Thursday, February 28, 2019

Goodnight Shostakovich and goodbye André Previn

My thanks go to fellow blogger Andrew Morris for reminding me of this 2006 Overgrown Path post. It recounts an anecdote told by André Previn, who has died aged 89, in his memoir No Minor Chords:
Shortly afterwards I formed a trio, together with violinist Israel Baler and cellist Edgar Lustgarten. We called ourselves the Pacific Art Trio and played concerts up and down the West Coast, for anybody who wanted us. We were all involved in film studio work, and this endeavour was a sort of life raft for the three of us. It was far from unusual for us to work throughout the day on a Tom and Jerry cartoon and then meet after supper to prepare the Ravel Trio.

One time we were planning a performance of the Shostakovich Trio, fairly new at the time. We had the typical chamber music discussion (otherwise know as a screaming argument) about the tempo of the first movement. The printed metronome markings in the score seemed arbitrary to us, and none of us believed them. I had an idea. "Let's call Shostakovich," I offered. My two colleagues laughed. "Where?" asked Eddie. "Do you happen to have his phone number?"

A few more scathing remarks back and forth, and I got on the phone in Eddie's split-level Van Nuys living room and asked for Moscow Information. It took endless time and some surreal dialogue, but I was finally put through to an English-speaking member of the League of Composers in Russia. I explained who we were and what our problem was, and by God, we were given an appointed time twenty-four hours later to put through the call, at which time an interpreter would be on an extension. So there I was the next day, with a flushed face, inquiring about metronome markings and being answered by Shostakovich, by way of an interpreter.

My conversation to Moscow went something like this: "At seventeen after A, does a quarter equal 132?"
Answer: "No no, that's wrong, read eighth not quarter, and eleven later, just before B, it should change to half equals 60."


My two trio companions were listening to all this and excitedly taking notes, when suddenly Iz Baker began to laugh uncontrollably. I waved at him in a fury, but he finally had to leave the room. When my monumental phone call came to an end, I asked him, in icy tones, just what he found so amusing.

"Think about it," he gasped. "The whole town is seething with the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee , everybody's afraid to give any kind of opinion, obviously a phone call to Moscow is monitored by the FBI or somebody, and they will almost certainly think you were talking some kind of code."

I had happy visions of Senator McCarthy being given the new metronome markings of the Shostakovich Trio and trying to manufacture a sinister plot to overthrow Van Nuys out of it, but at the time nothing official ensued.
New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

No comments: