...via Simon Rattle's late cab (and latte cup)
A perfect storm of musical excitement descended upon New York City this week – actually, it all happened in a period of just five days. Along the way, I spent some quality time with Sir Simon Rattle and caught glimpses of Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in a very lively green room.
Hope that got your attention!
I’m doing my best to not “review” my own clients on this blog, but I’ll dare to use the phrase “deeply moved ” to describe my reaction to Deborah Voigt’s portrayal of Minnie in Puccini’s Fanciulla del West. The Metropolitan Opera mounted it to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opera’s world premiere at the company, and Monday night’s performance opened my ears to a rather extraordinary score that I hardly knew. Hard to believe that this nearly through-composed opus, with its often impressionistic harmonies, is by the composer of Tosca, and it sure was nice actually see a Puccini heroine survive her ordeal!
The next morning, Deborah Voigt was one of two divas (along with Susan Graham, another 21C client) to speak in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria at a gala celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera Guild (this organization is also a client of ours). The place was packed (more than 600 people) with opera stars past and present for this annual New York event, which this year focused, in part, on the extraordinary life and contribution of the Guild’s pioneering founder, Eleanor Belmont.
That evening, I met Sir Simon Rattle at the Metropolitan Opera stage door to take him downtown to New York’s classical music radio station, WQXR, for an interview. I had met Sir Simon before only briefly, but our company has been promoting his recordings for a while now through our work with EMI Classics. He’s in town to make his long-overdue debut at the Met, where he’ll be conducting Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande beginning December 17. It’s a publicist’s horror to be standing with an important artist waiting for a car service that doesn’t arrive, but 20 minutes after the supposed pick-up time had passed Sir Simon calmly said, “I’m going to take a stroll up the block to Starbucks and get a coffee – why don’t you just pick me up there?”
As soon as he walked away I called my colleague Jan Lee at EMI Classics in New York and he began to hunt down the car. At that point, I decided to walk over to Starbucks and asked Jan to try to get the car to meet us there instead. Holiday time in New York City takes an already somewhat crazy city and pushes it to frantic levels of near-insanity, and when I looked inside Starbucks and saw Sir Simon on a longer line than I’ve ever waited on for a cup of coffee, I thought, “Wow, this isn’t going very well, is it?”
I have worked with some artists over two decades who by now would have said, “Sorry this didn’t work out – I’m going home now.” But when Sir Simon emerged with his latte, and I said, “I’m really sorry that you had to wait in that awful line and that the car still isn’t here yet,” he sighed, smiled, and calmly said, “It’s really not worth us getting very upset about, is it?” I was mightily impressed. “What a cool guy!” I said to myself.
We eventually made it down to WQXR (for most of the trip, Sir Simon marked up his score of Pelléas, which is what he’s doing here in this photo), where Sir Simon gave a splendid interview to on-air host Jeff Spurgeon (I’ll give you a heads up when there’s a live link to hear it).
Two days later, I met Sir Simon in front of the apartment building where he’s staying on the Upper West Side. This time, the car showed up as scheduled and we arrived right on time for his interview with Charlie Rose. The green room at the studio was packed to the gills with a true Hollywood posse, as Mark Walberg and Christian Bale were there to promote their new film The Fighter. Stacy Shiff, the author of a new book about Cleopatra, came next on the interview docket (the show will be on hiatus for the holidays, so they were taping extra segments).
My colleague Glenn Petry and EMI Classics’ Chris Montgomery were with me in the green room and watched Rattle’s conversation with Charlie from there. Rattle could not have been more inspiring, delivering wisdom, insight and humor with characteristic eloquence. Any classical music lover will want to watch the interview when it airs, and later gets posted on YouTube. A few highlights: his unabashed enthusiasm for the Met’s “justifiably famous” orchestra and why it’s so great; his unequivocal declaration that Carlos Kleiber “was the greatest of us all” (he illustrated the point with a story about sitting next to Bernard Haitink at an Otello rehearsal led by Kleiber, and Haitink leaning over to him to say, and I paraphrase, “We have a lot to learn, don’t we?”). He admitted that he never thought very much about Tchaikovsky, but realized that he had been prejudiced against him and that he only recently discovered his true worth (he told Charlie that The Nutcracker was “a goldmine of musical miracles”). Rattle also told Charlie that the best advice he had gotten had come from Carlo Maria Giulini, who told him to “Hurry slowly” with his career. The point the great elder Maestro was making was that conductors, like wine, often got better with the years.
My colleagues and I left the studio flying high from what we had just heard. I shook Sir Simon’s hand and thanked him, and the car whisked him back to the West Side. Less than an hour later, Glenn, Chris and I were sitting in orchestra seats at Carnegie Hall hearing Susan Graham’s ravishing accounts, with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, of Berg’s Seven Early Songs. These are among my very favorite songs, shimmering, as they do, in the twilight somewhere between Mahler and Strauss. Green rooms at prestigious classical music venues can be a bit subdued, even after a thrilling concert, but Susan Graham’s dressing room was nothing less than a party afterwards. Enjoying a bottle of champagne, making some new friends, and watching Susan Graham have such a good time put me in an extremely good mood, even though my manic schedule over the past few weeks was beginning to take its toll on me physically.
The week ended with a scintillating performance last night in Alice Tully Hall by Daniel Hope (another 21C client) and musicians from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Their programme of Baroque music for strings was similar to the one on Daniel’s recent release, Air. Hope is one of classical music’s greatest communicators when he talks to the audience from the stage, and that audience roared its approval at the end of the show. Like the Pluhar/Arpeggiata show at Zankel Hall a few weeks ago, this was truly a Baroque jam session.
Albert Imperato is co-founder of 21C Media Group, a classical music and performing arts PR, marketing and consulting firm. His on-line journal gives a window into the New York music world, as seen through the eyes of a leading PR guru.