Music Memories

… Midori on January 9, 2010
What follows below is a piece I wrote long ago to commemorate special musical experiences over the years. Last night was another such, when I heard Midori play a violin concerto by Sibelius. Wonderful happenings are still with us, but sadly I am reminded of the many decades that have elapsed since Francescatti’s performance. (I must have blinked!) By the way, she played the Guarnerius de Gesu, he, the Heart Stradivarius.
In my memoir of my service days (“Three years of my life”) I comment on a wonderful musical experience involving a gypsy violinist in Vienna, in the ring, or the old part of that wonderful city. His name was something like Antal Kocsze, but I can’t be sure of the spelling.
There have been many enjoyable concerts and operas over the years. I have been a symphony subscriber for many years, certainly forty or more. Also, I have been an opera goer since I was in high school, and have attended vocal concerts too many to estimate.
But like the gypsy legend, two other events have persisted in my memory for decades.
One was the concert given by famed violinist Zeno Francescatti on a rainy night in New Orleans. I was very young, but old enough to know that this was one of those typical New Orleans all-evening downpours. The location was the old Municipal Auditorium, and it must have been during summer or other warm weather, because I recall that the air-conditioning was on. But the system was unable to pull all the moisture out of the air, and as a result, Francescatti’s fiddle strings kept stretching.
A consummate musician, he never evinced any concern or frustration, but at every rest, as the orchestra played, he turned his back to the audience and tuned his wonderful ancient Strad.
Another happening was equally long ago, this time involving an opera. It was Lucia di Lammermoor, thrilling in itself as it would have been the first time I heard the sextet sung live. My father, though not an attendee himself, did know a bit about opera, and one that he was familiar with was Lucia; he could even hum a few measures of the sextet. (Another that he would sometimes allow us to hear briefly from his vocal cords was a selection from Martha.)
But for all its musical loveliness, Lucia that night was something special for a very specific reason. This was the person of an Argentine soprano named, I believe, Graciela Rivera. I do not know that she was particularly famous, and I don’t know if I ever heard of her afterward, but that night she was marvelous. She sang that lyric role flawlessly; the “mad scene” was maddeningly beautiful. The audience loved her, and I was aware that I was experiencing an unusual event.
At the end, when the curtain finally opened for her solo bow, she took seventeen curtain calls. People just did not want the performance to come to an end.