Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Musical misfortunes

It is important that one learns to laugh at him/herself. Here are some true musical highlights of my life that seem funny now, but were anything but at the time.

I was seven and in first grade (school starts later in Finland than here). I had promised to play something for the class on the harmonium, but naturally had forgotten all about it. Since I couldn’t disappoint my teacher whom I loved and adored, I decided to improvise. She sat next to me on the bench, to pump air to the organ with the pedals I couldn’t possibly reach, and I started my piece. I was quite inspired and did rather well, playing for perhaps five minutes. To my horror, my teacher said that since it was so beautiful, could I play the piece again? I was sweating, but couldn’t tell her the truth and started again. Of course the second version didn’t quite resemble the first, but I tried to include the same melodies, harmonies and tremolos, my specialty at the time. All the kids and my teacher loved it. I stayed close friends with her for as long as she lived, and she often remembered what a thrill it was sitting with me and pumping those pedals. It took me years to confess to my ‘crime’ but that just made her laugh and I’m not sure if she ever believed me.

In 1967 Finland was celebrating her 50th year of independence and I was asked to play at a diplomatic event in Los Angeles. I had the pianist from the Heifetz Master Class accompanying me and he brought a lovely young lady to turn pages. To our surprise the ballroom only had an upright piano, although big in size. Somewhere in the middle of my program my right arm accidentally hit something and my bow flew out of my hand, somehow managing to land right underneath the piano. The three of us were on our hands and knees trying to fetch the bow, but it wasn’t easy to get to and took us several minutes. Finally I had it in my hand again and we went back to finishing the program. Luckily most of audience had enjoyed a few drinks, and they probably thought this was part of the act.

Uprights can be dangerous. I was playing at a summer music festival in Northern Finland with an American-born conductor and pianist. The top lid was open and somehow all the sheet music fell inside the instrument. My friend spoke remarkably good Finnish but was translating from English to my language and forgot that “the music fell into the piano” doesn’t make sense as it means “the sound of music had disappeared into the piano”. All the music students had a good laugh and watched us taking the piano apart. Everything removable had to come out, but finally we managed to get all the sheet music out and start our share of the concert.

Finally, a world record of sorts. I was playing a recital at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. The same day I had visited a violin maker, and he had sold me his remaining stock of YsayĆ«-brand e-strings. I decided that a new string would be a good idea and changed one a few hours before the concert. Right when I was walking onto the stage, the string broke, and I had to go back to change it. I opened the program with the Vitali Chaconne but didn’t get very far until my e-string snapped again. Quickly back upstairs to the dressing room to put on a new string. This time I got to the final chord until the same misfortune happened again. I managed to break five of those strings that were made of faulty steel (I had no others in my case) during the evening, and finally the concert manager had to ask if anyone in the audience happened to have a violin with them I could use. I finished the program on a fiddle owned by a Hungarian colleague. It was very different from mine, with steel strings and a rather nasal tone, but I managed to play through some Wieniawski Caprices and other showpieces on it surprisingly well.

The headline of the review in the Helsingin Sanomat stated: An Evening of Misfortune.