MEMOIRS


INTRODUCTION

In 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.

This 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.

In 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.

After 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".

During 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.

Since 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.

I 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 quite different.

Little 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!"

Throughout 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.

When 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.

When 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 Portrait
Jacques Leiser, New York, circa 1980

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                         Copyright 2008 Jacques Leiser      jacques@jacquesleiser.ch