Sunday, November 27, 2005


It was cold but not too bad. I didn't need a hat. Wool gloves were fine. It was early spring of 1977 and the leaves had not yet begun to sprout but there was no snow.

I walked to the bus station, wrote them a check for a few dollars, and was on my way to Fredonia outside Buffalo. I had a ticket to see Valdimir Horowitz the next afternoon, at Kleinhans Music Hall in the big town.

The man was a lion. He was in a second prime period of his career. There had been a number of years, a decade-plus, in which he did not concertize. It was said that for one year-and-a-half period he never even left his apartment in New York, preferring to stay at home with his ever-protective wife, who herself was the daughter of the legendary conductor Toscanini.

There is a story about Toscanini at some famous opera house about to conduct some three-hour-long major work, whatever, let's just say it was Aida for effect, though it well could have been Fidelio for all I know.

Anyways, the story goes that just before the opera, the bassonist of the orchestra madly approached Toscanini and said "Maestro, I'm in a fix. The low E-flat key on my bassoon is broken, and I don't have time to go home and get my other instrument."

Toscanini ruminated for a moment and replied "Don't worry about it. You don't have any low E-flats in Aida."

He knew his stuff, that Toscanini. Good memory. He obviously didn't smoke a lot of reefer.

Anyways, I stayed with a college friend. His mother had corralled me into singing and playing in her church choir, which was the best one by far in my home town. Later I would be best man (but not best shoes,) at his wedding.

The next day we drove to Kleinan's to hear Horowitz, who always played afternoon concerts after eating a meal of Dover sole.

He opened with an obscure Clementi sonata, did some Rachmaninoff etudes-tableax, then the Chopin B-flat-minor Funeral March sonata. My brain was on "wow" the whole time. After the A-flat Polonaise I thought the piano was going to collapse, because somehow Horowitz was able to play very, very loudly, but it held up for three encores, including Mozskowski's "Etincelles" or "Sparks," and Schumann's "Traumerei."

I heard him play that on TV on the "live from Moscow" concert in real time a few years later. Two of my beloved dogs, a red Saluki and a black-and-white Borzoi, died that same morning. I can't stand hearing it anymore. I have the CD but it's dusty.

The next day I found that the Buffalo bus station, unlike the provincial college-town station I came from, did not take checks. Naive was I. Sheesh. I ended up pounding on the door of the local Methodist church, because I assumed they were all as nice a bunch of people as my choir-mates back home.

They just happened to have a bus of hyperactive old ladies heading east out of Buffalo to go to a quilting festival or something, so they gave me a ride. They also gave me doughnuts and cashed a $10-dollar out-of-town check. Bunch of sweetie-pies. No Horowitz fans among them though, but they were impressed I had travelled hundreds of miles to hear him.

I mailed them a thank you note and small church donation a week afterwards.

They turned south before the highway back to college turned north, so I had to do a little hitching. My first and shortest hitch was just to get through the Thruway Exit Booth, because they wouldn't let me just walk out onto the Thruway. That was a ride of about a hundred yards. I continued east after the guy dropped me off on his own way west.

Some guys in a van got me as far as the highway north, where a beer-guzzling mullet-cut wild-and-crazy pothead took me all the way to Watertown. He could drive and moon other cars at the same time. But he didn't kill me and drop my body in a ditch, so it all worked out okay.

Another short hitch got me into town to the Greyhound station, where I paid my three dollars and took a bus for the final stretch.

My friends, almost all pianists themselves, cheered me as I walked into the dining hall. They pawed me. Well, at least Janine did, she was just like that, and they asked me all about Horowitz, and I talked about the absolutely weird electrical thing that spread though the air of the auditorium the moment he walked on stage.

Later we all went to the big concert hall at Crane and heard the Juilliard Quartet play Ravel.

Back in those days, that was a big weekend for me.

1 comment:

The Platypus said...

I've got a CD of Horowitz doing Pictures at an Exhibition. I've grown to like it even better than than the Emerson, Lake & Palmer interpretation. He was a rock God.