MUSICAL CHAIRS: A Life in the Arts by Schuyler Chapin
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MUSICAL CHAIRS: A Life in the Arts

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The general public might never have heard of this well-connected New Yorker if the 1972 death of Goeran Gentele hadn't made him suddenly, briefly, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera. But Chapin's career in music management had begun almost 30 years before, and his plainspoken, gentlemanly, relatively self-effacing memoir is alive with enough legendary presences in action to send concert- and opera-goers into second-tier heaven. Nadia Boulanger's the first, telling the untalented but eager composition student, ""We will get along, you and I,"" and lightly steering him into the money side of music. Then, after NBC broadcasting and WW II flying: lordly, impassive Jascha Heifetz, Chapin's first assignment as touring ""concert-valet""--provider of towels and soda water, dispenser of bribes, look-out during (forbidden) cigarette breaks at the Mormon Tabernacle. Plane-crazy von Karajan, moody Van Cliburn (Chapin saved him from drowning), mercurial Stravinsky--clients at Columbia Artists and Columbia Records (on the eve of stereo), where executivedom became too much business and too little artists and repertoire. And, above all, Horowitz, who was coaxed into a return to performing when Chapin gave a heartfelt yes to the insecure virtuoso's question--""Will you take care of me?"" Only the pit-a-pat portrait of Leonard Bernstein, whom Chapin helped to produce the Mass and concert-films for TV, fails to engage: ""He is music, he is larger than life. . . . He is the past; he is now; he is the future."" Yuk. As for the three years at the Met, enjoy Death in Venice, Sills v. Sutherland, the week of the disappearing Isoldes, a bear hug from Pavarotti, cancellations from CaballÉ, plucky Nilsson's tumble and return. . . as well as the less sprightly matters of financial crisis, fundraising, and disputes with the jumpy board. Though Chapin's operahouse maneuvers seem decent and intelligent throughout, one can't quite share his obvious sense of injustice in getting the bureaucratic boot: the lack of a vital take-charge attitude leaks through. But perhaps it's precisely that non-egomaniacal stance that makes this book so agreeable--that, and the fact that (unlike Rudolf Bing's monotonous 5000 Nights) it touches, with stars and sturm, on every practical aspect of serious music-making in the electronic age.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1977
ISBN: 059512111X
Publisher: Putnam