Conductor / Pianist Mario
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Mario Bernardi, NAC Orchestra’s founding
conductor, dies at 82
Published Monday, Jun. 03, 2013 12:15PM EDT [Text only]
Mario Bernardi, the founding conductor of the National Arts Centre
Orchestra in Ottawa, has died. He was 82.
The NAC says it’s lowered its flag to half-mast in tribute to the
revered conductor and pianist, who died Sunday in Toronto.
“Mario Bernardi was a national figure who played a seminal role in the
life of classical music in Canada,” Peter Herrndorf, president and CEO
of the NAC, said in a statement.
The Kirkland Lake, Ont., native moved to Italy at age 6 with his mother
and studied at the Venice Conservatory. He started his career
with the Royal Conservatory Opera School in Toronto and conducted at
the Canadian Opera Company in his mid-20s.
In 1963, he moved to London and served as musical director of the
Sadler’s Wells Opera Company (now the English National Opera).
Five years later he joined the NAC and recruited young musicians to
build the 45-member orchestra.
“He shaped them into a wonderful orchestra, drawing from them a unique
sound which was praised by music critics for its transparency and
precision of ensemble,” said Herrndorf.
Bernardi also led the orchestra on tours of Canada and Europe, and
created the summer opera festival at the NAC. After he left the
centre, he led the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and was the principal
conductor of the CBC Radio Orchestra.
Bernardi’s career honours included the Order of Canada and the Governor
General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
The NAC plans to unveil a bust of Bernardi it commissioned from
Canadian sculptor Ruth Abernethy on July 1 at the entrance of Southam
Hall, where he led the orchestra in hundreds of concerts during his
tenure [shown below].
The NAC says it will also create a fund in Bernardi’s name to
commission new Canadian compositions for the orchestra.
Bernardi was in Chicago in June of 1995 for two concerts that opened
the 61st season of the Grant Park Symphony, the series of free outdoor
summer concerts on the lakefront. That Gala Opening
concert featured Frederica von Stade, and the following night had the
Mozart Haffner Serenade and
the Schumann Symphony #2.
As I was setting up to record our conversation, the subject
of names was being discussed . . . . . . . . .
There’s a John Duffy, D-U-F-F-Y, who
runs Meet the Composer, and everybody thinks that I’m either him or
related to him, but no. I’ve interviewed him, and when we
corresponded back and forth, I had to be
sure and write D-U-F-F-Y, and he had to be sure to write
D-U-F-F-I-E. It was unnatural for each of us. [Both laugh]
You probably know Olga Borodina. I worked with her with the San
Francisco Symphony, and there the inevitable question was, “Are you
related to the
composer?” She laughed because apparently Borodina is a fairly
common name in Russia. No relation at all to the composer of Prince Igor.
BD: If you
think about it metaphysically, everyone is
related to everyone.
MB: That is
BD: Well, let
us start there. Is all music
related to all music?
MB: Oh, I
suppose so, in a way; certainly in a
mechanical way, obviously, with changes in pitch and so forth. ‘What
is music’ maybe
is the right question to ask. [Laughs]
then let me ask the right question. What is music?
God. Why did I invite that question? [Both laugh]
because it interests you.
MB: Yes. One
can say the
generalized thing, that it’s organized sound, although some music that
I know is very close to exactly the opposite — chaotic.
But if the
chaos is then resolved into something that has a structure or a form, I
suppose that is music, too. Why not? But I would like to
think that music is more than
that. It’s the most wonderful gift to men from the gods, as far
I’m concerned. When you think about it, it transcends
words, transcends matter. When you think of a composer sitting
down from nothing to create great work, a 40 minute symphony, how can
that possibly happen? Isn’t that a
miraculous thing? At least a writer has a dictionary. He
can look up 100,000 words. A composer has
twelve tones to rearrange, repeat, and extend it
and so on, but that’s all it is.
BD: Is it
amazing that there are so many varieties of
fantastic! Fantastic. I often think if Mozart could only
for a moment become alive again today, what would he think of our
music? It’s gone so far from his days, or even from 50 years
ago. We now talk about 20th century music, and
that’s a joke. Twentieth century music is Strauss. How old
hat can you get? Right of
Spring is old hat, for God sake, and it’s more than 80 years old.
