Thursday, July 30, 2009

Homage to a Great Musician and Equally Great Man - Roman Totenberg

He was my boss for some years at a prestigious music school in one of the great cities I reside just outside of.
He was one of the eminent violinists of our time, having played with many of the leading orchestras, let alone having given countless recitals throughout the world.
He was one of the most gifted natural teachers I have ever known.
He was a listener of the greatest empathy during conversations. The many times I spent with him in his office are loving memories I shall always hold within me.
His quiet dignity and massive adherence to whatever he became attached to in his art were a combine rarely seen among those of us in this pursuit.
He is still with us, thankfully, having been born in 1911 in Poland.
I would receive postcards from him each summer from the retreat he went to for countless summers, with the "wish you were here" kind of message always scribbled out in his evocative handwriting style.
I recall his taking on a young violinist for free for a year, without hesitation, upon hearing this teenager for just a few minutes.
I recall the love and awe young girls and boys in the prep department orchestra held for him. They would have squeezed through the hole in a doughnut for this man. And the results were truly memorable.
I recall a day in the auditorium playing a Sonatine for violin and piano I had written for a brilliant young violinist. We were in rehearsal in preparation for its premiere. Totenberg had eased into the auditorium to listen, then emerged from the shadows after the performance, approached me and gave me a resounding slap on the back, exclaiming "bravo!"
One of my defining moments, as this man had performed with Artur Rubinstein and other luminaries of the top echelon.
As Schumann once wrote in his journal about a contemporary we call Chopin - "hats off, gentlemen - a genius!"
And may I add - "hats off - a truly great human being."



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