FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS - AND THEN SOME
"Make love and do battle!" the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin is reported to have said. Much the same can be said about the quotidian philosophy of John Bell Young, a Scriabin devotee who has made a career out of challenging the status quo and getting away with it. A pianist and writer whose eclectic concert career has taken him from Moscow to Mazatlan, and from Paris to El Paso, exults gleefully over a certain lack of strategy that has made him something of a cause celebre in recent years, a kind of new age middle-aged bad boy of classical music.
"Who needs fame?" says Mr. Young, peering uneasily over the lower Manhattan from atop Tribeca's American Thread Building in New York, where he doesn't live, but maintained an office in the 1980s. "Look what it did for Christ…" Indeed, beyond the usual 15 minutes, the ever elusive quarry of celebrity has played no part in his unusal life. "OK, so I lied", he protests suddenly. "Actually, I'm fascinated by it, and could certainly live with it in the unlikely event it should ever happen to me, but to presume that without it it's impossible to harvest the extraordinary riches that life has to offer is nonsense, kwatsch, and propaganda , nor does it have anything to do with money…who says it's not possible to create your own reality?"
John Bell Young should know. A native New Yorker who spent his childhood on the north shore of Long Island, his roots were "echt bourgeois…" His father, a native American, was an opera lover, "something entirely inconsistent, you'd think, for a Cherokee who grew up in the same village in Oklahoma as the Mankillers…and no, that's not a moniker for some has-been, past-their-prime 60s radicals, nor lascivious psychopaths mouthing in the shadows, but the name of a real family whose most famous descendant, Wilma Mankiller, became the President of Cherokee Nation. "Besides, he was born in 1895, a year before the death of Brahms, so that makes me as much a true child of the 19th century as it does of the atomic age.
Music has been his life since he was 6, when he took his first lessons with "a charming gentleman who didn't know a thing." Fortunately, he found his way to someone who did, Miriam Freundlich, whose brother-in-law Irwin was the chair of the piano division at Juilliard, and later to Kyriena Siloti, daughter of Liszt's favorite student, the great Russian pianist Alexander Siloti. "Something of my interest in all things Russian began here, but it wasn't until I reached Putney that it blossomed, and I became infected for life..." Even so, music competed at this early age with another interest: theater. "I enrolled in acting classes in New York when I was 9, and kept up with it for 3 or 4 years; the most to come out of it though were bit parts and extra work in a few films and television programs. Strange thing, though: just recently, after all these years, I finally got a chance to see Enter Laughing, a film directed by Carl Reiner in 1964 or so; sure enough, there I am in knickers in two of the opening scenes, first playing catch then ogling, with a stupid grin on my face, a young Reni Santoni on the platform of an elevated subway station as his character gets ready to go to work. The two or three words they gave me were evidently jettisoned to the cutting room floor!"
Chateau de Montigne
While his interest in the theater never abated, it couldn't win over music. At 14, thanks to the Freundlichs and parents who cared, he packed a trunk or two and moved to Vermont, where he began his four year adventure as a student at the prestigious and notoriously progressive Putney School. "My passion for Russian culture was largely inspired by my teachers at Putney. One of them was Stepha Gerassi, a Ukrainian aristocrat who had been a close friend and confidante of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in Paris before the war; there's a whole chapter about her in Beauvoir's Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter. And then there was Fernando, her husband, a Spanish painter and former General in the Spanish Civil war who fought with the anti-facist forces alongside Hemingway, studied with Picasso and proudly declared that he could speak 12 languages - none of them intelligibly. The other was Caryl Emerson, now a leading Musorgsky scholar and chair of the Slavic langauge department at Princeton, and Ray Goodlatte, who invited a small group of us into his home on snowy Monday evenings, where he would read aloud War and Peace. We got through the entire novel in one semester, and it was a kind of miracle to be introduced to a work of art in such an intimate fashion."
