Tags: Dinner with Lenny, Glenn Gould, John Keats, Jonathan Cott, Leonard Bernstein
The other day I was talking with my friend Bill Tanski and he related how he had trouble finding his bearings in Amsterdam because there were no tall building to judge from. As I was reading Jonathan Cott’s Dinner with Lenny, it came to me that Leonard Bernstein was our skyscraper. I think that this was true even for people like me who had no interest in classical music or Broadway. He was a giant, a cultural landslide.
In 1989, less than a year before his death at 72, Jonathan Cott finagled an interview with Bernstein, who by then was not doing interviews. He got it based on his book Conversations with Glenn Gould, who was a friend of Bernstein’s (now that is interesting!). The interview lasted 12 hours, starting in the afternoon, through a well-oiled dinner and deep into the night. A good part of the interview was published in Rolling Stone and this new book preserves the whole.
This is a short book and I know you will read it immediately as you must but here is how, after an excellent introduction, it begins:
Leonard Bernstein was not one for celebrity interviews. “I don’t have favorite orchestras, favorite composers, favorite symphonies, favorite kinds of food, favorite forms of sex he warned me with a smile when I arrived at his New England country home in Fairfield, Connecticut … So don’t ask me those ‘favorite’ journalist questions.”
Do you think they just talked for those 12 hours? Hell, no. Bernstein played old albums, he went to the piano and played and sang and in one great moment, he recited from memory Keats Bright Star, a poem of no few lines.
The interview, though filled with priceless stories (Sondheim, Alma Mahler, Stravinsky, dancing to Donna Summer …), is about life and living, a testament to how it was once done well and how we might think about doing it. I don’t think that you can read this book and not look in the mirror.
At the end of the book, Cott in his coda relates:
… Bernstein’s funeral cortège of twenty black limousines made its way slowly through the streets of Manhattan in a police-escorted procession motorcade on its way across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Green-Wood Cemetery, where he is buried next to his wife, Felicia. Along the route, construction workers removed their yellow hats, waved, and shouted out, “Goodby, Lenny!”
It was often said of Bernstein, particularly by the critics, that he was ‘over the top.’ I don’t think so. I think, instead, that we spend most of our time – under.
Tags: Anthony Maillie, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Claude Debussy, Emanuel Ax, Hélenè Grimaud, Katherine Stott, Marc-André Hamelin, Maurice Ravel, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Robert Casadesus, Vladimir Horowitz
With thousands of LPs, CDs, cassettes and even mp3s in my library and now being out of the limelight, I could listen to whatever I want for as long as I want. I am not suggesting that I have too much of a good thing – I just ordered 3 more CDs yesterday – but I listen best, as I did when I was pressed for time, when I have a concert to prepare for.
Marc-André Hamelin, the great Canadian pianist was coming to town and I bought my tickets over a year ago. Back then, I had no idea what he would play but I had to see and hear him and his vaunted technique. There are some who put him on the top of the pianistic heap because of his technique and unusual repertoire and some who drop him a few notches for those same reasons. Ordering early, we had primo seats, in the lower balcony on the essential left side which gives full visual access to the artist and those hands.
I was more than delighted when I first saw the program: Berg, Faure, Ravel, Hamelin!, Debussy, Rachmaninoff. Great names all, save Hamelin as a composer but no Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms — good, give them the day off. I love them but in music I am inconstant and seek variety.
As it happens, I have all the works in my room: Aimard playing the very modern Berg Sonata #1 and Stott the Faure Impromptu #2 and Barcarolle #3(!). I had many choices for the Debussy Reflets dans l’eau and the Ravel Jeau d’eau. For Rachmaninoff’s Sonata #2, I have a wonderful performance from the beguiling Hélenè Grimaud and one from 1968 on LP from the thrower of thunderbolts, Horowitz (which must be heard.)
My greatest pleasure came in preparing for Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. Here too I had CDs at the ready but I chose three LPs that my Uncle Anthony gave me. As I listened to them it was as if he was in the room, as, in a sense, he was. He would listen, back in those old days, with a relaxed attention. Often, once the piece was over, he would recall how he came to have the recording. I hung on those words. Music is so much more than music to me, as it was to my Uncle.
Those 3 records:
- Robert Casadesus, the elegant Frenchman and a Grand Prix du Disque recording.
- Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, the Italian Magician from a live performance.
- Emanuel Ax, the much-loved American in one of his first recordings.
