In 2009, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall featuring Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Seated in the box next to me were MatIas Tarnopolsky, the vice president of artistic planning for the New York Philharmonic, and the one and only Zarin Mehta, president and executive director of the Phil, brother of Zubin Mehta, and gentleman without equal. "What are you doing here?" Tarnopolsky blurted out. After. I explained that years of being trapped in a car in another life had made me a classical music fan, MatIas and Zarin exchanged a look; then Zarin said, "Come see me." Soon after that, I was hired as the announcer for the New York Philharmonic's weekly radio broadcast. What a great honor, education, and joy that has been.
In the '8os, I would drive around LA, listening to KUSC, KFAC, and other, now lost FM classical stations. As I'd approach the gates of Warner or Paramount to head into an appointment, the symphony on my radio was still unfolding. I'd call the stations' programming directors, whose numbers I kept on speed dial on my Motorola car phone (yes, you'd dial and they would pick up the phone), to find, out all of the details of the piece: composer, ensemble, conductor, recording label. Then I'd hustle over to Tower Classical on Sunset and order the discs.
There was no ArkivMusic back then, no Amazon, so I would have to drive back to West Hollywood to pick up the order two weeks later. But it was so worthwhile. Before the advent of digital downloads, I collected a lot of music. I concentrated on that battery between conductor and ensemble that produced much of the more acclaimed classical recordings, back when many of the majors were recording more frequently: Charles Dutoit with the Montreal Symphony, Leonard Slatkin with the St. Louis, George Szell with the Cleveland, Georg Solti with the Chicago, Bernstein with the New York Phil, Levine in Boston, Previn in London, Zubin Mehta in Los Angeles, Eschenbach, Barenboim, Gergiev, Dudamel, Tilson Thomas, Maazel, Haitink, Masur, Salonen, Dohnányi, Abbado, Boulez, Karajan, van Zweden, Boult, Muti.
Classical music renewed me. Like painting and literature, it put me in a grounded place of peace; So much so that if I did it all over again,. I'd learn to play the piano and become a conductor. Oh, God, would 1 ever. Go online and watch Charlie Dutoit conduct. Dutoit, the most elegant of them all. What I wouldn't give to be him for a year. These men (and a few women, like Mann Alsop) float on a cloud made of God-given genius and intense hard work. In the audience, I have been disappointed countless times at the movies, less often at the theater, but never at the symphony, where the orchestra brings to bear the remarkable talents of men and women who exist in their own aerie atop the performing arts. With all my heart, I urge you to visit the symphony in your town or nearby. Afterward, you just might be renewed.
My taste runs toward the lush, the romantic, the sonorous. I've been compiling the list of the recordings I want played at my funeral for some time:
- Mãhler's Ninth Symphony, fourth movement, Lorin Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic.
- Chopin's Nocturne in B-flat Minor, op. 9, no. i, performed by Yundi Li
- Mahler's Fourth Symphony, third movement, George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra.
- Ravel's Ma Mere Wye (the Mother Goose Suite), Charles Dutoit conducting the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.
- Rachmaninov's Symphony no 2 in E Minor, third movement, Andre Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
- Chopin's Nocturne in D-flat Major, op. 27, no 2, performed by Lang Lang.
- Ralph Vaughan Williams's Serenade lo Music, Sir Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
- Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 6 (Pathetique), fourth movement, Valery Gergiev conducting the Orchestra of the Kirov Opera.
I know, I know. It's a long playlist. But come to my. funeral, if only for the music. For those of you who are classical fans, I know I'm laying up on the fairway here, going for par. But, hey, at that point I'll be dead. Allow me this last indulgence.