Saturday, September 27, 2008

How To Cook A Conductor

A couple of weeks ago, during my Skype call to Ralf Gothoni, I said: Ralf, don't forget to email me any additional thoughts you might like to share with my readers. So, what does he do? He sends me this recipe. I know it's been around a while but, oh, how timely:

How to cook a conductor


One large conductor, or two small assistant conductors
26 large cloves of garlic Crisco or other solid vegetable shortening (lard may be used)
1 cask cheap wine
1 lb. alfalfa sprouts
2 lbs. assorted yuppie food, such as tofu or yoghurt
One abused orchestra


First, catch a conductor. Remove the tail and horns. Carefully separate the large ego and reserve for sauce. Remove any batons, pencils (on permanent loan from the principal second violin) and long articulations and discard.

Remove the hearing aid and discard (it never worked anyway). Examine your conductor carefully--many of them are mostly large intestine. If you have such a conductor, you will have to discard it and catch another. Clean the conductor as you would a squid, but do not separate the tentacles from the body. If you have an older conductor, such as one from a major symphony orchestra or summer music festival, you may wish to tenderize by pounding the conductor on a rock with timpani mallets or by smashing the conductor between two large cymbals.

Next, pour one-half of the cask of wine into a bath tub and soak the conductor in the wine for at least twelve hours (exceptions: British, German and some Canadian conductors have a natural beery taste which some people like and the wine might not marry well with this flavor. Use your judgment). When the conductor is sufficiently marinated, remove any clothes the conductor may be wearing and rub it all over with the garlic.

Then cover your conductor with Crisco using vague, slow circular motions. Take care to cover every inch of the conductor's body with the shortening. If this looks like fun, you can cover yourself with Crisco too, removing clothes first.

Next, take your orchestra and put as much music out as the stands will hold without falling over, and make sure that there are lots of really loud passages for everyone, big loud chords for the winds and brass, and lots and lots of tremolos for the strings. (Bruckner might be appropriate). Rehearse these passages several times, making certain that the brass and winds are always playing as loud as they can and the strings are tremoloing at their highest speed. This should ensure adequate flames for cooking your conductor. If not, insist on taking every repeat and be sure to add the second repeats in really large symphonies. Ideally, you should choose your repertoire to have as many repeats as possible, but if you have a piece with no repeats in it at all, just add some, claiming that you have seen the original, and there was an ink blot there that "looked like a repeat" to you and had obviously been missed by every other fool who had looked at this score. If taking all the repeats does not generate sufficient flames, burn the complete set of score and parts to all of the Bruckner symphonies.

When the flames have died down to a medium inferno, place your conductor on top of your orchestra (they won't mind as they are used to it) until it is well tanned, the hair turns back to its natural color and all of the fat has dripped out. Be careful not to overcook or your Conductor could end up tasting like stuffed ham. Make a sauce by combining the ego, sprouts and ketchup to taste, placing it all in the blender and pureeing until smooth.

If the ego is bitter, sweeten with honey to taste. Slice your conductor as you would any turkey. Serve accompanied by the assorted yuppie food and the remaining wine with the sauce on the side.


Due to environmental toxins present in conductor feeding areas, such as heavy metals, oily residue from intensive PR machinery manufacture, and extraordinarily high concentrations of E.coli, cryptosporidium, and other hazardous organisms associated with animal wastes, the Departments for Conductor Decimation (DCD) recommend that the consumption of conductors be limited to one per season. Overconsumption of conductors has been implicated in the epidemiology of a virulent condition known as "Bataan fever." Symptoms of this disorder include swelling of the brain, spasms in the extremities, delusions of competence, auditory hallucinations and excessive longevity.

Cauldron from

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tenured (Not)

I have a bone to pick, an axe to grind. I'm stuck at a repeat sign that says vamp. Why are bad guys rewarded with fat paychecks, job security and media protection, while good guys suffer? Why is lying to the public the accepted norm? How can American society be so gullible, so easily duped? The Unanswered Questions.