Hamelin was great and I felt electricity throughout. One of the works was his own as well one of the encores. His major composition was a very tongue-in-cheek take on Paganini that had us laughing and that is not usual at concerts. Something else: it is normal for a pianist to be marching on and off the stage after every piece or small set of pieces. It brings applause but has always seemed to me to be made-up, stilted. But not noble Hamelin: he played a piece or a small group, stood up and accepted the applause and then sat back down and as the English say, got on with it.
It was a great experience.
Tags: Don Draper, Mad Men, Presentation Training
In my previous post we entered the world of the piano masterclass. Now we will examine training in the world of software sales. What follows is not based on studies but on my own experiences over 39 years and nine companies. The focus will be on Presentation Training.
I have had great Presentation Training and so I am not picking on the weakest horse in the race.In the next post I will make suggestions for improvement but now will review what often takes place.
In the best training, the instructor is skilled in presenting and training and early on, introduces foundational concepts, taking time to answer questions and to make sure that she is getting her points across. Soon, each student is filmed in a short introductory talk, just to get the feel of speaking before the group and also, to give the teacher a base-line as to the student’s skills and areas to improve. The instructor gives feedback for a few minutes and then it is on to the next student.
Following this segment, more content is delivered and then the second filming takes place. Often, the student has prepared a talk and quickly adapting what he has just learned, stands and delivers. This second presentation is almost always better than the first. Once again, a few minutes of feedback and the student sits – with a sigh of relief. He is given his film and soon he is back in the field.
Three days later, when preparing his upcoming presentation, he will seek to incorporate the most easily digested concepts he recently learned and if the air currents are favorable, he will give them a try. Most of the time, though, is spent re-purposing old slides. In a month, most if not all is forgotten as is the whereabouts of his filmed performances.
Remember, this is training done at a reasonably high level and by no means the average. Also, I am assuming that the student wanted to learn and was neither checked out, burnt out, cranky or upset at the world.
But I exaggerate: 10% of the students improve significantly and nobody gets worse than they were. I have been thinking about this for decades. Why aren’t the numbers reversed – why don’t 90% improve significantly? I think that it comes down to three fundamental points:
- Sales Reps undervalue the potential of their role in the sales process.
- They overvalue their skill level.
- The training is not sustained.
However, if Sales Professionals understood how important they are, understood that their importance lies not in setting appointments and giving a 12 minute “corporate” overview but in thinking through the customer’s problems and the solution to those problems in a unique way and then presenting the results of that work in a compelling, unforgettable manner, then the Sales Professional would take a cold clear look at their skills and not only insist on training, but insist on being the best in class and then the best in the field.
Don Draper always makes the pitch.
Tags: Andras Schiff, György Sebök, Jeremy Denk, Marcel Proust, William Leland
A “master class” is a setting where a great pianist or renowned teacher (sometimes they are both) coaches a young student while other students and interested parties, like us, look on. It can be excruciating for all involved, like a blood sport. But it can be an awesome learning experience as well. It is demanding.
These masters do not just sit there listening calmly, applaud and pass on a tip or two. Oh no, they continually interrupt! The great pianist András Schiff tells the story of a student about to play his first note and the master stops him. The student says, ‘but I haven’t started yet.’ The master rejoins, ‘No-but you were about to.’ The student’s foot was reaching for the pedal and the master saw that as a mistake.
The masters often demonstrate and the casual ease with which they play, rarely even glancing at the music, is striking. You get the sense that they truly know what to do and they help that by not excusing their own playing – ‘I’m rusty.’ By not apologizing they build confidence, so essential in a teacher-student relationship.
As I began watching these classes, I wondered how anybody could learn with these constant interruptions which can resemble a parent yelling advice from the stands as their child is in mid swing. That their peers are in the audience heightens the tension. But then I learned of the Hungarian pianist and teacher György Sebök in an article in The New Yorker by one of my favorite pianists, Jeremy Denk. In this wonderful and touching memoir of learning to play, Denk relates his experiences with two of his teachers, William Leland and Sebök (who taught for many years at Indiana University) and it is Sebök I found on YouTube holding a masterclass in 1987. The class is in six 10 minute segments and all are worth watching.
Sebök, in a manner that is both dreamy and detailed, gives the young pianist, in a perfect grandfatherly way, a philosophical framework for the Haydn piece she is playing but also technical advice. In the latter half of the first section of the video, Sebök asks her to play a short piece with both hands, as usual. Then, with just the right hand. Next he asks her to play it again with just the right and he plays the left hand part. Lastly, she plays it with both hands. You can hear the difference in her playing. Now that is teaching – and learning.
