American Music, Berkshires, Boston Symphony, Brooklyn Bridge, Charles Ives, Charles Wuorinen, Elliott Carter, Gloria Cheng, Hollywood Boulevard, John De Keyser, Leonard Bernstein, New York City, Tanglewood, When Pigs Fly Farm
Maybe I was fated to fall in love in the Berkshires…
Let me flashback to a hot summer afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard in 1968. The bookstores, record shops, head joints, Indian restaurants, foot traffic and motorcycle gangs of Hell’s Angels were prodigious. I’d been inspired hearing The Fourth of July on a CBS Young Persons concert with Leonard Bernstein. Who was this American composer, Charles Ives? Our “Emerson, Twain and Thoreau all rolled into one” as Bernstein had described him.
John Kirkpatrick had recorded the Concord Sonata and I had gobbled it up like a piece of pumpkin pie when I saw the record at an old Hollywood Boulevard legend, Phil Harris Records. No bar lines? No meter? Fists on the piano? Forget the Mahler revival underway, my passion revolved around this American composer from Danbury, Connecticut. Next door to Phil Harris Records was a legendary music shop, our Doblinger’s or Patelson’s, owned by John de Keyser. Oversized scores of Boulez’s Pli selon pli and Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion were in the window display enticing me to enter.
I looked in awe at an item on the shelf. There was the great white whale of American music, The Concord Sonata by Charles Ives.
I took the score off the shelf. De Keyser’s shop was a thumbnail, you could barely turn around without hitting something. But there was a table in the middle of the room as he expected musicians to come in and peruse a score. Didn’t hurt that Igor Stravinsky was a well known customer. A few years later Mr. de Keyser and I would have a good chat about Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande.
“Young man,” said Mr. de Keyser “you should buy that score and study it hard. It’s the great American work.”
So I did what I was told. After looking for what probably wasn’t an eternity, trying to begin to hear comprehension out of the printed page, I knew, deep down with the clarity of youthful passion, that I’d be dedicating my life to making this music as familiar to me as Beethoven was to the Viennese.
The first score I ever bought was that day. The Concord Sonata, purchased during the long hot summer of 1968 on Hollywood Boulevard remains my compass as an American musician who loves the classical tradition. I just keep following its path.
Fast forward to 1979 and Tanglewood in the Berkshires.
California is not big on expansive lawns so the grounds were a bit intimidating.
Here’s some free life advice. Get over yourself and replace all mottos, creeds, rants and promises with the two most important words in the English language.
Those two words? It depends….
My wife and I met that summer. We had both broken up with long term partners. To recover and recuperate from life stress and relationship burnout we were going to focus on music and read. She’d brought Tolstoy’s War and Peace and I had Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Her break up was with a Catholic guy, mine was with a Jewish girlfriend. We’d vowed, her in Boston and me in LA, never to date or be interested in anyone from those faith traditions ever again.
Famous last words. 35 years later, our summer romance is going strong and its been legally official for 32 years. Maybe I was fated to fall in love in the Berkshires. Playing under Leonard Bernstein could have that effect on people….
We’re headed to Brooklyn next week. Jan’s grandma was born there in 1908 and for Jan from New Jersey The Big Apple is home turf, her family having fled pogroms in Kiev (what else is new?). We’re then on our way to a Berkshire wedding for Jan’s cousin’s daughter, Rebecca Bass. Once there we’re staying on a lake where Jan and pianist Gloria Cheng most assuredly played each other in volleyball at the Red Fox Music Camp, which is long gone. Two Jersey Girls living in LA who’ve won the Grammy Award is pretty cool!
This will be my first time into New York since the death of Elliott Carter. I’ve mentioned that John Cage recommended, as much as was possible, that one go to the president of the company, so to speak, to study. My love of Ives was certainly confirmed by getting to know this ultimate Roosevelt Democrat composer in the Village over the last 25 years (who thought up the contrast Uptown-Downtown? Carter lived in Greenwich Village and Milton Babbitt was in the East Village).
So look for more posts from New York City and Brooklyn and then from the Berkshires as we head north for a family wedding. And there will be food peppered into my blogs. We’re having dinner with Charles Wuorinen, who is a fantastic cook and pours a great gin and tonic (Tanqueray is his favorite brand). We’ll be talking about his opera Brokeback Mountain and Gerard Mortier and I’m sure hatching thoughts and plots for my next LA International New Music Festival.
And Jan and I will be cooking in the Berkshires from “farm to table.” Jan’s cousin Andrew is the 1960s hippy chemical free farmer of your dreams, still going strong in 2014.
He’s a Kosher butcher who grows pigs (in a separate pen). Go figure, but animals are animals. His farm is in Sandisfield, MA and called When Pigs Fly Farm. Makes his money on the honor system. And last we checked in, his daughter Anna Bass wanted to be a chef. She only knows a wood burning stove and cast iron and copper pots. Cousin Jan is ready and willing to show Anna California sometime soon. After all, our wine is pretty good and there’s more Thai food here than in the Berkshires.
So music, food, travel and love will all converge in my next blogs. They always do. And Jan and I don’t take sides, we just blend the West and East Coast together. With my parents from Minnesota and Kansas we’ve got the U.S. covered.
But as American musicians it’s time to have another picnic on the banks of the Housatonic at Stockbridge….as I reflect again on that hot summer day on Hollywood Boulevard in 1968.
Maybe I was fated to fall in love in the Berkshires….
Best, best, best,