Thursday, November 18, 2010

Presenting Erick Friedman (Ch.13 Pt.1)

The final concert at the Bowl began with the Interlochen Theme; I felt my eyes mist. I tried to catch Scott's attention in the viola section but he kept his face buried in the music. In my Interlochen yearbook he had written:
Dear Margie, what can I say? I'm really speechless!! I hope you'll go to the University of Michigan. I'll really miss you this year.
Love, laughter, and luck,
Scott Woolweaver 

Back at home, it soon became clear that my mother was watching me closely. One hint that my thoughts were with Scott made her spin out of control. Alone, in my bedroom, I'd flip through the pages of Scherzo '75, the Interlochen yearbook, and reread Scott's words. Lost in the fantasy of reuniting with him during college—a whole year away—my mother would sneak by my doorway and peek into the room. One time she cleared her throat so loudly that I nearly fell back from my desk chair. "Is it all boys now? Can't you think about anything else? I don't hear any practicing." Before I could offer a rebuttal, she stormed off. Defeated, I tossed the yearbook on my canopy bed, and opened the violin case. I mechanically practiced the second and third movements of the Paganini Concerto. Although I had been assured by friends at Interlochen that I had played well during Concerto night, my mother countered their compliments with a litany of criticisms. "I could hardly hear you. And what little I did hear sounded like a student."
"You're more deaf than I thought!" I cried, wanting to hurl all my music books at her.
"But that other violin soloist—what's her name, Ani Schnarch?—magnificent. I could hear every note she played in the Tchaikovsky Concerto. There's a girl who's serious about her studies—"
I bit down on my lower lip to force back tears.

Each night after my father returned from work, I'd overhear snippets from their conversations about what to do with their boy-crazed, teen-aged Daughter Number Four. "Maybe we should send her to a boarding school, John. That way she'll be out of our hands. Let her be a school's headache."
I'd hear my father's agitated footsteps as he paced from one end of the kitchen to the other.
"Frances, I can't put up with this mishegas on a daily basis. Enough with the music already. Ol' Doc Grush warned me that my blood pressure has sky-rocketed. Take the violin away so we can have a normal life for a change."
"I don't know—"
"What, you think she's gonna make it as a soloist?"
I strained to catch my mother's reply but she didn't answer.

Erick Friedman
Meantime, bundles of brochures from various colleges and conservatories ended up in our mailbox. I can remember my mother sitting at the kitchen table, thumbing through the pile of pamphlets. She refused to look at me, maintaining an exasperating air of silence, as if a genie had waved her into a block of ice. I'd stand in the corner and try to speak through rivulets of tears, but it was to no avail. She opened one last envelope which was addressed from the North Carolina School of the Arts. I watched as she tore through it with a look of contempt. "That's a boarding school," she muttered, "if you were only serious about your studies." She turned a couple of pages and her eyes grew wide.  "Erick Friedman's on the faculty?" My mother fingered his name. "Maybe that's the solution."
"What solution?" I asked meekly, grateful that she was beginning to thaw.
"Don't you have his recording of the Paganini Violin Concerto?"
"Yeah. I guess."
"The young man sounds more like Heifetz than Heifetz, doesn't he?"
I shrugged, not quite understanding the point of the discussion.
She lifted the brochure to eye level. "I had no idea that Friedman was a teacher. So handsome. Jewish, of course."
"But I have a violin teacher, Mum. Miss DeLay. And I like Juilliard."
My mother set the brochure down on the table and folded her hands. She fixed her gaze at me. "You'll work harder for a male mentor. It never occurred to me before. In the presence of such an accomplished young man—"
And with this comment she nodded her head.
"You'll forget about that boy in no time."

For the first time in days, the worried lines on my mother's face had smoothed; her eyes softened. I went back up to my bedroom and reached under the Magnavox Hi-Fi for the recording, Presenting Erick Friedman which had been released in 1962 while Friedman was in his early twenties. Indeed, his playing had been a tremendous source of inspiration to me. By listening repeatedly to his rendition of the Paganini Concerto and the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, I endeavored to fuse his suave tone, so reminiscent of Heifetz, into my own. Friedman had composed his own fiendishly cadenzas and tossed them off with mercurial ease. He was both master and creator. I gazed at the cover of the album, admiring the coarse black hair, slightly parted lips, and long thick fingers that caressed his violin. He bore a striking resemblance to actor Cary Grant. Not so bad, I thought to myself. I turned the LP over to read the back cover and get a closer glimpse of my prospective pedagogue. Here's what it said:

Ask Erick Friedman what it was like to have been a child prodigy and he answers: "One doesn't judge one's life while it's happening. That comes later and sometimes it ends up that one and one equal three. I had no friends. I went to no parties. The strange thing is that I did not resent it. I was working, after all, with a purpose."

It was then that I realized my mother must have read Friedman's statement, imagining those words as her daughter's.