Introducing “30-Somethings”

Celebrating my 30th year as a critic/annotator, an occasional series of the performances, people and places I just can’t forget


It was probably about five years ago, as I approached the 25th anniversary of my first published review, that I thought about making a “Top 10” list of the most memorable performances I had seen. The year came and went (and WhatGregSays wasn’t up yet), and the list remained on that long-term “to-do” list. Occasionally I would think about it again, just for fun, and one day realized that if I included performances prior to my becoming a critic in 1988, I would need a list longer than ten.

As 2017 drew to a close, the whole idea came to new life; the actual anniversary of my first published review was November 1, 1988 and the way that whole part of my life got started always comes back to me as a calendar year closes. It occurred to me that such a series shouldn’t be limited to performances, as I had had a number of personal encounters, professional and personal, and there were places, too, that should be memorialized (however small and fleeting that memorial might be!).

My good intentions wanted to launch this in January, and suddenly it’s late May….of course I have a stellar lineup of excuses—in fact better than usual: my book contract with UW Press was signed earlier this month, and the deadlines become very real! In case you haven’t heard yet, I’m writing the biography of John DeMain, and there will be plenty of news about that down the road, and an excerpt or two to hopefully whet your appetite. But at last I’m getting around to announcing the inauguration of “30-Somethings,” a series of occasional postings on WhatGregSays wherein I relive and share those unforgettable encounters, musical and personal, and performances which still echo in my ears. In hopes of whetting your appetites enough to click on your link each time you see “30-Somethings” pop up in the headline or email prompt, here is a partial list of what I plan to share.


Performances That Have Lasted a Lifetime

  • Birgit Nilsson as Isolde, at the Metropolitan Opera. December 1972. Conductor Karl Bohm gets a standing ovation before the opera—and Nilsson receives a 20-minute ovation afterwards.
  • Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, c. 1987.
  • Ella Fitzgerald singing at the estate of Jackie Robinson, Spring, 1979.
  • Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and pianist Rudolf Serkin at Saratoga Springs, NY, summer 1974.
  • The Three Tenors at Dodger Stadium, July 1994 (I’m glad I wasn’t reviewing!)



  • Mezzo-soprano Frederica “Call me Flicka” von Stade, who made distinct impressions on me on three occasions.
  • Nicolas Slonimsky, who in is his 101-year life simplified scores for Koussevitzsky, set a new standard for lexicography—and performed with Frank Zappa
  • Martin Bernheimer, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, who guessed correctly that I might have a small gift for music criticism.
  • Director Peter Sellars, sometimes maddening, never boring.
  • Placido Domingo, who treated the “second globe carrier” in Otello like a junior colleague.


  • Lincoln Center; I grew up a half-hour train ride away—in high school I made more trips there than Shea Stadium and Madison Square Garden combined.
  • The Ojai Festival, Ojai, CA. Ten consecutive years covering that magical long weekend overlapped with interacting with people like Sellars, Pierre Boulez and Michael Tilson Thomas.


That’s just a sampling…I hope you’ll enjoy all of them over the course of 2018…or longer!



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