In orchestra politics, I find it inconceivable that one person's contract of tenure is deemed valid all the way through to the expiration date, while another person's contract of tenure is null and void, a useless piece of paper designated for the toilet; an uh-uh, we finagled a spontaneous, tiny technicality so you don't have tenure after all, even though for years us big guys pretended you had tenure, offering you and your family a false sense of security; so don't spin off claiming you had that tenure, you hear, because you didn't. (I need the aid of my daughter Anna's boyfriend, Andrew the linguist, to help me comprehend doublespeak). Finaglers and financiers; two sides of the same coin. Makhers, CEO conspirators, chronic talkers with halitosis, narcissists, terrorists, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde music directors, slumped-over-in-their chairs dead wood, and self-absorbed, stiletto-heeled prima donnas; pampered, praised and lavished year after year with salary increases, generous benefits, bonuses and acclaim for being world class. What's this world coming to?

I predict a cataclysmic end to the flush era for orchestras and other classical arts institutions. But here's what I'm grateful for: I've got tenure. My husband Ilkka insists that no matter how many pairs of socks I mismatch, or how many meals I over-cook, however much I argue, nag, tease, snore; I'm Wife for Life and Partner in Talvi Studio. I won't end up in the Dog House. No technicalities here; technology, yes. Look Ma, I've even learned to scan!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Two of my female idols are both named Hilary. There's Hillary Clinton, and Hilary Hahn. Nowadays, rarely a day begins without first perusing Hilary Hahn's journal. I imagine myself following her around in the adventures she so vividly describes; I get farblondget with Hilary in airports, I sort through heaps of glamorous concert dresses on hotel beds with her, and delve into demanding works, such as the Spohr Concerto #8, a neglected but rapturous composition.

To me, and to many others, Hahn represents the epitome of today's young violinists. Unlike most of her peers, Hilary Hahn conveys the beauty of music without affectation or histrionics; you won't see her sniffing armpits on stage, stomping wildly during tutti entrances, or flicking those famous golden locks while launching into pyrotechnical passages. There won't be a lunge to the finish of a composition like a race-horse. Hilary acts as a medium through which composers reappear on stage, front and center.

I think Hilary Hahn's journal should be required reading for all youngsters interested in classical music. An underlying message Hilary sends her young readers is that it's cool to love great music, and to keep a wealth of varied interests: languages, whitewater rafting, literature, hiking, friendships, traveling to far-away places, and writing are a few of hers.
What a role model; Hilary Hahn, an ambassador for classical music.

A sticky situation arises when a starry-eyed stage parent insists that his/her child is another Hilary Hahn. I've grappled with this issue on a number of occasions, and have known a few individuals, both past and present, who have suffered the fate of over-zealous parenting; exploitation the destroyer of many fine talents. I can only caution these parents and their children; there's only one Hilary Hahn as there was only one Jascha Heifetz, and he scorned stage parents for abusiveness, refusing them entry into his studio. Violinist Lilit Gampel, a former child prodigy, presented an example of the hurried child, the child turned into a commodity. I'm going to link this post to a thought-provoking article I found from the San Francisco Classical Voice while doing research for my own memoir, as I feel I was exploited as a youngster. In fact, Lilit and I became close friends during her year in Seattle as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Washington. We compared notes about the hazards of early concertizing. Lilit bounced back, thankfully, and appears to be enjoying a versatile musical life in New York City these days.

Postscript: I looked up the name Hilary to find it's meaning. Hilary means cheerful. And my husband's middle name is Ilari. Hilary without the H. What do you think of that?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Altered State

After my mother died, I waited for her messages from the Other Side. I looked for signs that Mom was still here with me. I figured she'd at least cause my music to rustle or nudge my violin case, so I wouldn't get lazy about practicing. Nothing. It was as if she'd abandoned me, and I'd have no choice but to grow up.

For a long while I didn't hear from my mother. I had almost given up hope. But one night she appeared in my dream. She was in our living room, curled up on the puff chair, bewigged, with a coat covering her instead of a blanket, half asleep. Mom had one question for me: Found anything interesting from the library?
That was it. Then she closed her eyes and fell back to sleep.

