The Homecoming

May 4, 2016

Kirk Browning, an American television director and producer with hundreds of productions to his credit had decided to move into smaller quarters. Our mutual friend, Virginia, was there to assist as Kirk regretfully disposed of many of the awards, trophies, and memorabilia that he had amassed over a lifetime of professional work.

At one point, Virginia noticed that Kirk was about to drop two publicity photos of a musician holding his violin into the trash bin. Even from afar, one of the photos caught her eye. The violinist, dressed informally but elegantly, seemed engaged in deep thought as he gazed down at his instrument. The photograph was compelling enough for Virginia to ask Kirk about it. The musician in question was Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest violinists of all time. Kirk told Virginia that he had met and worked with Heifetz as the director of the 1970 French television production, Heifetz in Performance. Somewhere along the way, Kirk had acquired these two Heifetz photos. One of them never made it into the trash bin. Knowing that I was a violinist, Virginia presented it to me the next time we met.

heifetz

Photo: Glenn Embree

There are great violinists. And then there is Heifetz. Listening to him, my heart always beat faster and my palms began to sweat. How was it humanly possible to play the violin not only with that kind of mind-bending accuracy, but also with such daring, such mesmerizing changes of color and such seeming effortlessness? Heifetz played as if he were a hummingbird, able to impulsively dart forward, then miraculously stop on a dime, and just as suddenly change speed and soar into the stratosphere for sheer pleasure.

The photo Virginia so thoughtfully gave me captured a meditative and intimate moment quite unlike most glittering Heifetz publicity shots I had seen over the years. One of those photos, with Heifetz’s violin held theatrically high and his left hand fingers extended on the upper reaches of the fingerboard as if Mount Everest-bound, found a spot in my violin case. I had placed the photo there to honor the violinist I had worshipped from childhood on, but also to inspire me now. Heifetz, supremely endowed as a violinist and artist, could have coasted to a successful career on those attributes alone, but he felt compelled to practice many hours a day throughout his life. If even Heifetz had that obsessive work ethic, so, perhaps, should I.

I heard Jascha Heifetz live several times when I was young. No violinist looked cooler on stage than Heifetz, yet with a minimum of facial gestures or body movement he managed to perform with a feverish intensity that made me feel his violin would burst into flames at any moment. But as Heifetz grew more renowned over time, so did his reputation as a difficult man. For whatever reason–perhaps his great fame, the adoring, even fawning fans that came with it, or the constant pressure to be the Heifetz everyone expected of him–the great violinist often became willful, suspicious of people’s motives, and withdrawn from even his oldest friends.

People gleefully tossed around stories of Heifetz’s bad behavior. Jack Pfeiffer, who was the artist and repertoire man at RCA records for both our Guarneri String Quartet and Jascha Heifetz, told us that one day Heifetz called him to discuss a recording project they had just finished. When the conversation ended, Jack said, “Thanks for the information, Mr. Heifetz. By the way, how are you?” Heifetz’s response was immediate. “I called you. If you want to know how I am, you call me.”

Yes, the story was amusing, but it was also heartbreaking. The dazzling high-wire act Heifetz successfully performed for decades had turned him, with few exceptions, into a fiercely burning flame encased in ice. For this reason, the Heifetz photo I now held in my hands was especially meaningful. Gone was the icy exterior. What remained was the image of a deeply sensitive man lost in contemplation–a man who could at one moment leave me breathless with his violin, and at another just as easily bring tears to my eyes.

I hung the Heifetz photo in a place of honor in our house where it remained for many years.

In 1938, shortly after moving to Southern California, Heifetz asked his friend Lloyd Wright, architect son of Frank Lloyd Wright, to design and build a studio behind his house overlooking Beverly Hills. The Heifetz studio was conceived as a cluster of hexagonal spaces and linked to the main house by a breezeway. After Heifetz died in 1987 at age 86, the new owner, actor James Wood, planned to tear the studio down. Fortunately, Richard D. Colburn, founder and benefactor of the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, and Toby E. Mayman, its executive director, came to the rescue by raising enough money to have the studio dismantled piece by piece and then reconstructed in 1999 inside the Colburn School.

