Sunday, June 29, 2008

The media and me

Damned if I did not lose my digital camera. It is just gone. Poof. Like last winter, when when I was in California with Leonard Pennario and lost my glasses. These gorgeous designer frames, gone. No one ever turned them into the lost and found of that apartment complex. People in California are not always as nice as people in Buffalo.

Well, so what. When you are dealing with issues of life and death and eternity, things like a lost camera do not seem as bad. Luckily Howard had backed up the pictures in the camera, so I did not lose the pictures I had taken of Leonard and me in the hot tub. Even with Pennario gone, the memory of those pictures makes me smile. Not only was he the greatest piano virtuoso, but he made it into his 80s and he was in a hot tub with his biographer mere weeks before he died. That is a life well lived.

Today is the first day I felt as if I could breathe a little.

The last couple of days were unbelievable. I got the news in the morning that Leonard had died, and I knew what I had to do was start calling the major papers. This is what happens when a famous person dies, though I never knew it before: Someone acts as spokesman and takes the job of contacting the media. That someone was, in this case, me. Leonard's brother had asked me to be the spokesman and I was honored to do so. Still, it was tough to get started because I was in shock and I couldn't stop crying. I had to call a couple of my friends to steady myself. Then I wrote my blog. Then I finished my coffee (you got to have coffee). Then I got on the horn.

It was great how gracious everyone was to me.

A friend at the New York Times had given me the name of their chief obit editor. It is a wonderful name, Claiborne Ray. I called her and I loved what an old-fashioned newspaperwoman she was.

Me: My name is ... is Mary Kunz Goldman and I'm the music critic at The Buffalo News, and I'm calling because we just lost a very important old concert pianist. He --

C.R.: (Brusquely): Name?

Me: Leonard Pennario.

C.R.: (Voice suddenly soft and sympathetic): Oh, I know Leonard Pennario. Of course! Oh, I'm sorry that he died. I have his Gershwin album.

The New York Times reporter who wrote the obit, James Barron, could not have been nicer. We were on and off the phone all day and I really enjoyed talking with him though by the end of the day I was so fatigued I was babbling. I even said that to him, if I recall. I said, "James, I'm babbling." James Barron has written a book on the making of a Steinway grand so I am glad he wrote the Times' obituary of Leonard Pennario. I think he did a wonderful job.

I love that so many of the obituaries for Leonard that I've seen so far chose to print what Leonard said to me: "You have to play for the people, you have to play for an audience. You can't just go into the studio and make records, you know?" I remember when he said that to me. I was smiling just out of delight in his words.

The L.A. Times writer, Chris, was also on the phone with me all day, and I liked him, too.

The San Diego writer misquoted me, saying that I said that Pennario did what he did without ever winning a piano competition. What I said was he did what he did without ever entering a piano competition. There is a difference. But, well, so what. Let those of us who are without sin cast the first stone. She did a pretty good job too. And they put Pennario's picture on the front page. A beautiful old picture of him, from when he was in his 30s. Hand-picked by, you guessed it, his misty-eyed biographer. Over the picture they had, "Leonard Pennario, 1924-2008."

Yesterday I got the story into the Associated Press and now it seems to be everywhere.

Anyone else want to hire me as P.R. director? I did not do too badly. It was very therapeutic for me, being useful like that. It helped me work through my grief. What is beautiful now is on music Web sites like, people are weighing in on how wonderful Pennario was, how he was one of the great pianists of our time.

One person identified as "Argerichfan" (after pianist Martha Argerich) writes about loving Pennario's recording of the Rachmaninoff Second. I love this quote:

"I'll never forget that moment in the 2nd movement -let me go grab my score- eight measures after rehearsal 19, going into the "Un poco piĆ¹ animato". No one had ever clarified -and given such character to- that transition. It was a magical moment of pure genius."

Argerichfan goes on to write: "Goodnight, dearest. Rest in peace."

Leonard must be adoring that! I am glad I am not the only person who loved him.

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