Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Grand Hotel

Several nights ago as I was browsing TV possibilities to watch I stumbled on a black and white movie called "The Grand Hotel". I immediately hit the record   button vowing to see as much of it as possible and here is "the rest of the    story." 

In the late 1960's or early 1970's it was my good fortune to attend and be   a part of a Conductors' Institute orchestra sponsored by the American Symphony   Orchestra   League at Orkney Springs, Virginia. Its purpose was to provide     additional training for aspiring young conductors and the master conductor in  charge of instruction was Dr. Richard Lert from California. He was nearly 80   when I first encountered him. The assembled orchestra was made up of many "name"musicians  who would be recognized by their contemporaries the world over and the rest of us privileged to share stands with them, were just fortunate.

My musical naïveté prevented me from immediately recognizing who he was or why this obviously older man was the master teacher. After the first institute my musical eyes were opened to how much more there was to the art of music making and conducting. I was able to return to this happy experience each summer for the next ten years. It was a revelation to compare recordings of the Institute    orchestra with those of other major national symphonies.
In the program notes about Dr. Lert was usually a phrase " he was married   to
Vicki Baum, the author of Grand Hotel, which was made into the movie of the same name." There usually followed a brief biographical sketch about their life in Europe before emigrating to America and the west coast. In those pre computer days it would have been difficult to access the novel and the movie was ancient history and not available. As time passed there were little   snippets to the story that came my way which helped me retain the name.

Thankfully these historic movies from early Hollywood are still being aired on television. Just as being at the right time and place to benefit from the artistry of Lert, I was treated to a rare replay of the Award winning movie made a   few years  before my birth. Painstaking scholarship has resurrected the autobiography of Vicki Baum's early childhood, young adult years and how she met and married  Richard Lert. It has burgeoned unbelievably over time and was         immediately  accessible online. 

It became a fascinating read to learn how she developed her writing skills to become one of the glitterati of her time both in Europe and America. To follow the journey of the Lerts from Europe to America was to participate in the adventure that intellectuals and artists faced in the years between the World Wars.  We truly live now in the age of information, where an average person may often easily access pertinent details about persons who have made significant contributions to the human experience.

As a 75 year old I knew my great grandfather and dimly recall his stories of  life as a child during the Civil War. In my thirties I learned to know briefly Richard Lert. He in turn had met Brahms. Those of us who have survived into the 21st century can remember live links into the past century that give us unique and rare perspectives of that world.

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