Classic Mornings

Hail to the Pianist?


It’s an interesting and somewhat amusing observation. I’d been waiting for an appropriate time to mention it again.

The German pianist Christian Zacharias told Michael Church of London’s The Independent back in 2013 that when he was very young, he observed that in any generation there was just one internationally important pianist in any given country, or at most two. He concluded that it was more likely that you’d become your country’s prime minister than you would its top pianist.

He went on to say that he decided to give it a try until he was 25. If it worked by then, he would stay with it. But if he was still sitting by the phone waiting for concerts, he would give up and do something else.

It worked – to say the least. Zacharias, the internationally known pianist/conductor, turned 70 on April 27th.  And I haven’t seen anything online that suggests that he’s interested in becoming prime minister – or chancellor, as the position is known in Germany.

We’ve been enjoying his recordings of Scarlatti, Mozart and Beethoven works over the years. On his birthday, I featured his performances of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. One was from the Scarlatti recording he made at age 29, which came about a half dozen years after he won the silver medal at the Van Cliburn Competition. The other was from the Scarlatti recording he made at age 52.

How likely is it that a famous musician happened to be born on V-E Day? As it turns out, the classical and jazz keyboard artist Keith Jarrett, from Allentown, Pennsylvania is the only one that I came upon when I looked into it. He celebrated his 75th birthday on May 8th, while the world was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II hostilities in Europe. 

We’ve heard Jarrett over the years as a pianist and harpsichordist performing keyboard works by Bach and Handel as well as joining recorder virtuosa Michala Petri in sonatas by those composers. I gave him the solo spotlight on his birthday with music of Handel.

And what were the chances that for our Spring Fund Drive I would be joined in the studio by Illinois Public Media colleagues who weren’t in the studio?  Turns out it was the very first time that those who usually are across the console were somewhere across the county. But they were able to be with me via a telephone line.

Though we’re an audio medium, I have to admit that we still use silent visual cues and signs from time to time during the fund drive pitching. My co-host during those drives, ever glancing at the computer, may signal to me while I’m speaking to let me know that another listener just made a gift. I might signal to them at times that we need to wrap up the break so that I can indeed play all the selections I had planned to play. Or one of us will grimace after we’ve had our moment on the air, which generally means: “Did that make sense?”

So it was a challenge. But I can’t say I hadn’t had a warm-up for it. Years ago, we set up tables and telephones in our performance studio during the fund drives. That was “Pledge Central.”  And from time to time, the fund-raising co-host would give updates via a microphone in that room. You’d hear phones ringing and volunteers speaking with callers in the background.

During the recent drive, the co-hosts chatted with me from somewhere far from Campbell Hall. And not only did they let the audience know the names of those who had called and made a gift. They also mentioned comments that some listeners had shared when they made their contributions. So it was a voiced message spoken to a telephone answerer, converted into written words on a computer page and then re-voiced by Danda Beard or Erin Lippitz as they passed those comments along to Classic Mornings listeners while joining me on the air.

The entire process was somewhat reminiscent of co-hosts running over from the old Pledge Central with names and messages they had scribbled onto a scratch pad and then breathlessly reading them into the microphone across the console from me. There still was a bit of the old-fashioned excitement of those Pony Express-like information relays, which always have been a part of this 20th century medium, even with its 21st century “bells and whistles.”

In the end, it was as simple and basic as listeners enjoying classical music, deciding to support the station that brings that music to the community and either calling or going online to make a contribution. And the music continues. Given the events of the past couple of months, there’s a bit of marvel in just that. Thank you for being a part of it with your support!  And join me for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 and online at