Thursday, November 25, 2010

Erick Friedman (Ch.13 Pt.2)

My father placed a call to North Carolina School of the Arts to contact the master violinist, Erick Friedman, protégé of Jascha Heifetz. He was told that Mr. Friedman had left the institution and currently resided in New York City. My father followed every lead until he discovered the telephone number for the violinist. They had a polite conversation, I was later told. Mr. Friedman, who had been awarded the Mischa Elman Chair at the Manhattan School of Music in 1975, was more than receptive to having me among his pupils.

"He hasn't been teaching all that long due to his concertizing," I remember my father explaining on the way to Dairy Queen. "But he says that he enjoys working with young people, and has several talented students."
"Wonderful," said my mother. "She'll study with him at Manhattan School. Phew! To think we almost sent her to North Carolina."
"He told me that the lessons are to be in his apartment at One Lincoln Plaza. But she'll take her other music classes at the school. Frances, maybe Marjorie's old enough—at sixteen—to commute from Boston to New York by herself. Whaddaya say?"
My mother waved her arm. "No way."

Both my parents accompanied me to my first lesson. It was a Friday evening. I remember, because as the elevator opened to Erick Friedman's floor the entire hallway smelled of onions and pot roast for Shabbos. "This is a very Jewish building with, obviously, a lot of money," whispered my mother. "You can tell by the names on the doors." She pointed to each and rattled them off as we marched in single file: "Goldberg, Finkelshteyn, Weinberger, Greitzer, Rosen, Altschuler, oh and here we are—Friedman! Marjorie. Go ahead and knock at the door of your artist teacher."

I was about to press the buzzer when it suddenly thrust open. There, in front of my eyes, stood a strapping mustached man with long sideburns dressed in a sleek, blue, smoking jacket and jeans. His chest, so broad and thick, was covered with a nest of black curly hair. A gold chain with a mezuzah dangled from his neck almost down to his navel, which was exposed by the loose jacket. Friedman looked me up and down, and said in a smooth bass baritone voice, "Welcome, Marjorie." My mother gasped. My father extended his hand. "John Kransberg. Good to meet you." I could hear my father snort. "I hope you don't mind my asking. How'd you manage to get so—ah, handsome?"
Mr. Friedman laughed gently and took one step back.
"No, really. I wanna know your secret. I'm sure my wife Frances wouldn't mind."
"Won't you come in?" He asked calmly.

"You must be married," chirped my mother. She seemed to flutter into the posh pad, decorated with objets d'art and numerous framed photographs. For this occasion, she had donned her blond Eva Gabor wig, typically taken out during holidays only.
"I'm not—"
"No?" quizzed my mother. "Not married? Why, of course. You're still young. Are you even thirty?"
"Then you're twenty years older than our Marjorie." She sucked in her cheek and narrowed her gaze. "You'll need someone to take care of you. Such an important person, you are."
There was an uncomfortable silence, as we stood gaping at one another. I scanned the walls and noticed several sketches of female nudes. I'd eventually learn that Mr. Friedman was an accomplished artist, having taught himself to draw. Resting curvaceously on top of the grand piano were two of his famed violins: "Ludwig" Stradivari and "Balokovic" Guarneri del Gesù.
"Please. Allow me to take your coats."
He reached to assist me with my red leather jacket. I felt the tug of his large warm hands and watched as he folded the coat and laid it gently on a chair.

"May I offer you drinks, Mr. and Mrs. Kransberg?" Mr. Friedman gestured to a liquor cart in the corner. "You've traveled from so far—"
"That won't be necessary," said my father, finally settling on a black sofa near a large potted plant, and signaling for my mother to join him. "Jeez, Erick—may I call you Erick?—You're a big guy. You must be, what, six-foot-three? Four?"
Mr. Friedman smiled. He had dimples. "Too tall for playing the violin. That's what I am."
My father nodded with delight, and a Yiddish expression fell from his lips. "Kenahora."

"You know, for some strange reason. I can't put my finger on it—" Mr. Friedman paused mid-sentence and shook his head.
"You—you remind me of my own parents. It's uncanny; a trick of fate."
He shot me a glance. "History repeats itself, Marjorie. One thing I've learned over the years."
I looked down and began to unzip my violin case slowly.
"What would you like to play for me, Dear? So that you to feel at ease."
I rosined my bow and lifted several books of music from the side pocket, sensing an urge to conquer this man's heart.

Mr. Friedman strode to his Steinway and sat down on the bench. I surreptitiously gazed at his hairy, open-sandaled feet. They were monstrously huge.
"Well," I said at last. "I'm trying out for the Boston Symphony Young Artist Competition in a couple of weeks with the Paganini Concerto. But I also have the Mozart Concerto in D."
I glanced up and couldn't help but notice Mr. Friedman's paternal gaze. At the piano, with stacks of sheet music and scores by his side, his demeanor had turned reverential, his voice tender.
"Boston Symphony Competition. Really? Let me hear that Paganini of yours, Sweetheart."