Heifetz-studio

The Heifetz studio

Some ten years later, as a new member of the Colburn School faculty, I found myself surreally standing in the reconstructed Heifetz studio. The school’s distinguished violin teacher Robert Lipsett, who teaches in the studio, had invited me in. Every effort had been made to exactly restore both the studio and its contents. Across from a handsome brick and stone fireplace was the black leather desk chair Heifetz had sat in; nearby a Rachmaninoff poster and a bust of Beethoven, as well as smaller items such as a cartoon Heifetz had pasted to the side of a cabinet in which an unhappy customer is complaining to the owner of a car repair shop about a bill: “$120.34 for a tune-up? Who tuned it? Jascha Heifetz?”

But if I were to ascribe significance to any object in the room, it would be to the inauspicious music stand on which Heifetz had placed his music. Day after day, year after year in front of that stand, he had obsessively practiced in order to perform the miracle we would later hear on stage. Heifetz himself was once quoted as saying: “Practice as if the world depends on it. Perform as if you don’t give a damn.” For almost a half a century, practice in this studio had been the genesis of literally thousands of electrifying Heifetz performances.

When I returned home after having been in the Heifetz studio, the photo of him that hung in my house had somehow changed. Beforehand, I would occasionally stop to gaze at it, always relishing the very personal and intimate mood that the photographer had managed to capture of Heifetz himself. Now, with the studio fresh in my mind, I began to look past Heifetz. Could that be a bust of Beethoven behind Heifetz’s head? And what about the semitropical-looking vegetation growing outside the window? The thought suddenly occurred to me that the photo might possibly have been taken in Heifetz’s very own studio.

I brought the photograph to my old friend Marianne Wurlitzer, a music antiquarian who deals in a unique music gallery that includes everything from a Beethoven first edition to a French hurdy-gurdy. In taking the photo out of its frame, Marianne discovered the name of the photographer, Glenn Embree, clearly stamped on the back. Embree was a highly respected commercial photographer known for his work with both cars (antique and otherwise) and stars (Hollywood rather than celestial). Then Marianne scanned and sent the photo image to John Maltese who together with his father has been in the process of writing a book about Heifetz. John, immersed in everything and anything concerning the violinist, informed us that the photograph had indeed been taken in Heifetz’s studio.

With that in mind, I gave the photograph to the Colburn School so that it might reside where its life had begun so many years ago. On my next visit there, Bob Lipsett ushered me into the studio and showed me where the photograph now hung. According to Bob, it occupied exactly the same place where Heifetz had posed for his portrait.

bob-lipsett-3

Robert Lipsett in the Heifetz studio. Heifetz photo to the left.

Bob and I stood in silence for a moment, looking reverently at the photograph that offered a glimpse into the soul of a very private man and a very great artist, and I thought to myself: Welcome home, Mr. Heifetz.

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Comments

  1. From Ivan Mueller on May 4, 2016

    Another of your heartwarming stories. Thank you!!!

  2. From marilyn on May 4, 2016

    I have heard many stories about Mr. Heifetz and his rather difficult personality, but in this story you managed to capture both his amazing talent, and his personal challenges, though a very humane and compassionate lens. Your humanity combined with your great talent is an inspiration for us all. Thank you.

  3. From Paula Lifschey on May 4, 2016

    Arnold,
    Very beautiful article about Heifetz.
    Paula

  4. From Anne Tatnall Gross on May 4, 2016

    Arnold, your stories are heartrending and so beautifully written. I look forward to them always.
    Anne Tatnall from long ago

  5. From Wendy Noyez on May 4, 2016

    Dear Arnold,
    Here I sit in Venice Beach, Calirornia, and a delighted to be reading your so interesting story about this photograph. Being a photographer myself, the journey of the photo holds special interest. Thx for sharing it!
    X.

  6. From Charles Avsharian on May 4, 2016

    The stories from In the Key of Strawberry seem to get better and better….just HOW does this fellow, Steinhardt, do it?? Since I, too, am infected with the Heifetz virus, I truly was glued to the words of this latest installment of the Strawberry Chronicles. One of my favorite authors is John Steinbeck….and Arnold’s intimate style of writing is just what this reader appreciates and loves.
    Charles Avsharian

  7. From Robert Moore on May 4, 2016

    My mother was 18 and Principal Oboe of Houston Symphony in 1945 when Heifetz performed the Brahms Concerto with them. She has a copy of the program with his autograph and he wrote “All Good Wishes, with my Compliments” and signature. Nothing nasty about that!

