Last night’s concert with the Charleston Symphony was perhaps the most emotionally charged of any I have ever performed. David Stahl led his orchestra so splendidly. We had a double rehearsal the day before, and it was a rather long day’s wait until we performed the piece after intermission at 9:15pm. After I went through countless passages on a Yamaha upright in the Green Room, I sat down to play the piece, and felt this amazing focus of emotuional energy take me over–before the orchestra even began. When the first notes sounded, I could feel my eyes well up a bit. Sure, there is a history of the Rach 3 and me. I learned it in 1981, and in 1982, I studied it with Adele Marcus, who has taught it to all of her best prize-winning students. There was a concerto competition at Juilliard, and Rach 3 was one of them. Adele didn’t wish for me to enter, and said, ‘I know how you will play this someday, and now is not the time’. I was crushed, of course, and did not enter. Fortunately, the year after, I won the concerto competition for the Prokofiev 2nd Concerto. In 1984, I entered a major competition in Europe and missed the finals by a half point–Rach 3, again. I witnessed another pianist play itn in the final round and take second prize. Fortunately, though, I won the Kapell competition in 1985 with the Prokofiev 2nd concerto. But the stigma of not getting this opportunity to play Rach 3 would haunt me. It was finally in 1996 that this opportunity came not once, but twice. I played it with my friend George Del Gobbo conducting the Lake Forest Symphony–first time for me! Shortly after, with my Bulgarian conductor friend, Ivan Anguelov, with the Istanbul State Symphony. Two years later, with my friend (and quasi brother!) Stuart Malina, and the Greensboro Symphony, which cemented our long-lasting friendship. Stuart suggested me to David Stahl, and here we are, ten years later, performing Rach 3 in Charleston!
I had found out just two hours prior to the concert in Charleston through a google search that an older friend had passed. He was Neil Levenson, who wrote ‘Denise’ (recorded by Randy and the Rainbows and later, Blondie) and other pop songs. Deeper than that, Neil was one of the best pianists I ever heard. He studied with Moritz Rosenthal and his wife, of the old world pedigree, and could sit down and play anything like a seasoned artist. He studied with me briefly, and traveled often to Israel and basically lived off the royalties of his songs. Oddly, my son asked my wife what ever happened to Neil Levenson just two weeks ago–he passed, unknown to us, on January 7. How strange for my son to ask at that time. Not sure what made me reach out to find out how he is–perhaps he was sending us messages. Perhaps then it became part of my experience performing last night. The audience screamed and jumped to their feet–Iwas overwhelmed–my cup runneth over. I am sure Neil was there too–along with Adele Marcus by my side.