I was reminded of this salient fact by an incident that occurred today at Stereophile HQ, located deep in the canyons of Murray Hill, Katie Hepburn's old neighborhood. A co-worker from another fine Source Interlink publication came storming into my office and demanded to know what I was listening to. Now this woman is normally very polite and quiet, so the big smile on her face and gleam in her eye told me something serious was definitely up. When I handed her the jewel box—yes, a CD, an SACD in fact—she was astonished to learn it was Mozart; one of the four superlative volumes of his sonatas for keyboard and violin, that English fiddle player Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper have recorded for the Channel Classics label. They've become one of my favorite morning soundtracks because they are so fizzy and nimble, easy on the half awake brain, impossible to hate. The Mats in the afternoon (hence the title of this entry), but Mozart divertimenti in the morning. If there's anything better musically in the a.m. than effervescent chamber music, particularly Mozart, I haven't found it.
Holding the CD, she told me a story I've heard many times before: her dad was a classical music head but she never listened to him or it and now that he's gone she wishes she'd have paid more attention. It's the world's oldest music story: I shoulda listened. I have a nephew, the poor kid, who is well on his way to someday having that tale to tell. "Yeah, my uncle would never shut up; he was a real pain in the ass about Bill Evans but now I kinda like jazz…" I can hear it all now.
Anyway, I ended up giving my co-worker the Mozart record, much to her delight, and then did an impromptu sales job on her for Naxos, Harmonia Mundi, the Brilliant Classics boxed sets (which happen to be sitting on my desk) and classical music in general.
The Brilliant Classics sets from Holland deserve special mention. The complete Mozart for example, 170 CDs containing every piece he wrote, in decent to sometimes near great versions, for one hundred and thirteen dollars on Amazon.com? CD boxed sets in the twilight of physical media? Makes no sense at all. I assigned a story for Stereophile on Brilliant which ran in November 2007, and while it did not turn out as clear or to the point as I would have liked, these completist sets continue to be talked about. I find them profoundly weird. Clearly these Dutchmen are on a pipe of some kind. These sets are, however, as I found out when my colleague decided in front of me that she'd buy one, an easy way to learn about the big, scary subject of classical music. No, it's not Bernstein nor von Karajan that you are listening to, but all in all it's not that bad. And it can be a riot at cocktail parties where civilians, i.e. non-music obsessed folk, can be shocked and awed by the sheer massiveness. "This is all of Mozart," said the tipsy music critic. "Wow!" exclaimed the drunk girl he was trying to impress. Score one for Wolfy! How old are you? How young am I? Oh, feets don't fail me now!!!
But seriously, it's always great when music is playing and someone says something like, "Who's this?" and their eyes light up when they realize it's someone they've always heard about but never actually listened to.
Turning people on to music is still the best part of this gig.