The Chocolate Cake

June 3, 2016

My wife, Dorothea: So, how was the concert tour?”

Her husband, Arnold: “Great. After the concert in Rome, I had a plate of gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce that was to die from. And in Vienna, you wouldn’t believe how sensational the Salzburger Nockerl was.”

Dorothea: “I’m glad. But what about the concerts? How did they go?”

Arnold: “Uh, OK. I guess.”

But how did those concerts go? Hard to say. Like most musicians, I’m rarely satisfied with any of my performances. But even if I thought my playing was the greatest thing since Paganini appeared on the concert stage, was it really? Music making being a subjective matter, the audience might have thought it the worst fiddling they’d heard in ages. Besides, how would it look for me to go around telling everyone that I played like Paganini in Rome or Vienna or Sheboygan, Wisconsin?

Mother was right. It’s not nice to brag.

So I prefer to talk about the gnocchi I had in Rome, the Salzburger Nockerl in Vienna, the Rice Table in Amsterdam, the smoked ribs in Kansas City, and, oh, I almost forgot, that chocolate cake in…but that’s a delicious story in itself.

Our Guarneri String Quartet played a concert in Evanston, Illinois not that long ago. The presenter of the concert, Blair Milton, and his wife, Barb, generously invited us out to dinner afterwards. To cap off a fine meal, we all ordered chocolate cake for dessert, but it took only a bite or two for a muffled groan of disapproval to spread around the table. The cake was disappointingly dry and characterless. Barb, who was sitting next to me, shook her head sadly and said, “To think that we have to eat this excuse for a cake when I know how to make the greatest chocolate cake in the whole world.” This was too bold a statement to be left hanging. I demanded an explanation, which Barb was only too happy to supply. She pushed the despised chocolate cake as far from her as possible and began:

“I had been dating a man for a year and wanted to do something special for his birthday. What better way to show I cared than to bake a birthday cake from scratch? My boyfriend loved chocolate and I had a recipe that I had clipped from a magazine. Apparently, it was very popular.

“But first, a little history. The truth is I had never cooked anything. Before I met this guy, I basically subsisted on takeout and salad bars. I was completely unaware that this new man in my life was actually a very good cook. So, blissfully ignorant, I decided too wow him on our first date by preparing some undercooked linguini with tiny clams that came out like little rubber erasers. After that catastrophe, he took over the cooking and I gratefully assumed the task of taster and prep-cook. I chopped things, I cleaned up…but he was the real chef.

“Everybody was happy that way.

“So, back to the cake. I wanted to impress my boyfriend and see the look on his face when he took his first bite. I dug out the chocolate cake recipe from a file of clippings I had been keeping and bought the ingredients. I began the preparation completely unaware of the odyssey about to unfold. I meticulously measured everything into bowls, and I was optimistic that the outcome would be spectacular.

“Halfway through, many items mixed at that point, I was reading the instructions when they came to an abrupt halt in mid-sentence. I flipped over the magazine clipping and saw an ad for hand cream. Where was the rest of the recipe? I scrambled through my file of clippings and realized that I had mistakenly cut out only half of it. Now my heart was beating fast. I only had two hours left before my boyfriend would arrive.

“By now it was too late to start over and I was completely distraught at the thought that I might have to produce a store-bought cake. I scoured the recipe clipping again and noticed that the recipe was from a restaurant called Watershed. I jumped back online, found the number and called it, now in a full-blown panic.

“The receptionist picked up. I explained that I was calling regarding the magazine feature about the chocolate cake. She must have thought I was calling from the magazine itself, because she transferred me directly to the kitchen and a gentleman picked up saying: ‘This is Scott Peacock.’ Now, I am a violinist and if someone answered their phone and said: ‘This is David Oistrakh,’ I would fall over. As I have explained, I am not a culinary whiz. I was not aware that I was speaking to the executive chef himself, nor that he was a highly regarded celebrity chef. That will explain why I proceeded to babble on about my ‘emergency’ without the proper respect or any consideration of the fact that it was 4 P.M. their time and prime pre-dinner rush.

“I have worked as a waitress—I should have known better.

“Mr. Peacock is going to heaven, no question. I urgently explained my dilemma: ‘MY BOYFRIEND IS A GOOD COOK. I’M NOT. IT’S HIS BIRTHDAY. HE’S THE ONE. I’M HOPING HE’LL SEE THAT I’M THE ONE TOO. IT ALLL HINGES ON THIS CAKE!!

“He soothed my agitated state immediately by asking me first to read what I had so far. After a few instructions, he cut me off with a disgusted snort. He said the editors had written it down so poorly that it was confusing. He told me to toss the clipping and get a pen and paper. He then proceeded to walk me through each step of the preparation. He gave me tips such as: ‘whisk back and forth in a zigzag pattern instead of circles so the batter emulsifies better.’ He assured me that this cake was a cinch. He called it a ‘dump’ cake since I could essentially dump everything into a bowl, and the only tool needed was a whisk. He said he would be in the kitchen all night and invited me to call if I needed any more advice…but then asked me to call either way because he wanted to know how it turned out.

