MOMENTS MUSICAUX

Igor Stravinsky glimpsed through a space between the stage and the wing stage-left, seated on a stool, his bald head hunched over his cane, using it to mark the beat (faster!) as Robert Kraft conducted an early suite of folk pieces. How many of the hard seats in the infield of that stadium (Columbia University’s Lewisohn Stadium), built for track and field, had just the right angle to afford such a candid view of the composer as he waited to conduct his Sacre du Printemps? It was like having a private view of Beethoven, deaf and worn out, waiting to come on stage to conduct his fifth.

More Lewisohn moments:

Van Cliburn, newly minted first American winner of the Soviet Union’s Tchaikovsky competition, playing Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto. That night I sat on the concrete bleachers. I had all but worn out my LP of the Carnegie Hall performance with Kyril Kondrashin. He played seven encores, some of them Chopin. How long and lanky he looked at that piano. How he enjoyed himself, and how that joy communicated itself!

Joseph Kripps conducting the entire Beethoven cycle.

Lily Pons, so beautiful, her voice ravishing despite the ancient sound system and occasional bus roaring past on Convent Avenue.

Richard Rodgers.

Mischa Elman at the end of his career, sadly unable to keep up with the orchestra.

Michael Rabin, memorable because he broke a string and was so upset about it. Still young, he died a few years later of a brain aneurysm.

At the Metropolitan and New York City Opera:

Richard Tucker, also at the end of his career, singing Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. What a marvelous voice, and what a powerful actor. His “La Commedia è finita!” is stamped in my memory. I use the line frequently, albeit in less tragic circumstances.

Norman Treigle in Boito’s Mephistopheles. No human being could make a sound like that, and how in God’s name could it reach me with such force all the way in the back of the last balcony?

And…a performance of Beethoven’s fifth symphony in the 72nd Street bandshell of Central Park. Just thirty-some instruments.  The Little Orchestra Society conducted by Thomas Scherman. The only time I’ve actually “heard” that symphony.

And, of course, December 2010, when I discovered Yulianna Avdeeva via a link on pianostreet.com. Through her not only Chopin but all the solo piano music that had till then remained opaque to me was revealed like the gateway to a magic kingdom.

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