  8. From Bernard Zaslav on May 4, 2016

    Marvelous history of this violinistic giant for all of us to share, Arnold. Thanks.
    But tell me. please; when I enlarged the photo methinks I spied a shoulder rest on the bottom of the violin. Could that have indeed been a shoulder rest, which I thought he abhorred, or rather a part of a music stand next to the lower part of the violin?
    Inquiring minds want to know.
    Bernie Zaslav

  9. From Carlos Cabezas on May 4, 2016

    Fantastic!!! Picture are more than pictures!!! Amazing,

  10. From Kathleen Fitzpatrick on May 4, 2016

    Lovely story. Thank you for sharing it.

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heifetz

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The Homecoming

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January 3, 2011

Perfect What?

My daughter, Natasha, told me recently about a gifted young boy she knows who has learned to read at an early age and already plays the piano with astonishing originality. As if to offer a final and irrefutable proof of the boy’s extraordinary musical talent, Natasha added one more thing. “You know, he’s got perfect [...]
David Soyer

December 6, 2010

Dave

David Soyer, cellist and founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away on February 24, 2010—one day after his 86th birthday. Michael Tree, violist, and John Dalley and I, violinists, the other founding members, played in the quartet with Dave for almost forty years and we knew him for close to fifty. Peter Wiley, [...]
Paganini's Birthday

October 27, 2010

Paganini’s Birthday

Today, October 27th, is Niccolo Paganini’s birthday. Below is a reprint of an article I wrote on this occasion which appeared in the October issue of The Strad magazine. Next, as an attachment, is Caprice #24.25, my arrangement of Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Finally, I include a letter that to my great astonishment Paganini just wrote [...]
Photo from Opus

October 4, 2010

Opus

I saw Opus a while ago, a play by Michael Hollinger that deals with the inner workings of a string quartet. Since I have been a violinist in the Guarneri String Quartet for many decades, you can imagine that I awaited the opening curtain with some anticipation. The subject of my profession is not exactly [...]
Hermes/Mercury, God of Travel

September 6, 2010

Psssst

I hear a lot of griping from my friends these days about travel. Trains are much more luxurious and dependable in Europe. Japanese taxi drivers wear white gloves and decorate their cars with curtains while in New York City, taxis are, well, let’s not even talk about it. And the deluxe plane travel of years [...]
In a Sentimental Mood

August 2, 2010

In a Sentimental Mood

I recently heard an all-Stravinsky concert performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. A few days later, a review of the evening by Anthony Tommasini appeared in the April 23, 2010 edition of the New York Times. A comment he made about the orchestra’s rendition of The Firebird Suite caught my eye: “The Firebird’s Lullaby, [...]
Dinner Music

July 1, 2010

Dinner Music

Uncharacteristically early for an appointment, I slowed my pace up Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue. Better early than late, I thought, but what on earth was I to do with myself for the next 30 minutes. As I approached 86th St., the answer appeared almost by magic in the form of Papaya King, a hot dog stand [...]
Disney Hall

June 2, 2010

Something New, Something Old

I happened to be performing in Los Angeles just as the city’s new and glittering Disney Hall opened several years ago. A week earlier, I called my mother who was living in Southern California to tell her of my arrival. “Oh, wonderful,” she said. “You can take me to Disney Hall.” That was fine with [...]
Joe Vita

May 4, 2010

Joe Vita

I left the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University last year after having taught a graduate violin class there for over two decades. Among other things, I miss the lively conversations I often had with colleagues at student recitals, oral exams, juries, or over a pizza at the local Italian restaurant. Topic [...]
Twelve Note Story

April 23, 2010

Twelve Note Story

Take a deep breath and try to settle down. I know, I know. The task is daunting, but you’ve worked hard. Just be relaxed. Be focused. And now get practical. For starters, think of a good tempo. Not so easy based on the first two or three notes that are slow and deeply personal. Better [...]
News Alert

March 30, 2010

News Alert

The United States Bureau of Weights and Measures has just announced at a national news conference that chamber music may cause global warming. The issue first came to the bureau’s attention when directors of several distinguished music conservatories notified it of alarming and unexplained rises in temperature at odd times of the school day. Government [...]
Sophisticated Traveler

February 28, 2010

Sophisticated Traveler

I planned to take the 2 PM Eastern Airlines shuttle from New York City. That would have gotten me into Boston by three with plenty of time to grab a bite, take a taxi to Jordan Hall, change, practice some, and relax a bit before the Guarneri String Quartet concert at 8 PM. But an [...]
Grammy Award

January 18, 2010

Grammy Awards

The Guarneri String Quartet was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Chamber Music Performance this year for our Hungarian Album on RCA Red Seal. The CD consists of Ern? Dohnányi’s Quartets Nos. 2 and 3, and Zoltán Kodály’s Quartet No. 2, three works of striking beauty. The Grammy Awards (originally called [...]
Shall We Dance?

