Geneva: before and after

In the early 60’s I had just began playing the Mazzeo System Clarinet. I played on a set of Selmer Centered Tone clarinets, a set given to me by Rosario Mazzeo. (I thought it was a loan, but every time I would send Rosie a few bucks, he would either send it back or enroll me in some Photography club)
Anyway, it was the time for the world Clarinet Competition in Geneva. Rosie sugested that I go to it and compete. I agreed. Suddenly, at the cashiers office of the New England Conservatory, I got an amount of money, given anonymously, which totaled the airfare for Geneva.
Then , I received a call from the composer Daniel Pinkham. He asked me to come for tea at the home of Winifred Johnstone in Back Bay in Boston. He took me there and I was introduced to this little rather wonderful elderly lady. She served us tea. The teapot had a cover on top of it to keep it warm.(Makes me smile). We discussed The Conservatoire Americain at Fontainebleau, France. Someone, also without name had given me a scholarship to attend, and there was an additional amount for the airfare. Scholarship!
Rosie had decided that I should get used to Europe prior to the competition.
Who was I to refuse?
I entered it and mentioned that I would be playing the Eugene Bozza Clarinet Concerto as my chosen piece.
It was a kind of rip-off of the Ibert Saxophone Concerto made so popular by the Marcel Mule recording.
So, I went to Fontainbleau and met the greatest teacher of anything musical in the first half of the 20th century, Nadia Boulanger. I revered her very quickly, because frankly the feeling was mutual. She immediately became my mentor and finally , teacher. I would go to her apartment early in he morning and she went through the entire clarinet repertoire in those early morning lessons (they were at 7.30 AM) Anyway, she had insights and an inordinate sense of what was correct in the tiniest musical phrase and she was my prize for the summer, and Boulanger was the best prize I would ever receive.
She went over my decorum for the Geneva, stressing that I must play the set piece, ( a sonata by Gagnebin, who happened to be the head of the Geneva Conservatory.) And the most important thing was that she told me was not to expect too much .
And so, I went to Fontainebleau and quickly fell in love with everything that was there. My sholarship included meals at the cafeteria, featuring the best bread I have ever consumed. It was where all the people in the school took their meals.
I quickly met the most talented group of musicians I have ever come across. They were all young and I guess all were wunderkind types, young precocious and they could play anything.
There was Bobby Levin, probably age 11 who could already play everything, including the play-back of the new music concerts. He would do it immediatly after hearing the work only once.
There was a little kid, we learned to call “Wrong Key” who would always come to my table and steal my pen, always. And many others, and there was Nadia herself, who was like all the centuries of music who hade preceded her.
I loved her. But there were those who called her “The Hitler of the American Amateurs”. She an incredible musician and knew everything.
As you might imagine, the summer went very quickly. Bobby Levin would listen to me practicing in the bullet-holed living room of the Hotel Launoy, and he wrote me a Sonata which featured the first movement comprised of my warmup, which was actually quite lovely(the sonata, that is), though called “Juvenalia” by Robert Levin, who himself is now a world famous performer of Mozart and Beethoven . He later wrote me another, much more difficult, He still calls that one jevenalia, but I dare any juvenile to play it.
I played in so many concerts at Fontainebleau, then at the end of the summer, took a train to Geneva. It was a lovely city. I met my accompanist and we rehearsed. When it came my turn to compete, I found myself behind a screen. I heard heels walking toward the screen and a voice said, “we are ready for you, Mr Friedland”
Behind a screen no less, and I was called by name.
Well, the Bozza was the hardest piece I had ever played at the time, and I dare say, I played it very well.
When I was finished, I heard the heels again approaching the screen.
The words this time, I shall never forget, “We at Geneva do not care for your American style of playing.”
So, at least I knew what the outcome was to be.
I decided to stay and listen to all the others, then listened to the finalists and the awards. At the time I was angry, very angry, because I felt the winner could have been   a student of mine.
I returned to Boston, miserable but determined to not ever enter a concours again.
But soon after, I read about the National Compettion for woodwind Instruments sponsored by the Musicians Club of New York. (The judges were Robert Bloom and Julius Baker.)
I was so cynical that I listened to every player . sitting in the audience, never even warming up. When they called me, they even asked if I wanted to warm up.   “NO”
I went up,played my pieces.
Then after a few minutes of talking, my name was called. I won. ( Believe it, because it’s true.) There is no moral to the story, just maybe to always play your best and make sure that you avoid competitions, unless you are a pianist, perhaps.
keep practicing.


2 Responses to Geneva: before and after

  1. danop says:

    Very interesting to read about your study with Boulanger. I know that she was certainly part of the “who’s who” in French music. Did you ever get to meet any other members of her circle–perhaps Poulenc,
    Milhaud, Tailleferre, Ibert, Messiaen, Auric, or Francaix?

  2. Hello:
    I was very much in love with Francaixs daughter, Claude, and met him and also Poulenc when he came to play piano for his muse, Denise Duval in the Jean Cocteau, La Voix Humaine, which starts with t telephone ringing, which was whistled by Pou-Pou as Duval called him.


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