BD: You say
music has gone so far. Has it
gone deeper, or has it gone astray?
MB: I don’t
think it can ever go astray. Music is what one man makes it, and
as such, perhaps music is
related to the fact that... the figures may be wrong, but I think I
heard recently that 90 percent of what we
know has been discovered in the last 50 years. So we are moving
protesting] But this is in science and technology.
MB: But why
not music as well? I think it’s related. Look at
painting, look at literature. Who could have envisaged somebody
100 years ago? Impossible. I think it is all related to
the way we live, and we live much faster than we used to.
BD: Is music
keeping up with the expanding
technology in all of this?
MB: It seems
to me, yes.
BD: Are we
keeping up with the expanding music?
[Smiles] Ah... that’s a much more difficult question.
[Both laugh] After what I just said, people are still
scared when you talk about “20th century music,” as if it were some
kind of a terrible experience
to go through. Yet some of the most sublime music
has been written in this century. Really, quite honestly, the
eighteenth century was really the golden age of music, and I think you
can almost dismiss, as far as I’m concerned,
the nineteenth century.
almost. I said almost! [Laughs] Some
pretty good operas have been written.
BD: I was
going to say, Verdi and Wagner turned out great tunes.
MB: Oh, and
others, too! But I still think that
some of the masterpieces that are being written in this century are
really that. There’s no doubt about it... Wozzeck,
and the Berg Violin Concerto,
and some of Stravinsky, and, oh, so many
BD: What is
it that goes into making a piece of
music a masterpiece?
MB: God only
knows. I don’t think is as clear
as that, because, as you well know, so many masterpieces were just not
recognized at the time. Some of them took a long, long time to be
recognized for what they are.
BD: So we
have to catch up?
Considering what we said a moment ago, I
don’t think we have caught up to music. Music has caught up to
the times. I think the geniuses are there. They may
not be Mozarts or Beethovens. I think those two are probably in a
league of their own, but we do have geniuses now that lead the way, and
it’s us who are mortals that don’t quite make it enough to understand
what they’re saying to us.
BD: As a
conductor of both symphony and opera,
you have to select which pieces you’re going to do, and which pieces
you’re not going to do. What goes into making that decision of
there’s a germ of an
idea. It could be something as simple and unmusical as a
date. Or sometimes — and I think this is
wrong — you have a famous artist or famous performer of some sort, and
he or she is famous for doing a certain piece, and you start from
that. Somebody is great at a certain composer, so you try and
make a program that is varied and that is somehow coherent, where the
pieces fit with one another. It’s quite a trick and it’s
something that I enjoy very much.
MB: Yes, yes.
program building, you’ve
got to look at each individual program, but also over a season’s worth
right. That’s the bigger scope, and the other is the particular
Length has something to do with it, and the forces that you have
at hand. I remember once I was doing the Mahler song cycle
Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
This was in Ottawa, where I had actually a smallish orchestra.
The people on contract were only
46, but I could enlarge it somewhat, to, say, 60 or so, and we decided
to do that particular cycle. It was, I think, with Maureen
Forrester and Tom
which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.]
It was one of
the few occasions where we had an enlarged orchestra. I had two
trombones. Not one, but two, and that’s unusual. I didn’t
usually. I also wanted to commission a piece for the
program. So I
chose, first of all, a composer who I think is wonderful, really.
I think he’s probably the best composer we have in Canada, R. Murray
Schafer. [Bernardi has recorded
some of his music, as shown in CD at left.] He’s fairly
well known outside of Canada
as well. I said to him, “I’m doing Des
Knaben Wunderhorn and the orchestration is of that size, as you
know. So make me a composition that will go with that. You
can use either one or two singers or no
singers at all, as you like.” So he wrote me a wonderful piece,
which he called The Garden of the
Heart, and it’s very romantic. Des Knaben Wunderhorn is very
romantic and some of the poems are very folksy, and so was his
piece. It’s all about
a lover having left his beloved, and she is now at an older age.
She goes into a garden and the garden somehow appears to her as if
her lover has been there. It’s all like that. It’s a
wonderful fantasy. That, to me, is
program building. It’s wonderful.
work was first and which was second?
MB: I think I
did his first, but it was a whole first
half. It wasn’t just a token piece. It was about
twenty-five minutes, and that was good preparation for the second
part. I thought it was
you’re looking at new works and
thinking about living composers, do you have any advice for people who
want to write for the orchestra or for the voice?
MB: I would
say think of the
limitations of a certain voice. All the composers in the
eighteenth century always wrote for particular
people, and what is good for one person would not be, perhaps,
good for another. Think of Mozart writing the same aria
because he had a change of singers. But also think of the
audience. We have now turned the cycle, and we’re going into
is simpler and a little bit more. I’m talking about some
of your good American composers, it seems to me, such as Corigliano and
people like that, not to talk about Glass, of
There’s nothing wrong with being simple and being direct, and all
this crap about this method or that method — I think that’s against the
music. I don’t believe it. I believe that the twelve tones
as a system, for instance, was an utter failure, actually. It
only comes alive when you have somebody like Berg, who could have
written any other ways, too, I’m sure.
BD: So it was
a blind alley?
MB: I think
should we have gone through that blind alley?
just to find out that it was blind, if for no other reason.
should we consign all of the other
twelve-tone composers besides Berg to the trash heap?
no. Webern, and the
founder of the twelve-tone system, Schoenberg obviously have wonderful
saving a few of these great
master works, should we then be rid of all of the rest of the lesser
MB: To a
certain extent, yes. The people just
followed because that was the rule. The book says do this or
that, and there are fairly strict rules about it that go nowhere.
not music; that’s maybe mathematics, I don’t know, but not
music. Now it seems to me we’ve gone really away
from that. What’s wrong with color? Even if you
don’t have too much shape but wonderful coloristic
ideas, you can know how to use instruments to their absolute maximum
capacity. It’s very exciting.
from Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel?
exactly. I mean twentieth composers, so Ravel,
BD: Now when
you come to
an orchestra such as this in Grant Park and you’re working on some
programs, you’re only here for a few days. Can you make
this orchestra your own?
MB: I hope
so. At the
end of the day, I thought they were already playing really as an
orchestra. Don’t forget, this is the first day of rehearsal for
this summer season and there are a lot of new players.
BD: But what
about from your vast experience coming to different orchestras all over
MB: Oh, it can
happen. It can happen that in a
couple of days you make them play in a certain way that is
yours. I conducted in San Francisco a couple of weeks
ago, and there was a person that works for a British record
company. I was
working with a couple of singers, and they told me that in their tour
they had had some bad experiences with conductors and orchestras.
So this record executive came after the second rehearsal and said,
bloody marvelous!” I said, “Well, it is a good orchestra.”
no,” she said. “I’ve heard other good orchestras, and they
sound really good. You make them sound like a good
orchestra.” I didn’t know what I did, but the singers were quite
that’s the main thing, really. Yes, you can do it. It’s
very difficult to do here because of the physical situation. It’s
not the best. You’re out in the open and you have
to get used to the noises that you can’t do anything about, such as
planes, birds. But then to make matters worse, in the middle of
the rehearsal this morning a truck came. They were spraying water
about forty feet from us, and it was the loudest noise! I said,
can’t he go to the other side of the park and start there? Come
and do this side later.”
BD: And yet,
out of all of this you’re supposed to
make brilliant music!
[Remaining positive about the situation] But you’ll succeed.
MB: Oh, I
will. Absolutely. I’ve never known a conductor not to be
quite set and confident.
BD: We were
program-building a moment ago. Does the fact that this is going
to be an outdoor concert influence the kinds of repertoires that you
will or will not use?
MB: Had I
really thought about it, it probably would
have affected me. It’s too late to do now. We did the
Schumann Second Symphony,
which is for me a divine work. It’s just so beautifully
conceived, and for me it’s one of the great
Romantic works. But it is very subtle. The third movement,
the slow movement, is so gorgeous and its inner musician really
feels that. So to play it in an open space like this seems
like a waste of good music. I should have done some other
music, something more
bombastic, more brilliant, where finesse is not particularly an element.
