Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: A Franz Liszt Trilogy

But first, we have a cat named Teddy. Ted is a rescue cat. He spent the first years of his life roaming the mean streets of Fresno, California. We got him (or more appropriately, he got us) in February of 2009, almost ten years ago. Based on the wear on his pads, the vet figured he was two or three years old at the time of adoption, making him 12 or 13 years old now. While he won’t chase the red dot from a laser pointer the way he used to, he’s hardly lost a step and, as the recent photo above attests, he still looks mahvelous. The Tedster is a Maine Coon: a landrace (or “natural breed”) native to the state of Maine. (A landrace is a type plant or breed of animal that over time naturally adapts to its environment. In the case of the Maine Coon that environment is a cold, snowy, and icy one, necessitating long, thick hair; big feet; and a huge, bottlebrush-like tail.) He is extraordinarily friendly to everyone – family, friends, and strangers – without being needy or clingy. In the presence of other cats and the occasional dog (visitors to our house),… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Shostakovich Symphony No. 10

After Dmitri Shostakovich’s death in August of 1975 and his “posthumous rehabilitation” by the Soviet authorities (do you love that phrase “posthumous rehabilitation” as much as I do?), the Soviet authorities declared that their dear, departed Dmitri Dmitriyevich was: “Soviet Russia’s most loyal musical son.”  Back in 1975, who could argue with them? The “public” Shostakovich – the Shostakovich we read about in newspapers and saw on his rare trips outside of the Soviet Union – said whatever he was told to say and did what he was told to do by the Soviet authorities. He publically debased himself and begged forgiveness for his “artistic sins” after having been censured in both 1936 and 1948. In 1960, at the age of 54, he joined the Communist Party when Khrushchev told him to do so. He allowed his name to be signed at the bottom of anti-Western rants and editorials, while he fidgeted, twitched, and, literally, smoked himself to death. Shostakovich’s censure in 1948 was particularly agonizing. Just seven years before he had been proclaimed “A Hero of the Soviet People” for having stayed in Leningrad during the beginning of the siege and for having composed his Symphony No. 7, the… 

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Phoenix Symphony Hall

I will admit to being a baseball fan. However, to be honest, I am no longer a fan of attending baseball games. Don’t get me wrong; I used to love going to games, where I was happy to submerge myself into the Zen of things baseball: the slowing of time; the sudden spurts of activity; the seemingly endless metaphors between the action on the field and real life.  But that was before two things happened. The first was becoming a father and the second was getting older. One at a time. To my now jaded mind, the only way to attend a baseball game is to go with fellow fans. Moments of high performance can be appreciatively shared with a nod and a smile; the contemplative quiet called for during an extended dual between a pitcher and batter can be savored; the sudden explosive action of a great play in the field or a home run can be properly cheered and appreciated. None of this is possible when attending a baseball game with a small child or worse, small children. They are almost immediately bored. They are hungry, all the time. They need to use the potty at the most… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: A Book?

This is my 21st Dr. Bob Prescribes (“DBP”), a post I began on August 6 of last year (that would be 2018). Up to now, each of these DBP posts has recommended (“prescribed”) something musical. Atypically, today’s prescription has nothing to do with music per se. However, the thought process that lead to offer up this recommendation did indeed begin on a musical note; it is a thought process I will share with you in a moment. But first, a preliminary moan-and-groan. Generally speaking, I prefer not to receive books as gifts and only rarely will I give a book as a gift. Here’s why. I have always considered the giving and receiving of books to be a temporal mugging. If I give someone a CD, it can be listened to whole or in part in a car, at home, wherever. You do not necessarily need to give that CD 100% of your attention while listening to it, and even if you do, the maximum amount of time a CD can suck from your life is 79 minutes. But a book? A 391-page novel – like the one recommended here – can, depending upon the individual reader, take days, weeks,… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Dave McKenna

If you are among those who just said “Dave who?”, THIS IS YOUR LUCKY DAY! I am about to offer up a gift more lasting, more aesthetically pleasing and more spiritually enlightening than any you have likely received during this “season of getting”. That gift? The pianism of Dave McKenna. Indulge me some first-person info. Along with untold millions of others of my generation, as a little shaver I took piano lessons. By the time I was thirteen I could play a handful of Beethoven Sonatas, Bach’s Two and Three-Part Inventions, some Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann, etc., etc. But: with my puberty entering hyperdrive, I became bored with the “classics”, and while I spent a good bit of time writing my own, primarily rock ‘n’ roll flavored ditties, I stopped practicing the piano (and my parents subsequently cut off the lessons). And then I was hit by a bolt of musical lightning, my epiphany, a life changer: at the age of 14, I discovered jazz. Here was a music with all the rhythmic intensity of rock ‘n’ roll but magnified – to my ear, a gazillion fold – by the polyrhythmic magic that is swing. I was gob-smacked by its… 

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Dr Bob Prescribes: Gustav Holst – The Planets

