The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini recalls his summer as a teenager listening to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” under conductor Leonard Bernstein – with Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony thrown in for good measure. | September 13, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The New York Times has come up with a terrific idea.

It is a series of essays called “Virgin Eyes.” It asks critics to recall a first experience with art or culture that they wish they could experience again, so powerful and formative and long-lasting was the first impression they received from it.

The series covers art and pop music, movies and television shows.

But it also features classical music and opera.

One of the more recent essays -– it should really be called Virgin Ears — was written by senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below). You may recall he came to Madison several years ago as part of the centennial celebration of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet.


In his essay, Tommasini — who is a composer as well as a critic — recalls the formative summer of 1966 he spent listening to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in the hands of conductor Leonard Bernstein and the New York Phiharmonic.

That experience forever changed what Tommasini saw as radical music-making. (You can get a taste of Bernstein’s electrifying interpretation in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Virgin Eyes Stravinsky

It is a delightful and informative read that echoes our own first experiences – in my case, the first piano recitals I heard by Arthur Rubinstein, Van Cliburn, Vladimir Horowitz and Rudolf Serkin.

Read and see if you don’t agree – and if it doesn’t make you think of your own experiences that you would like to re-live with virgin eyes and ears.

Here it is:


  1. My own such experience occurred at UW Madison way back in the 1960’s. I was on the Wisconsin Memorial Union Music Committee (our job was to pick and help schedule performers and so on). As a “reward”, our adviser, Fran Taylor, who actually did most of the work, invited us over to her house for a delicious Sunday night (I think) dinner. There was a special guest. Actually, two of them. Isaac Stern and his Russian born piano accompanist, (Alexander Zakin?). They had been guest artists at the Memorial Union.

    It was a fabulous experience to meet these world class musicians in such a small group (maybe 15 or 20 people all together); Stern and the pianist even played something for us. Stern was amazing. He really liked UW (and the idea of public universities), he made several complementary comments about the school. He had played at the Memorial Union theater several times before, and was genuinely humble and curious about what we as students were doing and what we thought about various things. He was very famous then, maybe the most famous classical musician in the world, but he never showed it; he was a real Mensch. He radiated a kind of enthusiasm for art and culture. And he clearly liked his pianist friend. Zakin was also full of smiles but as I remember, his English was not so good, so communication with him was difficult.

    It was an evening I will never forget.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 13, 2015 @ 6:32 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,266 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,368,012 hits
%d bloggers like this: