he’d tell me what I was doing wrong, and why I should play a certain way, play the music a certain way, and I kind of listened. But between the ages of ten and fifteen, I kind of stopped and then I came back into it between 15 and 18. And actually, I was going to go and try to become a music performance major in college, but I just hit that wall that many of us hit at a certain point and realized I just didn’t have what it would take to make a career out of it, so.
KAPLAN: Well you know, I’ve talked to many great artists and they often say that talent is really a small part of the result, which shocked me. They said, if you look at the great ones, it’s really how hard they work. In your case, did you not, like most of us, hate practicing, and you didn’t do enough or?
WITTMAN: I didn’t mind practicing but I just couldn’t play the music over and over again like that, just to get it right. So, I actually became more of a popular pianist, I started playing popular melodies and those types of things.
KAPLAN: I see. Now, looking at your music list today, this is a show exclusively about the piano – and you’re not alone in that, you know, two—not quite colleagues of yours, but they’re in the same field—the leaders of two art museums in New York: Philippe de Montebello, who recently stepped down as the head of the Metropolitan Museum, he was a very fine pianist. But like you, didn’t think he was going to go far enough so he stopped. And Glenn Lowry, the head of MOMA, he loves the piano. He’s especially a big fan of Glenn Gould. So, as the show is about the piano, and you focused on that music, who are your favorite pianists?
WITTMAN: Well, growing up, I loved Glenn Gould as well. I thought he played a little fast, but I really enjoyed him. And that’s not a critique – it’s his technique and that’s fine. I like the other pianists. I loved the way Robert Casadesus played Mozart, I enjoyed Philippe Entremont—in fact, one of my first albums of solo piano music was a 33-1/3 record of Philippe Entremont playing basically all of the fabulous solo pieces. So they were a couple of my favorites. Of course I loved Arthur Rubenstein and Horowitz as well. They were the giants in the 60s and 70s, and they were all great pianists I enjoyed.
KAPLAN: Did you have time at all in your career to go to concerts?
WITTMAN: I do. I’ve always tried to make time to go. I live near Philadelphia, so I go to the Philadelphia Orchestra. And of course Gary Graffman’s in Philadelphia, and I think Andre Watts is still there. And there is a number of great pianists who are still in and around in the area. So I do get to go and I try to catch a few concerts a year, absolutely.
KAPLAN: All right, then let’s turn back to your piano list, your music list today, and I see we come to Beethoven.
WITTMAN: Right. It’s the Piano Concerto No.5. Of course, I thoroughly enjoy the first movement with its majesty and grandeur, but I kind of picked the second movement. And it’s because -- and I might be wrong, but I’ve always listened to that -- and I’ve always heard a piece of West Side Story.
KAPLAN: I think it’s pretty much settled now that that second movement does have the theme of…
WITTMAN: “Somewhere.” Right. “Somewhere” in West Side Story. And “Somewhere,” that piece of music was always special to me before I even knew it was in the “Emperor Concerto”. Because it’s the story of young Puerto Ricans and Americans in New York City contesting for land and what not. And it was the story of immigrants coming to the United States and finding their way. And it reminded me, and I always thought of it personally as the same story as my mother when she came from Japan. I was born in Japan during, right after the Korean War, my dad was in the Air Force at the time, so.
KAPLAN: He was American.
WITTMAN: He was an American, right. His wife was a Japanese citizen who worked on the Air Force base, in Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan. And they met and fell in love, and then I was born there in 1955. And, you know, I saw my mother go through the changes of being a Japanese national coming to the United States in 1958 and adjusting to the culture. And you know, watching West Side Story was an interesting experience for me because I understood the feeling of trying to blend in, OK to a culture. And that particular song was just wonderful, so when I heard it for the first time in the Concerto, it just struck a bell.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the second movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto – the Cleveland Orchestra with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Orchestra from the keyboard, music chosen by guest today on “Mad About Music”, retired FBI agent and art sleuth, Robert Wittman. When we return, we’ll talk about the saga of a stolen $3 million Stradivarius violin.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on “Mad About Music”, Robert Wittman, author of Priceless, his fascinating account of pursuing art thieves around the world as the head of the FBI’s Art Crime Team. Now, I understand that the FBI has a list of the top ten art thefts that are still unsolved – and heading up that list I see is a $3 million Stradivarius violin. Now that was stolen in 1995 when you were still an active agent. Did you work on that case?
