I wouldn't have admitted it at the time, but I was utterly unprepared
for my new position, and few things would make me happier now than the
opportunity to delete the majority of my early Times reviews
from archives and distant memories. Although I had collected records
since I was five or six, knew a good deal about contemporary
composition and played the piano acceptably, I had scant knowledge of
huge portions of the repertory and no understanding of the day-to-day
challenges and intricacies of the music world. Even more to the point,
I had not yet begun to develop much human empathy for my fellow
mortals. So I approached my new job with the prim, Robespierrean surety
and the acerbic would-be cleverness that then seemed to me the most
important qualities of a working critic.
The Times was used to steep learning curves — developing a
voice with which to speak through New York's most powerful and
prestigious newspaper is never an easy adaptation — and my editors were
good enough to keep me on.
"My first and most powerful obsession was music—the same records played again and again while I watched them spin, astonished at their evocation of aural worlds that I not only instinctively understood even as a toddler but in which I actually felt comfortable. I was both terrified of and tantalized by death (which was absolutely real to me from earliest childhood), and by the way recordings restored Enrico Caruso and Nellie Melba to life for a few minutes, ghostly visitors who had returned to sing for me at 78 r.p.m., through a hiss of shellac and antiquity. When I was ten, I became fascinated by silent films, the visual complement to my old records. I spent hours at the library of the University of Connecticut, a few minutes’ walk from home, researching the lives of actors and actresses on microfilm, and recall the genuine sense of mourning that came over me when I saw Barbara La Marr’s sad, youthful face on an obituary page from 1926. Not surprisingly, “Sunset Boulevard” was my favorite “talkie” (I actually called them that—in 1965!), and I’d regularly set the alarm and wake in the middle of the night to watch Chester Conklin or Louise Dresser take on minor roles in some B movie that the Worcester, Massachusetts, UHF station put on when nobody else was watching."
But Bach and Beethoven tell us exactly what they want to tell us, while
Mozart lets us find what we want in him, on our own levels of need and
understanding. And -- as sorry as this fact makes professional
musicians -- a good percentage of any classical audience merely wants
to sit back and be entertained. So be it. The depths will always be
there for those who are ready to plumb them.
She owned this music. In one of Terrence McNally's plays, one
vocal aficionado challenges another: "Which 'Four Last Songs' do you
like? Schwarzkopf or Schwarzkopf?"
"Einstein" broke all the rules of opera: It was five hours long, with
no intermissions (the audience was invited to wander in and out at
liberty during performances). Its text consisted of numbers, syllables
and some cryptic poems by Christopher Knowles, a neurologically
impaired young man with whom Wilson had worked as an instructor of
disturbed children for the New York public schools. There were
references to the trial of Patricia Hearst (which was underway during
the creation of the opera), to the mid-'70s radio lineup on New York's
WABC, to the popular song "Mr. Bojangles," to the Beatles and to the
teen idol David Cassidy. "Einstein" sometimes seemed a study in sensory
overload, meaning everything and nothing.
Agree with him or not (and really, who reads only critics one agrees with?) very, very few classical music critics in America have Tim Page's knowledge, his keen ear, his love for books and his beautiful writing style.
If he doesn't come back soon to writing on a regular basis, American readers -- that dying breed -- lose a priceless voice.
(Not to mention that the very fact that an allegedly august national newspaper offers a buyout to a writer like Page instead of holding on to him at all cost, shows how simply lame the Washington Post has become).
Memo to all of us who miss Tim Page's illuminating writings: as demonstrated in a recent meetup with friend of OC (where OC = Opera Chic) and critic/blogger for the OC Register (where OC = Orange County) Timothy Mangan, il Signor Page (on the left in the photo) seems to be happy in his (temporary?) teaching post at USC; of course, OC hopes that Mr. Page gets out of California soon because she misses his Washington Post stuff. And, frankly, it's easier to go to the WaPo website than to have to move to L.A. and enroll at USC.