I have recently commented that with the advent and development of PBS, which was supposed to be a safe place for the highbrow in the arts, it is possible that there was more classical music on network television in the 1950s and early 1960s, before PBS, than PBS -- which has gravitated to the middlebrow and the pretentious, all celebrated as if doo-woop were the essence of high-toned art -- provides today. And now the networks feel no need to give us even a hint of the highbrow, since PBS is supposedly filling that niche.
I have to admit, however, that when PBS does offer classical music, they can still offer gems. I was preparing to watch yet another Angels game, even though their chances for the playoffs are vanishingly thing, when I was idly scrolling through the schedule for other channels. Lo and behold, on KCET, the LA PBS outlet, was a 90-minute show featuring Renee Fleming and Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorosvtny in St. Petersburg. Well, especially since like undoubtedly many males I have a crush on Renee Fleming, so much for the Angels. The show was charming -- some St. Petersburg travelogue and history with joint concerts in different venues -- and the music was superb, ending with the final scene from Tchaikovsky's "Eugen Onegin."
It was followed by the 13th Cliburn international piano competition. The trouble with competitions could be seen on the faces of the three (of six) finalists as the medalists were announced. They tried to look brave and unperturbed, but you could see deep disappointment on their faces. They had worked so hard and all were accomplished artists. The upside of competitions -- for listeners -- was displayed through most of the rest of the program. We got to know the competitors a little and got to hear a lot of wonderful piano music. I still get slightly upset when shows play only short excerpts of music, as much as I know you can't help it unless you're ready for a 12-hour program. After all, the finalists did several recitals, did a chamber music concert with a string quartet, and the played two different concerti by different composers. What a challenge! I thought they all met it well and I hope those who didn't get medals still get their careers jump-started.