ECHOES: Memoirs of Andre Kostelanetz by Andre with Gloria Hammond Kostelanetz

ECHOES: Memoirs of Andre Kostelanetz

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It's a great pity that conductor Kostelanetz died (in 1980) before completing work on his autobiography--because this book's short first section, which seems far more finished than the rest, is the work of a gifted memoirist. Here, with subtle time-shifts back and forward, are young Andre's years in Russia--before, during, and just after the Revolution. Son of well-to-do St. Petersburg Jews, Andre finds his family scattered in 1918: his father to Finland, his mother and the other children to the Caucasus. And he himself winds up on train after train--getting money to his mother, being arrested (""I still do not know if our captors were Reds or Whites""), returning to Petrograd to study and work at the Mariinsky Opera, finally escaping to America (where his family has reunited) via Lithuania and Poland. After this spare, evocative opening, however, the book becomes increasingly sketchy, more obviously a posthumous patchwork. There's a solid discussion of Andre's decision to abandon the usual coach-conductor route for radio: the experimenting with microphones, the daring programming of a classical/popular mixture. (Knowing the outrage of the musical establishment, ""I did allow myself a silent chortle in anticipation of certain broadcasts."") The portrait of wife Lily Pons--whom Andre helped to rehabilitate her ""shockingly out of tune"" voice--is disappointingly slight, as are the glimpses of George Gershwin, Eugene Ormandy, Pablo Casals, and others. (The fullest portrait: neighbor Stokowski, who, dumped by Gloria, said, ""Life is an art . . . I have not quite mastered it."") And nearly a third of the book is given over to Kostelanetz's diaries of wartime USO touring in the Mideast and Asia--which are only intermittently fascinating. Still the major themes of the Kostelanetz career are all touched on here: the dedicated popularizing; the commissioning of new work (including Copland's Lincoln Portrait and a ""rather silly"" piece by Virgil Thomson); the records; the tireless touring (a typical guest-conductor visit is outlined). So those interested in the social history of music-for-the-masses will certainly find this a valuable source--even if it only sporadically reflects Kostelanetz's great charm and colorful life.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1981
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich