Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Three Years Ago Today

Three years ago today, we were in Munich, Germany.

We spent most of that day simply walking around the center of the city as well as visiting churches.

One of the historic attractions we visited that day was Hofbräuhaus, which my father particularly wanted to see because of its associations with Adolf Hitler. We examined the exterior of Hofbräuhaus, but we did not go inside to examine the interior, as Hofbräuhaus still serves as a beer hall—and we are, basically, teetotalers.

We saw most Munich attractions associated with Hitler in our long, self-guided walk through the streets of Munich that day, a walk that made us thoroughly exhausted by late afternoon.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sereny’s Final Interview With Stangl

After already conducting more than 70 hours of interviews with Franz Stangl, former Commandant of Sobibor and Treblinka, author Gitta Sereny scheduled her final visit with Stangl for June 27, 1971.

For her final visit, Sereny determined that she must press Stangl, one final time, for an answer on the question of guilt.


"My conscience is clear about what I did, myself," he said, in the same stiffly spoken words he had used countless times at his trial, and in the past weeks, when we had always come back to this subject, over and over again.

But this time I said nothing.

He paused and waited, but the room remained silent.

"I have never intentionally hurt anyone, myself," he said, with a different, less incisive emphasis, and waited again—for a long time.

For the first time, in all these many days, I had given him no help. There was no more time.

He gripped the table with both hands as if he was holding onto it.

"But I was there," he said then, in a curiously dry and tired tone of resignation.

These few sentences had taken almost half an hour to pronounce.

"So, yes," he said finally, very quietly. “In reality, I share the guilt. Because my guilt . . . my guilt . . . only now in these talks . . . now that I have talked about it all for the first time . . ."

He stopped.

He had pronounced the words "my guilt"—but more than the words, the finality of it was in the sagging of his body, and on his face.

After more than a minute, he started again, a half-hearted attempt, in a dull voice. "My guilt," he said, "is that I am still here. That is my guilt.”


A few hours after Sereny's final interview with Stangl had concluded, Stangl, age 63, suffered a massive coronary and died.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Franz Stangl, Commandant of Sobibor and Treblinka, probably no more anti-Semitic than most Austrian provincials of the time, became entirely conditioned to violence and disastrously corrupted by it.

Toward the end of our long conversations in Düsseldorf prison in 1971, I asked Stangl whether it would be true to say that he got used to the liquidations.

“To tell the truth, one did become used to it” he said slowly.

“Would it be true to say that you finally felt they weren’t really human beings?” I asked.

He answered, “When I was on a trip once years later in Brazil, my train stopped next to a slaughter house. The cattle in the pens trotted up to the fence and stared at the steaming, hissing train. They were very close to my window, one crowding the other, looking at me through that fence. I thought then: Look at this. This reminds me of Poland. That’s just how the people looked, trustingly, before they went into the tins.”

I interrupted. “You said ‘tins’. What do you mean?”

But he went on without hearing or answering me.

“I couldn’t eat tinned meat after that” was his only response.

“So you didn’t feel they were human beings?” I asked again.

He said tonelessly, “Cargo. They were cargo.”

Gitta Sereny, recounting her conversations with Stangl while conducting research for her book, “Into That Darkness: An Examination Of Conscience”

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Twinkle Toes Tiddly Pooh: The Elaborate Can-Can

A visitor from Sutton Coldfield, United Kingdom, entered a comment on an earlier post that deserves its own special recognition.

We are up at the lake this weekend—it is the first of three consecutive weekends we shall spend at the lake—and we are sitting out on the deck that overlooks the water, playing with our laptops (there is no television at the lake house).

It is dark, the kids are in bed, asleep, and the dog is snoozing—or at least he was until a very short time ago, when we all began laughing ourselves silly.

The comment I reproduce is hilarious. We are all howling, trying to keep the volume down so as not to wake the kids. The dog is excited, seeing that we are having fun, but he cannot understand what the fuss is about.

Even Andrew’s mother, the world’s most graceful and elegant and refined woman, is beside herself, joking that she may need to be hospitalized if she cannot stop herself laughing soon.

Lizbeth, a psychiatrist, is prepared heartily to affirm the commenter’s diagnosis at the end of his remarks.


I have a great story to tell. I think you’ll like it.

My wife and I live in Birmingham. In December, we went to hear CBSO play Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony.

Nikolaj Znaider was called in to conduct as last-minute replacement. In the UK, Znaider is always the conductor called in at the last minute because his engagement book is never filled. He is always available. Halle, Liverpool, Birmingham: all can call him at the last minute, knowing he is free and his fee is low.

