In about two weeks, I will fly back to New York City for a family birthday celebration, and in a tight 4-day span I’ll visit the edifice of my High School of Performing Arts,
which is a designated landmark at 46th and 6th Avenue, then hop the IRT subway to W. 103rd, and saunter over to 105th and Riverside Drive where I took piano lessons with the late, Lillian Freundlich. I expect more than a gulp of emotion.
Two musical friends live fairly close by, so I will be sure to spend time with them, and tickle some ivories that come my way. My mother still has my old Sohmer upright that enjoyed years of playing, though it’s now a furniture centerpiece without much musical value. The radiator in winter and excruciating humidity of summer swelled and contracted its soundboard to a point of no return. The hammers met their demise as well. A piano restorer threw up his hands in futility at the very thought of refurbishing this once beautiful sounding instrument, formerly owned by concert pianist, Lucy Brown.
My beloved parakeet, Tykie christened the piano leaving little droppings in his wake. He soared to the ceiling as I played Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels,” and danced across the keyboard to “La Chasse.” His life was especially musical, and he was expected to sing for his supper.
The violin I left behind:
A few months ago, my 97-year old mother informed me that my violin, known as the
“cigar box” and retrieved from my grandparent’s dusty old closet in very bad shape, was given away to a neighbor. Amazingly, he restored it to playing condition despite the fact that it never played well enough to be considered playable. I never would have imagined. The last exposure I had to my cigar box was in the Bronx, performing “Exodus” at a junior high music festival on the eve of Yom Kippur, a poignantly sad occasion. Dr. Loretan, from the Board of Ed happened to be in the audience, and came back stage to offer his sympathies. He arranged for me to “loan” a violin from the School District in Brooklyn. I thought it was a “Stradivarius” before my violin teacher, Samuel Gardner, took out his magnifying glass and clarified that it was a “copy.” My dreams were shattered.
Perhaps I’ll find time to visit the very area on W. 68th where I took my violin lessons, before Lincoln Center ate up the greater part of the neighborhood. I remember the rubble, and carefully watching my footsteps as I walked along the route from the West 66th Street subway station to Lincoln Towers. It was the perfect backdrop for “West Side Story” which hadn’t yet made its movie debut.
Which reminds me of the evening I attended the Dimitri Metropoulos conducting competition at Avery Fisher Hall on W. 66th after the area was transformed by Lincoln Center’s presence.
Sejii Ozawa, one of the competitors prevailed, along with two other tied finalists. As I was standing on the subway platform about to board the IRT back to my apartment, I caught a glimpse of Sejii looking like a teenager with his impressive shock of black hair. It was a memory I’ll always treasure.
Not too far from Lincoln Center is Carnegie Hall on W. 57th where I spent many evenings soaking up performances of legendary pianists, cellists, and violinists. Most memorable performers: Emil Gilels, Sviatislov Richter, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Rosalyn Tureck, Nathan Milstein, and Daniel Shafrin. At one of these I met my future piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich and the rest was history.
Perhaps I will walk over to Carnegie, and ponder the space its former neighbor, Patelson’s Music House occupied. A hub for serious musicians seeking Urtext editions and rare manuscripts, it sadly closed its doors in 2009. Marsha Popowitz Patelson, an alumna of the High School of Performing Arts during the years I attended, was its owner and champion after husband, Joseph, passed away.
Patelson’s had such a homey atmosphere, like Wurlitzer’s where violinists gathered to try out Strads and Amatis that were hanging in rows. I always spotted a famous musician over there as I was looking to purchase a decent set of Italian made strings, and I never failed to solicit an autograph.
How shall I preserve the memory of being taken to Lewisohn Stadium in the Bronx to hear Van Cliburn play the Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 1 in Bb minor following his momentous victory in Moscow?
Will I have time to travel away from Manhattan? I wonder if this outdoor concert hall still exists? I recall having heard Marian Anderson sing there as well.
I think she narrated Copeland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” which tied into my recollection of Leonard Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts,” one of which I attended in Carnegie that made an indelible impression. Actually it was a rehearsal along with one conducted by Stokowski and the American Symphony. Those were the days.
I’ll be lucky to make three nostalgic visits if weather permits. In autumn New York City is very lovely, but you can feel the winds of winter approaching. It gets people going. I notice the pace of steps in the Big Apple is brisk compared to what I observe here in Fresno. But the same quick-stepped East coast meter is mirrored in the Bay area. Watch out, or you’ll get mowed down at the Bart station.
Robert Levine, one of my relatives, wrote a book about this very geography of time, and allowed me a quote about “tempo rubato” as part of the volume’s introduction. He traveled the world counting footsteps and came to conclusions about cultural differences in time perceptions. Very fascinating.
I don’t think I’ll have time to mark my own walking rhythm or that of others in the Big Apple. I’ll be lucky if the trains run on time so I can take my journey down memory lane without too much inconvenience. Wish me luck.