2016 Highlights in Hindsight

THREE DAYS TO GO BEFORE YEAR-END! WHAT DO I DO?
Rather than scramble for an answer, how about revisiting three
of my posts these past 12 months for a hint? So, here goes ……..

January 31, 2016

Life on the Road – Part Two

As promised earlier this January, Dear Reader, and more purposefully due to an encouraging response to what turned out eventually to be Part One of my “Life on the Road” published in the New Year, here goes my next stab at recalling memories of the past that still resonate within me. After all, they in truth bring to life not just the road – in all its literal and figurative meanings – that I’ve traveled over the past seven decades, but the will and fortitude to follow through with bringing to fruition some of the hopes and aspirations that still reside deep within me in my ‘golden years.’

I’ve never subscribed to the belief that advancing years prevent one from looking ever upward and onward. And, therefore, for as long as I can, I aim to enjoy the freedom that modern technology gives me to do just that: Consider that two decades ago, as a budding techie in his 60’s, I made my first desktop computer in Teaneck, NJ, for $750. If you remember, in those early days of the digital revolution, the cheapest IBM desktop cost fourfold more at $3,000 a pop and far too expensive for the mom-and-pop store-front non-profit community arts organization I was working for and continued to do so for nigh on 20 years. By that time, the National Guild – as it was known – had established itself in New York and in most of the states in the USA as a force to be reckoned with in the world of music, dance, visual arts and theater education in aspiring communities.

So here I go on to the new-fangled blogosphere with travel vignettes of the distant – and not so distant – past of my life on the road!

Looking back, my very first sortie on to the European mainland from the comparative insular safety of the British Isles stands out. Believe it or not, after arriving in England by ocean liner from India in 1949, I was so overwhelmed by day-to-day educational and scholastic activities in the County of Kent and concurrently in London that I had no time to think of other foreign shores to explore.

Nonetheless, the time came when my French friend, Gérard, who was my congenial roommate at CentYMCA, London (1953-55) – he was there to learn English and eventually became my pen-pal when we went our separate ways – encouraged me to spend the summer of 1953 in various parts of Western Europe ending up in his hometown of Lyons. Before that we spent the Easter holidays trying our hand out in local hitchhiking – with mixed results in Southwest England!

What follows is that summer’s excerpt from my opening diary entry recorded just before I took off on the first leg of my maiden European hitchin’ and hikin’ trip: I kept at it religiously penning all the strange and wondrous experiences over three summers that turned out to be so far removed from the comparatively staid, stiff-upper-lip Brit populace that I had got accustomed to interacting with during my university days in England.

Dover-Ostend Quay 21 July 1953 @ 10:15 pm

I take back most of what I said about “hitching’” in England.  I travelled so fast, that I could have caught the 4:50 pm ferry, if I’d wished to.

After leaving Dartford Station, I walked to the A2, taking approx.: ½ hour.   I could have bussed it, but I wanted to get used to carrying the “baby”.   I soon got a lift in an army vehicle, which took me all the way to Gillingham. Then followed 2 shorter lifts.  I lunched on your cakes @ 2 pm, and then caught a van into Canterbury (3 pm).  I went over the Cathedral, had refreshments (the inevitable ice cream and a milk-shake) and then hitched a new racy half-way to a haven not far from the White Cliffs of Dover pictured below (4:30 pm). 

White_Cliffs_of_DoverThere I met 2 country types who offered me considerable hospitality at a near-by pub.  Before going in, we sat on the grass outside chatting (I’d decided to take the 1 am ferry).  I had a free pint of milk, followed by 2 eggs on toast and tea.  I then played darts, later strumming on the piano (a very battered and unmusical instrument indeed!), everyone – the party now being 8 in number, including the host, a large, cherubic and rotund countryman – joining in.  After this I was plied with offers of varied species of drinks, but I refused them all. 

I left @ 8:30 pm and immediately hitched a brand new car carrying Swedish colours.  The driver, a young Swede, Hr. Atte Nyberg working for a short time in London as a correspondent for a Swedish newspaper, was on his way to Paris, leaving by car ferry in the morning.  He drove me to the Sea-Front, then searched for the Dover-Calais Quay, leaving me watching a basketball match in the open air.  He was back a little later to watch the end of the game, then drove off to find a hotel.  I read the Figaro, sitting on a bench, facing he sea.  I’d just got up @ 9:30 pm to look for my Quay, when he was back again, taking me there in double-quick time.  On the way, he gave some advice:  in London, if you get to know a girl, she always wants to know the marriage date; in Scandinavia it is very, very different – and he left it at that!