BD: And yet
there will be people in the audience who
will get all of your subtleties.
MB: Oh, I
would think so. The other thing, of course, about this inimical
place is the
fact that it is all being amplified, and the guy at the knobs will have
as much to do as with the way its sounds as I do.
you try to coordinate with him?
MB: Where I
am I don’t know the result
of his work, because it only takes effect at a distance. So what
am I going to do? Should I let him conduct, and go out and see
what it’s like?
BD: If you
have enough time, would you perhaps
ask the concert master just to lead for ten minutes so you could go out
MB: It might
be an idea, yes. I also wonder, when you have ten thousand or
twenty thousand people there, whether it wouldn’t change again.
BD: It’s not
going to absorb the sound the way an
audience in a house will absorb it.
MB: No, but I
wonder if it will absorb at all. I don’t know.
BD: Well, you
can push the knob up just a little bit.
always that danger.
BD: You have
fascination for Robert Schumann and have recorded all of his
Yes. Of course, being a
pianist and having come to music through piano, I would have discovered
Schumann because he’s a wonderful piano writer. I
remember in my student days, his G
Minor Sonata was already one of my
very favorite works; and the Kreisleriana.
I remember doing
that, too, and many, many other things. His songs are
wonderful. His chamber music, too, although that’s not quite on
the same level, I feel. The Quartet
I don’t think
is his best work.
BD: Of the
recordings you have made, are these
from CBC broadcasts, or are these made in the studio, cut and paste,
like ordinary recordings?
MB: These are
made in a studio, cut and paste. We also do many, many broadcasts
with the orchestra.
BD: So my
question is, do you conduct
differently for the microphone than you do for a live concert?
And of course, then you have the extra joker of sometimes having the
live concert with the microphone, also.
happens, actually, is before we make a
record we try to do at least one performance so that you get out of the
mechanical part of recording. That way the players really know
the piece from A to Zed. Then sometime later we record it.
Really there’s no difference. We try to recreate
on disk what we played. It doesn’t always work, mind you.
[Laughs] I find recording very stressful.
MB: I suppose
it’s the idea that it’s going to be
there forever. Once it’s on that tape and then a plastic disc,
it’s there forever. I’ve heard of other people that have the same
phobia. One of them was Szell. Apparently he was always
nervous, and some of his best performances were live
performances which were taped unbeknownst to him. I once heard a
tape of a concert he did of the Sibelius Second Symphony. I think it
was somewhere in Japan, and it was just wonderful!
It was perfect, and everything was just right. The music breathed
on. It was just a live performance and he had no idea
that somebody was taping it.
BD: Does this
enter your psyche at all when
you’re doing a live performance? You think no one is taping it,
and yet if
you’re doing, say, a broadcast, probably someone is taping off the
broadcast is usually
played once. That’s it, and it has to be thrown away, so there’s
nothing permanent about that. Anyway, whether it is a live
broadcast or a recording, it’s always taped because I have a radio
orchestra. I’m really not particularly scared of microphones
anymore. You learn how to listen for certain things, for details
and so on. But still, making a record, which is quite distinct as
making a broadcast, is still stressful. There is also the fact
really haven’t got a minute to spare. You start, and you do a
line-up. You prepare, so that the heat of the music is being
heard in the right way. After about 25 minutes, you do one
take of a movement, or part of a movement, then you pull. The
orchestra has a ten-minute break while you go down and listen.
say, “Oh, this is wrong. I want more of this, more of that,” and
so on. Then you go back and do more takes, at least two good
takes, and then you do little cosmetic work to dub in, and so on.
Then you go and listen to that. If you have two sessions of three
hours, you literally
have not heard it all once. You run to the control room to
then you know the clock is going ding, ding, ding,
ding. Your break is over. It’s absolutely exhausting!
BD: If you
unlimited time to make the
record, would it be appreciably different?
yes. Possibly, in many
cases but not always. For instance, one of the Schumann disks I
have made has the
Concerto for Four Horns, which
is rather an abominable piece to being with. I don’t know about
Chicago, but I have hardly ever seen
it on a program.
