Saturday, July 30, 2011
The Viola in My Life--in My Life
I spent the last couple of years helping Bernard Zaslav write The Viola in My Life: An Alto Rhapsody, and a copy of the book finally arrived in today's mail.
I have been a musical memoir junkie for most of my life, and a deep-seated goal of mine has always been to help someone write a memoir. Now I have done it, the book is in print, and everyone can enjoy Bernie's stories as much as I have enjoyed them. I feel very proud for having served as sometime editor and sometime muse for this project.
Bernie began his musical life as a violinist. Immediately after graduating from Juilliard, he made the permanent switch to viola when he got called to play in Raymond Scott's band for the summer. He studied viola for a year, and landed a job in the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. Eventually he returned to New York, and after a nine-year hiatus (selling plumbing supplies!), he began playing in Broadway shows. In the late 1950s he began his career as the violist of a series of important American string quartets, including the Composers Quartet in New York (sort of a prototype for the Kronos Quartet), the Fine Arts Quartet, the Vermeer Quartet, and finally the Stanford String Quartet.
Bernie describes the personalities of many iconic musicians (mostly conductors, composers, pianists, and string players), and he also describes the personalities of the luthiers he knew in New York (he hung out at their 57th street shops between gigs). He gives the surprisingly entertaining details of his quest for the perfect instrument (which he finally found), and elaborates on his obsession with bow collecting. His "fermata" (he calls some of his digressions "fermatae") called "Fiddlesticks" (my personal subtitle is "confessions of a bow nut") makes for wonderful reading. In addition to collecting bows during his adventures and travels, Bernie collected lifelong friends (including me). His life as the middle voice of many string quartets has been full of all sorts of wonderful musical and personal joy, and I think this "view from the middle" will resonate with other people (like me) who love to play the viola in chamber ensembles and orchestras.
The book comes with two terrific CDs that are tucked into each of its covers. One has viola and piano music, and one has string chamber music. There is an excellent index, a thorough discography, and lots of pictures. You can get it from Amazon.