But I took that as an omen, and like a dutiful daughter, began checking out books by the armloads from the local library. I found some unusual material, like the people I seem to be attracted to, and these books imparted life-altering ideas. A selection of writings I'll mention here: Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning, Helen Keller's Light in my Darkness, and Rudolf Steiner's Staying Connected: How To Continue Your Relationships With Those Who Have Died.

Following these readings, I met the visionary pianist Lorin Hollander. After playing Bach's F Minor Concerto together with Northwest Chamber Orchestra, he invited me to breakfast the next day. Lorin might have sensed my eagerness to learn from him, I'm not sure. Playing the Bach with him was as natural as breathing. Hollander's interpretation of Bach felt so right to me; it was as if he had channeled Johann Sebastian to sing through the concerto with him.

At breakfast, sitting across from Lorin Hollander at the Seattle Downtown Hilton, his eyes radiated decency, warmth and compassion. I know it's cliche, but the eyes reflect the soul. We talked about many things, from the burdens of exploited child prodigies to the depravity and spiritual void of today's world.
"Our paths have crossed for a purpose," he assured me. I nodded and felt honored. "That would be nice." I told him about some of the interesting material I had been reading, especially the writings of Rudolf Steiner.
"Great individual," he said. "I've read all of Steiner's works relating to the curative approach to teaching. So, tell me," he paused, while sipping herbal tea and munching on fruit."Have you undergone any unusual experiences?"
"Um, what do you mean?" I traveled out-of-body during the pedantic renditions of Nutcracker, but that didn't count.
I shared my stories with him. Although I hadn't experienced the supernatural first hand, Ilkka and his first wife were awakened in the middle of the night by the ghost of Victor Aller, the legendary pianist, playing flawless scales at breakneck speed. I could boast I had experienced this through association.

Our discussion turned from ghosts and the after life to the here-and-now. Lorin Hollander enlightened me about the transformational powers of playing and teaching. For this I'm truly grateful. He instructed me to substitute a new word for teacher and musician, and with that one word came a whole new attitude.
"Healer. We're healers."

Illustration by Zela Lobb

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dearly Departing

Dearly Departing One:

I've been waiting a long time for this opportunity to thank you. If it hadn't been for your tough love, I might not have discovered my own courage and fortitude. You tested the limits of my family's endurance and resilience; you gave, and took away; you hid your face from us.

My children, after being catapulted into self-reliance, are better equipped to handle life's iniquities. Your cruel actions have granted them the opportunity to recognize that authority is often misguided, and that power can cause harm; this education was tuition-free. People can and do change sometimes. I remember when you were a kind and supportive friend. In that sense, I suppose you departed long ago.

My family learned a form of self-defense; writing. For example, I watched my husband return to the living as he began putting down words, sharing thoughts and experiences. Ilkka's literary talent in foreign tongue came as a surprise to me; but you provided the motivational force.

As for me, I am just beginning to discover my own voice; another blessing.

Dearly Departing, you have brought us many gifts: if you had merely extended an invitation to Seattle for our family, Dayenu (it would have been enough).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The episodes occur now and then; I experience periods of withdrawal from Ralf Gothoni, the Gilmore prize winning pianist, conductor, composer and essayist, who forever influenced my concept and understanding of music during his engagement as music director for Northwest Chamber Orchestra. This morning I decided to do something about it; take action; make contact. Ilkka hooked me up on Skype and Ralf appeared before my very eyes and ears, on the computer screen. Can you see me now? he asked. Morning in Seattle was night for him in Finland, and Ralf's unkempt hair gave me the giggles. Thank goodness he couldn't see me; my camera was switched off. Ralf Gothoni was just as I remembered; witty, astute, and rattling away. Maybe I have psychic powers. His violinist wife, Elina Vähälä, was enroute to Seattle before heading to Spokane for performances of the Bruch Concerto. Life's not fair, I tell you. Elina has the looks of a Miss World and her violin playing is world class. Ralf doesn't see much of his young wife these days; she's been touring in China, Venezuela and Israel. He's been performing in Turkey, South Africa, Germany and England.

