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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First Verified Photo of Former New York Times Critic Bernard Holland, author of Something I Heard

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Beth Wareham talks to Something I Heard author, Bernard Holland

1. You’ve been away from the New York Times for 7 years. Why did you release this book now?

Two close friends – Richard and Dee Wilson – (Richard Wilson is a composer/pianist and holds the Mary Conover Mellon Chair of Music at Vassar) came upon the piece on Glenn Gould and said I should think about a book. It was some kind of tipping point for me and seven years after leaving the paper, I thought “yes, I’ll do a book.”

2. A google of your by-line puts your contribution to music criticism at the Times to over 4600 articles and reviews. How did you begin to approach what you wanted in this compilation?

I remembered certain reviews and started rereading them together. I began to appreciate the work more. Before, I just wanted to enjoy being retired. Now, I can look back at a career and think “it was a wonderful job but there was too much of it.” I needed to put it all aside. I was overloaded.

3. As a writer, you are known as a skilled “aphorist.” How did you get to be that way?

I say it in the book. I had to write hundreds of short reviews. I had strict boundaries and that allowed me freedom. Boundaries are liberating. You know exactly where you are and it really makes you think. I became good at throwing out any word I didn’t need.

I had to operate within a space and that space only. There’s a quote from Stravinsky that says – and I paraphrase – when I begin to compose, I have limitless opportunities. It’s up to me to choose one.

As a writer, you can’t sprawl, you can’t run everywhere. I feel the same way musically about Mahler. I think sometimes in his symphonies, he abuses his space.

4. I have to ask it: What are your desert island pieces?

Haydn’s “Last Seven Words of Christ”
Wagner’s “Parsifal”
Schubert’s G Major Piano Sonata
Liszt’s “The Fountains at the Villa d’Este”,
Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”
Debussy’s “Iberia”
Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony
Astor Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires”
Any Nelson Riddle arrangement of Frank Sinatra and Linda Ronstadt.

5. And finally, what’s your favorite part about being married to me?

You like Jimi Hendrix and I’m cool with that.

Get more of the music in Something I Heard by clicking here on the title.

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