In the Nixonian days of the late '60s when Vietnam was more than a memory, Putney was a haven for the heirs of vast Yankee fortunes: the privileged children of liberal politicians, literatti and celebrities," he recalls. "There were only 180 of us up there on the hill, sharing 2000 acres of land and the blessing of a truly classical education. It was magical then, and it's magical now in the memories of those of us who shared the experience; its effect on my life has been profound." It was here that Young became politically aware, if vehemently incorrect. Social and artistic issues were the capital of his formative years there. "Manual labor mingled daily with study no matter what your background" he explains, "and that included barn duty. There's nothing like shoveling cowshit at 5 o'clock in the morning, followed by a cold shower at 6, on to breakfast at 7, then to a Roman History or Russian language class at 8, only to really begin the day with Madrigal singing at 10. Though exhausted, I usually did a little horseback riding in the afternoon and chamber music with friends in the evening. Every now and then, we'd go marching off by foot to Brattleboro some 10 miles distant, or stuff ourselves onto a thick layer of hay in the back of an old farm truck and tool down to Washington, where we would protest vigorously the latest atrocities of the war."
But it was at Putney that music itself took on new meaning for him, one that was to shape his view of the culture industry for the nest 20 years. "Music was not competitive, but a major part of the fabric of our everyday lives. It was neither a game to be won, nor an adversary to be conquered, as it has become at international competitions, but a means of fostering personal intimacy and intellectual curiosity - it was, in short, about love and responsibility, and it was in that context that the Putney community delivered its principles." And yet, for all its liberalism, it was a community that encouraged something peculiarly American: an entrepreneurial spirit. Together with Senator Robert F. Kennedy's daughter Kathleen Kennedy, now Lt. Governor Kathleen Townsend, of Maryland, he inaugurated a speaker and concert series. "Hard to believe that 30 years ago, we managed to engage artists of such stature to perform gratis, but I was persistent on the phone, assuaging their protests with promises of a great weekend vacation, Vermont hospitality and pancakes with home made maple syrup. It worked. Of course, Kathleen had connections, too, to say the least". Among the series invitees were pianists Rudolf and Peter Serkin, Garrick Ohlsson ("we met at Juilliard, where I had arranged to play for Mr. Freundlich; the guards had no record that I was expected, and wouldn't let me through. Garrick, seeing what had happened, offered to hide me behind his 6 foot 4 inch frame and escort me to the elevator undetected. After that we became friends, a relationship that I enjoyed for a several years"); pianist Misha Dichter; Senator Robert Kennedy ("a charming, friendly man in a white wool fish net sweater, who stopped by to listen as I was rehearsing the Schumann quintet with friends….three months later he was dead"); Senators Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern ("he seemed lost, as if he had no idea where the next room was"); the columnist Art Buchwald; photographer Ansel Adams, and pianist Murray Perahia ("who threw up on me when we first met- he had a delicate constitution and suffered from mononucleosis." )
It was here too, that he got his first opportunity as a music critic, taking a summer job writing reviews, of the Marlboro and Tanglewood Festivals, for the Brattleboro Reformer. "I interviewed Casals in his home on Higley Hill, and attended virtually every concert and master class at Marlboro. Yo Yo Ma was just getting started back then, while I listened intently to the likes of Walter Klien, Walter Trampler and Pina Carmirelli rehearsing in clapboard classrooms. But meeting and getting to know such great thinkers and artists as I did in Vermont and to interact with them routinely as individuals rather than icons was invaluable. In those days, I did some stupid things, too, like getting stoned with Peter Serkin from time to time, once just before a dinner party with first chair players of the Boston Symphony; we were so blitzed that Joe Silverstein, through no fault of his own, began to look like a cartoon."
