Classical Music Guide Forum - Sunday, July 21, 2013 - Written by Donald Isler

Program in Honor of David Dubal

David Dubal is a well-known pianist, teacher, author, artist and radio personality. He currently has two weekly radio programs about the piano, and he has probably known, heard and interviewed every pianist of any importance who has come through New York in the last 30 or 40 years. He has won both the Emmy and the Peabody Awards for his writings. On this occasion he sat on stage with his long-time friend, pianist Jerome Rose, talking about his life, and his experiences dealing with so many different pianists. As usual, at the Festival, the audience consisted of numerous pianists, pedagogues, critics and music lovers. The daughters of Artur Rubinstein could be seen sitting down the aisle from the granddaughter of Artur Schnabel.

Mr. Dubal grew up in Cleveland, in an unmusical family. His first teacher was not very good, he said, and he later studied with a lady whose name I did not catch, but who was an interesting personality, and at whose house he found writings of the famous critic, James Huneker. (Mr. Huneker, incidentally died on February 9th, 1921, the date on which the pianist Constance Keene was born.)

Later, Mr. Dubal studied with the pianist Arthur Loesser, who had the most brilliant mind Mr. Dubal says he has ever encountered. In addition to being a wonderful pianist (Mr. Dubal features him quite often on his programs) Loesser had other talents. He was a chemist, and, as a major in the army during World War II, he decoded Japanese messages. Mr. Dubal described him as kind and generous.

The visual arts have also been important to Mr. Dubal all his life, and he said he struggles to get his students at Juilliard to visit museums, and become more widely cultured, though they say they have no time; they must always practice more! But, in fact, art was important to some very important pianists, including Horowitz, who collected art, and Rubinstein, who loved to visit museums when he travelled. This also reminded me of a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was a teenager with my mother and Ross Parmenter, the long-time Music Editor of the New York Times, and a close family friend, who confirmed my suspicion that, yes, that man studying that statue over there was indeed Mieczyslaw Horszowski.

A visual display of some of Mr. Dubal's many paintings was shown on the screen, accompanied by his playing of music by Schubert, John Field, and a particularly charming performance of a Glazunov waltz. Later in the program we also heard Mr. Dubal's recordings of two works of Dohnanyi, a strong and elegant reading of his Postludium followed by a bravura performance of La Pluie des Perles.

From Cleveland Mr. Dubal came to New York to study with Josef Raieff at the Juilliard School. One of his first teaching jobs was at the School for the Blind on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, where his boss was a feisty but beloved musician and teacher named Elizabeth Thode, whom I also had the pleasure of knowing.

After that Mr. Dubal got into radio, spending 20 years at WNCN, including during the difficult time the station was temporarily replaced by a rock station, and later at WQXR and other stations, such as WWFM. His reputation was at least partially gained by his wide knowledge, and some of that from his staying late at work, studying scores. This extensive study also explains why, as he said, he loves so much repertoire.

There were some interesting ideas tossed back and forth between Jerome Rose and David Dubal about what great pianists have in common, and what they are seeking. Mr. Dubal: "Great pianists all have ambition, talent, vision and they work hard." Mr. Rose: "Pianists are aiming for a life transcendant, and hoping to create something transcendental."

Illuminating excerpts from Mr. Dubal's interviews with Claudio Arrau and Alfred Brendel were heard. but much of the last segment of this two hour program was devoted to the subject of Vladimir Horowitz, whom Mr. Dubal knew well, and visited weekly for some years. We heard Horowitz, in his inimitable voice (and accent) read a preface to Scarlatti's works, written by the composer, and also express his opinions on playing Scarlatti on the piano. And then Mr. Dubal read an extensive section of his latest book about Horowitz, describing the first time he met the great pianist, in 1979, arriving with two colleagues to tape an interview.

People who do not remember those days may not know what a reputation Horowitz and his wife, Wanda had. When one had an "audience" with them, it seems, one had to appear exactly on time, dress in a certain manner (including a tie and jacket for men) and guests were on tenterhooks about displeasing them in any way, for fear of the consequences. It was quite hilarious to hear Mr. Dubal read the story of this first meeting.

Although he did not wear a tie, Mr. Dubal was not thrown out. But there were other problems that could not be foreseen.

Horowitz didn't want the tape recorder in a place where he could see it, so it had to be hidden away.

Both of the Horowitzes regularly made strange noises with their throats, which Mr. Dubal realized, would all have to be painstakingly edited out of the interview.

At one point they discussed Horowitz's having just learned the Schumann Humoreske. "Not bad for an old man!" bragged the 76 year old Horowitz.

"But Volodya!" said Wanda. "Everyone knows you learned that piece in 1933!"

This exchange would also have to be edited out.

It got worse.

When Mr. Dubal thought he had finally gained the upper hand in controlling the interview Mrs. Horowitz sniffed, and said "Volodya! Did you step in dog doo on your walk today?" After which there was inspection of everyone's shoes!

Near the end of the session, Mr. Dubal expressed the idea that Beethoven was "the greatest single comprehensive artist on the planet" and that the piano is "the most fantastic shrine to the human spirit."

Afterwards, Mr. Dubal, who enjoys promoting his books, and art, moved to the lobby, to autograph books for his fans. But he did so in a relaxed, friendly manner. It occurred to me that he had probably not taken a course in more aggressive, targeted marketing from another pianist he knew and interviewed, Abram Chasins, who, his weak back notwithstanding, was capable of hauling a large crate filled with copies of his latest book into the living room, where his wife was holding a master class.

Tomorrow evening David Dubal will give a lecture entitled Verdi and Wagner: The Operatic Piano. I am sure it will be entertaining, enlightening and provocative, just the way David Dubal likes it.


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