Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mario - a Violinist With Dangling Cigarette

At the beginning of my professional life in music, I met a gentleman who is indeed well remembered, as he was indeed a memorable part of that period in my career.
Picture the following description as best you can:
About five feet six, and almost as wide; muscular, not chubby.
A toupee, which must have cost him $1.89; absolutely devoid of any quality, perched atop a face with a wonderfully sculpted mustache ; a nose shaped exactly like Tony Bennett's; piercing black eyes with a hint of fatherly love which he tried to hide most of the time; a cigarette which dangled at a downward angle from his lower lip, which I had thought was physically impossible, as it never dropped to the floor - that cigarette was there almost every time I was with him, no matter where that might have been.
A perfect example of that wonderful performance ability - he could play anything that was ever written for the instrument, including the music of Ysaye. His sight-reading ability was beyond description; the best sight reader I have ever personally encountered. He knew countless pieces from memory; from concerti to solo masterpieces, both transcriptions and originals.
But - the one ingredient he lacked, which prevents us from knowing his name in world terms; that is, musical genius. There are, and have been thousands in that category throughout musical history whom we never hear about; namely, those who are veritably incapable of playing a false note, but equally incapable of inducing the atmosphere from moving around us when we hear such an individual.
Mario was a wonder in everything but that most elemental aspect of performance.
He was well known in the area where he made his living as a teacher and performer of secondary orchestras, though I do remember his playing with the Boston 'Pops' from time to time.
One day I produced a sonata I had written specifically for an occasion which would feature Mario and myself as performers. It was a big work, with four movements and a daunting 'vivo' as final movement of the four.
When he first picked it up (he had not seen it before), he flipped the pages, mumbling and nodding from time to time. When he came to the 'vivo', he uttered "looks great," and proceeded to play the violin part AT SPEED, without a blemish. It was utterly overwhelming - I had never contemplated that kind of exhibition as a possibility. Later, as I got to know him, I asked him about his sight-reading abilities, his answer being that when he was a young student in Italy, his teacher constituted sight -reading as a major part of his regime. It was the only time Mario produced a slight whisper of modesty, as one has to be born with that kind of ability to devour a piece not seen beforehand; that is, in the way Mario was able to do so.
At another time, I was working on a piece by Kabalevsky, when Mario sauntered into the room, remarked that he really liked the music I was doing, and asked if he could sit down and take a look at it. I looked up at him, rather surprised at his request, and asked him if he played the piano. He replied something like " a little", and proceeded to play the Kabalevsky pretty much at speed! I was absolutely astounded, and MUST have asked myself "why am I even trying??"
There are so many different guises in the form of Talent, are there not?
We were friends for some years, performing and spending many hours together. I cannot recall how and why our time together came to an end.
But every one of us has an occasional fork in that road.



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