Now one of America's most prominent music critics, Young's sometimes controversial, often cutting edge and always colorful, columns for Opera News, The American Record Guide, Clavier, Piano Life, The St. Petersburg Times and the Classical Net reach millions of readers each year. "I pull no punches. Music criticism is for me a dialectical procedure; the critic is obliged to move in on his subject as it moves in on him, to examine a performance as well as himself in relation to it. But at the center of it all is the music itself, and the whole matrix of historical traditions that inform it. The responsible critic is not only a great writer, but one who has a firm grasp of context: historical, aesthetic, philosophical and musical. The issue of personality, by which I mean the public stature of the artist, is largely irrelevant. I am not moved in he least by the fame of a performer, which cannot affect my verdict either way, and woe be unto him who thinks it does. On the contrary, notoriety can be a disadvantage, if anything, in that super-star artists are expected, perhaps unreasonably, to live up not only to their own hype, but to public expectation."
Young bemoans the loss of interpretive fantasy in contemporary performance. "On the piano side, I grew up listening to Cortot, Sofronitsky, Schnabel, De Larrocha, Michelangeli, Arrau, Moiseiwitsch, Klien, Brendel and Richter," he explains. "On the conducting and vocal side, however - which is no less important for anyone who calls themselves a musician - my role models were Mravinsky, Furtwangler, Karajan, Kleiber, Callas, Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Panzera, Fischer Dieskau, Cuenod, Wunderlich, Bylsma and Rostropovich. And the violinist Ginette Neveu - well, for my money, she was the ultimate in the household of impassioned musical expression. Now this list is hardly as eclectic as it might at first seem, because all these artists had a great deal in common: a command of what the Russians call intonatsiia, or expressive inflection that pays homage to intervallic contours and perspective. In fact these artists led me to an even greater appreciation for and eventually a serious study of early music and its performance practice whose greatest interpreters and most vigorous protagonists, such as Harnoncourt, Gardner and Leonhardt, also valued rhythmic flexibility, motivic characterization and deft inflection. But that hardly ought to be construed to mean that a pianist can simply put his hand on the keyboard and do whatever he likes. On the contrary, one's judgement must be informed by the text; the cultivation of a kaleidoscopic, multi-dimensional listening apparatus must proceed from the innumerable riches that any great composer has labored for decades to codify in sound; he provides all the clues we need and then some. It is our obligation as artists to penetrate that multivalence of signs, signifieds and signifiers, to see where they lead, to break them down and then reintegrate them. Nowadays, the competitive climate has turned music into little more than a game to be won, a war to be waged, a ticket to be sold. Woe be unto the performer who fails to deliver a musical experience that a presenter and an audience cannot claim is the equivalent of the price of admission! I rarely go to concerts anymore; I find so much of what I hear these days to be as excruciating as it is tiresome, and many of the most famous musical celebrities simply bore the life out of me. Even so, there are some marvelous players out there, some perhaps not so famous, such as Michel Block, Dag Achatz, Francois-Joel Thiollier, Masimilliano Damerini, and Artur Pizarro who give me some hope that things aren't as bad as they seem. Still, I think Glenn Gould, whose playing I loathe, was right when he said that the future of music was in recording."
After graduating from Putney in 1971, Young went on to study music, Russian and philosophy at the Oberlin Conservatory, the Mannes College of Music and Bennington College. "I was lazy, but read voraciously, practiced endlessly and did my own thing, though I found classes endlessly dull. At least Bennington was lively; Camille Paglia was on the faculty and already raising hell before she was fired after an altercation with the college president. And it was there that I met one of my dearest friends, the late James Landrum Fessenden, a philosopher and Nietzsche scholar. Camille writes about Jim at length in her recent book Vamps and Tramps, referring to me only obliquely, not by name, as his pianist friend, then goes on to describe both my apartment and piano as the site of their last day together. It's a beautifully written, heartbreaking portrait."
