Late thoughts of a passionate man

Almost everyone who knew him has memories of Ernest Fleischmann hitting the roof. He had a hair-trigger temper and could turn from sunny smile to screaming rage in an instant. I saw him blow his top on many occasion and my email inbox is full of people telling me how he fell out with them yet, scanning my internal hard drive, I cannot recall one occasion when Ernest and I had a serious falling out.

On the contrary, in deference to our common German-Jewish ancestry, we almost fell over one another in competition to be polite and after-you. Four years ago, when I reported that Esa-Pekka Salonen was planning to leave Los Angeles for the Philharmonia in London (where his wife used to be a player and with which he was sentimentally attached), Ernest wrote me a very gentle email, wondering if I mightn’t consider publishing a correction since, to the very best of his personal knowledge, Esa-Pekka was staying put in LA.

I checked back on my sources and they assured me that Salonen was, as I had written, heading for London. I replied to Ernest, standing my ground, and we agreed to differ. When, some weeks later, the Salonen move to London was announced I realised that he had raised the objection more from heart than from head. Ernest, though no longer running the Philharmonic, remained a fervent fan and an incorrigible local patriot. He couldn’t bear to see LA lose an asset. He took every little thing to heart, and that’s what we loved about him.

It was a treat to read today’s Guardian obituary written by Alan Rich and illustrated with a photograph (not online) by Betty Freeman, both sadly no longer alive. I first met Alan at a Sunday brunch series at Betty’s where he would introduce a living composer and his works – on that occasion, George Perle. Ernest, who instigated the series and took me there, loved nothing better than to engage people with music they had never heard before. Betty had the most discriminating ears I ever met and Alan was an immaculate presenter. Of such characters is great music made.  

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  • As a 26 year old, competing in the San Francisco Opera auditions in LA, Ernest Fleischmann was there and selected me to sing the second prisoner in Fidelio with the LA Phil – Zubin Mehta conducting Jon Vickers, Gundula Janowitz and Sigmund Nimsgern; An experience I shall never forget, as it led to many other wonderful opportunities. I am grateful to Mr. Fleischmann for his vision, and for taking chances. He has been a great example to many of us.

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