Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Back in Berlin: late night musings.

First full day yesterday at home after arriving last night from flying half-way around the world. Although I was gone to Latin America to conduct for 8 days, I managed to stay on top of studying scores in my hotel room for current and upcoming performances, answering email on my laptop in the terracotta laced courtyard, while also catching up on my sleep after several other trips in the last few weeks to various countries.

Now back at home, I paid bills, practiced the piano. Dinner outdoors last night at some restaurant at Alexanderplatz where S and R and I dined on expensive salads, strangely over-priced for this part of the city. S asks me for advice about her boyfriend who seems to have a slight drinking problem. I say there is no such thing as a "slight" drinking problem.

I got home after dinner at around midnight. Jet lag rears its ugly head and I find myself still awake now at 3 in the morning. Before I write this blog sitting at my desk in my studio, I pull Ned Rorem's most recent diary, Lies, from the bookshelves. One of the notes I wrote in the margins tells me I read the book in April 2001. Several of the various pages of which I bent the corners over contain Rorem's views of the roles of composer and performer. I am also reminded of my feeling that this diary is the most humane of his to date.-touching, poignant, sad, as it deals with the illness and death of his long-time partner, organist-composer James Holmes. I've met Rorem several times and twice when he was with Holmes at national conventions of the American Guild of Organists. In 1996 at the AGO convention in New York City, the three of us had a long, friendly discussion about Rorem´s organ concerto as well as talking about Chicago and Hyde Park where both Rorem and I spent our respective childhoods. Jim, even though often overshadowed by Ned's celebrity, was clearly his equal intellectually and was as a performer and church musician what Ned is as a composer. The Muse works both ways. We had a enjoyable conversation. The two were very affable.

Such didn't seem to be the case when I saw them two years later at the AGO national convention in Denver. There they were standing near the exhibit hall of the convention hotel. I was glad to see them and walked over and said hello. They both seemed very remote, almost completely silent. I couldn't figure it out. I only found out three years later in April 2001 when I read Lies and discovered that Jim was dealing with symptoms and illness of cancer and advanced AIDS during that summer in Denver. He died 6 months later.

Ned lives in the same building as Mendy Wager. When I first started staying at Mendy's whenever I came to New York, he lived one floor above Ned. Mendy later sold his apartment and bought a new one on a lower floor. Now he lives below Ned. I actually found out about Jim's death from Mendy before I read Lies, though I didn't know the timing and therefore didn't connect the dots about Denver. I think I may have written Ned a note and slipped it in is mailbox while at Mendy's, though I am not 100% sure.

Speaking of which, Craig is living here in Berlin for a few months while handling all things Bernstein here in Europe. CuQu is one a composer who composes with the most personal of voices. We've been friends for 20 years. He wrote the booklet notes for my CD of the complete piano works of Leonard Bernstein and helped me a great deal during my research and preparation for my recording of Bernstein's Peter Pan. Craig has undertaken managing Ned in the past few years. Mendy Wager was one of Leonard and Felicia Bernstein's closest friends. Lenny died in Mendy's arms. I first met Lenny in 1985. I later became a protege and assistant conductor to John Mauceri starting in 1994. John was Bernstein's most important conducting protege. At that time, I was Music Director of the Berliner Ensemble. One of my predecessors in that position was Kurt Weill. In 2000-2001, I was John's assistant for performances of Weill's opera, The Eternal Road (Der Weg der Verheissung in German) which we toured in Germany, Israel and New York. Mendy's father, Meyer Weisgall, was the original producer of world premiere of The Eternal Road in 1936 in New York. I first met Mendy when he came to Germany to see our production. Mendy and John had been friends for almost 30 years. I could continue this line of thought, but I only want to show that this is but one of many interrelated circles of people and events that make up my life.

Helen Dewitt and I discussed her current book the theme of which is suicide. So far, none of the literary agents Helen has approached has shown interest in the idea. I say, "Helen, when I find a new fictional book to read, I like to be a good story. It can be about anything, something challenging. But I think the last subject that would peak my interest would be that of suicide." She responds by saying that maybe she should write a non-fiction book about the subject.

I mention to her my discussion with Lisa about the project, saying that her (Lisa's) well-thumbed extensive collection on the subject (Egad, what kind of friends do I have?) includes such books as William Styron's Darkness Visible, Kay Jamison's Night Falls Fast and Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon. Lisa also mentions her favorite German works on suicide ("my fave German works on the subject are..") Lang, as well as Bernhard's Correction, Peter Handke's A Sorrow Beyond Dreams.

I took Helen's book, The Last Samurai, with me on my trip. This amazing novel, which has been universally praised as masterpiece and path-breaking in it's style of story-telling and earned Helen the honor of being one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people, claims me from page 1. "And you want to follow this with a book about suicide?", I ask.


© Alexander Frey, 2007