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Performers and performances

“Didn’t you like it?”

Leonard Bernstein and Mildred Spiegel attended the Boston Symphony Orchestra season in 1933. They sat, she remembers, in the second balcony “under one of the male Greek nude statues.” One evening, during a standing ovation for the orchestra’s music director, Serge Koussevitzky, Lenny “just sat there” clapping very softly. “What’s the matter,” I asked, “didn’t […]

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Hough and Schnabel on piano rolls

I want to believe in piano rolls. The idea that we can insert an object into a present-day piano and hear long-dead pianists and composers perform again as if they were in the same room is a tantalisingly attractive prospect. It has a magical aura about it. But, I’m afraid, it’s a conjuring trick, or […]

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Performers and performances

Arthur Rubinstein’s youthful practice habits

Interviewer: So many children hate to take music lessons. Can you understand this? Rubinstein: Oh, yes, I was one of them. You see, music lessons mean always this horrible dictatorial attitude of the professors. They slap four fingers and aarh; they shout at you: “Can’t you learn that? You must practice scales!” I mean, it […]

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Performers and performances

A young Josef Hoffmann

The Polish pianist, Josef Hoffmann may have been a child prodigy. Upon hearing him play, Anton Rubinstein, who typically disliked child prodigies said told his manager, “This prodigy I believe in. Hear him!” (1) Yet in 1908, The Daily Graphic looked back on having seen the young pianist: When Joseph Hoffmann was an infant prodigy, […]

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Performers and performances

Paderewski, the dandy

Overheard in a New York street car:— Average Young Man (to neighbour): “Everything they say about Paderewski is true. He’s a perfect genius. Why, he played fourteen pieces and did not once look at the programme. Yet he played straight ahead and never once forgot what piece was to come next. I tell you the […]

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Performers and performances

Vladimir Horowitz on encores

”You see,” he said, ”I have a very substantial program, and after a substantial program, you can’t play a substantial encore. You play a little … ” at this, he strummed the air with his fingers, tinkling an imaginary piano. ”It is,” he said, ”anticlimactic.” Clyde Haberman, “3,500 Japanese Applaud Horowtiz for 14 Minutes”, The […]

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Performers and performances

Claudio Arrau in Newcastle

While the Century Theatre in Broadmeadow (Australia) primarily operated as a cinema, it was also hosted concerts, including by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. On one occasion, Claudio Arrau performed in the theatre, as recalled by Harry Armstrong: With only a few minutes to go before the famous pianist was scheduled to commence his performance, which […]

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Performers and performances

The art of playing the triangle

George Plimpton, a writer and sportsman, asked if he could play in the New York Philharmonic for a month to write about the workings of an orchestra.  Leonard Bernstein assigned him to the percussion section.  The principal percussionist, Walter Rosenberg, recalled his experience: During rehearsals I would lean over and point to where we were […]

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Performers and performances

It’s the page turner’s fault

Several years ago, Mr. Kalichstein hired a young music student who kept reaching across the score to turn pages from the bottom right corner, in the process obscuring several measures of the concerto. “Take it from the top!” the frustrated Mr. Kalichstein finally hissed; reflexively, the page turner flipped the score back to the beginning. […]

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Performers and performances

The London Proms in the 1930s

A recollection of the London Proms in 1936: The behavior of the Promenaders was more genteel in those days … there wasn’t the same degree of shouting as now.  During the famous hornpipe in Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs people tapped with their umbrellas and sticks, rather than stamping.  As the applause went […]