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Classical Notes

Remembering Michael Steinberg

Posted at 2:32 PM on July 28, 2009 by Rex Levang (2 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

As you probably know by now, Michael Steinberg died over the weekend. He had been a critic, an artistic advisor to orchestras and festivals, and above all, a writer whose books and program notes set the standard for knowledgeable, elegant writing on music. He was a revered figure (and these words somehow fail to do justice to that).

Here in Minnesota, where he made his home, he was more than that. For many, he was a personal friend. For many of us who didn't know him personally, he was still a kind of personal presence: as a lecturer at Orchestra Hall, as a guest on MPR, or sometimes just a fellow audience member, since his attendance at musical events was indefatigable.

Online remembrances and obituaries have begun to appear, with more to follow: here's just one, that blends the professional and personal nicely.

Do you have your own recollections of Michael Steinberg, or thoughts on the contribution he made? Share your memories below.


Comments (2)

My friend Michael Steinberg died on Sunday, July 26. When you first met Michael, he could seem a bit formidable. His knowledge, especially of classical music, went deep and his opinions were strong. For quite a number of years I worked in classical music, and often with his violinist wife Jorja Fleezanis, but my professional experience didn't include the knowledge that comes from musicianship or even scholarship. It was easy to feel intimidated around him.

I soon learned that that intimidation was my problem. Once I got over it, I found in Michael a soul who was always curious, always passionate about helping musicians...especially young musicians...and ever receptive to the always changing beauty of a classical work played in performance. He was a truly generous soul and a man who lived by his values.

I was at the inaugural weekend at Music at Menlo in Menlo, CA with Michael and Jorja in 1992 and they both became regulars there for the following six years. The festival has published a lovely tribute to him on their web site with special attention to the Poetry Reading Workshops he led there..workshops which were entirely unique to him.

These workshops were quite informal...a gathering of people in a semi-circle around Michael who had spread a number of photocopied poems across a closed grand piano. He would read one or two and then invite Menlo students, musicians, audience members or (in my case) radio producers to come up and choose a poem to read out loud. After we finished our reading, we'd get a little gentle coaching about the text, our physical stance or the cadence in our voice...and then a chance to read again. Jorja said about these workshops: "he believed that 'rhythm, the gait, and the expression required to read poetry well are intimately linked to what is required to play music well.'" As a non-musician it was a chance for me to engage in the famous dynamic of coach and student which so many students at Menlo enjoyed with Michael.

So with great gratitude to Michael and love to his own beloved Jorja, I recommend the poem "Bartok and the Geranium" by Canadian poet Dorothy Livesay, a poem that I picked up off of the grand piano at Menlo one day and learned to read out loud, thanks to Michael. "Yet in this room this moment now these together breathe and be."

Posted by Mary Lee | July 30, 2009 12:10 PM


Minnesota Public Radio, thank you so much for this wonderful tribute to Michael Steinberg. For those who didn't have the great good fortune to know him personally, the sound clips you've provided give anyone with ears and heart an idea of how profound a thinker he was. His voice pulls us into the music - he seduces the listener first, then lets the music take over, and we embark on the most incredible journey together. How much we'll miss this precious man.

Posted by Kathryn King | August 5, 2009 2:48 PM