Like most writers and readers of Fanfare, music is in my DNA. I began active listening while still in the womb, as my father always had a weakness for loud, bombastic music, and liked to crank up the volume for the end of Mahler’s Second or the Shostakovich Fifth. My grandfather trained as an opera singer at the pre-revolutionary Odessa Conservatory, although he never sang professionally after immigrating to the U.S. He spent most of his life as a chicken farmer, but remained true to his great love of music until the end. I accompanied him as he sang Glinka from yellowed sheet music, and he sat with me as we went through the “family opera,” Boris Godunov, scene by scene.
I taught myself to play the piano at around age seven, and had a number of teachers, some quite good, others who indulged my laziness. The rest of my musical education was seat of the pants (I was a history major at the University of Pennsylvania, although I deejayed at the radio station and was the music director for a year). The only true pro in the immediate family is my younger brother, Danny, a composer and teacher whose music has been reviewed (favorably) on these pages a number of times. My mother was active in musical circles when I was growing up in the Binghamton, NY, area, including the Binghamton Symphony, an ardent, if rag-tag quasi-pro ensemble led by a German cellist named Fritz Wallenberg, whose connections led him to engage excellent soloists such as Leonard Rose, Eileen Farrell, and Sergiu Luca, many of whom I met while hanging out backstage. It was years before I knew that the bows are all supposed to go in the same direction in an orchestra.
My most important musical education is ongoing, as I have become deeply involved in the rich musical culture of my home for the last 30-plus years, Philadelphia. I have honed my writing skills, such as they are, at the Philadelphia City Paper, and other free-lancing stints with The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Orchestra, local radio guides, program notes, and the annual report of the musical arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Philadelphia Music Project. I am an editor at a new magazine, Philadelphia Music Makers, where I have enlisted two other Fanfare writers in the area, Andy Quint and Art Lintgen. I serve on the boards of The Presser Foundation and the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, the latter being the oldest continuing musical organization in the nation.
I remain, at the ripe old age of 50, an unjaded lover of music. My range of interests in different kinds of music has never been greater, but I feel a special bond with the music of living composers. Fortunately, I live in a city that is rife with terrific composers, mainly care of the composition departments at Penn, Temple, and The Curtis Institute of Music, served up by several superb ensembles that specialize in new music. My single most important goal as a writer about music is to get more people to listen, especially at live performances. Our beloved art form is ephemeral by nature. If we stop listening, it dies.