In 1972, when he was only 19, a series of detached retinas nearly led to complete blindness, but it was caught in time. "Charlotte Mormon, the topless cellist and I shared adjoining private suites at New York hospital, and would visit each other now and then. During the 3 months I was in hospital, Garrick visited often, too." It was then that he resolved to take charge of his destiny, to see the world and to make music while doing it. "At first, I made the rounds of some small competitions, which proved futile, though I did fairly well in one of them. I played for Arrau a few times at his home in Chester, Vermont, and studied for several years, on Garrick's recommendation, with the wonderful Olga Barabini, an Arrau protégé and assistant. I worked with Bruce Hungerford, too, in New York." Then, after playing in innumerable libraries, private homes and small museums, someone recommend him to Holland-America lines, which owned the S.S. Rotterdam. For several years after that, he played dozens of concerts on cruise ships (in those days formal classical concerts were still routinely presented), logging in more than 12 voyages around the world on the Queen Elizabeth II alone, where he met some of the more colorful characters on the planet. It was about this time when Liszt's intensely ardent Sonetto 104 del Petrarca became something of a musical calling card for me; I fell in love with it, couldn't play it enough, and played it in just abour every one of my recitals, which I continue to do to this day.
"I recall flying into Hong Kong quite late, arriving at the ship at 3 in the morning. Still wide awake, I went directly to the theater to practice, whereupon I was greeted by two sinister looking men in black with dark glasses; they flashed their badges and introduced themselves as the Hong Kong Secret Service, whose duty it was to protect the Malaysian Royal Family, who were on board. Later, when Prince Sulaiman and I became friendly they all but disappeared. But they resurfaced when a wealthy Swiss baroness was thrown overboard by a corpulent and pockmarked Australian jewel thief en route from the Port of Beijing to Honolulu. It was quite a show, and the FBI moved in quickly once we docked in Hawaii, finding her river white diamonds in his soiled white linen pockets. The incident made Time magazine, a journal that wouldn't pay any attention to me whatsoever for another 17 years."
Playing Chopin aboard an open tour boat afloat on the canals of Amsterdam, 1997. This is still from the television documentary John Bell Young, Sweet Summer Concert, Amsterdam
Eventually, Young made his way to Europe, moving to Amsterdam in 1977, where he remained for 2 years. While there, he met Youri Egorov, a Russian pianist who had just defected at gunpoint while on tour in Italy, and who later went on to win fame as the most prominent loser, but audience favorite of the Van Cliburn competition. "We shared digs for a bit on the Browersgracht; he and his companion, Jan Browers had a large and beautiful home. We would stay up all night to talk in Russian about Russian pianists, music and the general cultural malaise. Youri was a wonderful person and pianist, and I loved him dearly, but he had addictions that he couldn't or didn't want to control, which eventually led to his death, at 33, in 1988. Eventually I moved to a ratty little flat above a bordello on the Oudeniewstraat."
In Amsterdam an accident of fate - "the leitmotif of my existence," as he calls it, changed his life. A chance meeting with a television producer at a restaurant led to the production of an unusual documentary film, where Young gave a recital on board a tour boat while floating through the city's canals. "It was silly, but nevertheless impressive, and even beautiful," he says. "Thousands of onlookers lined the embankments to watch, and the city opened the Magere Brug - the city's landmark bridge - just as I was to pass through; it also brought in Holland's most famous carilloneur to welcome me with a long peal of bells. It was all so grand!" The program was broadcast throughout Europe. "After that, I played in every small Dutch town imaginable, including one in a small farming village outside of Nijmegen where the presenter had confused the date of the concert and thus neglected to bring in a piano. Fortunately, the jazz saxophonist Johnny Griffin lived nearby, and came to the rescue at the eleventh hour, lending us his concert grand Yamaha."
In London, another coincidence brought Young together with the actress Ava Gardner, "an unforgettable presence, an extraordinarily intelligent and musical individual and a great dinner partner. I had just played my debut on the celebrated series of Christchurch Spitalfields, still in its infancy, in an as yet unrenovated architectural masterpiece of Nicholas Hawksmore. She was still living in a flat at Ennismore Gardens, and though I got to know her a little bit through our mutual friend, the philosopher and Proust scholar Alan Orenstein, I regret it was limited to only a few encounters; still, it was better than the odd experience I had with Marlene Dietrich at the Royal York hotel in Toronto, when someone called upon me in the middle of her show, while I was still eating, to present her with flowers, as if I were some errant Rosenkavalier!" Around the same time, he continued his piano studies in with Benjamin Kaplan in London, and in Switzerland with Ernst Levy, whose legendary status in the piano world preceded him.