BD: We’ve had
it here with the Chicago Symphony a couple of times, but then
our horn section is the glory of the world!
MB: This is
by way of saying that the chances of getting even close to a perfect
performance are almost nil, because
somebody’s going to crack. So in a way it’s better to record it
because you can do it. If something does happen you do it
again, but you only have three hours to do it in. And as the
three hours elapse, the horns get
tired, and more tired, and more tired! So there’s a certain point
return. After that, you just don’t get anything.
should schedule to record it over a few
days. Use the first part this day, then the first part of another
would be a really perfect world,
where you had unlimited resources. I suppose in the old days, in
Russia, they may have done that. If
it didn’t work well, you just come the next day. Everybody works
BD: Is there
any such thing as musical perfection?
MB: I don’t
think so. Even when you think that you have done something so
bloody well, then maybe two years later you hear the tape and you
despair! What did I do that for? But that’s what’s
good about music because it’s something that is so
impalpable. It is completely, utterly, of the heart and the
doesn’t exist. You see the piece of printed music there, but
that doesn’t exist until somebody plays it. And being human, of
course, everybody will interpret that piece of paper in a different
way. So how can you have perfection? How can you say, “This
is better than that” even though they play exactly the same
How can you have two fantastic performances of the same piece, and one
is ten minutes longer than the other? They’re both right.
MB: I think
you’re working on
a recording, and you cut and piece it together, is there any time when
actually becomes a fraud?
MB: How do
you mean, a fraud?
something that never really
existed because you put it together from several takes.
MB: Well, in
that sense, yes, it is. Every
recording is a fraud. There are very, very few incidences — and
this is very desirable — where sometimes it happens. For
instance, you do a piece and you slave over it, and you do all bits and
pieces, but somehow it doesn’t work. Then after all this,
hours after you started working, you say, “Okay, let’s just try and do
it right through,” and sometime that works. There are very rare
occasions where you get a
whole movement that is one take, but I can count those
occasions in the fingers of one hand over the last twenty years or so.
must be very special.
MB: Oh yes,
but I wouldn’t call the other one a
fraud. We have thought about the piece. It is a
performance that is unified because the same people are playing, and
it is the same conductor. Sometimes you do a bit of it one day
then finish it the next day, which makes it very difficult because you
have to remember how you did the previous day so there’s a coherence
BD: So they
MB: They can,
yes, but if you have a slight
different tempo, for instance, you can’t intercut in the middle.
BD: I thought
this was what you were saying about having
to remember so exactly.
that’s right. Otherwise [laughs] it is a fraud, then. But
generally speaking, we have this wonderful technology that can do this,
and we use it to
BD: Let’s go
back to live concerts for
a moment. You’re rehearsing, and do you do everything to
get it all correct. Is everything set in the rehearsal, or do you
purposely leave something for the spark of the evening?
There’s always a little bit of spark, I would hope just a little bit of
nervousness there, because there’s people, and you can’t stop and go
back and do it again. That makes it different from recording
where you might
relax, and then you’re ready to stop. In any case, I don’t leave
much undone. In opera I am
very conscious of the time and how you progress, especially the last
week or so of rehearsals. You don’t want to progress too fast.
BD: You don’t
want to peak too early?
that’s right. The old saying that if you have a good
dress rehearsal your opening night will be less good, is, perhaps,
true. I purposely leave something in reserve at the
dress rehearsal. There has to be something, even if
there’s a house full of people. Usually dress
rehearsals are in front of invited audience, but it has to be a
rehearsal. It can’t be the finished product. There has to
be the extra push for the
opening night. Usually in a concert it doesn’t happen that way
because you never have that kind of length of time with a piece.
In opera you spend practically a month rehearsing before you
ever go on stage, so it’s very important that it happens.
BD: If you
get the extra push from the opening
night, what about the second and third and fifth and eighth
second performance is the most
difficult, especially if the first performance has gone very
well. Then you really have to watch like mad. I usually
everybody at the second performance to be very careful,
because if you let down we know it.
