Listen to This!
There are a number of great books of interest to music lovers and their friends. Mine includes the memoirs of Hector Berlioz-for their clear look at the art AND politics of 19th century music, Virgil Thomson by Virgil Thomson for the elegant writing and take no prisoners style, and Listen to This by Alex Ross. “It’s now in paperback.” Buy it.
I learned about music on radio and in the newspapers. Michael Steinberg was music critic for the Boston Globe in my youth. He was in print every day, either a review or an op-ed piece, with a larger feature on Sunday. Steinberg on paper was coldly analytical, and his contempt for those he felt were under serving music was magnificent. I never met him, but when he died a few years ago I felt I had lost a mentor.
Alex Ross is music critic for the New Yorker. If there’s another publication today allowing music criticism to go beyond two paragraphs of puff I don’t know what it may be. Listen to This is a collection of Ross’s New Yorker pieces from the past ten years.
In what other book do essays on Marian Anderson, Brahms, Bjork, Mahler, Mozart and Radiohead live so happily side by side. Ross’s obituary for Lorraine Hunt Lieberson will have you weeping as you reach for her CDs. His essay on Verdi had me scratching my head (I never thought of that!) I who heard Aida at age 8 and went through every Verdi opera in the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Alex Ross has plenty to teach this old man. Whether he’s a roadie for Colin Greenwood and his ondes martenot (look that up) or the St. Lawrence Quartet-Ross writes with all the passion and heart of the perfect music writer. Music, Brahms AND Bjork is for him, but more importantly, it’s for YOU.
P.S. Months ago I tried to get an interview with Alex Ross. I reached his publicist who cheerily loved my interest and said “Alex isn’t doing interviews now.” I hung up with my best I-interviewed -Van-Clibrun-when -I was-seventeen attitude. She should expect another call from me.