03 February 2020

The Reluctant Envoy

I turned the page in the paper today, and learned that Peter Serkin had died. He was a good one, and straddled a line between new and old - playing the old stuff, and championing the new. According to his obituary, in 1973 he got Grammy Award nominations for two records - one of several of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, and another of the 20 piano solos that comprise Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-J├ęsus”. He was also described as “the counterculture’s reluctant envoy to the straight concert world” - per Donal Henahan.

Once upon a time, I worked at a small arts organization. And once, before my time, Serkin had played there, as a benefit for the organization. Lou Reed had also played there, and the organization convinced Serkin and Reed to sign a fundraising letter. Hey you, we're cool musicians, we both played at this cool place, send money - that kind of fundraising letter. Well, one of the letters came back, stuffed into the postage paid return envelope. On top, someone had scrawled "Peter Serkin is a bum". I mean, what? (No, there was no money enclosed.)

I'm sorry someone thought you were a bum, Peter. And I hope Mozart and Messiaen have embraced you. R.I.P.