BD: Do you
purposely do something to shake them up?
MB: They know
that I’m working harder, which
usually works. Sometimes that also fails. The harder you
work, the worse it gets.
But the repetition of something is another challenge, completely.
I spent six years in England doing practically only opera, with what
was then called Sadler’s Wells Opera.
BD: They do
everything in English there.
Everything in English, yes. That is a little bit
ridiculous now in this day and age of surtitles or supertitles.
speaking they’re a very good idea. I was talking to Miss von
Stade this morning, and she was saying we should have those for
recitals as well. It’s not a bad idea where she is
going on in German or Russian, or whatever especially in a recital
where there’s no staging to look at in any case. But to come back
to repetition, when I was at Sadlers Wells, one work that I
remember was a new production of Madame
Butterfly. It was
well rehearsed and well prepared, and it was a success.
BD: Was that
the production of the original
MB: We did
take some of the original music that
had been cut, and reinstated it. The part of the tenor’s wife,
the American, Kate was, in fact, a bit larger. She had
something to sing. But in one season I did 38
performances of that opera. Just imagine what it was like by
number 30, 31, 32! It became harder and harder to find
something to say.
BD: And yet,
the 2500 people behind you were all new to the production.
MB: They had
paid the same money as the 24th, or the
second, or the first performance, so they had every right
to hear as good a performance as I could give them. But it was
difficult. Incidentally, that particular opera I never
conducted again. It was like overeating on
something, and you’re just sickened by it. It doesn’t happen with
many other works.
Somehow, that work really put me off. I’ve done Figaro,
for instance, at least 100 performances, but nowhere, nowhere in
sight am I ever going to be bored with that. It is such a
BD: Tell me
the joys and sorrows of working with the
the human voice. I think every musician should listen and learn
from singers. The jokes going that tenors are stupid or sopranos
are stupid, that’s nonsense. I don’t know how
it was, maybe before I got into the business, but now to be a
professional singer means you have to be a damn good musician.
Since a singer has to breathe, which a pianist or even a conductor
doesn’t have to do, you really learn phrasing. You learn how to
put one note after the other. I think the greatest teachers that
I’ve ever had have been singers. Really, they didn’t know they
learned about music from working with them?
Absolutely. I’ve had the
fortune to work with fantastic singers. Bartoli, my gosh!
What a wonderful singer she is!
BD: And I
assume Maureen Forester, also?
yes. She was wonderful. I don’t think she’s singing very
much anymore. She’s about 65 now.
of 65, you are about to turn
65. [Both were born
in 1930 — Forrester on July 25, Bernardi on August
10. This interview took place on June 15, 1995.] Are
you pleased with where your career has taken
you thus far?
MB: Oh, I’ve
had a wonderful life. I suppose one of the problems is that the
successful you are, the more you travel, which means you see less and
less of your
family. I have a daughter who is now 26. She was born in
London, England. We came back to Canada
when she was six months old and she lived in Ottawa for the next
thirteen years, which was wonderful. Then we moved to Toronto,
from the time she was about thirteen or so, I really hadn’t seen
her. She’s now 26, and a couple of years ago she said, “Dad, you
never were there when I was growing up.” Thank the Lord that
she’s wonderful girl, and no problems at all,
but she really grew up without a father. There was one year when
family and I lived in Toronto, but I had an orchestra
in Calgary, and I had a lot to do in Vancouver as well. So,
Toronto was Christmas. If I was lucky I would have maybe a week
in the spring sometime around Easter or so, and then the
summer. But in the summer she always went to camp. So as I
got home at about mid-June or so, she
would be just leaving. If I was lucky I would see her for about
two or three days, and then she would come back at the end of August,
by which time I was just ready to go, and it would be Christmas
again. But career-wise, yes, I’ve had
wonderful, wonderful experiences. Calgary was very good,
too. I spent nine wonderful years learning the big
repertoire, and did a lot of recordings. The orchestra is really
immeasurably better than when I took it. They are very, very
good, and of course, the National Arts Centre Orchestra is, also.
BD: That was
Yes. I’ve gone back now a couple of
times. I’m doing Nozze di
Figaro with them in the fall, which
is where I started. It was the first opera I ever produced.