With my old friend Lord Montagu at his 14th century castle at Beaulieu, Hampshire, UK. June 1999.
He also dallied languidly in Malaga and Tangier, and at the Hampshire castle of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu in England, where he performed on several occasions. "I met or played for everybody in those days. In Toronto in the early 70's, I was thrilled when Alicia de Larrocha invited me to dinner after her performance of Franck's Symphonic Variations at Massey Hall. I was astounded that such a little lady could put away so much champagne in one evening."
By the early 1980s, Young had already resettled in New York. Accused by some of his musical friends of selling his soul to the devil, he made a pact alright, but this time with the State of New York, where he earned a real estate brokerage license and set up shop. As a partner in the firm of Townhouse International and the founder, along with Cornelia Netter, of the International Brokers Network, he supported his musical endeavors in style. "It beat waiting on tables by a long shot, which is what so many actors and musicians do so admirably while trying to get a break." A specialist in luxury lofts, he earned a stellar reputation in the business and became a broker to the rich and famous, placing more than a few of them in Soho, Tribeca and Greenwich Village. "When Warner Brothers executive Bob Krasnow , whose son Mitch was a friend, and for whom I'd found a swank Fifth Avenue apartment, asked me to take care of one of his artists, I was happy to oblige. The next day, I got an unusual call. 'Bob asked me to give you a ring,' said the clipped but mellifluous voice on the other end, 'My name is Madonna'. To which I replied, never having heard of her, 'Oh sure it is sweetheart'. But all in all, I enjoyed my work, though it meant that I had to do a lot of practicing bei nacht, which never bothered my neighbors, thank God!" Among his clients, some who later became his listeners, were actor James Cromwell ("one of the most dignified and thoughtful persons I've ever known, and a gentleman in the very best sense"); rock 'n roller Ricky Lee Jones ("…big problems, but at least she paid on time…" ); film composer David Shire and his wife, actress Didi Conn ("probably the shrewdest and most savvy negotiators I've ever met");
WWith the distinguished playwright Peter Shaffer (Amadeus, Equus) and Joanna Porackova after our recital at Beaulieu Abbey, estate of Lord Montagu. June 12, 1999
Woody Allen ("taciturn and professional, who always spoke to me through his assistant, Jim Davis, even though I was only 3 feet away"); David Letterman ("no comment"); Richard Gere ("it was a thrill to have him as a guest in my home on West 10th Street, where I discovered his real love is classial piano music - he is in fact a pianist, as is his brother, another Oberliner."); photographer Robert Mapplethorpe ("he wanted to photograph me, but suspicious of his intentions, I refused, like an idiot; I could have retired on that alone…"); actress Annette Benning (''what a charmer!"); Peter Gatien, the disco King ("a man who enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, at least in business"); the brat-packer Anthony Michael Hall ("a risk taker who pushes the envelope of one's patience while charming you nevertheless, who can't sit still for a moment, jumping up to call his agent every 10 minutes in the middle of lunch, an intense but friendly guy who can't keep his eye off the ladies for one moment, even when driving"); the painter Peter Max ("…clever, indulgent and picky"); Gregory Hines ("a gentle and humorous man who seemed to enjoy ribbing me about my first and middle names, which he kept repeating over and over; still he was gracious to invite me personally to the New York opening of his most recent film about a tap dancer"); actor Matthew Broderick ("Matthew and his girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Gray, were keen on buying a property I owned at 58 West 10th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, where I was living in 1986 and '87. They looked so concerned, and hovered around the piano to listen as if they were studying me for a role; they wanted to know if my fingers were insured…"); and the comedienne Lili Tomlin ("a co-broker brought her by the house on 10th Street where, with coiffured poodle in hand, she sniffed and strutted about with casual indifference before darting back to the converted English taxicab that she called a car"). His patience paid off: in 1987, the New York Board of Realtors awarded Young and Netter's Independent Brokers Network its highest honor, the Deal of the Year prize.