WITTMAN: Well, I knew about the case because of a lead that I had in Pennsylvania. There was a tip that a Stradivarius was being offered for sale in the back country in Pennsylvania and as it turned out, it wasn’t. Everybody has a Strad, by the way, but in the criminal market everything is a Stradivarius. Well, anyway, it wasn’t the specific instrument, but I did have something to do with the fact that it was put on the top ten art crimes. When we started that in 2006, I was the senior investigator of the National Art Crime Team, and as a result, I came up with this idea in October of that year to come up with this top ten art crime list because I wanted to bring public awareness to art theft. And one of the pieces I thought we should put on there was the Strad because of the fact that we have to have a diversity. Everything can’t just be paintings. We needed paintings, we needed musical instruments, we needed pre-Columbian artifacts, Iraqi artifacts -- all these things to show that art is not just, you know, drawings and paintings; it’s everything. It’s all cultural property throughout the world.
KAPLAN: Now in your experience with a work, like that Stradivarius violin, object, is missing for fifteen years now I guess. What’s the likelihood it will be recovered?
WITTMAN: I think the likelihood is very good. There really is no purpose to taking these pieces of art and these wonderful artifacts and destroying them. You know, what’s the purpose of that? What’s the point? So what happens is, over time, most of these pieces come back -- it could be after many years. I had experiences where I was recovering artwork that had been stolen 20, 25 years before. The reason for that is because the people who had them, who possessed them, were passing away, they were moving on, whatever the situation was, so the pieces were coming back to market. That’s when we recover stolen artifacts and property is when it comes back to market.
KAPLAN: Now, a year earlier before this Strad was stolen, the F.B.I. announced a new initiative that included music, and I saw the press release headline which said, “Pirates in cyberspace, not exactly fun and games,” and went on to mention that $23 billion of stolen intellectual property is at stake here. Now, how much progress has there been made to stop music theft and apprehend those who are doing it?
WITTMAN: Well, I think there have been some major achievements in stopping audio piracy. I know there’s been a number of lawsuits have been initiated; I know that the music industry is arresting people daily, on the streets, or having those people arrested who are out there selling these fake tapes, these concerts that are surreptitiously recorded and sold. So I think it’s a major issue. I think the Internet makes it very easy to listen to music, which is a good thing; but it does cut into the money that people can make as musicians, and they deserve to be paid for their art and their work. But I think that the F.B.I. and the music industry has been fairly successful in cutting into the piracy end of it.
KAPLAN: Well, I’m sure many of our listeners will be happy to hear that. Maybe some won’t. Now in your book it seems that much of your FBI work took you to Europe in hot pursuit of art thieves. Did you find time in the mix to listen to some music also?
WITTMAN: I did. I remember one occasion in 2006 where my wife and I, Donna my wife, she had not been able to travel with me very often. That was one of my great sorrows throughout my career. I’ve been in 21 countries, working cases, and teaching police forces everywhere from Ecuador to Peru to Russia. And Donna could not go. She had to stay home and hold the fort, so to speak. So in 2006, I guess it was the second overseas trip for Donna, and I took her with me, we went to Vienna where we were—I was actually giving a course for the Association of Museums where I was teaching some security techniques. And we were able to go to the Musikverein which was a wonderful experience. And we listened to Mozart. They had a Mozart concert that night. And just to have the ability to go in and listen. And interestingly enough, one of the pieces that was on the agenda was the “Rondo Alla Turca” which is a wonderful piece of music, and one of the first ones I fell in love with when Philippe Entremont played it on his 33-1/3 rpm album back in the 60s. That was one of the very first ones I had listened to. So they played that that night, and we were surrounded by this wonderful music in this wonderful hall in Vienna and it was truly a great experience.
KAPLAN: The final movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11, the popular “Alla Turca” movement, performed here by Mitsuko Uchida – music recalling a memorable visit to Vienna’s legendary concert hall, the Musikverein, by my guest Robert Wittman, former FBI agent who was in Vienna to advise the Austrians on recovering stolen art. All right, we now come to that part of the show we call the “wildcard” where you have a chance to play some music that is not classical, not opera; it can be anything. I often find the music a guest picks in this section of the program to be especially revealing. So what did you bring us today?
WITTMAN: Well, I couldn’t make up my mind. I had two pieces that I thought were interesting, and I thought I had used throughout my life, I had listened to. And let me tell you a little bit about both of them, if I can. The first one was “Unchained Melody.”
