Thursday, June 7, 2012

Some Enchanted Evening

For some people, Queen Anne's Bayview Manor might be simply a retirement community. Not for me. The Manor has become my university; there I study and rehearse regularly with the 97-year-young pianist, Randolph Hokanson. Our initial session, a few months back, was more of a coffee date. I felt the inclination to discuss Randy's life-affirming memoir, With Head to the Music Bent: A Musician's Story. The coffee cups were set on a small table, and a plate of cookies lovingly prepared. I cannot recall the exact moment when I was overtaken by an urge to gobble up every crumb of musical knowledge that Randy had to impart; I just knew that to ingest an interpretive phrase of Brahms from Randy's nimble fingers would be like standing in the presence of Brahms himself, for Randy had worked closely with Carl Friedberg, a pupil of Clara Schumann and friend of Johannes Brahms. I also had tucked away in my music bag the complete set of J.S. Bach Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard, knowing that Harold Samuel, the distinguished interpreter of Bach's music, had also been one of Randy's dearest friends and an influential mentor. I left the Bach piano part on his music stand, just hoping. We exchanged so many thoughts and ideas that day, from the grief Dame Myra Hess felt at the loss of her playing powers to the ravaging attack of jitters violinist Emanuel Zetlin endured prior to every concert at the University of Washington.

"Now what about you?" Randy asked, with a glint in his kind, blue eyes. "How are people going to remember your beautiful playing? You'll be forgotten unless you continue to concertize." And he thought for a moment.
"We must do something about that."
I paused. I had received a phone call from a Hungarian violinist friend in Los Angeles just a few days prior. I couldn't keep from recounting the conversation to Randy, as it was still fresh on my mind.
"This Hungarian friend of mine—he's older, been around the block—calls me first thing in the morning. 'Kransberg'!" he shouts.
"Yeah?" I reply, drowsily.
"You practicing?"
Randy nodded, as if wondering the same. "Well? What did you say?"
"I didn't know what to say. There was a pause, then I heard these words—"
 "Kransberg, you want to sound like shit?"
Randy burst out laughing before I realized the language inappropriate. "Hungarians are so warm. You know Marjorie, there's a saying: If you have a Hungarian for a friend you don't need an enemy."

And I suppose that little discussion was a catalyst for the twice weekly rehearsals that Randy and I have enjoyed these past few months. It amazes me to find that whenever we shut the door to study, nothing else seems to matter. It's as if, except for the presence of the great masters and their music, the rest of the world has faded away.

Last evening, we performed a program of J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart, Johannes Brahms and Maurice Ravel to an enthusiastic, packed multi-generational audience at Bayview Manor's Albertson Hall. I can assure you my friends, it's only the beginning.