First order of the day, was to tell my much-loved maestro that our brief time together with Northwest Chamber Orchestra was unforgettable, and the pinnacle of my 25 years with that organization. I could hear him smile and see him laugh. I don't think Finns are at ease with compliments.

Next was to find out if Ralf thought classical music would survive today's culture. On this subject, Ralf echoes my husband's views; the world is too stupid and complacent to care enough about deep, spiritual beauty, and the power of the pop culture media is too strong. Even schools in Finland are taking the easy way out, by teaching popular songs to children rather than classical music. As artists we must pass on meaningful traditions, and not partake in the stupidity of the masses, but endeavor to elevate mankind.

In his capacity as Artistic Chairman of Savonlinna Music Academy, Ralf has assisted in the birthing of the Finnish-Egyptian Musical Bridge, a musical collaboration which seeks to enhance cultural relations between Finland, Egypt, and other Arab countries through workshops, masterclasses, and joint performances. This brainchild reminds me of the West-Eastern Divan Workshop founded by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said. I've always had profound respect for this collaborative effort as a means for paving the way to a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. For Ralf, music is but a catalyst for spiritual growth and renewal; a transformational force: Music is a causeway and a stairway of learning that can lead to wondrous worlds.

I feel better after our meeting; Ralf assures me our paths will again cross one day, and I choose to believe him.
Photo of Ralf Gothoni by Arto Tulima

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Song of Names

Like an addict, I need to walk around with a book in my hands. In the past few days the drug of choice has been Norman Lebrecht's The Song of Names, which I'm reading for the second time. I'm an admirer of Norman Lebrecht's music commentaries, so reading The Song of Names, winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, offers a refreshing contrast to his reviews, posts, and non-fiction works. The novel brings the lives of two Jewish boys, Dovid Rappaport and Martin Simmonds together, on the eve of WW II London. Dovid is a wunderkind violinist from Warsaw. His parents have left him in the care of the Simmonds family in London, in order to pursue studies with the eminent Carl Flesch.

The boys Martin and Dovid become inseparably close, like halves of an indivisible whole. On the day of his prominent, international debut, Dovid disappears from the Simmonds household, taking the Guadagnini purchased by Martin's father with him. Martin spends years searching for his boyhood friend, referring to Dovid Rappaport as the missing part of himself.

It isn't until forty years later (forty years wandering in the desert?), that Martin Simmonds, now middle-aged, desperately bored, and condemned to adjudicate a provincial music competition, hears the familiar rubato of his friend Dovid in a young violinist's rendition of a Bach solo work. The competition participant, Peter Stemp, reveals an interpretive style that suggests the influence of his mentor. Martin Simmonds forges ahead on his mission to find the elusive Dovid Rappaport. Through young Peter Stemp's lead in the alleys of London's Orthodox Jewish quarter, Martin reconnects with his long lost friend, Dovid, who has changed beyond imagination. In this captivitating narrative, Lebrecht offers a first-rate glimpse into the business of classical music, as well as provoking the reader to think of the consequences of treating music as competitive sport. Lebrecht reminds the reader of violinist Josef Hassid's young life and career, and it's tragic end.

The description of chassidic Jewish life also reawakens my fascination with the Good Book. I recall years of Torah study with Rabbi Kornfeld, here in Seattle. What do we do after we complete Deuteronomy? I asked. Return to Genesis, he replied, stroking his scraggly beard. And I realized that Jascha Heifetz taught Kreutzer 42 Etudes in a similar manner, with no end in sight.

After reading The Song of Names I appreciate the indelible stamp of an artist/teacher on a talented pupil; recordings of Erick Friedman with shimmering tone and vibrato reminiscent of Heifetz, come to mind. When I collaborated with pianist Randolph Hokanson during our Beethoven Sonata cycle in 2005, he recalled memories of Myra Hess. Of today's aspiring artists, a Seattle area treasure, Camden Shaw, the prize-winning cellist extraordinaire now at Curtis, will always possess a spark of his late teacher, David Tonkonogui.

Ironically, if you listen carefully to side by side concerts with Garfield and Seattle Symphony, you might detect some Talvi.