We bought our tickets before Znaider was booked as replacement conductor. With some reluctance, and no enthusiasm, we attended the concert.

I would not have missed the concert for the world.

Znaider came onstage and started flashing his jacket to show the audience that its linings were bright red. He played with the flaps for two minutes, maybe three, swishing around repeatedly, to show everyone the sparkly red. It was as if he were a contestant in a beauty contest. Only when Znaider was done flashing and swishing was the concert allowed to start.

The first half of the concert was a new organ symphony. Was the performance good? I have no idea. It was a new work.

The second half of the concert was Bruckner.

Znaider came out after the interval and stood on the podium. With swashbuckling showmanship and sweeping motions, he raised his arms as if to begin. The musicians raised their instruments.

Then, with great ostentation, Znaider picked up the conductor’s music stand and made a soaring, storklike, excessively dramatic waving gesture. Two musicians had to rise, take the music stand from him, and place it behind him.

Naturally, all this had been arranged in advance. Znaider obviously knew he was going to conduct without a score, but nevertheless had insisted that a music stand be present so that it could be dramatically and ostentatiously removed in full view of the audience.

Need I mention that once he lifted the music stand, Znaider could easily have moved it himself, and placed it anywhere he wanted? He could have simply turned around and placed the stand behind him. Instead, he had to have two musicians do it for him, with much ceremony and fanfare, so that no one in the hall could possibly miss his pretentiousness.

It gets better.

During the Bruckner, in addition to flashing his jacket so that the audience could continue to see the sparkly red, Znaider started swishing around and playing with his feet so that he could constantly show the soles of his shoes to the audience.

The soles of his shoes were bright red.

He would display his soles to the right, and then to the left, and then straight behind. Then he would start all over again. He made sure that every single person in the hall knew he was wearing shoes with bright red soles. This elaborate can-can went on for 70 minutes, the duration of the symphony.

It was all we could do to keep from devolving into hysteria. People all around us were suppressing giggles, stuffing handkerchiefs down their throats, while watching Twinkle Toes Tiddly Pooh manhandle Bruckner, more concerned with flashing his jacket and flashing his shoes than holding a performance together.

In more than thirty years of concerts, I have never seen anything like it. It was Monty Pythonesque.

Need I add that the performance of the Bruckner was incomparably incompetent?

Znaider quite clearly has numerous psychiatric issues to address.

And I’m qualified to make that diagnosis. I work at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

. . . But He Wears A Great Lipstick

The man may have fatal character flaws . . . but he wears a GREAT lipstick.

It is undeniable that Nikolaj Znaider can CARRY the fully-made-up look!

Have readers seen any other man who can do it half so well?

Happily, Znaider does not confine himself to one shade of lipstick.

And, I believe, such is the right choice for him.

After all, why would a man want to restrict himself to painting his lips pink, and only pink, when he can wear other colors, too?

And with such flair!

In fairness, Znaider’s primary makeup designer deserves some credit, too. Her name is Mindy Saad.

Ms. Saad’s job cannot have been an easy one, because Znaider looks like one person while sporting makeup and like an entirely different person when caught “without”.

Admirable as is the work of Ms. Saad (whose clientele, Znaider aside, is overwhelmingly female), Znaider uses other makeup designers, too. Znaider’s makeup needs are too substantial to be satisfied by one—and only one—makeup artist.

In fact, I am going to reveal a secret: Andrew has been working, on and off, for more than three months, on a weblog post devoted to the subject of Znaider’s makeup design and makeup history.

It surely will be the only such entry on the worldwide web!

The post promises to be a veritable encyclopedia on the subject of Znaider and makeup, going back to the mid-1990s. The post will feature before-and-after photographs as well as comprehensive makeup-designer and photographic credits.

More enticing still, the post will include an analysis of Znaider’s rapid weight gains and losses since the early 2000s; his changing hair styles and hair colors (as will be seen, Znaider has laid out a small fortune in hair dye and home permanents over the years); and a history of the evolution of Znaider’s concert attire, from white-tie-and-tails at the beginning of his career, onto three succeeding generations of what can only be described as bizarre, Liberace-style getups, until arriving at the cheap, off-the-rack business suits he wears today. (Znaider’s fees are much, much, much lower than Anne-Sophie Mutter’s or Maxim Vengerov’s fees—and Znaider has far more urgent uses for his cash than spending it on concert attire.)

Andrew’s post will conclude with a series of photographs of Znaider over the last six years, in which the photographs will demonstrate, almost month-by-month, the fewer and fewer highs and more and more lows of Znaider’s life—and the vast deterioration that has set in since 2006. Some of the photographs, in fact, are painfully sad to examine; they almost make me feel sorry for Znaider, although his problems are entirely of his own making.

