Drunk as a Skunk

July 8, 2013

I know of no one among all my musician friends and colleagues who will drink anything alcoholic before performing. Even those who enjoy an occasional glass of wine, beer, or an enticing margarita are very, very careful to imbibe only after rather than before a concert. Simply put, it’s hard enough to play well while sober.

Still, one hears stories from time to time about musicians past and present who have been known to cherish a nip of booze, or two, or maybe even twenty just before walking on stage. A renowned and flawless violinist of the very recent past—someone I knew personally and heard in performance many times—had the reputation of being a heavy drinker late in life. Stories abounded of his downing an entire bottle of wine directly before a solo concert with orchestra, then being unable to walk in a straight line onto the stage, and yet still being capable of playing the Brahms Violin Concerto masterfully.

The pianist Arthur Rubinstein, with whom our Guarneri String Quartet had the unparalleled privilege of performing and recording, often entertained us during rehearsal breaks with wonderful stories about artists from his past. One concerned the German pianist Alfred Reisenauer (1863—1907), a pupil of Franz Liszt and one of the most important piano teachers and performers of his time.

Rubinstein told us Reisenauer was an alcoholic and that the trick to getting an unforgettable performance out of him when he toured was to keep him from drinking beforehand. In one city, a young man was assigned the task of meeting Reisenauer at the train station, escorting him to his hotel, and making sure the pianist stayed in his room until concert time. Reisenauer assured him that he was too tired from the trip to do anything but take a long afternoon nap and study his scores. The young man took no chances, however. He sat in the hotel all afternoon and kept an eye on the entrance to make sure Reisenauer didn’t slip past him. But when concert time approached and Reisenauer failed to appear in the lobby, the hotel clerk first tried unsuccessfully to reach him by telephone and then, alarmed, rushed up to his room and opened the door with the hotel master key. The window to the fire escape was open and Reisenauer was gone. A short while later, he was found dead drunk in a nearby saloon.

With the concert only an hour away, the panicked escort managed to get Reisenaer back to his hotel room, undress him, shove him into a cold shower, dress him in concert clothes, and get him to the concert hall in time. The pianist, semicomatose, sat in his dressing room without saying a single word to anyone backstage. Finally, concert time arrived. Reisenauer was lifted to his feet, then led to the wings of the stage, and asked whether he was capable of playing. The great man nodded.

At this point, Rubinstein, who was telling the story seated at the piano, got up in order to act out what happened next. He moved to the side of the room and without fanfare became Reisenauer standing in the wings of the stage. Rubinstein very deliberately and slowly walked to the piano, turned to us, his audience, bowed solemnly, and turned again to face the open piano. Then, suddenly and without warning, he mimicked Reisenauer retching violently and loudly onto the piano strings.

I myself have never intentionally performed while under the influence of alcohol, but I call your attention to that innocent sounding word, “intentionally,” for it played a memorable if regrettable role in a personal story.

During my participation in the 1963 Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition, I came to know a Belgian physicist and enthusiastic amateur violinist who regularly attended the competition’s various rounds. After I won a bronze medal at the finals, the physicist and his Swedish wife kindly invited me to a dinner party at their home to celebrate my success.

Upon arriving, I was introduced to the other guests and handed a glass of white wine to complement the smoked salmon awaiting us at the table. Normally, one glass would have been more than enough to last the entire evening for me, but this wine was particularly inviting. My host immediately refilled my glass and excused himself in order to bring up several bottles of vintage Bordeaux red from his personal wine cellar. They were intended to go with an assortment of cheeses that had just arrived. I had never tasted wines this seductively full-bodied and interesting. Before long, I had downed two glasses of the red along with the cheese. At this point, our hostess called us for dinner and I made my way to the table on shaky legs. In all my life, I had never consumed so much wine at one go.

The hostess placed large plates filled with crayfish, a Swedish specialty, on the table. For starters, each guest received one crayfish accompanied by a glass of beer and a shot glass of aquavit, a spirit made in Sweden from potatoes and flavored with such things as fennel, anise, and a taste of citrus. We ate the crayfish while drinking the beer and then, according to tradition, we downed the aquavit or snaps (as it is called in Scandinavia) in one motion, all the while locking eyes with someone else at the table. Then came more crayfish one after another, each with more beer and each with another shot of aquavit. Our hostess burst into Swedish song before each shot—there are more than 200 snaps-specific songs in her country—and before long, I was singing enthusiastically along with her despite the fact that I knew not a single word of Swedish.

The table was then cleared, large bowls filled with plump, impossibly red strawberries appeared out of nowhere, and French champagne was poured into elegantly fluted glasses. The combination of fruit and bubbly proved irresistible. Now in a trancelike state, I lost count of how much of both I must have consumed.

Dinner might easily have ended there, but our host and hostess ushered us into the living room where we sat around the fireplace and were served Belgian chocolates with one last round of drinks, this time an exotic liqueur of some sort. I stared at the roaring fire, glass in hand, almost oblivious to the others chatting amiably. Having just imbibed no less than six different alcoholic beverages during the evening, I was certainly inebriated—you might even say drunk as a skunk—but no matter. Hardly ever in my life had I felt so glowingly happy. Life was good and everything seemed possible.

At that moment, the physicist stood up and approached me.

“Mr. Steinhardt, would you care to perform something for us tonight?”
In my altered state, this seemed like a perfectly reasonable request.

“I’d love to play, but unfortunately I don’t have my violin with me.”

