Alex Ross.

“I live on a high floor of a Chelsea high-rise with my husband, the filmmaker Jonathan Lisecki. My study is stereotypically overstuffed with books and CDs. On the desk I keep well-thumbed reference works—the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk’s Source Readings in Music History, and Paul Griffiths’s Penguin Companion to Classical Music—together with two books that lift my spirits when sagging: the Wallace Stevens collection Palm at the End of the Mind and William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. I leaf through Stevens in search of a fresh word or rhythm I can apply somewhere on the page. I look to James for philosophical guidance—he shows the way out of ideological traps and abysses. I’d contribute to a fund to place The Varieties of Religious Experience in every motel room in America.

To the left is our second-youngest Abyssinian cat, Bea. Her colleagues are Minnie and Maulina. There’s also a picture of River Phoenix, which I cut out of a magazine in the early 1990s. He would have been forty last summer. I’m not sure why I’ve kept the picture on my desk over the years—some kind of charm, I guess. Over on the window-ledge is one of my beloved Spica speakers, which I bought in 1991. They’re not big or fancy but give warm, honest sound. I dread having to replace them one day; the company has gone out of business.

Here’s a picture of my wall o’ CDs. This is actually only a portion of my collection: I have thousands more in storage. I’ve transferred some to the computer, but I still love CDs and LPs as objects.

As a sort of private joke, I keep a framed picture of Johannes Brahms hanging high, almost in the position you’d find an icon in a Russian Orthodox home. My essay on Brahms appears at the end of my new book Listen to This; for reasons I can’t quite spell out, his music is very close to me. When I don’t have to listen to music, I often listen to Brahms. You see a picture of Ballarat, the ghost town in Panamint Valley, California. I like wide-open, empty spaces.”

Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996. From 1992 to 1996 he wrote for the New York Times. His first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century,became a bestseller and translated into sixteen languages. Selected as one of the New York Times‘s ten best books of year, The Rest Is Noise won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Guardian First Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. Ross has served as a McGraw Professor in Writing at Princeton University and received honorary doctorates from the New England Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music. In 2008, he was named a MacArthur Fellow. His second book, Listen to This, appeared in the fall of 2010. A native of Washington, DC, Ross now lives in Manhattan. He’s married to the actor and filmmaker Jonathan Lisecki.

It would be great to have more music education in schools…More exposure in the media would also help.

FROM YOUR DESKS: All those CDS; you must be a romantic. Twenty years from now, will CD’s hold the same appeal as the LP?

ALEX ROSS: I doubt that any romance will attach to CDs. You can transfer the data to your computer and lose nothing in the process — with the LP, you can’t capture the beauty of the sound digitally. But in classical music the notes, data on performers, song texts, and opera librettos are useful. I still like the finite pleasure of taking a record off the shelf, listening from beginning to end, and then putting it on the back. Music on the computer seems endless and formless, in a way.

FYD: Does youth care about classical greats? How do we educate young people about classical masters with your enthusiasm?

AR: Obviously, only a small fraction of Young People strongly care about classical music, but there are thousands of kids studying music now, and they can make a fair portion of the classical audience of the future.  It would be great to have more music education in schools–that stresses the passion of the music and isn’t just pedantic. More exposure in the media would also help. I’ve found many publications are actually kind of horrified by the idea of talking about classical music. I think there’s a fear it will make them look like sissies.

I still like the finite pleasure of taking a record off the shelf, listening from beginning to end, and then putting it on the back.

FYD: As a massive film fan, my family loved Hitchcock, what old film composers do you like?  

AR: I’m a huge fan of Bernard Herrmann, the composer of “Citizen Kane,” “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” and “Taxi Driver.” He didn’t simply imitate Wagner and other Romantics—he had his own original sound, this very dark impressionistic style. “Vertigo” may be the greatest of all film scores — it’s impossible to imagine the movie without his music.

FYD: Is anyone emerging in the field?

AR: I wrote about Michael Giacchino (“Lost,” the latest “Star Trek”) in the New Yorker earlier this year — he’s a major talent among contemporary film composers. I also like Alexandre Desplat.

FYD: I’m a massive Yankees Fan. Who does the Boston Red Sox hat belong too?

AR: That’s mine! My mom grew up in Boston and I inherited her Red Sox fandom. I happened to be in Boston the night the Red Sox finally won the Series in 2004 (see the Joy in Boston).

2 Comments For “Alex Ross.”

  1. A. Nonnie Muss says:

    That is a fantastic cat. I’m a dog person but I can appreciate a really good cat when I see one.

  2. Alan Marcy says:

    I have been in bed listening to a few tunes – since 1997. Cellular anoxia often renders my brain, and mind, formless. Music brings me home, if only for a few moments. Johannes Brahms or Bo Diddley, depends on coincidence.

    Some speak of music as something well understood, as if the good part is how a performance was perceived. It is, to egomaniacs. Criticism is not above music, it is a view, from below. Dividing performances into good and bad passes the time, but, how many ever jump up to dance to a review?

    Music has magic, like a smile. Musicians make music. Many more listen. There is no need to explain music, nor a smile. We keep talking, it passes the time. People who can not, or will not, enjoy any music are simply less alive. Some people never smile.

    Some of us are critic critics. D’oh!

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