Well, I arrived here so early that there wasn’t a soul in customs, so I’ve retired temporarily to the address @ the head of this letter.  The boat train from Victoria arrives @ 12 midnight and so no one is allowed on deck till then.  If my present run of luck continues, I should get to France via my circuitous route of Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, and Italy by early September!

However, Nyberg told me that it is not as easy in Belgium.  Anyway, the hard facts are that I spent one pound and three shillings today on refreshments to keep the wolf from the door.
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April 18, 2016

Memories of Menuhin – A Centennial Offering

Yehudi Menuhin (b. April 22, 1916 d. March 12, 1999)
It seems like yesterday, but it was many decades ago – in the spring of 1949 – when I first met violinist Yehudi Menuhin and his pianist sister Hephzibah at the downtown New Empire Theatre in Calcutta. The duo had been booked by the Calcutta School of Music for a much anticipated recital program as part of CSM’s annual concert series.

In remembering Menuhin on his 100th birth anniversary, I’m reminded of his low-key demeanor and old-world charm on and off the stage. I recall a conversation in the artists’ dressing room when I asked him to autograph the evening’s recital program for me. Before so doing, he inquired about my own musical background and aspirations. I said it was my intention to go to London later that year for further studies.

Thereupon, he scribbled a note on the program itself above his signature reading:

Louis, I (re)commend Azim to you as a student.
And that was that! I was completely bowled over that it was his well-known pianist brother-in-law, Louis Kentner, that he had in mind. Even though I did eventually go to the Royal Academy of Music, I ended for logistical and planning reasons with becoming a student of Professor Frederick Jackson instead of Kentner.

The next memorable occasion was in the fall of 1958 when I was attending as India’s sole representative the Georges Enescu Music Festival in Bucharest, Rumania (Enescu’s image is alongside.)

As part of the celebratory concerts, the most prominent one was the performance of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto by David Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin (shown here on YouTube.) Both world-class violinists rose to the occasion and gave a spirited rendering of that great work, which was met with thunderous applause by the rapt audience. At the post-concert reception, I was able to renew acquaintances with both Menuhin and Oistrakh (image alongside) – the latter had traveled by the same plane I had taken to get to the Festival. As to the former, I brought Menuhin up-to-date with my own development sans Kentner as a pianist over the past nine years since we’d met back in Calcutta.

The last time our paths crossed was in Miami, Florida, when he was at the International Airport on his way in from Europe and I was on my way out to London. Menuhin looked much frailer, but still had a spring in his step. I told him about my move to the States in 1975 with my pianist wife Lolita and family of three girls and my career change from piano playing around the world to running orchestras in the USA.

And then, with time running out to board my plane, it was left for me to say au revoir to him and for him to wish me bon voyage.
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July 27, 2016

Poet of the Piano and his Muse

Born July 27, 139 years ago, Spanish composer Enrique Granados, who is widely known as the ‘Poet of the Piano’, is someone I cannot think about without remembering the late Barcelona-born pianist Alicia de Larrocha.

In my mind those two world famous musicians are intertwined: Enrique because of the Chopinesque passion and virtuosity which inform his piano works;  Alicia because of her sensitive, almost Mozartean interpretation of his major compositions.


Alicia
 was the diminutive Spanish pianist esteemed for her elegant Mozart performances and regarded as an incomparable interpreter of Granados and other Spanish composers. Her small stature — she was only 4-foot-9 — was deceptive: early in her career she played all the big Romantic concertos, including those of Liszt and Rachmaninoff, and she could produce a surprisingly large, beautifully sculptured sound.

She was closely associated with the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, where she first performed in 1971. Her appearances remained among the festival’s hottest tickets until her final performance there in 2003. Indeed, it was there in the mid-1970’s before heading for Miami that I myself heard her and was overjoyed when she signed up a couple of years later to be a soloist there during my tenure as the General Manager of the then Florida Philharmonic.


