The Birds

by Sedgwick Clark

At night after watching Jon Stewart and Colbert and checking out TCM’s midnight film, I’m often up proofreading or writing captions during deadline. I was up until 5 a.m. yesterday morning finishing details for the last article of the 2013 Directory to go to the designer. Last night I had looked forward to a good night’s sleep for the first time in months, and the light was out by 2.

My wife can sleep through any alarm on the market. The other day I noticed a cream-colored conical protuberance about three-quarters of a foot high on her bedside table, and she explained brightly that it was her new alarm clock. It gradually lights up the room like the sun rising and birds begin to chirp – definitely something new in a second-floor rear apartment in Manhattan. If that doesn’t do the trick, it also has a radio. “What’s WQXR?” she asked. “96.3,” I answered, knowing full well that it has a new frequency since the Times sold the station a few months ago; I just can’t remember it.  

This morning I experienced her alarm for the first time. Sometime after 8:30 I became aware that the bedroom had become flooded with light and birds were chirping as if a tiger had entered the room. It was about the same time that the workers arrived to continue pointing the building and their drilling and pounding began. (I’m not making this up.)

As I stumbled out of bed, I asked if at least the bird noises could be slowed down and reduced in volume. “No,” mumbled the woman who won’t watch my DVD of Hitchcock’s The Birds because it scares her, and she fell back asleep.

Stoki in Philly at 100

My fellow ARSC member Don Drewecki reminded me of a momentous occasion in the history of American orchestras: “It was 100 years ago today that Leopold Stokowski conducted his first concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  And on that day, a new era in American Orchestral Supremacy was ushered in.”

Howard H. Scott, Noted Record Producer

It’s no exaggeration to say that Howard Scott produced some of the most important recordings in history. Glenn Gould’s 1955 Bach Goldberg Variations, the Fleisher/Szell Beethoven piano concerto cycle — which belong in any serious collection — come immediately to mind, but my own personal favorite was a Stokowski pairing made during his return to the Philadelphia in 1959, nearly 20 years after he had last conducted the orchestra: Falla’s El amor brujo and the conductor’s “symphonic synthesis” of music from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, surely two of the most erotically charged performances ever commited to records — and in stereo too, which allowed the full panoply of Stokowski’s extraordinary music-making with this amazing orchestra to be captured in modern sonics for the first time.

I had the pleasure of many lunches with Howard as he regaled me with stories of Szell, Fleisher, Stoki, Gould, Stern, and many of the great Columbia artists he recorded. We have Howard’s ballsiness to thank for the complete Beethoven cycle. They were scheduled to record just the Fourth and Fifth but finished the sessions so quickly that Howard decided on his own to suggest to the artists that they record one of the others (I forget which one) in the time left. Now that three were “in the can,” and with such superb results, Columbia decided to finish the cycle. It’s still the set that I’ll take to my desert island.

Howard died on September 22 at age 92.

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