“I dove back into cake-prep and everything went smoothly. My masterpiece was cooling secretly on the window ledge behind the couch when my boyfriend arrived. After a nice dinner, which he (of course) whipped up…I produced the most delicious, moist, not-too-sweet, kill-me-now chocolate cake. And, for the first time ever, I got the pleasure of seeing someone’s eyes open in amazed delight as their taste buds exploded. What a great feeling.”

Everyone at the table was entranced by Barb’s story, but something felt incomplete about its ending. Then it occurred to me. “What about the boyfriend?” I asked. “What happened to him?” Barb smiled, turned to her left where Blair was seated next to her, and said, “I’m happily married to him.”

It was a good story. No, it was a great story and one with such a happy ending. But what about the world’s greatest chocolate cake itself, I wondered. If only I could experience this mother of all cakes, I would be a blissfully happy guy. I asked Barb for the recipe, which she kindly sent me the very next day.

Dorothea absolutely loved the Watershed chocolate cake. I loved it as well, and so does everyone else I’ve served it to.

What’s that? You want to know how the concert went in Evanston, Illinois, the night of the cake story?

I have no idea.

 

The Watershed Chocolate Cake:

Ingredients:

Butter and flour for pans
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup extra strong brewed coffee (Decaf if desired)
5 oz. finely chopped unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
2 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream at room temperature

For frosting:

1 cup heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 lb. semi-sweet chocolate finely chopped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup double strength brewed coffee

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Butter/flour two 9 inch cake pans. Brew 1 cup coffee.
Sift together dry ingredients in bowl, blend with wire whisk.
Add unsweetened chocolate to 1 cup coffee and cover; stir after melted.
Whisk eggs w/oil, sour cream, and vanilla, then add chocolate/coffee mixture.
Dump dry ingredients on top of wet ingredients in 1/3 increments, whisking aggressively after each addition (no more than 1 minute but enough to knock out big lumps and add some structure).
Pour into two 9-inch pans already buttered and floured, bake for 30 to 40 minutes (until few crumbs on toothpick—it’s a moist cake).Let cool in pans for 3 minutes, then remove and cool on rack.

To make the frosting:

Heat the cream, butter, sugar, and salt over low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted and smooth. Add vanilla and coffee, stir until blended. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature and to a spreadable consistency. Frost the top of one layer, top with second layer, then frost the top and sides.

Cover with dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
Serve with choice of ice cream, whipped cream, berries, etc.

Confession: I often eliminate the frosting and bake ingredients as one cake, allowing additional time for the thicker cake to completely bake through.

 

chocolate-cake

Photo: Dorothea von Haeften

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Comments

  1. From David Russell on June 3, 2016

    I cannot express my excitement at the very idea of trying this recipe! The story alone lends richness to the taste of what appears to be something quite special! Can’t wait to try it! :-)

  2. From Paula Lifschey on June 3, 2016

    Enjoyed this, Arnold. It reminded me of people saying that they couldn’t praise Marc, he seemed uncomfortable with it.
    I seem to have lot your email address in my last computer crash.
    Paula

  3. From Marj Wright on June 3, 2016

    Arnold: thank you for the lovely story! I have printed out the recipe, (complete with lovely photo of you!) and will give it a try soon.
    We really enjoy your blog – thank you so much. We expect to see you soon around these parts.

  4. From Ann Roggen on June 3, 2016

    Great story-I was waiting with bated breath, hoping that you’d include the recipe!

  5. From Mark Klein on June 3, 2016

    Thanks so much for this wonderful story! And, more importantly, for including the receipe for the chocolate cake!! As I was reading, I kept thinking that as soon as I’m finished reading I’ll get online and find the recipe for the Watershed Chocolate Cake. Now I can’t wait to get home to make it!

    Thanks again. And, as always, another fun and educational post!

  6. From Toby Harris Watson on June 3, 2016

    So happy to have discovered “In the Key of Strawberry.” A delightful, witty and poignant moment of sanity and grace to be relished. Also loved your books. Thank you from an old pupil from Harpur!

  7. From Robert Hutcheson on June 3, 2016

    I’m in the Kirkwood Public Library reading your latest piece and can’t stop myself from joyous, ecstatic smiles all over my face. What a treat just reading about the baker, maker, the cake, and the marriage! You’re remarkable! Are you sure you aren’t inventing any of these spicy tales. Bitte nicht aufhalten!

  8. From Muriel Mikelsons on June 4, 2016

    Wonderful, charming story. Especially since long-lost friend Blair Milton plays such an important part in it. Hi Blair!

