I vividly remember the excitement generated by the visit of the New York Philharmonic to India in September 1984. It was the NY Phil’s first-ever tour of India (sadly it has also been their last so far), and the first of many visits by Zubin Mehta with world-class orchestras.
The media frenzy eclipsed everything else. India Today magazine splashed Mehta across its cover with the caption “Baron of the Baton”. I have a copy of it stashed somewhere safe.
I had just gained admission to medical school in July that year, and begged my parents to let me go to one of the Bombay concerts. My relatives magically got me a ticket to one of the three concerts, no mean feat even today where visiting orchestras are concerned.
This was the era before the Internet. I can’t remember how it happened, but for some reason I thought that among the works of the programme I was going to hear, would be the Brahms Double Concerto. I had just been introduced to it when it was played on the local radio in Goa. I had begun listening to it late, and so I had no idea how it began. I remember dashing to get a blank cassette to tape the recording, and I still have it. Even now I have no idea who the soloists were, but the work caught my imagination, and I would listen to the imperfect, incomplete recording, over and over. In those days, there was no way one could easily get hold of a recording on either audio cassette or LP, so it was all I had.
I took the bus from Goa to Bombay, and listened to the recording on my Walkman (yes, they were very much in vogue then!) all along the way.
The concert was in Shanmukhananda hall, Sion. An acoustic shell (weighing several tonnes and requiring a separate cargo jet to ferry it to India) had been fitted there just for the concert. I had never been to the hall before, so my cousin Mariella was deputed to make sure I got there and back.
When I was ensconced in my seat and took a look at the programme, there was a Double Concerto alright. But the Bach Double Violin Concerto (featuring Charles Rex and Kenneth Gordon from the ranks of the NY Phil), not the Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello! That was a disappointment, but nevertheless I loved the concert. It was my first proper live orchestral concert, featuring the NY Phil no less! Heaven! And there was Glenn Dicterow in the concertmaster’s seat, although there was so much to take in at I must confess I didn’t pay much attention to him then.
I went backstage to get Zubin Mehta’s autograph, and also of as many of the orchestral musicians as would let me. That’s when I actually met Dicterow. He was very courteous and patient, and carefully spelled his name out for me. When I asked him what instrument he played, one of his colleagues piped up “He’s our concertmaster!” Dicterow had joined the orchestra as Concertmaster in 1980, just four years earlier.
Here’s a picture of his autograph, which I have cherished over the years:
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. I’ve been lucky to hear the New York Philharmonic in London a few times during my decade in the UK. I’ve heard increasingly about his reputation as a pedagogue, from my musician friends on both sides of the Atlantic.
I visited New York very briefly in December 1998, but sadly did not attend any concerts.
So when I visited again as part of an Indian delegation invited by The Academy, I decided to make up for lost time. So I went to concerts at every available opportunity. But in New York City, there is such a choice, that other attraction like the Metropolitan Opera, the MET Orchestra, and a whole array of chamber music recitals at Carnegie Hall vied for my attention. I managed to squeeze in just one NY Phil concert at their Avery Fisher Hall residence in the first half of my visit to the US: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos led the band in a programme featuring Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole (featuring Augustin Hadelich as soloist) and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.
Then I travelled across the US, largely canvassing for support for Child’s Play (India) Foundation. Hurricane Sandy struck, and among other things, threw my neat travel plans into total disarray.
So when I got back to the New York area, I was now just a few days away from my departure back to India. I decided to go to one last concert.
I did a Google search, and guess what came up? The NY Phil playing an all-Brahms concert under the baton of their conductor emeritus Kurt Masur, and featuring the Second Symphony and: the Double Concerto! And with Glenn Dicterow as violinist! At the time of booking the concert, Carter Brey (the NY Phil’s Principal Cellist) was meant to be Dicterow’s partner in the work, but apparently he took ill and Alisa Weilerstein filled in for him at the very last minute.
So I did get to hear Brahms’ Double Concerto played by the NY Phil, albeit 28 years later. And I was incredibly fortunate to hear Dicterow as soloist here as well, especially since in May 2012 he announced he would step down as concertmaster to concentrate more on teaching. I had heard such a lot about his playing, and now I was able to hear him at last!
It was a memorable concert and not just for the music. Kurt Masur, who has been suffering from ill health for some time, got a standing ovation at the very beginning when he arrived on stage.
Weilerstein played with tremendous passion and concentration. Midway through the first movement, one of her strings got loose, and the music ground to a halt, only to pick up where they had left off a moment later.
I’m a great fan of all the Brahms symphonies and the Second is particularly dear to my heart, so that was a perfect ending to my evening.