The Corner

Out of This World

Today, we publish Part IV of my series on Bruce and Suzie Kovner, the philanthropists. They are big backers of music, among other things. Bruce is chairman of the board at the Juilliard School.

From Part IV:

At 15, he was in the car with his mother, and something came on the radio. “What in the world is that?” he wondered. It was not exactly of this world: It was a movement of Holst’s Planets, “Mars.” It set him on a new course.

The first record he ever bought was of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — how can you do better? — and he bought it from the Exodus Book and Record Shop in Sherman Oaks, Calif. The shop was owned by Leon Uris, who had written a novel of the same name: one of the best-selling books of the time. Bruce’s parents did not listen to classical music. But they did their son a great favor: They signed him up for the Columbia Record Club. In came a starter set of (other) canonical symphonies. The first record that Bruce chose for himself was of the Brahms Piano Concerto in B flat, with Sviatoslav Richter as soloist and Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (That was another really good choice.)

Yes. To hear this astounding recording, of this even more astounding work, go here.

Richter recorded it on his first U.S. tour, in 1960. He was 45 and probably at his zenith. He is the subject of maybe the most beautiful compliment ever paid by one colleague to another.

Emil Gilels came over first (from the Soviet Union). Audiences and critics were, of course, ecstatic. He commented, “Wait’ll you hear Richter.” (N.B.: Gilels needed to take a backseat to no one.)

One more excerpt from Part IV, please. Bruce is a conservative — a classical liberal, more precisely — and he also does a lot of hanging out in arts circles. No doubt, he hears his views insulted regularly. (I would know.) How does he respond?

I asked him this, and he answered, “I never fight back, but I do sometimes find an opportunity to explain why certain principles are effective. If I have the opportunity to explain how markets work, I do so. If I have the opportunity to explain the nature of innovation, competition, creative destruction, trade — all of the principles not only of markets but of the entire great liberal enlightenment — I do so. But I don’t do it in the context of battle. I do it when someone is interested in why something happens that he doesn’t understand.”

Those seeking to understand are lucky to have Kovner around. So are those who don’t, whether they know it or not.

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