Josť Serebrier - Portraits of the Maestro
by Michel Faure
Publ. (English Translation) 2021
Michel Faure, credited with the authorship of the present book about Maestro Serebrier, is a music and movie critic in France. He has worked for the French Federation of Cine-Clubs, Twentieth Century Fox, and many international festivals.
The subject of the book, Josť Serebrier, is a celebrated conductor and composer, frequently recorded and widely admired. He was born in Montevideo, Uruguay of Russian and Polish parents from Jewish extraction. A child prodigy, Serebrier began to study the violin at the age of nine and at eleven made his conducting debut. While at school he organised and conducted the first youth orchestra of Uruguay and toured the country, giving more than one hundred concerts over a four-year period. He graduated from the Municipal School of Music in Montevideo at fifteen but opportunities for conducting Uruguay's only major orchestra did not materialise. There was at the time an annual composition contest, known as SODRE, in Uruguay and that year it was announced late, only two weeks before the deadline. Serebrier, thinking he might be permitted to conduct his own work if he won, entered the contest with a hastily written work – Legend of Faust overture. It was an eighteen-minute piece that he composed in the four days and nights leading up to the deadline, with the last page written on a taxi while rushing to hand over his composition and meeting the final date. He won the contest but, as he was only fifteen, wasn’t allowed to conduct it. The conducting of the piece was assigned to guest conductor, Eleazar de Carvalho, at the time the most prominent Latin American conductor.
Today, at 83, Serebrier conducts most major orchestras around the world and is the most recorded conductor of his generation, with over two hundred and fifty titles. His published compositions, many of them written at an early age, also mount to more than one hundred. He has also received forty-five GRAMMY nominations in recent years and all his recent recordings got multiple further nominations.
Celebrated maestro Leopold Stokowski hailed Serebrier as "the greatest master of orchestral balance" when Serebrier was only twenty-one years old. Serebrier worked with Stokowski for five years as his Associate Conductor at New York's Carnegie Hall. One of the most interesting bits in the present book is a brief section, reproducing some of Stokowski’s letters to Serebrier.
The book is organised in eleven chapters and the bulk of it is essentially one long interview. It is mostly Serebrier in his own words. The transcripts of interviews and various little stories he told – there’s a whole chapter dedicated to his experiences and anecdotes about colleagues and mentors – are extremely well done. Serebrier comes across as eloquent, intelligent, discerning and passionate about his music. There is also a section with excerpts from a wide variety of press interviews given by Serebrier throughout the years to Gramophone Magazine, Ritmo Magazine in Spain and our very own MusicWeb International, by Gavin Dixon, which you can read in its entirety here.
As Serebrier works both as conductor and composer there are two interesting sections related to this. One about the uncertainties of a double career and another, which I found particularly appealing, with Serebrier’s notes on his own compositions. We can also enjoy a chapter of articles written by himself, a couple of sections with features written by others about Serebrier and his work, a foreword by American composer John Corigliano and an introduction by Michel Faure, the author/compiler of the book. Additionally, besides the Stokowski’s letters, there is a list of published works and Serebrier’s discography from 1966 through to 2021. A brief photo gallery, in black and white, completes the book.
Josť Serebrier, Portraits of the Maestro makes for an engaging read. Especially fascinating are the maestro’s own words about his life, his work and his family in the various interview transcriptions but, as a whole, this book provides valuable, absorbing insights into music in general and into Serebrier’s views in particular, both as an artist and a human being. The book is well presented and exceptionally organised. It is available on Amazon in hardcover with a subtle photo of Serebrier conducting (the edition I read and reviewed) for £22.30 or as a Kindle e-book for £21.18, which for this electronic format seems slightly exaggerated to me but the price is determined by the publisher.
Personally, I enjoyed reading Josť Serebrier, Portraits of the Maestro as it gave me a detailed, at times engrossing profile of a celebrated conductor and composer. It is a useful book for aspiring conductors or composers with a lot of good advice, pertinent information and captivating opinions from the man himself. If you are a Serebrier admirer than this book is a must. If you are not, but love classical music, it is still very valuable for the personal views and perspectives of one of its most remarkable exponents.
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at http://www.flowingprose.com/)