  9. From allison sampson on June 4, 2016

    Dear Arnold, You are a wonderful writer. I smiled all of the way through this!
    Allison Sampson
    PS: And I sent it to Arkitov’s son to show Salome

  10. From Hava Beller on June 6, 2016

    Dear Arnold,
    Another jewel from you. A delight.
    But now I’m dying to have a piece of your Chocholate cake, nowhere to be found.
    Love
    Hava

  11. From Kim Bailey on June 9, 2016

    Dear Arnold: I would love for you to join my Foodtalk Radio program and talk about this wonderful cake. We do it live on Saturday’s 2:00pm – are you available this Saturday perhaps? Over the phone, will talk 10 minutes. If not we can schedule a time. My email address is: RobertKimBailey@hotmail.com – Thanks so much for your consideration. Kim

  12. From Stanley Kallenbach on June 12, 2016

    Arnold: Delightful tale. that reminds me of all the amateur quartets I’ve played with around the world, always followed by at least a desert dish at the end. That’s where we get to know our charming hosts.

  13. From Becky May on June 13, 2016

    I’m so glad I found your blog. My mother studied cello with Gretchen Daley for many years and Mrs. Daley always gave us tickets to the Guarneri Quartet whenever you were in Ann Arbor. So I feel I know you, even though we have never met. I just made this cake for my son’s graduation from High School. It was spectacular! Thank you so much. I loved this story on so many levels.

  14. From Jonathan Daitch on June 15, 2016

    What a fantastic story. How true about describing our performances. All I ever Remember are my mistakes!!

    I too cannot wait to make this for my amateur, but excellent, chamber group!!

    I look forward to your future musings!!

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October 3, 2011

Opus 130

Not long before I graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1959, John Dalley, a fellow violin student, asked me whether I’d like to work on Beethoven’s late String Quartet in B Flat, Opus 130. The Paganini String Quartet had recently performed at the school, ending their program with another late Beethoven Quartet, Opus [...]
Arnold Steinhardt's Violin Case

September 9, 2011

My Violin Case

What’s a violin case for? Well, a violin for one. And bows to go along with it, of course. What else? Extra strings, rosin, and a mute. Also, a tuning fork and chin rest fastener. Oh, I almost forgot—music stored in the case cover pouch. That’s about it, right? Wrong. At least, forgive the pun, [...]
Rudolf Serkin, pianist, and Arnold Steinhardt, violinist, 1980

August 2, 2011

Marlboro at Sixty

The following article appeared in a booklet, “60th Anniversary Reflections on Marlboro Music”, that celebrated the event with a weekend gathering at Marlboro on July 9 and 10 of hundreds of participants past and present from all corners of the globe. In August, 1957, Jaime Laredo and I, two young violinists hoping for a career [...]
Stage F-F-Fright

July 1, 2011

Stage F-F-Fright

I must have been only seven or eight years old when I first performed in public. My teacher, Mr. Moldrem, had me play two melodies, one from the Beethoven Violin Concerto and the other from Brahms First Symphony. Moldrem, well known for his ability to teach youngsters, presented his students regularly in concerts. Before the [...]
Del Gesu Beare, Scrolls

June 6, 2011

An Old Friend

Sam, a widower in the autumn of his life, lost thirty pounds, had a face lift, dyed his hair, took elocution lessons, bought a smart new wardrobe, withdrew all the money from his bank, and flew to Miami for a brand new life. Soon after, Sam met a lovely woman at his hotel’s casino and [...]
Practice, Practice

May 3, 2011

Practice, Practice

After the Second World War, my parents were able to rent out a room attached to the back of our garage due to a severe housing shortage. The rumpus room, as they called it, was sparsely furnished, but that was enough for a succession of people to perch there for the time they needed to [...]
The Duo

April 1, 2011

The Duo

After forty-five years making music together, the Guarneri String Quartet played its very last concert on October 27, 2009. People often ask me whether I miss playing quartets. Of course I do. I miss not only the concerts, but also the camaraderie, the rehearsals, the traveling, the exotic food, and the interesting people along the [...]
A-Meditation-on-the-Meditation_Featured-Image

March 1, 2011

A Meditation on the Meditation

In the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, the courtesan, Thaïs, reflects on her past life of worldly pleasure. Looking into the mirror, she worries that her beauty will soon fade. The monk, Athanaël, arrives at her palace, admonishing Thaïs that there is one kind of love she does not yet know. He exhorts her to [...]
Forty Year Story

February 3, 2011

Forty Year Story

In the spring of 1970, Judith Serkin, a cello student at the Curtis Institute of Music, told me that she and four other students at school, cellist Peter Wiley, violist Geraldine Lamboley, and violinists Lucy Chapman and Jill Levy, hoped to study Schubert’s Two Cello Quintet during the next semester. Judith asked whether I would [...]
Perfect Pitch Tablets from Tone Deaf Comics

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 [...]