The last time I was at Medici before last week was in December of 2014 with my friend, Andrew Patner. As many of you know, Andrew was the voice of WFMT radio on Monday nights, and his program, Critical Thinking, still has some of the best interviews in the classical music scene, from giants like Riccardo Muti to local guys like yours truly. Andrew was also the classical music critic for the Sun Times, and his blog, The View From Here was must read stuff.
Andrew also had the amazing ability to be at every concert and cultural event in the city at the same time. I don’t think I ever attended a concert without running into him. He was a real advocate of mine and also helped other conductor friends, like Francesco Milioto. He was instrumental in getting his friend Neil Steinberg to write this piece. In the summer of 2013 he drove all the way to St. Louis to hear me conduct.
Andrew also was also an amazing Facebooker. To the extent that people can change minds online, he got people of radically different backgrounds, belief systems, political alignments, etc. to play nice in his sandbox. He encouraged heated debate, but did not tolerate disrespect. And everybody was Facebook friends with him. Childhood friends, major political movers and shakers, titans of the classical music industry, jazzers, journalists, etc. It was surreal for me to be able to go onto his Facebook page and “like” a comment by someone like Norman Lebrecht. Andrew also had one of the finest senses of humor in the business. He was going to write the libretto for an opera called “Boulez goes bowling,” which, if you know anything about either Boulez or bowling, is a hilarious concept.
But Andrew was a very busy man, and we only got to hang out, one on one about once a year. He knew Chicago better than anyone I’ve ever known, and he was always up for anything, food wise, so we would go to Greektown for lunch, or get a quick slice of pizza between his interview with Bernard Haitink and his deadline for getting in the new COT review.
In December of 2014, busy as usual, he asked me to come to Hyde Park, where he was at his mom’s house, and we could find a place to eat near there. I arrived and he gave me a tour of this amazing old Hyde Park house that had a stove that looked like it was from 1910. I said hi to his mom, and we walked down the street, past his old elementary school, William Ray, and he suggested we go to Medici.
The first thing you notice about the place when you walk in, is the daunting, judgey, arm-less statue of one of the Medici Popes
It is unclear though, whether this is supposed to be Clement VII
or Leo XI
I remember so little about the food from that lunch. I think I had pasta with pesto.
Short pesto/risotto detour: My parents are of Southern Italian descent, so we grew up eating Southern Italian food. Southern Italian cooking (especially as it is practiced in America) is heavy on the meat and the red sauce. It’s also big on taste, viewing Northern cuisine as bland (Southerners have an epithet for Northerners based on what they think of their food: Pollentu). My mother is probably the greatest cook known to me, but since we didn’t grow up eating a lot of Northern based food, I ended up discovering risotto and pesto much later in life. As a kid I had a notoriously limited (picky) palate (waaaay more picky than it is now, if my friends can believe that), so I doubt I would have even appreciated risotto or pesto. But now I can’t get enough of it.
Andrew had a salad that day, but I do remember him telling me the pizza was very good. I was at the height of my low carb diet days, and figured if I was going to break the diet, I might as well do it on something that I rarely get, so I didn’t end up trying the pizza that day. The point of our meeting that day, beyond the annual catching up was for me to give him a score that I had edited. He promised to deliver it to Riccardo Muti, which, good as his word, he did a few weeks later. He called me, in an excited mood, and relayed the whole encounter, quickly alternating between his normal speaking voice and his pitch perfect Muti accent, all interspersed with his beautiful, contagious laughter.
That was the last time I ever talked to Andrew. He died a week later, on February 3, 2015, and like so many other horrible things these days, I learned about it on Facebook. I was out of town and couldn’t go to the services. Tributes poured in from every conceivable corner. The Sun Times and the Tribune ran pieces. As did Alex Ross. The Chicago musical and cultural scene is still recovering from his death. As Neil Steinberg said “In Chicago’s classical music world, you didn’t connect through six degrees of Kevin Bacon. You intersected through six degrees of Andrew Patner.”
We’re still fortunate to have a slew of knowledgeable classical music critics in this city. What we don’t have anymore is someone like Andrew Patner, whose short list of passions include:
classical music, opera, operetta, jazz, musical theater, theater, film, LGTBT issues, civil rights, Chicago history, Studs Terkel, I.F. Stone, print journalism, radio, labor history, world affairs, and Chinese food.
As publicist Amanda Meer writes in her heartbreaking tribute:
“Know-it-alls are annoying, and Andrew did know it all. But Andrew’s was a knowledge rabbit hole you wanted to jump down. He didn’t talk over you, he didn’t talk at you; he told stories. So many of our stories are about ourselves, but his weren’t: his were about a city, a time, a family, a cultural moment.”
I miss him very much.