Many of my colleagues hold advanced degrees in music. I do not. My qualifications, such as they are, for writing classical music reviews are that I love classical music and records, and that I write fairly well, although that certainly is a matter of opinion.
As long as I can remember, I was fascinated not just with music but with music reproduction: music boxes, player pianos, and what at the time were called “record players.” I played my father’s records from a very young age, and that formed my early musical tastes, which included Bruno Walter’s Beethoven, Ormandy’s Saint-Saëns, Milanov’s Aida, Callas’s Carmen, Sarah Vaughan’s Gershwin, and the Kingston Trio.
I went through childish phases of wanting to be a composer, a singer, a conductor, a pianist, or a dancer. Piano lessons started when I was about nine, and although I advanced until I was in demand as an accompanist for choirs, I never was in any danger of being a prodigy. I sang, and ended up in all-county choirs myself; I suspect that had more to do with my gender than with my abilities. I also performed in high school musicals: foppish Sir Evelyn Oakleigh in Anything Goes was my acting triumph!
Because I was only faintly talented, there was little question of my pursuing music in college or as a career. So I entered McGill University in 1980, and four years later graduated with a degree in microbiology and immunology, which fascinated me intellectually, if not emotionally. In the meantime, I attended many concerts and bought many records. The collecting bug had bitten. Records became CDs when I became a graduate student—again in microbiology and immunology—at the University of Rochester. I enjoyed performing in a college choir seeded with students from the Eastman School of Music. Remaining in Rochester to do postdoctoral work, I discovered the internet, and soon I was posting my first CD reviews to rec.music.classical. A positive review of a disc by Igor Kipnis led to the harpsichordist’s recommending me to Joel Flegler and Fanfare. The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, I’ve also written reviews for Miami New Times, Esquire, Soundscapes, Film Score Monthly, and (currently) International Record Review. Online, I contribute to Classical Net, and I have written booklet notes for CDs released by Decca, DG, Pope Music, and Australian Eloquence.
My passion for fiery Mahlerian angst, which dates from young adulthood, now is balanced with an appreciation for the rationality of Baroque music. Collecting CDs and LPs (yes, I still do!) is an adventure, and my reviews in Fanfare and elsewhere are a diary of that adventure. It surprises and flatters me that others are interested in what I like and what I think. My philosophy is that reviewing should be, above all, about the transmission of enthusiasms—loud shouts of “Hey, listen to this!” I hope that, over the last 16 years or so, now and then I’ve managed to turn readers on to good stuff.