KAPLAN: Al Hibbler.
WITTMAN: Exactly. It’s a wonderful piece of music; not very complicated. I think it’s in G, so it doesn’t have a whole lot of flats and sharps, so I can play it. And so, when I met my wife, Donna, we went out on a date, two dates I guess it was. By the third date, we had to do something different. So I took her back to my parents’ home in Baltimore one night, and we were sitting there and I told her I could play the piano. So she said, okay, well play something for me. So I sat down and I played a version of “Unchained Melody,” which I had sort of designed and revised. I used the left hand, and I used one of the Chopin Preludes, one of the left-handed pieces from the Chopin Preludes to be the basis for the song with a very simple melody on top. And I think I won her over. I think that was the one that won her over. So it was a wonderful evening for us, and after that, it was much easier to get a date. So that was the first one. The second piece I wanted to bring, and I think that is the one you should play, is a piece by AC/DC. It’s called “Thunderstruck,” and the reason I picked that one is because that’s a little bit later in my life, in the last twenty years, when being in the FBI, many times we would have to go out and do these drug-busts, or organized crime raids, and although I was in the arts section, I’d also be pulled in to help out other squads who were doing other kinds of criminal roundups. So sometimes when I was first in the FBI, I was on the drug squad, and what we would do in order to get that blood flowing on the way to break that door down at 6:00 in the morning, is I would put on “Thunderstruck,” in the beginning chords of that, and the “riffs” that they go through is enough to wake anybody up in the morning.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from AC/DC’s hit tune “Thunderstruck”, the “wildcard” selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, former FBI agent Robert Wittman, music he says got the blood flowing for him and his fellow agents when they were on their way to break a door down at a raid at 6:00 in the morning. When we return, we’ll discuss whether other FBI agents share Robert Wittman’s passion for music.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on “Mad About Music”, Robert Wittman, author of Priceless, his fascinating account of pursuing art thieves around the world as the head of the FBI’s Art Crime Team. You know in your book Priceless, you write that the United States doesn’t care enough about the return of stolen art – that the focus is only on capturing the thieves. Now, you point out that while Italy may have some 300 agents looking for stolen art, I think that’s right, the FBI has only a small number of agents. Do you have a theory why the United States doesn’t place a higher priority on recovering the art itself but only on arresting the thieves?
WITTMAN: I think it’s because we are a consumer country. The United States consumes 40% of the art market in the world. I guess from a year-to-year standpoint, the art market is about a $200 billion industry. The United States is responsible for about $80 billion of that. We consume it; we don’t actually have a lot stolen from us and taken overseas – I only had really one or two cases involving pieces from the U.S. that were stolen that were taken overseas, that we went over to recover them. And wouldn’t you know it, it was Norman Rockwell paintings. Whatever other icon in the U.S. can you think of that’s more American than that? But that’s the reason why, and I also think because it is a property crime, there is not as much emphasis placed on it by the FBI. They place more emphasis, as it should be, on terrorism, public corruption; those are very, very big problems and those are things that get more emphasis.
KAPLAN: Now, I started the show by quoting The New York Times, which found it odd that a tough FBI agent could play Chopin and understand the art world.
WITTMAN: Do I sound tough?
KAPLAN: Well, I wonder how much of an oddball are you in the FBI? Do many of your colleagues share your passion for classical music?
WITTMAN: You know, throughout my career, I actually taught two FBI agents how to play the piano. I worked with them. One of them has actually gone on to become a sort of a wedding keyboard player so he’s done well with it. I think there is a lot of interest. I think the FBI hires people who have a lot of inquisitiveness to them and they think about things, and I think there are people out there who are interested in playing.
KAPLAN: But in terms of this contrast, I suppose one should focus on how much of an emotional response you have yourself when you listen to music. For example, does music ever make you cry?
WITTMAN: Not generally.
KAPLAN But in this emotional role that music might play, I mean, did you listen to music while enduring long periods of time when you might have had to wait for that phone call to come before starting a raid? Did you turn to music at that point to keep you cool, calm, but yet still alert?
WITTMAN: Well, again going back to the AC/DC, that would be something I would listen to to get me fired up, to go into the raids.
KAPLAN: Well I meant more when you’re sitting around, waiting, waiting. You mentioned in your book you have to have tremendous patience in this field. Did you have music on?
