Impromptus

Salzburg Journal, Part II

by Jay Nordlinger

Editor’s Note: Our senior editor Jay Nordlinger spent the middle two weeks of August at the Salzburg Festival: hosting a public-interview series, giving a lecture, and covering performances. The music coverage will appear in forthcoming issues of National Review and The New Criterion. For Part I of this online journal, go here.

I attend a funeral, in the rain. The rain seems appropriate. The graveyard is just outside town — outside Salzburg — and it is the Jewish one. It was desecrated during the war, and Holocaust.

I look at the gravestones. One of them is for a person named Himelfarb. Is there an “m” missing? One is for a woman named Führer. Yes, Führer: Leader.

Being in this cemetery, looking at these stones, thinking about the desecration — which I’ve read about beforehand — makes me hate, and I mean hate, the enemies of Israel. Especially the European ones.

I could elaborate, but let me move on . . .

Speaking at the funeral is a man named Marko Feingold. He is sharp, and you might say dashing. He seems to be a spry gent of about, oh, 78. Maybe 82. A very good 82.

Later, someone tells me he’s 100. I don’t believe it (frankly). Or I think my informant and I are thinking of two different men. Still later, I have it confirmed: The spry gent is 100.

He walks briskly. He speaks crisply. He has a nearly full head of hair — much of it dark. Doesn’t look dyed, either.

Mr. Feingold, it transpires, is a Holocaust survivor. He survived Auschwitz, Neuengamme, Dachau, and Buchenwald (in that order). He has said, “I could write a Michelin guide to the camps.” For the past 68 years, he has spent much of his time going to schools and other institutions, telling people about the Holocaust.

Some days after the funeral, I interview him. That piece will appear in the next National Review.

The funeral is for my friend Donald Kahn — an extraordinary man. Singular. Not from a cookie cutter. Very smart, broadly and deeply informed, complicated, fun. He was a great friend of The New Criterion — friend and benefactor. He was a friend of NR, too.

He came on one of our cruises — the Danube, I think. He was infirm, but he kept up a brave front. He fell, horribly — messed up his face. He went to the hospital and carried on, with the rest of the cruise. Entirely stoic, uncomplaining.

What else to say about him? Lots. But I think I’ll just relate a few facts.

He was an Annenberg: the son of one of the Annenberg daughters (Janet), the nephew of Walter. Years ago, when Donald was young, Thornton Wilder made a pass at him. I always got kind of a kick out of that.

He went to Columbia, where one of his teachers was Douglas Moore — the composer of The Ballad of Baby Doe. Donald knew a lot about classical music. He knew a lot about Broadway, too. I think he knew every song.

“My uncle dated Ethel Merman,” he told me once.

Donald had a lot of money, and he gave a lot of it away. He mainly gave to the arts, I think. More than once, on public occasions, I referred to him as “an Esterházy for our time.”

He was very, very generous to Salzburg, where he finally settled. He basically built the Haus für Mozart, I’m told. A bust of him stands amid the festival halls. He gave to hospitals and universities. He spruced up the Jewish cemetery, I think. He paid for the restoration of a dome.

Oh — and he bought a Stradivarius for the use of Benjamin Schmid, a Salzburg violinist. Donald named it after his wife, Jeanne Kahn: “Lady Jeanne,” the instrument is called.

They lived a bit in London, too — and Donald gave generously there. The Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Society, the British Museum, and on and on. In 2001, he was awarded an honorary OBE for his services to the arts.

Yet he was a lot more than money. I enjoyed talking to him about all sorts of things: politics, international affairs, music, people, relations between the sexes. His position as a Jew in Salzburg society. Etc.

I could quote him at length, but I’m going to wrap up now. Donald had his faults, as he would tell you. But he had great virtues, and I loved him, and I’m so glad I knew him.

Shall we talk about a tenor? He is Piotr Beczala, the second guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series. Beczala is a very big deal, so you should know how to pronounce his name: Beckshawa. (It’s true. Just go with it.)

He was born in 1966 — December — meaning that he was 24 when the Wall came down. That was pretty good timing for him. Have I mentioned he’s Polish? I should have.

He first went to the West before the Wall came down: in the mid-1980s. He was with a singing group, if I remember correctly. They did not have two cents, of course. At some point, they wanted to go to Rome, to see the (Polish) pope. But they ran out of money for fuel, or anything else. They stopped in Venice, where they sang in the streets.

Beczala’s first professional engagement, I think.

He tells us a little about Communist days: You had meat just twice a year, at Easter and at Christmas. That’s if you were lucky. “It probably seems stupid today . . .” No, it doesn’t.

He tells us how he developed his voice. He had several teachers, including Sena Jurinac, the famed soprano (Bosnian-Austrian). I ask what language they communicated in. He says, “We call it ‘Slavic mix’” — some Russian, some Polish, some Czech, some Serbo-Croatian . . .

I go through a list of tenors with him: Caruso, Gigli, Bjoerling, Pavarotti, others. He is particularly high on Bjoerling, I would say, and also on Wunderlich (good taste).

Gigli? Such a beautiful voice, a sweet voice — often sang in a kind of half voice. Not ideal for everything. Pavarotti? Great, of course. And “unique.” But he had a tendency to sing everything the same. (True.)

Beczala tells us about learning to sing high notes. Part of it is physical, he says, and part of it is psychological. You have to imagine how to sing those notes — imagine yourself doing it.

Like many a singer, Beczala is a golfer. And, like many a singer, he says that the parallels between golf and singing are endless.

Here at the festival, he’s singing in the Verdi Requiem, under Riccardo Muti. (The orchestra is the Vienna Philharmonic.) Along with him in the quartet of soloists is Krassimira Stoyanova, the Bulgarian soprano.

I say that, in my opinion, she is underrated: well-known, but not on the covers of magazines, etc. Beczala agrees (I think). Then he goes on to tell us something about the music biz.

To be a celebrity, you have to kind of drive for it. You have to hustle. You have to get on television, and get your face in magazines. You can sing 500 first-rate performances, here and there — but if you’re not on TV . . .

So it is in many professions. So screwy.

Anyway, Beczala is not only a treat of a tenor, he’s a treat of a guest: a superb interviewee, personable and interesting.

Let me close with some ice cream: poppyseed ice cream. Whoever came up with the idea: My hat is off to him, way off.

See you tomorrow.