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Tales from the Locker Room


A revealing behind-the-scenes look at a great orchestra and the colorful genius who shaped it.

Pratfalls, ego clashes, and psychodramas infuse classical music on the grandest scale in this reminiscence of the Cleveland Orchestra under its legendary leader.

During his 1946-70 tenure, the Hungarian-born conductor George Szell turned the Cleveland Orchestra from a second-rate ensemble into what many considered the world’s best orchestra and conducted many landmark recordings of the classical repertoire. He accomplished this through relentless rehearsals, dictatorial control over the tiniest details of performances, and domineering mind games aimed at bending musicians to his will. In this loose-limbed retrospective, Angell, a bassist who played 15 years under Szell’s baton, and Jaffe collect stories from Cleveland Orchestra musicians who both loathe and lionize their former boss. They tell of nerve-wracking auditions, lies and manipulations regarding their contracts, and horrible elevator encounters in which trapped musicians struggled to make small talk with him. They also relate his countless onstage insults and belittlements, from the cutting (“We’d be happy to accommodate to your small tone,” he told a violin soloist who wanted the orchestra to play quietly) to the crude (“you play like a pig, a swine,” he informed another), and his ugly feuds with rebellious underlings, especially superstar oboist Marc Lifschey, who “played like a gypsy whore,” Szell proclaimed. They share stories of his sheer, demented hubris; in one tale, for example, Szell insisted that a pianist rehearse on a coffee table and then criticized his mimed “playing”; when the pianist objected, the maestro canceled his concerto. “Son of a bitch,” “bastard,” and “I despised him,” are among the verdicts that Angell and Jaffe elicit—but also common, and quite illuminating, are grudging-to-reverent acknowledgments of Szell’s profound insights into music and the sublime performances he extracted from the orchestra, surpassing what even the musicians themselves thought they could achieve. These rambling interviews, with commentary by Angell and Jaffe, don’t have much structure, and some of the anecdotes will seem obscure to nonmusicians, but readers will find most of the hodgepodge accessible and entertaining. From these vignettes emerges an engrossing, pointillist portrait of the emotional stress and artistic rewards of high-stakes music-making.

A revealing behind-the-scenes look at a great orchestra and the colorful genius who shaped it.

Pub Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1626130531

Page Count: 190

Publisher: ATBOSH Media Ltd.

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2015

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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