With Marian Scriabine (center), daughter of the composer, and Mme. De Schoelzer, daughter of Boris de Schoelzer. Cap d`Ail, France, 1983.
By now a longtime student and part-time assistant to the distinguished pianist Constance Keene, Young and his partners sold the house on West 10th Street to the Onassis family. Shortly thereafter, he moved to France, where he bought a modest flat in the Marais in Paris before moving to the 15th century Chateau de Montigne just outside Angers in the Valee du Loire. He had made frequent visits to Paris since 1976, making his debut there at the Musee Carnavalet in 1983. His sojourn in 1983 to meet Scriabine's daughter Marian, who would later endorse him at Cap d'ail in the south of France assumed a prescient air; the day he arrived, Princess Grace was killed in auto accident only a few miles away on a windy road that curves northeastward to Monaco. "No one seemed to know what was going on for a while, least of all me. I was so nervous about meeting Marian that I nearly destroyed a fragment of an original score of her father, which slipped accidentally through my fingers and onto the floor, where I stepped on it."
As Young describes it, Paris "was a something between a dream and a capricious mistress." It was here that he met the distinguished composer and pianist, Jean-Michel Damase, winner of the Prix de Rome back in 1947, whose home on the tree- shaded stretch of the Boulevard Malherbes "was covered floor to ceiling in crepe de chine and cat hair" and "a virtual arcade of harps whose silver strings and carved ornamental brocades played host to at least a dozen blue-haired cats; Jean-Michel's late mother had been one of the great French harpists of her day." After a few sessions with Damase on Debussy, "amidst the pungent aroma of feline urine," he retreated to the countryside to contemplate what he had learned. "And that went beyond the art of French music to concert decorum. Michel told me an unusual story about having forgotten his white tie on the occasion of a performance of the 2nd Chopin Concerto with the Orchestre de Suisse Romande under Ernst Ansermet. At the last moment, just before going on stage, he excused himself and went off to the men's room, where he improvised some formal wear from toilet paper. Now that was a lesson in the art of quick thinking."
It was in France that he took up once again music that he had first heard at Bennington some 15 years earlier, and even performed for a small private gathering in New York organized by junk bond tycoon Richard Graham and his partner, the entrepreneur Arthur Carter and his wife at the time, actress Dixie Carter. The music of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a central figure in the history of literature and western civilization, was unusual enough, but the chain of events that it set in motion were even more surprising. A coincidental meeting with a Russian violinist visiting her cousin, Patrick de Saevsky, an aide to Jacques Chirac and the owner of the Chateau de Montigne, led to an invitation to perform at the Scriabin Museum in Moscow. The overwhelming public and critical success of that event brought him back to perform, study and teach frequently over the next 10 years.
"It was then that my official relationship with the Scriabin Museum began in earnest," he recalls. "and even though I spent more and more time amidst the pastel splendors of Leningrad (later St. Petersburg), it was in Moscow, in Scriabin's faded yellow townhouse just off the Arbat that something about it all began to move in on me. Perhaps it was the magic of frequenting the very place he lived and died, where he composed his last works. Playing and performing on his own Bechstein, a quiet instrument with a feathery action, was no less a thrill." Indeed, his introduction was auspicious. "My first meeting with Scriabin's eldest surviving daughter, Yelena, was a touching moment, and the last interview she granted; she was completely ga-ga by then, living with her mathematician son - by the pianist Vladimir Sofronitsky - in a huge, sparsely decorated flat on the fashionable Nezhdannaya." And it was in Moscow, too, that he met and worked intensely at the Moscow Conservatory with Margarita Fyodorova, for whom he would later organize four concert tours of the United States.