WITTMAN: Yeah, I would have some popular music on in the background. I enjoy songs from the Voodoo Dolls; some pieces from different other bands or what not today. I would listen to some of those pieces, maybe some Brahms as well, Brahms piano concertos, to back it up. I would listen to different types of music.
KAPLAN: And I guess the last thing I would ask you in this sort of general category is that what about when things went wrong and the raid you’d hope would happen didn’t happen? Or anything else happen in your life that was sad? Did you ever turn to music for consolation?
WITTMAN: Occasionally, yes. I would think maybe a “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini,” the 18th variation of Rachmaninoff was something that I would listen to that would lift my spirit; that I enjoyed listening to. Occasionally there was also a Liszt piece, the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 which I would listen to as well. That lifted my spirits, and also put everything in perspective because that piece was very, very dear to me. My mother had told me when she was in Japan, she met my father as I said earlier in the early 50s while the Korean war was going on. But she lived in Japan during World War II. And it’s a very interesting story, because my father was in the Navy, the U.S. Navy, and his brother, my uncle, was in the Army Air Force on the American side and my mother had three brothers on the Japanese side. So it’s a very interesting story, but she told me that as growing up in World War II there was a lot of bombing going on, she lived near Tokyo, and houses were being destroyed. They actually had a bomb shelter in the backyard that they had dug for the family. And every night they would go in there when the bombers came. And one morning she was walking down the street to go to school, and the bombers had come the night before of course, and she looked over to a neighbor’s house, and she saw it was destroyed. And the people inside had been killed. And she said she never forgot because walking along, in the background, she heard someone playing the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt. And it just, that burned the memory of that music into her mind. And when she explained that to me in the early 60s, the mid 60s, it just never left me. And it always showed me that if you listened to that and listened to the drama of the music, and think about what other people had to go through, that maybe sometimes your problems aren’t quite as big as you might think they are at the moment, and that you can put things in perspective.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody for Piano No. 2, performed by Alfred Brendel, a musical selection of my guest Robert Wittman, the former senior investigator of the FBI’s Art Crime Team. You know, we’ve been talking a lot about your career in the FBI but of course now you’re retired and you run a consulting firm where you advise museums and insurance companies. From that experience, I mean, what are the biggest mistakes museums make that leave them open to theft?
WITTMAN: Well, I think that the recent theft that occurred in Paris at the Museum of Modern Art, is probably a very good example of some of the mistakes that occur. Sometimes there is a lackadaisical attitude about security. You know, sometimes security is not looked at as a bottom line, black line, money-maker. It’s actually on the red side of the sheet, in other words, it costs money. So, sometimes, the security is not considered a high priority, and in that particular case, some parts of the system were down, and had not been replaced for about six weeks, and therefore it left a vulnerability that was exposed that was used by thieves to go in and steal five painting worth $123,000,000. So I think that’s a real vulnerability for museums. They need to keep vigilant. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t happen in the last 100 years. If it happens tomorrow, it’s the same thing.
KAPLAN: I mean, sometimes, at least as I understood it from your book, it seems almost simple-minded how things happen. I think you talk about the Louvre and the Mona Lisa, which was only watched by one guard, who wasn’t guarding very much. And it was pretty easy for someone to slip in and take it. I find that unbelievable.
WITTMAN: But that was a different age in time. I have to say, it was only watched by one sleeping retiree. But the person who went in and took it was actually an employee of the museum. He had actually had official right to be in the museum, and as a conservator for the art work, he actually was able to take it off the wall. So that was a little different situation in that it was an inside job, and that’s something else that’s interesting when it comes to museum theft -- about 90% of all museum theft has some type of inside situation to it. Not always is it the museum curator, but it could be an expert that’s allowed to come in to inspect the collection, anything like that. So usually there is some type of insider information that gets out that allows the theft to occur. But in that case, again, it happened in 1911, so it’s a ways back, and that was before the Mona Lisa was the Mona Lisa it is today. The painting was the same, but I guess the iconic love of the world for it was a little bit, was not maybe quite as well known.
KAPLAN: Now, in your work for your clients today, do you have any clients who deal with anything that involves music, or music-related things?
WITTMAN: Oh, sure, sure. I work with clients all around the country, insurance companies, galleries, doing museum site surveys and security surveys for them, trying to recover art work. In one case I have, or one client I have is very interesting. I’m working with them to move a collection of paintings that were done by a famous rock and roll artist. And that collection of paintings is going to go to a museum and be exhibited. And I’m working with them to make sure that they get there in one piece, that it’s done correctly and that the security is done at a very high level. It’s a very interesting collection of paintings by this rock and roll star.
