Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Matzo Madness and Memories

Last day of Passover. One of our guests brought the most delicious matzo: Yehuda Matzos. Ordinarily, I avoid the stuff, as it tastes like cardboard, but this year, the matzo was magnificent. Maybe it was just a good batch, I don't know. Late at night, I wandered for forty minutes around the kitchen, poured a glass of Manischewitz, and slathered butter and strawberry jam on those beauties. The combination of crunchy matzo topped with creamy butter and sweet berries tasted like Nirvana. Truth be told, I'm not ready to return to toast.

Passover, a season of renewal, is also an opportunity for reflection and contemplation. While Sarah and I were driving home from shopping, I mentioned that we've lived in the same house on Queen Anne for twenty-five years. That's half my life.
"Did you expect to live here that long when you moved from L.A.?" my daughter asked.
"No," I said. As I turned into our carport, I had a Proustian experience, and recalled magic moments of lost time.

Over the years, in our humble dwelling, my in-laws, Irja and Veikko Talvi would travel from Finland, and transform our house into a palace. Irja polished the kitchen counters until they gleamed, and Veikko set massive historical books on our dining table. He rattled away on Finland's history in Finnish, as if I could process a labyrinth of information, and strained his ears to hear Ilkka practice. He listened to his son's recordings over and over again with Seattle Symphony, demanding to know which violin Ilkka played.
"A wooden one," was the only response from his son.

My mother, Frances Kransberg, doted on her grand-daughters, Anna and Sarah. She'd go out to our backyard in the late summer, and pick apples, pears and plums from the plentiful trees. Then she'd simmer the fruit together in batches, and create a rich sauce for the girls. The house smelled like cinnamon and cloves. Because her four daughters, myself included, led such separate and disparate lives, my mother wouldn't have her children in the same room with her at the same time until her passing, in 2004. The shiva ritual took place in our living room.

Music has always filled our home. Many talented individuals have enriched our lives within these walls. I remember when George Shangrow accompanied me at the piano with the Beethoven Concerto before an appearance with Orchestra Seattle. Playing the Beethoven with George felt effortless, as he's a wonderful accompanist. Incidentally, the day that George was no longer part of KING-FM, we stopped listening to that station—forever. I think classical KING-FM was doomed right then and there.

Back in the days of Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Adam Stern arrived to rehearse Copland's "Vitebsk" for an all American chamber music program. Vitebsk is chock full of quarter tones which confounded me; the tonalities posed a challenge. My husband slipped into the room, appeared at once by my side, and placed my fingers accurately on the fingerboard. Besides having perfect pitch, Ilkka had analyzed the quarter tone interval down to a science. What I didn't realize at that time, but I certainly do now, is that it is vital for a musician to keep an open mind (and ear) with regard to repertoire. We learn the most from our cherished colleagues.

Ralf Gothoni practiced on our Steinway upright, and beamed energy into our home. He mused: It's not enough to be young and talented like we, of course, are. We still must practice.

And, believe it or not, Ilkka and I were once threatened at this address by the SS. The police came right to our front door, sent by a local conductor claiming that my husband had jeopardized his life with his blog. Ilkka then showed his blog to the policemen, and they agreed, shaking their heads at false accusations: the opposite was true. Tainted matzo? Madness? Perhaps, but like the Exodus from Egypt, we remember.

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