Oh my. This was going to be a straightforward review of my favorite recording of one of my favorite orchestral works, Gustav Holst’s The Planets. However, having done my research I have come face to face with an issue and an attendant moral dilemma that has caused me to question whether (or not) I should have recommended this recording and, having done so, by what justification. Gustav Holst Gustavus Theodore von Holst was born on September 21, 1874 and died on May 25, 1934, four months short of his sixtieth birthday. Despite his dauntingly Teutonic name, he was an Englishman through and through: born in Cheltenham and educated at the Royal College of Music in London, where he lived most of his life and where he died. The biographical substance of Holst’s life can be outlined with shocking ease. A small, frail, short-sighted and asthmatic child, he had to abandon his ambition to be a professional pianist due to neural inflammation in his right arm. Instead, he became a composition student of Charles Stanford at London’s Royal Academy. He failed to win a scholarship and was, according to Stanford: “hardworking but not at all brilliant.”  After graduating he took a… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Vocal Sampling

You’re going to thank me for this It was Wednesday, September 18, 2002 (I didn’t remember that date; I looked it up). I was stuck in the car, driving somewhere. (Generally but accurately speaking, when you’re driving anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, you are very like stuck in the car, meaning stuck in traffic.) In those days before GPS and Waze and Google Maps and such, the only way to find out what the traffic was like was to turn on the car radio and listen to your local all-news station. Of course, by the time you actually heard that traffic report, you were likely already caught in traffic or were about to be. Since there are few things more maddening then being stuck in traffic and then being told via the airwaves that hey, guess what?, you’re stuck in traffic, I did what I always did under such circumstances, and that was tune in our local NPR affiliate, KQED. All Things Considered was on the air. The stories aired that afternoon described a depressing litany of the world’s problems at the time, and included stories on the Congressional hearings on Iraq; school vouchers in Maine; pre-September 11… 

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Jan Woloniecki: Opera Fanatic of the Decade

We ponder – for a bit – the nature of hobbies: those avocational pursuits that run the gamut from harmless amusement to life-dominating passions. I will confess up front that I am a collector, and so I’ve got a certain insight into this hobby-thing that a non-collector/non-hobbyist will not have. My first wife, bless her, was a non-collector, which is, I think, one of the primary reasons why she numbers as having been my “first” wife. She couldn’t understand my “materialistic” desire – neigh, my passion – for acquisition. Indeed, she saw no distinction between collecting, accumulating, and hoarding. (FYI, according to yours truly, “accumulating” is the act of merely acquiring objects without theme, rhyme, or reason. Hoarding is the indiscriminate accumulation of objects, to the degree that the hoard itself – the stockpile, the mass – is the point of the assemblage rather than the particular objects within the assemblage. “Collecting” is a very different sort of thing. Collecting is the selective acquisition of like objects, chosen, researched, and arranged in such a way as to describe some sort of narrative.) To my mind, collecting is an attempt to give structure and shape to the chaos that surrounds us;… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas – Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano

I am presently looking for recipes for the best way to prepare crow. Sadly, there seem to be any: I’m told that crow meat smells bad and tastes worse (the things eat carrion, after all). Consequently, I fear that I’ll have to eat mine raw, crow tartare, as it were. (Does anyone out there want the eyes? The beak?) What, pray-tell, has forced me into such a wretched gastronomic situation? Alas, as is usually the case when one must eat crow, it is my own ignorance and hubris. To wit. For lo these many years, I have always looked down on the fortepiano: those early pianos distinguished by their wood-framed (as opposed to metal-framed) harps, built between 1700 and 1825. In my ignorance, I have long considered wooden-harped pianos to be transitional instruments, prototypes, transiting the temporal space between the invention of the piano by Bartolomeo Cristofiori to the Erards and Pleyels of the 1830s and finally to the Steinways of the 1860s (now THAT’S a piano!, or so I thought).  A couple of months ago, we engaged here on this site in what was a spirited and most constructive discourse on HIPs (historically informed performances, meaning “original instrument” recordings)… 

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Behind the Scenes With The Phoenix Symphony

In this week’s “Dr. Bob Prescribes” I mentioned that I spent a good portion of the first week of October in Phoenix with The Phoenix Symphony, there to record 22 video program notes for this season. I thought it might amuse you to see some photos and videos that document the process: the set, the crew, and the nearly finished product. First: a proper hats off to Renaissance man and jack-of-all-trades Jeff Hunsinger. Jeff is the General Manager (boss man) of The Phoenix Symphony, and as General Manager he runs the show: he tends to the musicians (talk about potentially herding cats!), hires the soloists, negotiates the contracts, schedules performances and rehearsals, oversees the programming, provides a safe haven (and for all I know, provides full-body massages) for his music director/principal conductor Tito Muñoz; manages the other departments like marketing, development, and outreach, etc. etc. etc. On top of this, he’s a father of two and the husband of the symphony’s principal cellist. And yes: he’s also my executive producer, director, camera operator, chief video and sound editor, gaffer (lighting electrician), and sound engineer. Somehow, Jeff found the time to rent the video/audio/lighting/digital recording equipment; set it up in the… 

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