January 4, 2010

Shall We Dance?

Many years ago, I had occasion to play a Bach Partita for the pianist and scholar, Arthur Loesser. When I finished, Loesser asked me whether I knew how to dance the partita’s five movements. I vaguely knew that the movements were based on old dance forms, but I had assumed that the dance steps themselves [...]
Looking for Work

December 1, 2009

Looking for Work

The Guarneri String Quartet retired, yet Arnold Steinhardt continues to perform in public. Photo by Dorothea von Haeften. Violinist in Recently Retired String Quartet Looking for Work * Skills Proficient in chamber music. Works best with people willing to overlook occasional lapses in intonation, phrasing, and tone. Performs virtuoso solo works, but no higher than [...]
Birth Pains

November 4, 2009

Birth Pains

Mozart’s String Quartet, K. 421 in D Minor, occupies a special place in the hearts of the Guarneri String Quartet. It was the very first music we read through after deciding to form as a group. Why that work? Hard to remember after all these years, but I would guess that its emotion charged and [...]
The Guarneri Quartet

October 6, 2009

For the Very Last Time

On June 12, 2007, the Guarneri String Quartet sent out the following announcement: Dear Friends, We, the Guarneri String Quartet, have decided to retire at the end of the 2008-9 season, our forty-fifth year before the public. This has not only been a long journey, but a deeply satisfying one as well. What could be [...]
Gray's Papaya

September 1, 2009

Gray’s Papaya

“We’ll drive you home,” said Frank Salomon, an old friend and long-time presenter of the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts at Washington Irving High School. The Guarneri String Quartet had just finished a performance there, the last ever on the series before our retirement. Moments later, Frank behind the wheel, his wife Martha, my wife Dorothea, and [...]
Second Concert

August 3, 2009

Second Concert

The following is a slightly extended version of Second Concert, that appeared in the June publication of the new magazine Listen: Life with Classical Music. Our string quartet played a concert at Emory University in March of this year. Whenever I’m in Atlanta, I stay with my friends, Murphy Davis and Ed Loring, ministers who [...]
Arthur Rubinstein

July 7, 2009

Really

A member of the audience, somebody I’d seen backstage more than once before, came up to me recently after a concert I had just played. He smiled broadly, shook my hand enthusiastically, and said, “Great concert… really.” In the midst of thanking him, that last word, “really,” finally registered. Really? Excuse me sir, but what [...]
Life, Death, Music

June 13, 2009

Life, Death, Music

Last summer, Emily Hsiao, a teenager whom I’d never met, e-mailed me. She asked whether the Guarneri Quartet would have time to listen to music students in her high school when we played in Ann Arbor, Michigan that winter. Only hours after my visit to the school, a brutal attack on one of those students [...]
Almost on the Riviera

May 11, 2009

Almost on the Riviera

Did you always believe what your parents told you when you were young? I certainly did. I may not have always had the good sense to obey them or heed their advice but their wisdom was unquestionable. Take education, for example. My parents believed mightily in the importance of formal knowledge and therefore the need [...]
The Abode

April 1, 2009

The Abode

Alter Bock, a dedicated amateur string quartet player, has just announced plans for the creation of a home for retired chamber musicians. “I’m concerned that these wonderful musicians I’ve heard and admired most of my life have a nice place to spend their golden years.” He spoke to me from the music room in his [...]
Yehudi Menuhin

March 5, 2009

Genie in a Bottle

I ran into the violinist, Jennifer Koh, not long ago. Jenny is a highly gifted young musician who happens to have a keen interest in string players of old. At some point, our conversation turned to Yehudi Menuhin, one of the great violinists of the twentieth century. We talked about Menuhin’s instantly recognizable style, the [...]
A Brush with Fame

February 8, 2009

The Brush With Fame

Ah, Los Angeles! So-called city of angels, a place where the sun shines almost always, where palm trees flourish, a place that knows no winter-in short the city where I was born and raised. But in my adolescence, Los Angeles was much more than a hedonist’s playground. Thanks to the movie industry, the balmy weather, [...]
New Years Thoughts

