Great Dinner, Great Book

Great Dinner, Great Book

Three years ago, I tagged along with my friend Tony Plog when he did a masterclass tour of the East Coast: Juilliard, Yale, Curtis, Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory. The tour included one very special stop that would never have happened if Tony hadn’t said, “It can’t hurt to ask.”

Tony and I both had loved reading music biographies by composer and author Jan Swafford on Beethoven, Brahms, and Ives. Tony learned that Swafford lived in Boston and suggested we invite him out for dinner. To my amazement, he accepted! We met him at a seafood restaurant near the conservatory.

It turned out to be a riotous evening, sharing musicians’ stories and laughing and laughing. Three hours later we looked up to find we were the last diners in the restaurant, and the waiters stood impatiently by, drumming their fingers and wondering what was so funny. One of them consented to take this photo, showing me, Jan, and Tony.

During the meal, Jan told us about his latest project, a biography of Mozart that he had recently begun. The problem, he said, was that Mozart was too well-adjusted, and his life, so full of beauty, wasn’t very dramatic and so was hard to write about.

Mozart came out in December, 2020, and I’m reading it now. Jan needn’t have worried. It is magnificent—full of musical insights and fascinating stories. On every page I think of Jan, sitting across the table, alternately sipping wine and doubled over, helpless with laughter.

That memory is just one more thing in life that I would have missed if not for Tony and that all-important statement: “It can’t hurt to ask.”

More about Mozart: The Reign of Love
More about Jan Swafford


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