Fanfare Contributor Bio
I was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, and have subsequently lived there for my entire adult life. My parents were not particularly musical, but when I was about 10 years old, they gave me a 45-rpm record player and several well-selected albums, including Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade conducted by Pierre Monteux. Aside from the obligatory childhood piano lessons, I had no formal musical training, but those albums aroused my curiosity to the point where I avidly sought every possible outlet to further investigate classical music. In Philadelphia, that meant the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music, where Eugene Ormandy played predominantly 19th-century Romantic music bathed in the most opulent sound imaginable. It also meant going to the Free Library and hearing the music of more obscure composers, in addition to reading full orchestral scores of works like the symphonies of Arnold Bax. I heard my first opera done by the Met traveling company when it visited Philadelphia on Tuesday nights. It was Wagner’s Tannhauser, and as an early teenager, I loved every minute of it without being bored.
It was immediately apparent how much better music sounded live than it did on those early recordings. Thus began the never-ending search for the best possible sound system that could approximate the live experience. Toscanini’s recordings sounded much better on LP records, and Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo quickly followed. Most audiophiles believe that the period between 1955 and 1965 defined a Golden Age of recording that has never been surpassed. The 1950s also represented the peak of the Golden Age of Film Music, when a unique group of elite European-born composers continued the natural evolution of the 19th-century Romantic tradition. The scores of Korngold and others were regularly available on television. I taped many of those soundtracks, and hoped that someday they would become available in modern sound. When they did in the 1970s, I already knew the scores cold.
As all of this was happening, I also had to get an education and make a living. There was never any question in my mind that I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a physician. After attending the University of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson University Medical School, I specialized in internal medicine. My father presented my medical school diploma to me on the stage of the Academy of Music. My lifelong pursuit of music and sound, along with my interest in the recording industry, led to an interesting sidelight: the ability to identify a piece of music by “reading” the grooves on a record. The structure of the piece and its orchestration, dynamics, and frequency response inscribe specific groove patterns that could be called a vinyl fingerprint. No two recordings can have the same pattern. Writing about music in Fanfare has given me the opportunity to utilize my knowledge of the recording industry and apply it to comparisons between new and old recorded performances. This is to me the most important part of a reviewing process that must include the music, the performance, the sound, and the recording history of the work.