January 1, 2009

New Year’s Thoughts

A drawing in the New Yorker magazine several years ago depicted a tawdry back alley with a few empty cans and bottles strewn about. The caption above read: Life without Mozart. Its message apparently affected many of us. I saw the drawing on peoples’ desks, walls, and refrigerator doors for years afterward. As a member [...]
The Swan

December 1, 2008

The Swan

When I was eleven years old, my violin teacher assigned me The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. I had no idea that The Swan was a famous cello solo or that it was part of a much larger work, The Carnival of the Animals. I had never even heard of its composer, Saint-Saëns, or seen his [...]
Mr. Oliver

November 10, 2008

Mr. Oliver

I enrolled in a music appreciation class when I was a high school student. Near the beginning of the semester, the teacher of the class took ill and a substitute, Mr. Oliver, replaced him. Mr. Oliver knew his subject well. He played us everything on the school record player from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony to Peruvian [...]
Tooth Talk

October 8, 2008

Tooth Talk

I was having my teeth cleaned by the dental hygienist the other day when she offhandedly asked whether my children were also in the music industry. Fortunately, with my mouth wide open and filled with dental gear, I was only capable of answering with a few rather inarticulate and muffled noises. Otherwise, I might have [...]
What Good is Music

September 11, 2008

What Good is Music?

[Originally written and published in September 2002]. I lost no loved ones on 11 September 2001, nor was my home destroyed or my work affected in any palpable way by the tragic attack on our nation; and yet, the events of that morning have prodded me to look inward and take personal inventory. As a [...]
A Tale of Three Violinists

August 10, 2008

A Tale of Three Violinists

I stood in the artist’s dressing room, warming up nervously before my sole rehearsal with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. For a twenty-two-year-old violinist just starting a career, performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with this distinguished group of musicians was an important engagement. My palms were sweating, my heart beat rapidly, and I began to pace back [...]
Last Words to a Son

July 11, 2008

Last Words to a Son

Andrea, the head nurse at the assisted living home where my mother has lived for many years, called last month to tell me that mother had stopped eating, that she was drifting in and out of consciousness, and that she was failing rapidly. The next day, my son Alexej and I flew to Southern California [...]
A Dog's Tale

June 12, 2008

A Dog’s Tale

I’m a wonderful teacher. I know, you don’t have to tell me. It’s not nice to brag. But truth above all, I always say. Here. Let me show you why I’m so good. We have a dog named Tessa. As far as I can tell, Tessa doesn’t have much feeling for music one way or [...]
Remembering Izzy

May 10, 2008

Remembering Izzy

Photo by Allen Cohen Every one of us has to die. We know that. We also know that sooner or later all of us will be forgotten. Even Einstein. Even Beethoven. Nevertheless, we humans doggedly strive for meaning in our lives and harbor the secret (or not so secret) wish to accomplish something of sufficient [...]
A Noteworthy Day

March 2, 2008

A Noteworthy Day

I heard a great deal of music yesterday. Let me rephrase that. Yesterday, I heard a multitude of sounds—some longer, some shorter, higher or lower, louder or softer—as I made my way through my waking hours. The sounds appeared sometimes as individual tones and sometimes in groups of two and three. They often repeated themselves [...]
Solo Bow

February 2, 2008

Solo Bow

The Guarneri String Quartet played a concert in Wisconsin several years ago. Why do I remember that this particular concert was in Wisconsin? Probably because Wisconsin is a cheese-making state and a delicious selection of cheese was set out at the after-concert party. It’s funny what details remain vibrant in one’s mind, especially in light [...]
In the Key of Strawberry

January 1, 2008

In the Key of Strawberry

An unexpected thought interrupted the sentence I was reading in the morning newspaper, followed by several other thoughts in quick succession. I had just remembered last night’s dream: My wife, Dorothea, and I were riding on a bus in a foreign country. Through the window we espied an open-air flea market with an array of [...]
Hiroshi Iizuka

December 1, 2007

Cousin Sam

“How much time you giving me today, maestro?” This was more or less the way Sam began most of our phone conversations. Sam Schloss was my cousin, more specifically: my mother’s mother’s sister’s son. I would usually call him during a break in one of the open rehearsals the Guarneri String Quartet held during its [...]