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Fanfare Contributor Bio

Bernard Jacobson

Lunching with my former ancient-history tutor (you see how important hyphens are!) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, soon after graduating in 1960, I remarked: “You were very understanding when I hadn’t finished an essay on time.” “Well,” Frank Lepper replied, “I always knew you had another line, so there seemed little point in making a fuss.”

That line had begun as early as my 12th year, when my musical tastes, formed through constant listening to the radio, were primitive to say the least. Then I fell in love with the Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremiah Clarke, attributed at that time to Purcell. (Years later, at a Manhattan School concert in New York, I heard the conductor Walter Susskind cut the Gordian knot of attribution by outlining the various theories and then summarizing his conclusion as “Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary, by Jeremiah Clarke.”) Back then in 1947, I saved up my pennies, went along to the HMV shop in Oxford Street, and bought a 78 that had the Voluntary on one side. I didn’t even notice what was on the other side. Then one evening, after playing the Voluntary on the old wind-up phonograph in my bedroom, I turned the record over, and found something called the finale of the Trumpet Concerto in E♭ Major by Haydn. I put it on the turntable, wound the machine up, inserted a brand-new steel needle–and the rest is history. Within about three weeks, playing “side two” about five times every night before I went to bed (“side one” remained thereafter unheard), my steel needles had completely worn out the Haydn recording. But to this day, whenever I hear that wonderful work, I am transported instantly back to the pristine enchantment that is as hard to forget as any legendary first kiss.

What Frank Lepper in 1960 called my “other line” has taken me by now, 60 years later, through a career that has included reviewing for The Times of London, The Guardian, and the Seattle Times; writing liner-notes for record companies in Holland, England, and the United States; taking charge of promoting Walter Legge’s and his colleagues’ recording sessions at EMI in London; directing a regional arts association in Hampshire, where I served on the jury of the conducting competition that essentially gave the then 19-year-old Simon Rattle his start; serving first as David Drew’s deputy director of publications and then as promotion director for Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers in London, where invaluable members of my team were Maestro Susskind’s widow, Janis, and Paul Meecham, later to be executive director of major orchestras in the U.S.; and working for Riccardo Muti during eight years as program annotator and musicologist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose chamber music series and extensive program of pre-concert lectures I started, and where I learned all kinds of skills from the brilliant, sensitive, and sadly short-lived executive director, Steve Sell.

A contributing editor until a few years ago of Fanfare Magazine, and now happily returning to the reviewing panel, I’ve also spent periods as music critic of the Chicago Daily News, Visiting Professor of Music at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Artistic Director of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, Artistic Adviser to the North Netherlands Orchestra, and Pacific Northwest correspondent for Opera magazine. I’m currently busy writing online reviews for Seen and Heard International and program notes for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

In addition to books on Brahms and on conducting, my publications include A Polish Renaissance (a study of the music of Panufnik, Lutosławski, Penderecki, and Górecki—Phaidon Press), Star Turns and Cameo Appearances (a memoir of five and a half decades as a professional music critic and administrator—Rochester University Press), and translations from 10 languages. Works I have translated include operas by Ton de Leeuw, Hans Werner Henze, Siegfried Matthus, and Hindemith, and Stanley Walden’s Three Gretchen Songs, and my poetry has been set to music by the American composer Richard Wernick and the Englishman Wilfred Josephs.

As a performer, I’ve narrated my own translation of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and works by Virgil Thomson and Theo Loevendie at concerts in Amsterdam and Cologne. The linking narration I wrote for Mendelssohn’s Antigone was given its first performance by Claire Bloom at the 1991 Bard Festival; I subsequently performed it myself with the San Jose Symphony in California, where I returned to narrate Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex during the 1997/98 season. I recorded the role of Noah in Stravinsky’s The Flood under Oliver Knussen’s direction for Deutsche Grammophon, repeating it in my 1996 debut at the BBC Promenade Concerts in London, and I was the speaker in the Nonesuch recording of Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, a work I’ve also performed at Almeida Opera in London, with Klangforum Wien at the 1995 Vienna Festival (what a thrill to find myself on the stage of the Mozart-Saal!), with Ari Rasilainen and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland, and with Ignat Solzhenitsyn and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

Regarding myself as a semi-professional eater, I’ve edited two cookbooks by the late Giuliano Bugialli; my son, Sam, is a chef and restaurant owner. Like my daughter, Katharine Walkden, Sam was born of my first marriage, with Bonnie Brodsky, which ended in 1982.

With my second (and last!) wife, Laura Belcove, I lived for several years in Bremerton, just across Puget Sound from Seattle, in a house looking out toward the Olympic Mountains, over which the sunsets offer a dazzling array of skies evocative of my favorite painter, Turner. (I served for much of that time as restaurant reviewer for Bremerton’s local paper, the Kitsap Sun.) We had moved to Bremerton in 2005 when Laura, who is a pathologist, got a new job there. I can work anywhere, so she kindly allowed me to come along too. And in 2015, it was a repetition of the same circumstance, mutatis mutandis, that brought us back to Philadelphia in what we hope will have been the last of many relocations to and from places in England, Holland, and the American East and West coasts.


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