There are tall friends and there are short friends. There are close friends, or friends that are far away. There are larger than life friends, and others who are just large. There are friends that you take with you when you climb your mountain, and others that you leave to rest by the sideline. But every now and again we discover that we also have an unexpected friend - one which defies any labeling.
Today I will write about one such friend. Alas, he is not a person, nor is he a pet. As a matter of fact this friend is not a living thing, though "he" is very much alive. This friend with whom I have so many memories and have been through so much together with is actually a piece of music - The Mendelssohn first piano concerto.
For one reason or another this delightful piece accompanied me on many happy occasions, and in the process also exposed me to the possibilities where things can go awry and as I like to see it... quite funny.
The first time I performed the Mendelssohn concerto I was an eighteen year old non-protege pianist. The performance took place in Israel in the southern city of Beer Sheba. Not a cultural Mecca so to speak, but definitely an enthusiastic community where music is appreciated and taken seriously... Very seriously, especially by one stage manager.
My rehearsals with the orchestra went well, playing an old scratchy piano (exhibit A: Steinway) which was o.k. When I came to warm up in the evening about 45 minutes before the concert I suddenly saw on the stage a different piano than the one I had during rehearsals. It was a beautiful shiny piano (exhibit B: Yamaha.) Somewhat agitated I went to the stage manager who politely at first, less so thereafter, shoved me to the side. I kept on being persistent and was finally told that in the morning I played on the "ugly looking" whatever piano (see exhibit A) and now in the concert I was lucky to get the shiny looking other instrument (see exhibit B.) Needless to say no explanation on my behalf helped in any way. He was NOT going to change the instruments. After all the audience is not going to tolerate such lack of aesthetic priorities. The situation got even more serious and ultimately I had to call the conductor to mediate. I finally got my wish to the stage manager's enormous anger.
That was not the end though of that experience. As I went upstairs to put on my tux, I discovered that I forgot to bring my black trousers. Looking for a solution, I saw one of the musicians pass by my door. As if taken out of a devilish cartoon, the next minute that musician was naked and his black trousers which were extremely tight were on me. I walked onto the stage. I was very nervous, and very concentrated.... NOT on the piece I was about the perform for the first time... but rather because the trousers were so tight, they could explode any minute.
A few years later came the next performances of the Mendelssohn. It was in January of 1991. The first gulf war was looming and I just won an important competition in Israel with the Prokofiev third piano concerto. At the announcement ceremony of the winner I was asked whether I can play the Mendelssohn piano concerto the next day with the Israeli Philharmonic under Yoel Levi due to cancellation of the supposed to be soloist. I have not touched the piece since that first performance over two years ago.
Good friends always are at your side, and so did this piece. The next morning I went to the rehearsal (the only one I had) playing from the music. After all, I had less than 24 hours to prepare which were spent on praying rather than practicing. That night, on the way to the concert I heard on the radio that "Zubin Mehta has just landed in Israel and he is on the way to the concert of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra". Well, I was way too nervous to remember anything that followed. But the maestro did invite me a few months later to play with him.... the Mendelssohn concerto.
But before the concert with Mehta, I also played the Mendelssohn under my very good friend, the late conductor Mendi Rodan. Again in Beer Sheba, and a couple of months into the first gulf war, at the concert a siren came on. It was the first time that Beer Sheba was attacked. I guessed the Iraqi dictator knew where I was.
Then I went with Mendelssohn and also Mendi on tour to Greece with the Jerusalem symphony in 1992. With that same orchestra I played the Mendelssohn under Yoav Talmi fifteen years later!
Two years ago Mendelssohn came to visit me very close to where I live in Rockville Maryland, when I performed it with Symphony of the Potomac just next door, and then flew to play with with the Shreveport symphony in Louisiana. Last month another happy reunion, this time with the Israeli Chamber Orchestra in a festival in Eilat. And just last weekend a very exciting occasion to celebrate with my friend and with the hope of having two new ones (an orchestra and a conductor) - my debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the extremely intense and insightful Vladimir Jurowski.
This time though I need to thank the stage manager who ran to open for me the stage door that was locked when I came back from warming up in an adjacent hall. I heard the orchestra tune for me and I was outside. Well, all's well that ends well... Especially with such good friends as the Mendelssohn first piano concerto.