The Back Story:
After having spent about 30 years in hometown New York City, I emigrated to the agriculture-rich San Joaquin Valley, California, planting myself and family in Fresno. This seemed to be a God forsaken place with excruciating heat (though dry). With its relentless air pollution; bad water from contaminated wells, and high incidence of allergies, Fresno made the ten worst cities to live in.
Yet a saving grace was Classical music station, KVPR, F.M. that survived budget cuts where two others died on the vine. Over time, however, the same show-stoppers, like the Van Suppe Overture were played ad nausea, while NEWS segments invaded too many intervals between cadences.
To its credit, Fresno had a Keyboard Concerts series founded by the late Philip Lorenz, an Arrau apostle. He brought glittering pianistic talent to the Central Valley. (Below, he’s pictured in 1969 with the celebrated pianist, and Ena Bronstein)
Among featured performers on the Valley series, Philip’s ex-wife, Ena, made a lasting impression.
Her Schumann Carnaval was a recital centerpiece, further resonating into in her public masterclasses.
I was mesmerized!
Ena Bronstein lived in my “neighborhood”–4 easy walking blocks away on San Bruno, so naturally, I became her student for two music-loving years. To my grave disappointment, in the mid 80s, she relocated to Princeton, New Jersey with her new husband, leaving behind a trail of devoted pupils.
(Pardon this long-winded prelude that gives context to this writing about the “neighborhood” teacher and “melting degrees of separation.”)
It turns out that my newest adult student here in Berkeley where I relocated in 2012, traces back to Fresno and Ena Bronstein.
Her mother who had been Ena’s pupil, rekindled Valley memories in a substantial email about our common connection.
In fact, she had brought her baby, (my student) to a lesson at Ena’s home, which probably coincides with my having played in a Masterclass for Murray Perahia at Fresno State University. I was 9 months pregnant at the time, about to give birth at any moment. Ena had helped me prepare Beethoven’s “Tempest” for the class. A proponent of supple wrist, big arm motions, she freed so many of us from our tight, squeezed playing.
What a small world, I thought. The mother of my student has origins in Fresno, and her daughter who relocates to Berkeley meets up with me, a “neighborhood” teacher, carrying on the tradition. (A transcendent transfer of knowledge and philosophy through generations)
As icing on the cake, I’m compelled to memorialize Ena Bronstein’s Fresno reunion recital in the following encore tribute.
Virtuosity and Poetry in Motion hallmark Ena Bronstein’s musical return to Fresno
Mister Rogers would have welcomed Ena Bronstein back to the “neighborhood” that she left over 25 years ago. He’d say that she planned to honor her friends, former neighbors, and piano students by giving them a very special reunion concert wrapped in love and caring.
And so it happened that our Fresno “neighborhood” piano teacher who had emigrated to the East Coast, returned “home” to her roots to bestow a musical gift that left an indelible memory.
With my video camera mounted on a delicate tripod, I wound my way to the balcony of First Congregational Church, finding a snug space, keyboard-side for my film landing. From this vantage point, I could zoom in on a 9-foot grand that was pea-size to the naked eye.
It evoked my childhood seat in Carnegie Hall’s last row– with its dizzying gaze upon a stage that hosted Ashkenazy, Richter and Gilels. Their delicate pianissimos were melted pin drops of musical pleasure.
Ena, too, would feed the soul of listeners at the Old Red Church on Van Ness with an expressive palette of tonal colors and textures, framed and styled for each of three composers: Liszt, Debussy and Beethoven.
From the very first silky sound emanating from a well cared for piano, she riveted her audience to every nuance, sculpted phrase, and expressive possibility of all programmed works. It was playing permeated by seasoned maturity, finesse, mood painting and heightened expression. (For students learning about the unity of physical movement with fluid, emotional musical expression, Ena’s supple wrist and flowing, relaxed arms were exemplary models)
An excerpt from Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Etudes
In the culminating Beethoven Sonata, op. 111 the artist left us in spellbound silence at the last fading cadence, needing no encore to disturb a purity of contemplation.
I barely held back tears.
Ena celebrated the birthdays of Liszt and Debussy in a personalized performer to audience soliloquy, then continued to play her heart out.
Pour Le Piano: Debussy Toccata
Prelude: Voiles (with my photo seascapes along the Bay)
For her generosity, and singular benefit performance to restore the Church’s Casavant pipe organ, she was rewarded by large servings of love that circulated through the reception area following her concert. I was one of many former students who begged for a photo with her:
As an added dessert, I was granted a brief interview with my “neighborhood” piano teacher who, despite her farewell decades ago, will always have an eternal presence in my life and those of others she touched in a unique way.
Ena, please come back home again, soon!
From 12 Etudes Transcendantales
Harmonies du soir Liszt
Preludes – Voiles Debussy
Etudes – pour les Arpeges composes Debussy
pour les Degres chromatiques
Pour le Piano
Sonata Op.111 Beethoven
Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato
Arietta – Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile
Ena Bronstein-Barton Bio:
“Born in Santiago, Chile, pianist Ena Bronstein Barton began her career in South America, touring her native continent. After winning a national piano competition she traveled to New York to study with Claudio Arrau and Rafael de Silva. Her New York debut at Town Hall was received with critical acclaim. Since then, Ms. Barton’s career has taken her across the United States, back to South America, to Europe, the Near and Far East, Australia and New Zealand. Among her engagements abroad was an extended tour of Israel and Europe, highlighted by performances as soloist with orchestras in Jerusalem, Luxembourg and Rome.
“Ms. Barton has received many honors throughout her career, including an invitation to attend the Casals Festival, a 1976 Martha Baird Rockefeller Grant which resulted in a solo recital at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, and the 1996 Distinguished Artists Piano Award by Artists International. Her chamber music performances have included appearances with violinist Jaime Laredo and the Guarneri Quartet.
“Ms. Barton taught at California State University-Fresno for 13 years. She was artist-in-residence at Monterey Peninsula College in California and has conducted master classes at the University of Veracruz in Xalapa, Mexico, and in Santiago.
“Recently she gave a recital and master class as part of the centennial celebration of Claudio Arrau’s birthday being held in New York City at the Greenwich House Music School.
“Currently, Ms. Barton is head of the piano department at the Westminster Conservatory of Music, the college’s community music school. She is also a member of the piano faculty of Westminster Choir College of Rider University.”
Donald Munro’s Fresno Bee interview with Ena Bronstein:
The Neighorhood Teacher Lives On:
Shrinking Degrees of Separation in the Music World