A Boss Blogs About Her Mate

beth wareham, co-founder of Lisa Hagan Books

I did something ridiculous; I published my husband. That’s him – a music critic at the New York Times – looking decidedly unlike any classical music critic I’ve ever seen. His book is entitled Something I Heard, and if you love music – and more importantly, GREAT writing – he’s your guy (along with The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, once a young critic under my husband’s tenure as chief critic.)

I’m no classical music fan. Hendrix is my go-to and I’ve been waiting for Cardi B all my life. But I’ve learned about classical music – oh, how I’ve learned – sitting in concert halls around the world with him, rushing up the aisle so he could get home to file his review. I know my Haydn and found out I’m an Alban Berg fan (who knew?)  I’ve been to Puccini’s house, saw Wagner operas in Berlin and know where Dvorak  wrote Rusalka. Weird, right?

But that’s not why I fell in with the dude. I fell in love with a writer and what he wrote and what he read. In his book Something I Heard, you’ll hear it, great writing like this:

Tango I

“The tango is sublimated warfare. It rarely smiles. Elegance, ritual and a deep dignity win out over darker impulses. In a single Argentine dance form the universal paradoxes of romance between two human beings seem to gather.”

That’s one hot paragraph and it’s what the guy does, boiling intense experience into a few tight sentences.  It’s the writing that he’s known for, but don’t ask me. Ask The New Yorker. They say, “no one today can match the limpid elegance and intellectual precision of his style, which recall the heyday of Virgil Thomson.”

Wow. That’s some praise. I do chase him about the house yelling, “what does Mr. Limpid say to that, huh?” But man, what praise. I agree with those rascals at The New Yorker. If you want to understand music more deeply or just want to roll around in great writing, this just may be your book. But what do I know, I’m just the wife.

To order Something I Heard, click on the title.

Formats: e-book, paperback, hardcover, audio book

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Critics Cringe: It’s Good If You Say So

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Spoiler Alert: I am married to the man that wrote this book. I published the book; The New York Times did the editing. (Big shoutout! Less work for me.) None of that is interesting. What is of note is that I was sitting next to him as he listened to so many of the performances in this book.  I also watched as the world of classical music reacted to his reviews. Most days, they wanted to kill him. And that, folks, is a critic doing a job well. He or she is not there to make a bunch of friends.

Despite the ill will in the business, audience members often came up to him after a performance and wanted to know what he thought. He’d grunt a bit and say “what did YOU think?” When they responded, I never heard him put them down. He always said the same thing, “it’s good if you think it is.”

That is the point. Nothing matters but the individual having a reaction to the material and performer on stage. A “review” can tell you what happened, connect that moment to a longer continuum and give you a vague idea if it’s something you might like. Beyond that, critics really can’t do much for you because it’s about you.Your experience, in the end, is the only one that matters.

Because of him, I often traded in the soul-shattering work on Hendrix for the soul-shattering work of Wagner. My husband’s reaction? Made perfect sense to him because, as he said, “they are both great.” I got him to deconstruct the opening  chords of Baba O’Reilly. He taught the mean beauty of the opera Wozzeck, Lulu and Otello. I still remember Rusalka singing to the moon.  He wrote a piece comparing a Schubert song cycle to Bob Dylan’s 2001 masterpiece, “Ain’t Talkin.” I like to think I had a hand in that.

Like Alex Ross, the New Yorker critic who worked under Holland, these critics jump around, writing about classical as well as all the other music forms, though I’d say Holland is a boob when it comes to rap. These critics attach classical music to a larger world and that matters, that keeps it alive and moving. Holland, in particular, is always searching and reading about history, context, source material. It’s not a commitment to anything, it’s just his curious mind at work.

With Something I Heard, he put a long career of listening to music in one place so that an arc would appear. You’ll have to read it to see. (The ebook is in a promotion and available on amazon for coffee change.)

Is there a future for classical music? What a stupid question. If it’s good, there is. Even this aging rocker feels that Marta Argerich is as good as Tina Turner. Yeah, this is a divided house that stands.

To order: Something I Heard, click on the title.

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NOTHING TO DO BUT…….

SHUT UP AND DANCE 

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“No one today can match the limpid elegance and intellectual precision of his style, which recalls the heyday of Virgil Thomson.”   – The New Yorker 

“Holland has a remarkable ability to conjure up the essence of a composer or a piece of music in a few deftly chosen words. He is, I think, an aphorist of unparalleled virtuosity.”                                                – San Francisco Chronicle

“Perhaps the most important of this town’s arbiters.” – The Independent

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