February 2005, I undertook a trip to New York from California to
interview for the press and radio, an elderly gentleman by the name of
Boris Barere. Fifty-eight years had elapsed since I attended my
very first major recital at Carnegie Hall, which happened to be given
by his father, the legendary Simon Barere, considered one of the
greatest pianists of the 20th century.
extraordinary experience had an immense impact upon me. I could never
forget such phenomenal and magical playing. The scarcity of information
about Simon Barere's life and career has haunted me ever since I
witnessed that amazing performance as a teenager in 1947. That such
magnificence could so quickly fade from human memory was hard to
accept. This is what had suddenly inspired me to go to such
great lengths to track down Boris and interview him in New York.
As it turned out, no one had thought to interview him before.
pondering this unique recital of so long ago, I realized that it had
additional significance for me; it was the starting point of my
life-long journey and adventure with great pianists and musicians that
has now spanned over five decades. I could never have anticipated at
that time that I would later become professionally involved with
so many artists of iconic stature in the Classical music world: Maria
Callas, Sviatoslav Richter, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Claudio
Arrau, Julius Katchen, Georges Cziffra, Annie Fischer, Dame
Moura Lympany, David Oistrakh; Immortal of a still earlier era, such as
Alfred Cortot, Edwin Fischer, and Pablo Casals, and younger generation
pianists such as Maurizio Pollini and Krystian Zimerman.
graduating from Syracuse University and pursuing graduate studies at
Princeton University, I decided to spend a Summer visiting France,
where I had grown up before the war, as well as Italy. That "summer"
visit ended up lasting some seventeen years. I had decided I wanted to
experience living in Europe again, and landed a job with EMI records in
Milan. The timing was uncanny, because EMI was busy recording the major
opera repertoire at La Scala with the great singers performing there at
the time, an era now considered that opera house's "golden age".
my apprenticeship with EMI at La Scala I got to hear and know some of
the leading singers, including Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano Tito
Gobbi, Boris Christoff, as well as the conductors Tullio Serafin and
Victor de Sabata. I had the good fortune to be present at the recording
sessions during the day and then attend numerous
memorable performances in the evenings.
I was already an avid record collector of rare and out-of-print 78 rpm
records at the time, I felt that the great treasures of pre-war
legendary recordings should be made available on LP records. I
consequently submitted my plan to the executive management of EMI
Records in Paris for a new archive series. Their approval led to my
transfer to the City of Light in 1956, where I longed to return and
live. The series was subsequently launched as the "Great
Recordings of the Century", the first major historic archive series
which is still available on the market today in digital form.
worked for EMI records in the artist department in Paris until 1964,
when there occurred an important re-organization and I was offered a
job at EMI's headquarters in England. Since I wanted to remain in
Paris, I decided to leave the company and started looking for work
elsewhere. This ultimately led me to conceive and create a new music
festival in Tours with Sviatoslav Richter. I had already known Richter;
in 1960 I traveled to Helsinki to attend his debut in the West. This
resulted in a collaboration that lasted many years. If I had waited
until he performed in Paris or London, the situation might have been
could I have anticipated that within six months, I would be thrust into
a new career, becoming the worldwide exclusive representative of the
sovereign pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. I told friends "Can
you believe it? Not only am I going to hear my idol Michelangeli play
while I travel on tour with him, but I'm also going to get paid for it!"
my career, when I related stories and anecdotes, professional
colleagues and critics have urged me to record my memoirs. At the time
I didn't give it much thought. Now, though, I would like to share
experiences that others might find entertaining or informative,
particularly those that give insight into the personalities of
legendary artists and show them as human beings, with their greatness
and weakness cast side by side.
looking back upon my life and placing it in perspective, I am
continually reminded how times have changed. We live in a different
era; business is no longer conducted in the same manner. I would
like to describe the era in which my career developed, a period that
can only be recalled, never returned to. I have enjoyed my life ...it
was enormously fulfilling to discover artists and help them
develop their careers. Often, I was able to do this simply by being in
the right place at the right time — timing was everything — and
was very opportune. If I felt something was about to happen, I tried to
be there. I flew often to Europe simply on a hunch to discover or sign
promising artists. Often I was the first one there, which was the very
reason I succeeded.
friends asked if I intended to write my memoirs someday, I would reply,
the only thing I would know is that it would be all about "Timing";
that is the leitmotif of my life.
Copyright © 2008 Jacques Leiser
Jacques Leiser, New York, circa 1980