Alicia’s most enduring contribution, however, was her championship of Spanish composers, especially Granados. She made enduring recordings of his “Goyescas,” and helped ease those works into the standard piano canon. Here is her rendering on YouTube of one of his piano vignettes, Baile Espanol #7.

I myself was drawn to that work in my early teens via its beautiful Quejas o la Maja y el Ruiesenor (The Lover and the Nightingale) and it was a favorite of mine in many a piano recital I gave in India and abroad. In addition, my audiences were wowed every time I responded to their ovation with an encore  from his Danzas Espanoles (Spanish Dances) – either “Playera” or “Minueto”.

Enrique met an untimely death on March 24, 1916, in the English Channel. He was drowned following the torpedoing of the ferry Sussex between Folkestone and Dieppe by a German submarine during World War 1. He managed to get into a life raft but dived into the sea to save his wife. Both drowned and their bodies were never recovered.

Alicia Quotes:
“I would say, though, that Granados was one of the great Spanish composers, and that, in my opinion, he was the only one that captured the real Romantic flavor.”
“Spanish music is very, very, very hard. . . . .Young people come to me and think they can play it right away. But Spanish music must have the right rhythm, just as Bach and Mozart must have the right rhythm.”
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September 24, 2016

Father and Son Duo – David and Igor Oistrakh!

I’ll reverse the order and begin with the son, Igor. As Concert Manager of the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra in the 1970’s, I invited him to be the soloist in a concert as part of its 51st Winter Concert Series beginning September 22, 1973 (program cover shown above.)

Igor was then 42 years old and already a world-class virtuoso violinist following in the footsteps of his renowned father, David.

[Igor and David often played together, deeply impressing their audiences with their near-perfect ensemble playing in works by Bach, Vivaldi and others. Indeed, it has been said that their duo sounds like the playing of a single violin.]

After the sold-out concert, Igor autographed a number  of programs including mine.
He then repaired to the Mayadas residence in Ballygunge, Calcutta, for a gala reception attended  by the Governor of West Bengal and other dignitaries.  When he arrived in the porch of the driveway, my wife Lolita and I were there to welcome him. He stepped out with his violin case in hand, and to help him exit gracefully, I took the case and slung it over my right shoulder, which almost suffered a dislocation! Apparently, to ensure the safety of his valuable instrument during his world travels, he had placed it in a custom-made solid Soviet steel casing weighing a ton! Nevertheless, his companion – also Igor, his accompanying pianist  – jumped in betwixt us and deftly removed the offending object. It took awhile before I was able to intermingle with the guests and handle a Scotch and soda without spilling its contents.

Igor Oistrakh and Azim Lewis (Mayadas)

Igor Oistrakh and Azim at a post-concert gala reception held at Azim and Lolita’s residence in Calcutta, 1973

During the lively party, and through an interpreter, I was able to inform Igor that – purely by accident – I had met his father, David, 15 years earlier on my way to Bucharest for the 1958 Georges Enescu Music Festival.

My flight from India to Rumania had without adequate warning to the passengers been diverted to Sofia, Bulgaria. It was just before landing there that the intercom came alive and we were informed that an important personage, who had missed his connection earlier due to bad weather, was being picked up. Who was it? Igor asked. David Oistrakh! I replied. His son split his sides in laughter.

David, it turned out, was attending the same Festival as I was, but he was due to perform the Bach Double Violin Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin the very next night, while I was merely an honored guest of the Festival. On landing at the airport, David was welcomed by Festival officials, and I was asked to hop into the Russian Zim limo as well. All’s well that ends well!  The performance I recalled later on was a unique blend of two striking personalities interacting with each other that resulted in an immensely satisfying musical experience.

For the record, David was born on September 30, 1908, so his birth anniversary is next week. In honor of that I end with a 1967 video of his playing a particular favorite of his – here on YouTube is the riveting cadenza from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto, Op. 99. The composer in 1955 had dedicated the work to David, who gave the première performance in Leningrad on October the 29th. The cadenza gives considerable attention to an ostinato figure on which the passacaglia for the third movement (Andante) is built upon.

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Dear Readers,
WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!

You number over 62,000 since January 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.

It would mean a lot to me if, on the eve of the New Year 2017, you would please consider making a donation of US $2.00, $5.00, $10.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work the next twelve months.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!


 

 

 

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