KAPLAN: And when you think about that kind of assignment, what strikes you first as something that could go wrong if they’re not being very attentive?
WITTMAN: Well, sometimes you know, if a painting is not by Renoir or Manet or DaVinci, maybe there is not as much care given for the piece because it may not be so as well-known. But it’s just as important that it’s taken care of correctly, that it’s crated correctly, that good photographs were taken of it before and after it’s sent to the museums. So we want to give it just as much care -- care and feeding, so to speak -- as we would any type of famous artist.
KAPLAN: You mentioned Renoir and Manet, and it makes me think about this sort of theory that some people have, that at any time in history there is a strong connection between the painting and music, and one thinks about those painters and then perhaps a composer like Debussy and impressionism. Do you have a view that that’s true?
WITTMAN: Oh, absolutely. I think that when you go back to the Paris school, the 1830s, you think of Beethoven and the classical movements, and then go back even further, the Baroque music, and Bach, and go forward to classical and Mozart. And I think that the painting at the same time all kind of matched up. Then when you hit the big romanticism, Brahms, and you start getting into romantic paintings at the same time in the 1840s and 50s, all the way through as you said to Debussy, that came forward. And even now, with atonal music, and the cubism and modern art that we see, doesn’t really depict a specific image, but it just gives the feeling. That’s what I think music does a lot of that as well. I think there have been many, many correlations.
KAPLAN: Well, if there is any musical work that connects to paintings, it would be Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition which depicts an imaginary tour of an art collection. So I am not surprised that you have picked this for your final selection.
WITTMAN: Absolutely. It was one of my favorite pieces of music, the “Promenade”, from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in high school and even in college. And at the time, and I may not have mentioned it earlier, but my dad was in the antiques business. When he was in Japan, he collected Japanese antiques and brought them back to the United States with him. And that’s how I got into the art business to begin with. And I knew how to do the art business. But I didn’t think I would actually be involved in the recovery of artwork. It’s just a very interesting thing that one of my favorite pieces was the “Promenade” from Pictures at an Exhibition. And to find out later that I would be out in exhibitions, and buying, and recovering these stolen artworks. It was almost like a portending of the future.
KAPLAN: Sort of a soundtrack of your future life, in a way.
WITTMAN: There you go. Yep.
KAPLAN: The glorious conclusion of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, with the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz in this 1947 recording. The final selection and what could perhaps be called the soundtrack of his career of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, former FBI agent Robert Wittman, the author of Priceless, a memoir that recounts his pursuit of art thieves around the world. All right, as we approach the end of the show, we come to a section I call Fantasyland and I have two fantasy questions for you. You have to answer these. First, if you could pick one masterpiece by a great artist which in your fantasy you could hang on your wall, what would it be?
WITTMAN: One of the pieces I actually talk about in the book Priceless is the Renoir painting. I think it’s called “The Mussel Gatherers.” It’s a wonderful painting. It’s about eight feet high, four feet, five feet wide. It’s in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and it hangs there. And it depicts a family, it’s a mother with her children and they’re gathering mussels on the cliffs by the seaside in France, and the colors are just magnificent. They ripple and they – it sounds like, if it was a piece of music it might be “Clair de Lune.” That’s what it would remind me of.
KAPLAN: You’d like that one? All right, then we come to the second fantasy question, which is a question we ask to all guests on this show. In your fantasy, if you could be a superstar in music, not being a pianist because that’s too close to home, you play the piano already. But you could be an opera singer, a composer, French horn player, conductor. What would you like to be?
WITTMAN: I think I would like to be a conductor, and the reason for that is because if you are responsible for creating I think in my own mind, this is what I think. You’re responsible for creating the music, but you’re not responsible for making the technical mistakes when you play! So, you can keep the beat, you can create the music, you can bring out what you want to bring out, but you also are not stuck into just playing the actual instrument itself.
KAPLAN: And maybe making a mistake?
WITTMAN: Maybe making a mistake, that’s right!
KAPLAN: Robert Wittman, your book Priceless is an intriguing story about how as an FBI agent you pursued art thieves around the world, and your appearance today is continuing testimony to my view at least, of the enduring power of music in our lives. Thank you for appearing today. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
Heidi Bryson, Producer
Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
Leszek Wojcik, Recording Engineer