The bounteous cornucopia of delights described above will be anchored by what may prove to be Andrew’s funniest narrative ever. I have seen the first couple of drafts, in the works since April, and I practically went into conniption fits both times.

Andrew says he won’t have time to finish the project until sometime in September, because he has too many briefs to write at work. I believe, however, that patience will be rewarded.

Until Andrew’s weblog post emerges, readers will have to sustain themselves by imagining they are in Caracas, Venezuela, tomorrow night, attending a benefit concert for one of Hugo Chavez’s favorite charities. Znaider, heavily made-up and wearing a cheap suit, will—according to Reuters—be whisked through the pothole-riven streets of Caracas, passing numerous hand-sprayed anti-Semitic signs that mar the building facades of the decaying metropolis, finally to be delivered at the door of the main concert hall, where Znaider will perform alongside Chavez’s leading propagandistic tool to the outside world, the Simon Bolivar Orchestra.

This assumes, of course, that Znaider will not be the victim of an anti-Semitic assault on his person between now and tomorrow night.

This also assumes that Znaider will not cancel at the last minute, which he has been exceedingly prone to do the last couple of years.

Tickets to the concert are still available.

The exercise will be repeated on Sunday.

Think pink.

“I Am, When I Think Of Znaider, Ashamed To Be A Jew”

[Nikolaj] Znaider will appear in Venezuela with BOTH ensembles Chavez showcases.

Chavez sends both ensembles on frequent foreign tours as cultural exports for his regime. Very troubling is that one of the concerts Znaider will play in Caracas is a BENEFIT CONCERT. To the best of my knowledge, Znaider has NEVER appeared in a single benefit concert in Israel, on behalf of any charity, despite well over a dozen engagements by the Israel Philharmonic since 1997.

Znaider is allowing himself to be used as a propaganda tool by a regime that is actively working toward Israel’s demise.

I hasten to add that the youth orchestra movement in Venezuela was never used as a propaganda tool by previous Venezuela governments. The maneuver is a Chavez invention.

Is Znaider insane? Immoral? Dumber than stone? Whatever the answer, Znaider has fatal character flaws.

It makes me question whether Znaider is functionally literate.

Does Znaider read magazines and newspapers? Amnesty International reports? Anti-Defamation League issuances? Simon Wiesenthal Institute announcements?

Human Rights Watch issued a new report two days ago. It was widely covered in the press in Europe and North America. It pointed out that the Venezuelan press and judiciary had lost further independence and had become further corrupted over the last four years, that democratic processes and organizations continued to disappear or become disabled, and that violations of human rights had reached near-epidemic proportions.

Things will only become worse if Chavez wins the upcoming election to become president for life, an election Chavez will surely win because the voters are too afraid to support and vote for anyone else.

Apparently Znaider does not care about any of this.

Apparently Znaider is uninterested that synagogues in Venezuela have been defaced. Apparently Znaider is unmoved that there is an ongoing Diaspora from Venezuela. Apparently Znaider is indifferent to the anti-Semitic rhetoric that has become a staple of the Chavez system. Apparently Znaider is unconcerned about the fate of Jewish residents of the nation, all of whom are suffering, fearful to raise their voices and terrified to be seen as anti-Chavez.

I am, when I think of Znaider, ashamed to be a Jew.

Damn the man.

An eloquent comment from earlier today, originating—according to sitemeter—at the Wiesenthal Institute in Vienna, Austria.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Questions For Nikolaj Znaider

Why are you, a Jewish man with an Israeli passport, appearing in Venezuela?

Are you unaware that Venezuela has severed diplomatic relations with Israel, and is aiding Israel’s enemies?

I realize you are not an educated or a sophisticated man—but are you not aware that Venezuela is no friend of the civilized world?

Are you unaware that persons of the Jewish faith are leaving Venezuela in large numbers because of institutionalized anti-Semitism promoted by that nation’s current regime? And that Jewish organizations all over the world have been issuing outcries and calls for action?

Does not the history of your mother, Ruth Znaider, and your father, Wlodek Szeps, mean anything to you? Or do you tell your family’s story at every opportunity simply for public relations purposes?

Your parents escaped totalitarian states. Your parents escaped anti-Semitic states. You embrace rogue states.

I have no respect for you.

And you should have none for yourself.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sereny And Speer

Don Honeyman’s famous photograph of his wife, author Gitta Sereny, interviewing Albert Speer at Speer’s home outside Heidelberg in 1978.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Farewell, Miss Sereny

The great Gitta Sereny has died. She died exactly one month ago today. It was only tonight that Andrew and I learned of her death.