I hope it’s an omen of things to come. They all think that I’m
going to start an opera festival there again, but there’s
no way I can. There’s just no money anymore, and that is sad.
BD: All in
all, is conducting fun?
yes. It’s wonderful! And it’s not as easy as it looks, but
I suppose the
fun is trying to make it look easy. [Both laugh] It’s also
very stressful. Even
this morning I was almost nervous. I don’t know what
about. They’re wonderful bunch of
people here at Grant Park that work very hard.
Let me throw you a real curve. Tell me about the Concerto for Piano (1955-56) by
Barbara Pentland (1912-2000).
surprised] Why? [Laughs]
BD: I have a
Radio Canada Transcription Disc of your performance of it!
MB: Is it
BD: Oh yes,
we have license to broadcast it. [Many of the broadcast recordings made by
the CBC are now available to the general public as LPs, CDs, or
MB: That was
one of the very first things I did for the CBC, and I
don’t even remember very much about it. It was only about ten
instruments, or something like that. It’s a very astringent kind
music. I did also another one by a French Canadian composer named
Papineau-Coutoure (1916-2000) called Repliement
(1957), which means folding-back. [Pièce Concertante No. 1 for Piano
and String Orchestra.] It goes from A to B and back to
A. The second A section is a mirror image of the first, and then
it works back to the beginning.
BD: Oh, like Hin und zurück? [There and back,
an operatic sketch (Op. 45a) in one scene by Paul Hindemith. He
the piece for a collection of miniature operas presented on July 17,
1927 at the Baden-Baden Music Festival in the Theater
work lasts for just 12 minutes. Other short works by Darius
Milhaud (L'enlèvement d'Europe),
Kurt Weill (Mahagonny-Songspiel)
and Ernst Toch (Die Prinzessin auf
were performed on the same evening. In a kind of dramatic
a tragedy unfolds involving jealousy, murder and suicide, and is then
replayed with the lines sung in reverse order to produce a happy
pleased that BD knew the reference] Yes, like Hin und zurück!
Do you ever get the chance to play piano anymore?
[Sighs] I play it for rehearsals. I play
through scores. I can play any score, practically, and it’s
useful. This morning with von Stade, for instance, we had
a piano rehearsal, and I was able to play my own rehearsal. The
last time I played seriously was about two years ago. I did Ch’io mi scordi di te, a wonderful
concert aria for soprano and I was my own obbligato. I do play
harpsichord in the Mozart operas. I have enjoyed doing that very
BD: Sir John Pritchard
used to do that. He told me he got
a big bang out of doing that.
I enjoy it, and maybe I make too much of it,
but the recitatives come almost like a leitmotif opera. I like to
quote other Mozart operas. I suppose this is wrong, but for
instance, in one of the very first or second recitatives of
Figaro and Susanna when they are having their two
little duets and she says, “The count is tired of this local
adventure,” I play [sings]
ya-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pom-pom-pom [to the
tune of Don Giovanni’s Serenade, shown at right].
[Laughs] Of course, that’s
backwards because Don Giovanni
was written after Figaro.
In Don Giovanni Mozart quotes
himself from Figaro!
BD: So you
quote something that hasn’t happened yet. [Both have a huge laugh]
BD: Thank you
for coming to Chicago. We have all been
looking forward to it.
MB: Oh, I
love your city. I absolutely love
this place! It’s very interesting, a
beautiful city! I have a fantastic view from my window here, and
the weather is wonderful, which is a good thing if you’re playing
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] We don’t have many outdoor
concerts in February, I’m afraid.
[Laughs] No. It can get very humid, I
gather, very wet in the summer. That can be very uncomfortable,
but it’s predicted that it’s going to be fine this week.
Good. I hope you return often. [Bernardi would conduct Pearl
Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago
during the 1997-98 season, featuring Marueen O’Flynn, Paul Groves, Gino
Quilico, and Raymond Aceto.]
MB: Thank you
© 1995 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on June 15,
1995. Portions were broadcast on WNIB later that year,
and again in 2000.
This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this
at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.