It is important to understand that the students are by no means beginners. They are tremendous pianists, sometimes future virtuosos. From what I have seen, they don’t become outwardly frustrated, though inside they may be counting the seconds for the next victim to take the stool. I imagine their best self being wide open to learning and that they take the discomfort as it comes, as a necessary passage to learning their art. I imagine them feeling quite lucky and if not immediately, soon after.
If, as I do, you find the master class fascinating, I recommend this one by Jeremy Dent, given at the Chamber Music Society in New York. In it he coaches two groups of musicians. It is two hours long but you can skip around. Denk, an American and Sebök the Hungarian are quite different but both share a winning generosity of spirit.
While the major point of this blog-series is the adaption of the master class method to business, I found that after watching a master class, my ability to listen to music expanded. For example, I heard gradations in sound, how a pianist first played a phrase this way and then another way. I heard the difference between teacher and student. I was, to adapt Proust’s advice, hearing with new ears.
Tags: Bob Dylan, Cafe Au Go Go, I Was Educated By Myself, Maggie's Farm, Marty Mackey, Richie Havens, Terry McMurray, the Village
When you are 18 years old and you are watching Richie Havens for not the first time at the Cafe Au Go Go on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village (referred to then only as the Village) you don’t think to yourself that this is just a phase in your life, that your subscription to The Village Voice would lapse, that soon you will be going to college and other artists will hold sway and then you would sell software for almost 40 years, having never, as you sit right across from Richie, even used an adding machine. No, when he played, you weren’t thinking, you were feeling.
When the sad news came down on Monday that Richie Havens had passed, how many people of a certain age just stopped, as I did? The reason, I think, is that he had a huge spirit and energy that came through his famous aggressive guitar playing and that true soul-voice-beseeching. Though I use the past tense, in no sense is his spirit dead. That can never be.
In those days, Maggie’s Farm and Run, Shaker Life brought Havens and us in the audience to our greatest ecstasies. There was nobody remotely like him and you got everything he had. He was there and you were there. All this was before he became famous at Woodstock but from what followed, he remained true to his genius.
Richie Havens had fantastic taste in songs. He sang Dylan from the first and his Sad Eyed Lady (of the Lowlands), up-tempo, must be heard (on Mixed Bag II – 1974) but he was also early onto Lightfoot, Van Morrison and Neil Young and his Here Comes the Sun is classic. My favorite song by Richie Havens is one he wrote, I Was Educated by Myself. I’ve listened to it a thousand times.
Richie Havens was the oldest of 9 children and was born in Brooklyn and died in New Jersey at 72. Now, there was a man.
I would love to hear other memories of the never-to-be-forgotten Richie Havens, and certainly from my old friend Terry McMurray who was there at the Au Go Go and my brother Marty, who was at Woodstock.
Tags: Andras Schiff, Bach, Jan Jedlička, Well Tempered Clavier
Bach entered my life, appropriately in Germany in 1973. My wife Ingrid and I were just married and moved everything we had (3 suitcases, leaving only books and records home) to Germany so she could study in Tübingen. We had almost no money but I have always been able to buy music somehow and for only a few marks I found myself listening over and over to several Brandenburg Concertos by Bach on a small cassette player that my friend Pete Mularchuk gave me as a wedding gift to play Knick games on (part 2 of his famous gift.)
Bach hooked me and he has never let go. As Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra, ‘Age cannot whither, nor custom stale his infinite variety.’
The profound pianist András Schiff has created quite a stir this past year with his recitals and his new CD release of the Well Tempered Clavier. Foolishly I missed him but have done a happy contrition by listening, rapt, to one Prelude and one Fugue each morning. Schiff has given us a new way, a prism, in which to listen anew. The Well Tempered Clavier is made up of two “books” and each book is composed of a prelude and fugue in each major and minor key, of which there are 24. So, each book begins in C major and ends in b minor. In Schiff’s imagination, and now in ours, he sees each key, the sound of each key, in a different color. Here is what he writes in his notes:
Let’s imagine that in the beginning there was innocence and therefore C major (all white keys) is white as snow.The last piece of both books is in b minor which is the key to death… This has to be pitch black. Between these two poles we have all the other colors, first the yellows, oranges and ochre … all the shades of blue … the greens … pinks and reds … browns … grey and finally black.
Of course, this is a very personal interpretation and each of you may have a different opinion. Nevertheless if some of us happen to believe that music is more than just a series of notes and sounds, then a little bit of fantasy is welcome.
With Bach, when you end, you begin.