We are utterly ashamed we missed the news of her passing.

At dinner tonight, Andrew’s father mentioned Sereny’s death in an offhand remark, a remark that left Andrew and me with gaping jaws. Looking at our reactions, Andrew’s father instantly realized that Andrew and I had been unaware of the great writer’s death.

Although Sereny died on June 14, her death was not revealed until June 18, when Sereny’s publisher had issued an announcement. Obituaries began appearing in the British press that very day (Sereny was long a resident of London). The first American obituary—there were only two—was published on June 20, the last on June 24.

Sereny’s death was hardly a shock—she was 91 years old on the date of her death, and had been ill for quite some time—yet it was unsettling to learn of the passing of a great figure whose life had been closely intertwined with so many seminal events and key figures of the 20th Century. Like Samuel Pepys, Sereny will be remembered, for centuries hence, as one of the great chroniclers of her age.

Sereny’s husband, Don Honeyman, had died last year. Andrew’s father had sent condolences to Sereny at that time, but had not heard back from her (and had not expected to, given Sereny’s illness).

Honeyman, a professional photographer, had been an important figure in his own right. Like Andrew’s father, Honeyman was a native of Iowa. Back in the 1970s, the two had established a friendship of sorts arising from that common heritage. Several times over the years, Andrew’s parents had visited the Honeymans in Kensington (in private life, Sereny had always used her husband’s last name).

I have always thought it ironic that Sereny, writing in magnificent English (not her first language), found her largest audience in Central Europe, where her books were widely available in translation. I suspect it may have been the distinct Central European sensibility of her work that appealed to Central Europeans. Sereny was born in Vienna, and spent most of her pre-Anschluss life there (for three years in the 1930s, Sereny had been sent to England for schooling).

In North America, Sereny was known most of all for her book about Albert Speer. Sereny’s study of Speer surely is the most astute and penetrating of the many volumes devoted to Speer over the last several decades. More than any other writer, Sereny peeled away Speer’s self-delusions until she had arrived at the core of the man. Her assessment of Speer is the subtlest of all—and by far the most damning.

First published seventeen years ago, Sereny’s Speer book has never gone out of print in the United States, a remarkable state of affairs for a lengthy and complex historical tome. I have never been in a significant bookstore in the U.S. when a copy could not be found on the shelves.

Sereny did not live to complete her final book, a study of Vienna in the 20th Century. In fact, Sereny had had to abandon the project a few years ago owing to ill health.

Tonight, out of curiosity, I glanced at the Wikipedia entry for Sereny. I was shocked. The brief Wikipedia entry provided little if any worthwhile information about Sereny’s life, her work or her importance as a chronicler of the 20th Century. An uninformed person, relying upon Sereny’s Wikipedia entry, would conclude that Sereny was a very minor figure. Sereny’s Wikipedia entry was less than one-tenth as long as the Wikipedia entry for Serena Williams.

The founder of Wikipedia should declare defeat, close up shop, and return to his previous field of endeavor: pornography.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Are The Danes Such Hillbillies?

Is it something in the water?

Alas, I have had to address this issue before.

Perhaps Catherine Deneuve could move to Denmark, and serve as a good example for the Danish populace to emulate?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

For Independence Day

Edward Hicks (1780-1849)
The Cornell Farm
National Gallery Of Art, Washington

Oil On Canvas
36 3/4 Inches By 49 Inches


I am not partial to primitive art, but this is a spectacular example, and a most suitable way to mark Independence Day.

The painting depicts the Cornell family farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and is a magnificent—and very beautiful—representation of American industry, thrift and practicality.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Final List

Below is a chronological listing of recitals Andrew and I attended over the past year.


Andre Watts, Piano

Ordway Center
Saint Paul


Susan Graham, Mezzo Soprano
Malcolm Martineau, Piano

Ordway Center
Saint Paul


Julia Fischer, Violin
Milana Chernyavska, Piano

Ordway Center
Saint Paul


Imogen Cooper, Piano

Sundin Music Hall
Saint Paul


Matthias Goerne, Baritone
Leif Ove Andsnes, Piano

Ordway Center
Saint Paul


I last updated this list on August 2, 2011.

Orchestra Hall Minneapolis

And Yet Another List

Below is a chronological listing of orchestral concerts Andrew and I attended within the last year.


