The fine Irish pianist John O’Conor tells a wonderful story about Claude Frank, who died this weekend. John remembers Harold Schonberg, the New York Times chief critic, approaching Claude at the Leeds piano competition and asking why he’d only played once with the Philharmonic.
Claude never raised his voice but gently answered ‘Because of your review Harold I was never invited again.’
Well, si non e vero, e ben trovato and we’d be the last to ruin a good dinner-party tale. But let’s consider the facts.
1 Claude Frank was a terrific pianist and teacher, but he was never a box-office draw.
2 The New York Phil, as a monopoly operator, exercises huge power in its market, but is limited in the number of concerto slots it can offer. American soloists do not figure high in its lists. Hilary Hahn, definitely popular, went 10 years without a call.
3 Harold wrote blistering reviews about Bernstein for years without affecting Lenny’s position in NY.
4 One bad review can’t kill a career.
Well, here’s what really happened.