Tags: I Remember Sky, Ira Gershwin, Judy Collins, Julie Andrews, Kurt Weil, Met Stars on Broadway, My Ship, Risë Stevens, Stephen Sondheim
It was not long after I learned that Risë Stevens had died that I thought of her version of My Ship, a song from the play Lady in the Dark by Kurt Weil and Ira Gershwin. I have it on an LP, Met Stars on Broadway, that I played over and over many years ago. Of course, I’ve been playing the song now and it has held up well and sounds like she recorded it yesterday .
As I listened I thought of another song, another tremendous song, I Remember Sky, by Stephen Sondheim. To me it is the crystal clear yet angular lyrics that remind me of the paintings of Vermeer and wistful, haunting melodies that bind these two songs in my mind.
Unfortunately, Stevens’ account is not available in a digital format but I have these for you. I would love to hear what you think.
I never dreamed that Julie Andrews would appear in these pages, but this is great: My Ship.
Judy Garland: My Ship
I first heard I Remember Sky sung by Judy Collins and it is a dream. I’ve decided not to add another version because I don’t know of any that compares.
So, do the two songs come together for you?
Tags: Bing Crosby, Going My Way, Jack Reed, Jussi Björling, Mickey Mantle, Risë Stevens
Knowing what I know now, I would have studied actuarial tables when my daughter was a little girl to aid in guiding her career choices. Surely, Opera Divas would come up the longest lived, followed by conductors.
Risë Stevens has just died at 99 and she, along with Beverly Sills who she resembled in her post-singing career, were the greatest American opera singers in the long period between Rosa Ponselle and Renée Fleming. She was the leading Carmen and Delilah of her day and her day was not short though she retired while in full swing.
You know Risë Stevens, even if opera makes you run from the room. She played Jenny, Bing Crosby’s (Father O’Malley) old girl friend in Going My Way, surely one of the most touching movies ever made. Here she is singing Going My Way.
When I came to opera in 1980 or so, she was long retired from the Metropolitan where she ruled but she was, never-the-less, everywhere. She was a college administrator, a noted commentator and she gave many interviews. In one she said that she never forgave the great Jussi Björling for not learning the part of Don Jose in Carmen for a recording that was planned. Jan Peerce stepped in but that was like going to see Mickey Mantle in the ’50s and learning that Jack Reed was in center field that day. She was being playful but I bet it broke her heart. After all, she was Carmen and recordings live longer, even, than Divas.
Yes, Risë Stevens from the Bronx was quite a force.
Tags: Down by the Sally Gardens, John Ford, Liam Clancy, Richard Dyer-Bennet, Rio Grande, Sons of the Pioneers, Tommy Makem
Ah, first the haunting Down by the Sally Gardens from the poem by Yeats. That is the great voice of Tommy Makem.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Tags: Alvin Lee, Ten Years After
This is how far Alvin Lee and Ten Years After had gotten away from me: just a few minutes ago I saw on Amazon that there is a live recording of Ten Years After from the Fillmore East in 1970 that I likely attended and this album was all news to me. My five albums, all classics in their day and perhaps some think now, have stood at rest for decades but playing them now memories come back. Indeed they do. Let me list the albums and show them to you:
- Ten Years After (1967)
- Undead (live 1968)
- Stonedhenge (1969)
- Ssssh. (1969
- Cricklewood Green (1970)
Ten Years After, led by Lee on vocals and more particularly, on a blazing guitar, were certainly well-known back in those days but they were rarely the favorites which gave me room for devotion. Of course I worshiped Clapton beginning in his Yardbird days and knew well his playing with John Mayall and it goes without saying, Cream. But most were on to Clapton back then and I thought Lee to be his equal on guitar.
I have been thinking these last few days about the causes that led to stop attending the church of Lee. At first, I could not think of anything in particular. But now, after some re-listening, memories come back. I remember seeing Ten Years After play “Woodchopper’s Ball” in concert the first time I saw them and that was a classic jam and appears on “Undead.” I wouldn’t have admitted it then, even to myself, but jams bored me. I particularly, though secretly, abhorred the stop in the music for the soon-to-be-obligatory drum solo. Yes, even Ginger Bakers’!
I wish I could recall the exact moment when, thinking about buying their next album, I decided not too. I doubt if the reason was money, as I always found the three or four dollars it would take to get that next needed album. Being deep into rock, folk rock, blues from Albert and B.B. King I doubt that I consciously thought that English blues-rock was played out. I do recall avidly looking for a review of one of their albums in Rolling Stone and finding it, small and buried, found it panned. I am easily influenced by critics.
But for all that, I don’t feel a loss, as Springsteen came along and then opera and the worlds of Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart, Elgar, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Sarah Vaughn, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. But Alvin, you were a great musical friend long ago, and I was very sorry to hear of your death.