With Hugh and Ruth Downs, St. Petersburg, Florida 1997
In 1990, Young founded the Nietzsche Music Project, an organization devoted to the research and performance of neglected repertoire, and exploring the links between literature and music. The interdisciplinary nature of the project attracted the attention of the Newport Classics label, which contracted Young to make two discs of Nietzsche's solo and chamber music. The international acclaim accorded these recordings was unanimous; feature articles in major newspapers and magazines around the world, including Time, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Wall Street Journal praised Young's performance as well as his contribution to a heretofore arcane area of Nietzsche scholarship. His introduction of these works to Russian audiences, just on the heels of perestroika when the official 75 year old ban on Nietzsche's works had at last been lifted, made headlines.
With Hugh Downs (at the piano), and friends Alexander Zacharias and Dr. Averill Summer at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida 1997.
"Those recordings more or less put me on the map, and I found myself getting quoted or mentioned in books, and even copied; so even though it's a rather small corner of the map, at least it's my damn corner!" And that corner attracted the attention of Hugh Downs, the celebrated American broadcaster and television personality, who is also a gifted composer. Young, who was introduced to Downs by a mutual friend, the distinguished folk singer Bill Crofut (1934-1999) has often performed his music to a public astonished by a side of Downs they didn't know existed. The two of them have since collaborated in lecture recitals on college campuses. "Hugh does the talking, I just pick."
At Glyndebourne with Joanna Porackova and Sir Charles Mackerras, folowing her audition, June 1999.
A chance encounter with the celebrated actor Michael York led to their recording of and subsequent international tour in Richard Strauss's melodrama, Enoch Arden, for piano and narrator, set to the narrative poem of Alfred, Lord Tennyson."I had long admired the forty-year old recording of Enoch with Glenn Gould and Claude Rains. Melodrama is a unique musical genre that vanished from the nearly a century ago. I fell in love with it and was determined to bring it again to public attention. Certainly, it was a long and oddly complex work that required a great actor, one capable of investing in it the energy and passion it required." Acting as both producer and performer, Young persuaded Michael York to collaborate, and a new "classic" recording was born. Their CD was released by Americus Records to unanimous critical acclaim in 2002. Since then they have performed it throughout the US and Europe, including performances at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art in New York, the Kravis Centerfor the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, the Royal Palace in Stockholm, and at Farringford, Tennyson's estate on the Isle of Wight.
Young had a most unusual experience in Moscow in 2000."I was en route to adjudicating an international competition in the resort town of Gelendzhik on the Black Sea. It had been a long flight, and I arrived at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport at 7 AM. One of the last to leave the plane, I spotted someone in the waiting area who at first I thought was Slava Zdobnov, the husband of my friend and former teacher, Margarita Fyodorova. But as I drew closer, I was astounded to see it was Mikhail Gorbachev, surrounded by his ominous security detail. In contrast to Gorbachev, they looked like street thugs. Though hardly an autograph hound, I couldn't resist the temptation to ask the former-President, nattily dressed in a Saville Row pinstripe, to sign my recently released CD,Prisms. Speaking in rapid Russian, I gave him a copy of Prisms as a gift. But I had forgotten that I had not brushed my teeth that morning on the plane. Just at that moment, an errant projectile of bacon and egg flew out of my mouth and on to the elegantly attired Gorbachev, landing squarely on his left lapel. Moritified and embarrased, I reached for a handkerchief in an inside pocket of my blazer so that I could wipe it off. Fearing the worst, his security detail wasted no time in tackling me to the floor. I dusted myself off and gingerly explained myself.Gorbachev graciously obliged, and signed another of my CDs, "Success to you! Gorbachev " The experience, says Young, brought to mind the words of Lord Montagu in his recent autobiography,Wheels Within Wheels: "It's been a varied life..."
Pianist, critic, Russophile, curator of the arcane, champion of the forgotten, defender of the worthy but unknown - such is John Bell Young, a Renaissance man for all seasons, and then some.