by Kung Fu Zu 1/3/18
Watching the New Year’s Day Concert at the Musikverein in Vienna, reminded me of some wonderful things which took place many years ago. My experience attests to the fact that, one can never know when or where beauty and serendipity will strike.
In early 1975, I attended a concert given by a young up-and-coming Latvian violinist named Gidon Kramer. The venue was the Musikverein in Vienna. As I recall, this was the first time the Soviets had allowed Kramer to perform in Vienna since his debut there in 1970.
Without detailing the program, let me just say that this was most wonderful concert I have ever attended. Kramer played like a god. If he had been competing with the Devil in that old Charlie Daniels song, not only would Kramer have won the golden violin, he would have walked away with everything the Devil owned.
The Viennese are known to be a very tough audience. They are quite happy and willing to mock and boo musicians who do not live up to the high standards of such a knowledgeable public. Yet, the moment Kramer played his last note, the crowd went wild and sprang to its collective feet. Nobody in the concert hall was sitting or silent. The bravos and applause went on non-stop for something like five minutes. The audience simply would not calm down until Kramer came out for an encore. He came, gave the encore and departed stage left. Again, pandemonium broke out and the audience demanded Kramer give them more. He did. And he did it again, and again. This went on for something like forty-five minutes.
I was sitting in a loge, level with the stage. Fortuitously, the entrance to my box was on the same side from which Kramer had to exit the platform. I was, therefore, able to step in and out of my box and, unlike the general public, could watch Kramer in the wings as he listened to the crowd roar for more. It was truly something worth seeing.
After his fourth encore, Kramer went out and put away his violin, but the crowd would have none of it. I observed him as he walked rapidly around, bent over, then stood back up, closed his hands into fists and raised them to his head, where he then pulled his hair in disbelief at the praise being heaped upon him. His tension was palpable. Torn between going back to his dressing room and/or going back into the lion’s den and giving the audience more, he had to decide. Finally, he stood straight, ran to get his violin and then marched back onto the stage. The roar was deafening! He played one more piece and, this time, walked off the podium for the last time that night.
It is impossible to describe such an experience, “incredibly thrilling” does not begin to approach the effect/atmosphere, particularly if one loves music. I will remember it to my dying day, and that is no cliché.
Some nine years later I was living in Tokyo. I have detailed a small part of my life there in another piece titled, “Tokyo Days.”
I resided in a small, quiet Tokyo neighborhood, a few minutes’ walk from the Ontake-san train station. My abode was located in a building named “Maison de Mine”, owned by the Noguchis, who lived on the top floor. Below were four rented apartments. I lived in one of the two ground floor residences.
After I had lived there for a few months, a new tenant moved into the other ground floor apartment across from mine. Within days, I began to hear the violin being practiced, which is just as well, as the player was sorely in need of practice. This did not bother me much as I was more often out of my apartment than in it.
One morning, I met the new resident of that apartment as we were both leaving for work. The occupant was a woman, a few years older than I, and as all Japanese are, she was very polite. She invited me for tea sometime in the future, I said I would be honored to visit her, and we went our separate ways.
Some days later, she actually asked me over for tea and I accepted. During tea we talked about this and that till it came out that she had lived in Vienna and was a big music fan. As I had studied there, and loved music as well, we had something in common to talk about.
It was only natural that our conversation would drift to violinists and concerts. While we discussed both, she mentioned that she liked the Soviet violinist Gidon Kramer. My ears perked up and before I could respond, she told me she had been to his 1975 concert at the Musikverein in Vienna. I laughed and told her I had been at the very same performance. As one might imagine, she was very surprised when I told her.
We finished out tea together and I don’t recall ever visiting her again. She went her way and I went mine, but for a moment our paths had crossed in a wonderful way.
What are the odds that a Japanese woman, and American man would both have lived in Vienna at the same time, attended the same spectacular concert, and then, eight or nine years later, move next door to each other in Tokyo? The reader will admit that the odds are very long. The saying, “The world is a small place”, doesn’t begin to describe it.
This was not the first, nor would it be the last, time such a thing happened to me; which only goes to show how wonderful life can be.
P.S. I ran into Gidon Kramer in an elevator at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Singapore during the 1990’s. As I did not want to bother him, I did not introduce myself. I wish I had.
Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely and lived outside the United States. He takes his tea shaken, not stirred.