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Osmo Vanska, Conductor
Simone Dinnerstein, Piano

Milhaud: La Creation Du Monde [Complete Ballet]
Ravel: Piano Concerto
R. Strauss: Ein Heldenleben


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Osmo Vanska, Conductor
Midori, Violin

Britten: Four Sea Interludes From “Peter Grimes”
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Debussy/Caplet: Claire De Lune
Debussy/Molinari: L’Isle Joyeuse
Debussy: La Mer


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Ordway Center
Saint Paul

Douglas Boyd, Conductor
Jeremy Denk, Piano

Brahms: Serenade No. 2
Dean: Pastoral Symphony
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Ordway Center
Saint Paul

Christian Zacharias, Conductor And Soloist

Martin: Etudes For String Orchestra
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3
Beethoven: The Creatures Of Prometheus [Incidental Music]


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Ted Mann Concert Hall

Christian Zacharias, Conductor And Soloist

Haydn: Symphony No. 42
Stravinsky: Danses Concertantes
Weber: Konzertstück
Haydn: Symphony No. 100 (“Military”)


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Osmo Vanska, Conductor
James Ehnes, Violin

Brahms: Haydn Variations
Brahms: Violin Concerto
Brahms: Symphony No. 3


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Osmo Vanska, Conductor
Minnesota Chorale

Brahms: Hungarian Dances Nos. 4, 5, 8, 11 and 14
Brahms: Nänie
Brahms: Schicksalslied
Brahms: Serenade No. 2


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Andrew Litton, Conductor
Vadim Gluzman, Violin

Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”)


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Ordway Center
Saint Paul

Ludovic Morlot, Conductor
Dawn Upshaw, Soprano

Mozart: Symphony No. 31 (“Paris”)
Debussy: Le Livre de Baudelaire
Ravel: Five Greek Folk Songs
Ravel: “Mother Goose” Suite


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Ordway Center
Saint Paul

Rossen Milanov, Conductor

Shostakovich: Two Pieces From Scarlatti (“Pastorale And Capriccio”)
Shostakovich/Barshai: Chamber Symphony For String Orchestra
Prokofiev: Overture On Hebrew Themes
Korngold: Violin Concerto


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Courtney Lewis, Conductor
Ingrid Fliter, Piano

Elgar: In The South (”Alassio”)
Schumann: Piano Concerto
Walton: Symphony No. 1


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Osmo Vanska, Conductor
Christian Tetzlaff, Violin

Sibelius: Symphony No. 4
Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1
Kodaly: Dances Of Galanta


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Ordway Center
Saint Paul

Thomas Zehetmair, Conductor
Kim Kashkashian, Viola

Schubert: “Alfonso And Estrella” Overture
Olivero: Neharot, Neharot
Schubert: Symphony No. 9 (”Great”)


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Conductor

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Mark Wigglesworth, Conductor
Minnesota Chorale

M. Berkeley: Oboe Concerto
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé [Complete Ballet]


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Ordway Center
Saint Paul

Roberto Abbado, Conductor

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 1
MacMillan: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 (“Reformation”)


Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall

Osmo Vanska, Conductor
Yevgeny Sudbin, Piano

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 (“Classical”)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24
Sibelius: Symphony No. 1


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Ordway Center
Saint Paul

Hans Graf, Conductor
Jeffrey Kahane, Piano

Varese: Octandre
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25
Varese: Density 21.5
Mozart: Symphony No. 40


The only work we heard twice last season was Brahms’s Serenade No. 2, a composition seldom programmed. (Oddly, both local ensembles had also programmed last season the infrequently-heard Brahms Serenade No. 1.)

Last season I heard my third live Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 and my third live Schumann Piano Concerto.

Last season I heard the following works live for the second time: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1; Brahms’s Nänie, Schicksalslied, Symphony No. 3 and Violin Concerto; Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25; Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2; Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite; and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto.

Every other work I was hearing live for the first time.


By my calculation, Andrew and I attended eighteen orchestral concerts last season: ten subscription concerts of the Minnesota Orchestra and eight subscription concerts of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In effect, we caught 40 per cent of the Minnesota Orchestra subscription programs and 30 per cent of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra subscription programs.

We heard nothing but local orchestras last season. Next season, things will improve: we intend to hear two concerts by the Chicago Symphony, one concert by the Milwaukee Symphony, one concert by the New York Philharmonic, and one concert by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, on tour in the U.S. next season.

The Minnesota Orchestra needs to upgrade its roster of guest conductors. For the last several seasons, the Minnesota Orchestra has offered a tired array of guest conductors. Next season is not an improvement.

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra needs to engage a music director. The orchestra’s playing is clean and neat, but faceless and impersonal.


By my count, Andrew and I have attended sixty-six orchestral concerts since February 2006, an average of eleven orchestral concerts per season.

I last updated this list on July 13, 2011.

The Ordway

The Ordway Center For The Performing Arts (capacity: 1900 persons), venue for Minnesota Opera performances.