How Hindemith brought us together
It would seem unlikely that the music of Paul Hindemith would have brought me together with Marilyn Horne and Riccardo Muti, but that’s exactly what happened two nights ago. It was a surprising and thrilling turn of events.
I was having a coffee with Alan Gilbert (a client of my company, 21C Media Group) in his office at the New York Philharmonic on Monday morning and he and the orchestra’s president and executive director, Zarin Mehta, were talking about how exciting Riccardo Muti’s guest conducting of the orchestra had been going. The current program he was doing with the Philharmonic featured Hindemith’s 1940 Symphony in E Flat. “You’re always talking about Hindemith,” Alan said to me, ”You should really go to the final performance this evening. It’s amazing.”
[While in Alan’s office I gasped when I saw and then struggled to lift up the enormous score of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, which Alan will conduct in May. Couldn’t resist asking him to pose with it (pictured here).]
Turned out that Monday night was the only night I didn’t have anything planned for the current week, and honestly, all I wanted to do was go home and chill out. But since Hindemith’s symphonies are virtually non-existent in major orchestra’s programming (aside from the occasional performance of the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber and, rarer still, Mathis der Maler), and I have a special attraction to them, I couldn’t resist. Alan’s assistant, Joliene, did me the kind favor of giving me a ticket. What she didn’t tell me – or perhaps she didn’t know – was that the person I’d be sitting next to was legendary opera singer Marilyn Horne.
“You do realize, Ms. Horne, that we’re sort of on a date?” I said to her as I crossed in front of her (she was on the aisle seat). I could see that she remembered me, at least a bit, from the times we’ve seen each other at various events hosted by another client, the Metropolitan Opera Guild (including the Opera News Awards, of which she was one of the early winners). “I’m open to anything!” was her response, given with a quick and hearty chuckle and an enormous twinkle in her eye (that twinkle is always there, by the way).
I’m not sure how often Ms. Horne and Mr. Muti have worked together, but she sure likes his conducting. “Have you seen his Attila at the Met?” she asked me, referring to the Verdi opera he was conducting across the plaza at Lincoln Center in his long-overdue debut at the Metropolitan Opera. “You must hear it – absolutely sensational!”
Then, the concert started: Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist András Schiff. It was an intense performance of a vigorous, demanding and thrilling work, but it was in the soft passages when I was taken in most – particularly the beginning of the first movement, and the slow movement. Here, Muti brought out all the cosmic beauty in Brahms’s command of nocturnal atmosphere: here, the night air was rich in possibilities.
I didn’t go to the lobby for intermission, which gave me a few minutes before the start of the Hindemith to chat with Ms. Horne further. I took a closer look at her and thought that her brilliant white hair and vibrant complexion gave her the appearance of a painted vision.
“Do you know,” she told me, “that I worked once with Hindemith in Vienna. Must have been 50 years ago.” She laughed heartily as she appeared to be filing through cabinets of memories in her mind. “What did we do together?“ She thought for a moment. “It was a Stravinsky work. Now I remember – it was his Cantata. We also worked on Monteverdi and Gesualdo – imagine that. He was a very nice man.”
I told her that I always had a special attraction to Hindemith’s music and wished that more people would perform it. I told her about how thrilling I had found the trio of one-act Hindemith operas I had heard done by Leon Botstein and the American Symphony orchestra (also 21C clients) a few seasons ago.
“Do you know this symphony we’re going to hear?” she asked.
I told her I had heard it two or three times on CD.
“What’s it sound like?”
“If my memory serves me, the first movement sounds like a tank rumbling down the street. And the second movement sounds like a tank rumbling down the street. And the third movement….”
After the first movement, where the New York Philharmonic’s powerful brass pretty much pinned the entire audience against the walls of the hall, she turned to me and said, “You were right about the tank!”
Muti’s performance of the Hindemith with the New York Philharmonic was a tour-de-force. The music is dense, and steely, and enormously physical in its impact, and Muti’s approach heightened all of those aspects. The climaxes were massive but expertly controlled. To hear this wall of sound start and stop with such unanimity was awe-inspiring. It was really impossible to imagine another orchestra playing this challenging music with such utter conviction.
“It was a terrible thing that so many wonderful composers were forced leave Europe because of the Nazis,” Ms. Horne said to me as we chatted during the rapturous applause. “But in a way, I was really a beneficiary of what they brought to America. I was living in Los Angeles back then when so many émigré composers were living there, and many of them were my teachers.”
My mind turned to a blur as she mentioned the likes of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, not to mention the great author Thomas Mann (one of my greatest literary heroes). I honestly can’t remember whom she told me she met, and whom she had studied with, and whom she had just admired, but as she talked I realized I was speaking with an artist whose life and work were truly historic.
As we strolled out I said to her, “I think we had a very successful first date. I hope you’d consider going out with me to another orchestral concert some time.”
“It was great fun – feel free to invite me,” she said as she headed out of the hall and, presumably, back stage to greet the Maestro. I was already woozy from the music and Ms. Horne’s company and decided to head out for a nightcap instead. When I told a singer friend of mine my story he said, “You should have taken her out with you – I’m sure she could have drunk you under the table!”
These words were said, half-jokingly, with the sweetest affection and deepest respect, all to underline the point that was as clear as day to anyone who meets her: Marilyn Horne is one tough and determined and utterly amazing lady.
Final note to self: send recording of Hindemith’s Harmonie der Welt to Alan Gilbert and light a few candles in hopes that he’ll program it.