Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Regarding Henry -- and Alicia

29-30 September 2009

Before I continue my little tour around the two new 'fine arts' floors of the Pacific Design Center, I want to take just a moment to remember two amazing individuals who had an enormous influence on me.

You may have already read that Henry Hopkins -- former (and first, as I recall) director of the Hammer Museum (as well as UCLA's Wight Art Gallery) and for many years, the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, artist, scholar, teacher, mentor to so many here in California -- died Sunday here in L.A. I last saw him not two months ago at an art/nightclub opening that featured the work of a gifted former student. Although he looked well and was in so many ways his affable self, it was clear that he was in delicate health. I only learned the next day that he was still recuperating from major surgery, which made his appearance all the more remarkable -- yet so completely Henry. Intrepid, ever willing to stray from the beaten path, always on the look-out for the new thing (though never unwilling to take a second look at the 'old'), alert to fresh sparks, willing to take on all comers -- that was Henry. However infirm he may have been that early evening, his eyes were ever alert and alive. His always amazing eye for painting was very much in evidence that evening as we walked through the show (of paintings by Angel Chen) -- applauding the artist's colorism, singleing out especially strong paintings, or simply passages of paintings -- at once the teacher's teacher and connoisseur's connoisseur, and always with such grace and good humor. More than once he took me aside to steer me towards an artist or artwork or simply some art world 'person of interest', to impart some bit of news he knew I would relish. That he was always so open, accessible, informative and encouraging to me, personally (and he was no less encouraging to so many), is something I will always cherish.

The second passing I must take note of is only slightly more distant chronologically and geographically. Alicia de Larrocha died in Barcelona Friday; but like most great artists, she was a citizen of the world, and my associations with her are ineluctably linked with New York and Los Angeles. I had the privilege of seeing her perform many times in Los Angeles -- at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion and the Hollywood Bowl -- both in recital and in concert with the L.A. Phil; and in New York at both Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. So much of what I have learned about classical form, and especially Mozart and playing Mozart at the piano, was shaped by her own precise and elegant playing. Brendel later became huge in my 'Mozart (and Schubert) universe' -- but Alicia de Larrocha was the original model, the template forever engraved in my mind whenever I listen or (still more rarely) attempt to play Mozart. And of course, she was my introduction to a world of French and Spanish music: Ravel, Granados, Albeniz. To this day I don't think she has an equal in her interpretation of the Spanish classics.

And, as anyone who attended her recitals can attest, her intelligence, poise and sensitivity, were manifest in almost every piece of music of played. She knew how to 'turn a phrase' and make it new every time, to make us hear it almost as deja vu and epiphany at the same time, to hear it written fresh as if the composer had just set the notes down. She retired only a few years ago -- a celebrated recital she gave with the Tokyo String Quartet at Carnegie Hall -- but for her many fans, her music-making lives forever.

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