I was put in mind of my old friend Charles (it was always Charles, never Charlie) this week by two occurrences: Reading an essay about childhood and reuniting with our friends from then; and the surprise appearance of a box on my front porch containing the complete music criticism of George Bernard Shaw, sent by Paul. Here’s a column I wrote about Charles in 2004.
Requiem for a listener’s listener
Charles Warwick, resident of Anaheim, once sent me the nicest letter I have ever had from a reader. It was short and simple. It said he purchased the Register so he could read me.
Over time, I came to know him well. He wrote e-mails about my reviews, asked questions, reflected on his own listening and reading. It turned out that he was the most avid classical music listener that I’d ever met, bar none. He had a huge record, CD and tape collection, and especially enjoyed, just as I do, symphonic music and the great conductors. He subscribed to Gramophone and Opera News and read classical music articles in newspapers and would clip things and send them. He became, we joked, my personal clipping service.
A retired schoolteacher, he went to concerts constantly, and had been doing so since the ’50s. He had stories; he knew lore. When traveling, he visited composers’ homes and other musical landmarks. He knew more repertoire than I did, too, and soon started making me tapes, later CDs, of his collection, and passing them along gratis. I couldn’t have invented such a man. Here I was with my fancy music degrees and yet he was giving me an education. There were all sorts of audios he sent — symphonies by Vagn Holmboe, little-known Rossini overtures, interviews with conductors, rehearsals with Stravinsky, live performances conducted by Giulini and Monteux, the recordings of pianists Benno Moiseiwitsch and Leon Fleisher. Great stuff. He heard that I liked Radu Lupu but owned few of his recordings. Shortly thereafter, a batch of CDs arrived in the mail from Anaheim, including Lupu playing all the Beethoven concertos.
When I had an extra ticket, I began asking him along to concerts. He didn’t always say yes, and I liked him for it. He had taste. When he did come we had a good time. He had a Southern twang (he was from North Carolina) and had that rare gift these days, a gift for conversation, but he knew what was off-limits — namely, my opinion of the concert we were at. That had to wait for the review.
My ancient amplifier started acting up. Charles told me to bring it to the next concert. He took it home, opened it, found two decades of dirt, cleaned it up and promptly delivered it 20 miles to my house, in perfect working order.
When I was to meet Charles at a concert, I’d tell my wife I’d be late. We always ended up talking in the parking lot afterward, on and on. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did.
The e-mails kept coming. He had a dry wit. “After reading your notice of the opening of the Bowl,” he wrote recently, “I’ve decided that my living room looks and sounds just fine, thank you very much.” Once he spied a famous conductor at an airport: “I figured he wasn’t going to come up to me and ask if I were Charles Warwick, so I approached him and asked if he were Andrew Litton. He said he was.” Of course they struck up a conversation. Litton finally asked Charles if he did anything besides go to concerts. “That about covers it,” Charles replied.
He passed away last Sunday. I have more than 200 of his e-mails in my inbox and can’t bear to delete them. You were a good friend, Charles.