Martin Bookspan to Leave "Live From Lincoln Center"

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Martin Bookspan to Leave "Live From Lincoln Center"

Post by Ralph » Fri May 26, 2006 8:39 pm

Old cyber-timers here may remember that Mr. Bookspan was active as a consultant to Classicalinsites, the predecessor to a number of other boards. In his association with CI he corresponded with me a number of times by e-mail and I was impressed with his kind and thoughtful remarks.

For any music loving New Yorker, and for those familiar with Mr. Bookspan through radio broadcasts heard in many places, his knowledge added to the pleasure of myriad broadcasts.

From The New York Times:

May 24, 2006
Martin Bookspan Is to Leave 'Live From Lincoln Center' After 30 Years

Classical-music lovers are an opinionated lot, and among the judgments that listeners have lobbed at Martin Bookspan in his three decades as the voice of "Live From Lincoln Center," one in particular still smarts.

"I will not forget the language," he recalled. "He said I have diarrhea of the mouth. He said, 'Everything that you say, we see on the screen.' I was superfluous."

Resonating in Mr. Bookspan's unmistakable timbre, the word pierced like an arrow through the heart.

Still, for millions of television viewers and radio listeners around the country, "Live From Lincoln Center" without Mr. Bookspan would be akin to listening to the New York Yankees without John Sterling, or in the case of the Boston-born Mr. Bookspan, the Red Sox without Joe Castiglione.

In other words, half a game.

Tomorrow night Mr. Bookspan will close this chapter in his storied career when he signs off from "Live From Lincoln Center" for the last time, during the series's 30th-anniversary episode. It will be a two-hour retrospective of rarely seen opera, dance, music and theater highlights from the archives, shown in New York on Channel 13 at 8.

"Basically, if I have a technique, it's the technique of the sportscaster," Mr. Bookspan, 79, said recently over dinner in the theater district, his gait — but not his energy — flagging after a hip replacement. "As sportscasters make the game come alive, I hope I have made concerts come alive. I want the audience to become involved, to love what they're hearing."

If there were a common thread among the increasingly divergent "Live From Lincoln Center" shows, it would be the elegantly nimble Mr. Bookspan. One-half erudite informer, the other half grandfatherly guide, he piloted two generations of listeners through the institution's marbled halls: coaxing them into their seats with a tease of a pre-concert lecture, keeping them tuned in during intermissions with easy-to-digest program notes and anecdotes, and then sealing the evening with a buoyant summation or perhaps a succinct rave.

And he did it with astonishingly little preparation from his makeshift sound booths around the Lincoln Center plaza — dressing rooms, closets, a ladies' room at Alice Tully Hall — where he was connected to concerts via headphones and closed-circuit television.

Starting in the late 1950's as the voice of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and then the New York Philharmonic, and with stints on National Public Radio and WQXR, Mr. Bookspan was already a mainstay in the arts when John Goberman, the series's executive producer, tapped him for the job in 1976.

"Marty was the obvious person to do it," Mr. Goberman said. "No one knows more than Marty. No one is more identifiable. And that's very important for the series, which is so variegated. He's almost like a trademark."

An only child, Mr. Bookspan was reared in a Boston tenement in a home that resounded with cantorial music and Yiddish and Russian folk songs in his parents' glorious voices. And there was always radio: the Metropolitan Opera, the Cleveland Orchestra and the NBC Symphony on Saturdays; the New York Philharmonic and the Fine Arts Quartet on Sundays.

At 13, with his musical knowledge already formidable, he earned an honorable mention in a Musiquiz competition sponsored by The Boston Herald and the Boston Pops. One of the two first-place winners was an aspiring conductor named Leonard Bernstein. It was the start of a 50-year friendship.

Times were lean, and college seemed beyond reach. But Mr. Bookspan applied to Harvard — the only institution to which he submitted an application — and was accepted. Basic training was the college radio station, and in 1944, at 18, he sat in front of a live microphone for the first time and spoke fluidly for 45 minutes with Aaron Copland, unearthing a nugget: that Copland was considering a work for Martha Graham. The work was, of course, "Appalachian Spring."

"Recently, I listened to that Copland conversation, and I was not embarrassed," Mr. Bookspan said.

More than 1,000 interviews later — from John Adams to Frank Zappa — Mr. Bookspan still is not embarrassed, at least not too often.

He recoils at the time he referred to the tenor Rockwell Blake as Mr. Rockwell. "Any mistake is terrible," he said.

But what his listeners and, you can bet, his bosses no doubt recall are the times Mr. Bookspan made graceful, even brilliant amends for the errors of others.

There was the 1959 Boston Symphony concert in which Rudolf Serkin, in his athleticism, tore the lyre mechanism from beneath his piano.

Mr. Bookspan filled 17 minutes of empty air time by talking about Serkin and the orchestra; Serkin and Brahms; Charles Munch, who was the conductor, and Brahms; and French musicians and Brahms, "because Brahms is not terribly popular with the French," he said.

He accomplished the same feat for "Live From Lincoln Center" during a 1981 New York Philharmonic gala conducted by Danny Kaye when, with a stream-of-consciousness riff, he filled 18 minutes of dead space when the performances ran short.

There was never prompting, never a mad rush for information with which to pad Mr. Bookspan's verbal rhapsodies.

"Marty does this all himself," Mr. Goberman said. "He defines the word professional."

His years as the unseen hero of "Live From Lincoln Center" at an end, Mr. Bookspan will not go quietly into the night. He and his wife, Janet, who twice stepped in for her husband when the soprano Jessye Norman wanted to work with an all-female cast, will divide their time among their homes in Manhattan, Florida and Massachusetts, and arts organizations nearby. And he will continue to write program notes for the "Live From Lincoln Center" Web site, His successor has not yet been named.

In a twist on a role that required him to perform live, Mr. Bookspan has taped his final farewell.

"Basically, I was exhilarated," he said, any wistfulness held in check. "It's been a good run. And I'm happy to say that I've loved every minute of it, every minute, even the uncomfortable ones."

He thought for a moment.

"Actually, there have never been uncomfortable ones."

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein


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