A Confident Handshake

by Sedgwick Clark

A confident handshake? It happened in the 1980s in David Dubal’s office at the late, lamented New York classical-radio station WNCN, where I edited the station’s music magazine, Keynote. David, who was music director of the station, always had a string of notable pianists visiting. On this day it was Alexis Weissenberg who smiled and extended his hand. It was a large hand and enveloped mine completely with muscular but warm and welcoming pressure. Absolute confidence. He could have crushed my hand to smithereens if he had wished. In contrast, the grasp of another pianist, who shall remain nameless, left my hand aching for days. Guess who had the bigger career.

Weissenberg died on January 8 at age 82 of Parkinson’s disease in Lugano, Switzerland. The Times obit characterized him as “known for his thundering aggressiveness and rational detachment at the keyboard.” I suppose. He certainly wasn’t known for his singing tone and pliant phrasing. But he was one of two pianists in my experience—Martha Argerich is the other—able to make a Hamburg Steinway “speak.” I recall a Carnegie Hall performance on March 2, 1980, of Rachmaninoff’s First Sonata that did indeed “thunder” with a massive tone and power that pinned me to the back of my seat. Most pianists I’ve heard seem wimpy when seated at a Hamburg. I’ll take the color, detail, and impact of an American Steinway any day.  Dubal could probably tell you why.

Russian Visit

A friend is in town for the next couple of weeks before giving a paper at a Princeton University conference oddly entitled “After the End of Music History” to honor Richard Taruskin, the prolific American author of Russian musical subjects. She is Olga Manulkina, author of From Ives to Adams: American Music in the XXth Century, the first book in Russian to cover the entire century of the subject. While I can’t claim to have read it, I can say that it’s chock full of wonderful photos from the Musical America Archives! Also that its first printing is all but sold out, so readers of Cyrillic should order it ASAP.

Anyway, one of Olga’s projects is to instill a love of baroque music in me, so friends and readers of this column should brace themselves if they see me at unaccustomed concerts. Thank goodness there’s a lot of 20th-century and contemporary American music being performed too!

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

1/26 Alice Tully Hall. Juilliard415/William Christie. Purcell: The Fairy Queen (excerpts). Rameau: Les Fêtes d’Hébé (excerpts).

1/27 Zankel Hall at 6:00. Making Music: David Lang. the little match girl passion (N.Y. premiere). Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier; vocalists; Nico Muhly, keyboards.

1/28 Metropolitan Opera. The Enchanted Island. William Christie; de Niese, Oropesa, DiDonato, Daniels, Constanzo, Domingo, Pisaroni.

1/29 Le Poisson Rouge at 7:00. Philip Glass’s 75th Birthday Celebration. Kronos Quartet, Dennis Russell Davies, Maki Namekawa, Ira Glass, Michael Riesman, et al.

1/30 Peter Jay Sharp Theater. FOCUS! Festival. Juilliard Percussion Ensemble/Daniel Druckman; Benjamin Sheen, organ. Cowell: Ostinato Pianissimo. Cage: Three²; Third Construction; Credo in Us. Harrison: Concerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestra.

1/31 Metropolitan Opera. Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Fabio Luisi. Voigt, Harmer, Meier, Gould, Paterson, Owens, König.

2/1 Paul Hall. FOCUS! Festival. Cage: Five Songs (1938); Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard (1950); Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939); Etudes Boreales, Nos. 1 & 3 (1978); Sonnekus² (1985); Satie Cabaret Songs; Child of Tree (1975); The Perilous Night (1944).

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