The physicist smiled.

“Not to worry. I have a violin I’d be happy to lend you.”

I wrinkled my brow.

“That would be kind of you, but I’ve also brought no music with me.”

The physicist beamed.

“I happen to have the collected works of Johann Sebastian Bach in my library. Would you favor us with one of his violin concertos, Mr. Steinhardt?”

I chuckled.

“Sir, that would give me great pleasure, but I would need an entire orchestra at my disposal.”

The physicist fairly jumped with joy.

“Problem solved, Mr. Steinhardt. I have in my possession a Music-Minus-One record for Bach’s A Minor Concerto. The disc supplies the orchestra part, you give us the solo.”

That night for the first but also the very last time in my life, I performed completely drunk, before a live audience.

The next morning I woke up feeling awful. My single wish was to remain in bed for ever, or at least until the evil forces of last night’s alcohol had dissipated enough for me to once again feel human. But that was not possible. The Van Leckwijcks, my host family during the entire Queen Elisabeth Competition, had generously invited me to go that very morning to see the painter brothers Hubrecht and Jan Van Eyck’s renowned The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, an exquisite many-paneled alterpiece finished in 1432. Roland Van Leckwijck, father of the family, a Belgian Supreme Court judge, a participant in the resistance against Hitler during the Second World War, and a kindly and highly educated man, was always available to answer at length any of my questions about his country. He had deemed one of his answers—concerning the Van Eycks’ most well-known painting—insufficient enough to warrant a special trip to the city of Ghent so that I could see the masterpiece for myself.

There was no way I could refuse the event that had been planned with some effort days before. There was also no way I could tell this proper Catholic family how sick I felt and why.

I survived the hourlong trip to Ghent, managed to climb the church steps, and for a single moment stood admiringly alongside Mr. and Mrs. Van Leckwijck in front of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Then, suddenly, I became extremely ill. Typically, the church had no bathroom, and in desperation and without so much as a word to the bewildered Van Leckwijks, I rushed out onto the streets of Ghent. A personal disaster was imminent if I didn’t find a public bathroom quickly. Thankfully, the city’s town hall across from the church did have one.

I emerged almost an eternity later, completely drained, grateful to be alive, and forever after wary of amateur fiddlers, alcohol, and that strange thing called Music-Minus-One.

When I think back on the physicist’s dinner party that took place exactly fifty years ago, I shudder to imagine what my performance sounded like. The guests must have wondered as they drove home that night how a violinist could win a competition medal yet play so badly for them only days later.

If only I could meet up with those guests now. I would counter with Arthur Rubinstein’s story about Alfred Reisenauer. Then I would tell them how lucky they were that I didn’t simply throw up all over the violin.

7.QueenElizabeth.psd robert kayaert photo - Version 3.jpg

Yours truly shaking hands with Queen Elisabeth and receiving the bronze medal at the 1963 Competition

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Comments

  1. From Hilary on July 10, 2013

    Arnold — I’ll drink to that wonderful story. Hils

  2. From isabel trautwein on July 10, 2013

    Thank you for these amazing stories. You help to keep the Classical music past alive with rich funny memories…..You are the BEST EVER storyteller!

  3. From Annabelle Weidenfeld on July 10, 2013

    Wonderful stories Arnold and of course I too remember Rubinstein’s rendering – all too realistic – of Reisenauer’s “performance” sound effects and all! What a beautiful photograph of you receiving your medal!
    Love
    Annabelle

  4. From Peter Hoenisch on July 10, 2013

    I know a wonderfull violinist who enjoied very much Bordeaux, but after a concert with zhe quartett in the Bahnhof Rolandseck near Bonn. It was the beginning of a friendship. Peter

  5. From SuzyR on July 10, 2013

    It sure is a good thing they didn’t have smartphones back then. Your performance at the dinner party would have been recorded and uploaded to YouTube, and then definitely would have gone viral.

  6. From abby newton on July 11, 2013

    Great story Arnold. I’ve had one too many of those myself!
    Tell Dodo I have a packet of lettuce seeds for her.
    And as Suzy says Thank Heavens there was no YouTube in those days!

  7. From Jeanine on July 16, 2013

    Mr. Steinhardt, as alcohol tends to remove any inhibitions we may have I am sure your performance must have been very emotional and passionate. Probably, Bach would not have been able to recognize his own composition but no doubt it must have been extraordinary. On the other hand maybe that was the only time someone interpreted Bach’s music as he intended it to be played. We will never know; nevertheless, it would have been an interesting performance.

  8. From Justin Kagan on July 23, 2013

    Hey Arnold, thanks to a FB friend for turning this up, love your writing and keep at it. As to the probable reference to famous violinist drinking copiously, I’ve heard confirming stories from amazed students south of the border who brought bottles of whiskey to lessons and feat of draining said bottles leading to prolonged lesson-sleep.

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December 4, 2011

Uh-Oh

I began to study the violin with a series of teachers who taught music and the instrument, but who as time went by also saw fit to teach me the elusive craft of performance. Toscha Seidel, an early teacher, challenged me to break out of my shell and show the music’s emotional character. My next [...]
Rock Concert T-shirt

November 1, 2011

Listen

I had just settled down with my ice cream cone in front of Ralph’s Pretty Good Café when a garbage truck rumbled to a stop directly in front of me. To my consternation, the driver got out with the motor still running and noisily began to empty garbage cans into the truck. No, I said [...]
Manuscript of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]