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Departed Friends

It seems like I have been writing the words “rest in peace” on a more regular basis lately.  I suppose it is inevitable that, as we age, we lose our friends and family in increasing rapidity.  But it does seem like recent days have brought many departures, and for none of which I seem quite ready.

Two influences on my formative years have passed recently, and I wanted to pay tribute in a personal way.

I came to know Marvin Rabin quite by accident.  The Columbus Symphony Youth Orchestra was performing at the Music Educators National Conference in Cincinnati back in the early 90’s.  Marvin was prowling the halls and heard our warmup rehearsal and stuck his head in the room.  He spied one of his former students, who is now a professor of music education at The Ohio State University.  Marv inquired if that was the CCM orchestra, and my colleague gleefully informed him it was the CSYO, made up entirely of high school students.   Marv was delighted, as he was one of the architects of the youth orchestra movement, having been instrumental in the formation of the Greater Boston Youth Orchestra.  Marv insisted on meeting me, and our acquaintance lasted for many years.  He did more than anyone else, I think, to help me overcome the notion that conducting a youth orchestra was not a stepping stone, but rather the most important work in which we can engage.  Marvin knew.  He could have enjoyed an international performing career, or certainly graced the violin section leadership of any of the top orchestras.  Yet he chose to nurture young musicians.  Marv and I spent time together at the International Youth Orchestra Festival in Banff, and I enjoyed a number of long discussions about music, kids, conducting, cooking, you name it.  He paid me the highest compliment in the world one day as I was rehearsing Shostakovich 5 with the CSYO, I spied him in the back of the fiddles feverishly writing in his score. I asked him earlier what he had found, and he said , “the bowing you have them do (there), it’s brilliant!  I just stole it!”  The highest form of flattery, indeed.

As I type this missive, the music world is reeling at the loss, yesterday of Claudio Abbado.  I met Abbado at La Scala in the late 70’s during a sojourn to Italy.  While he didn’t teach conducting, he graciously allowed me to follow his rehearsals at La Scala, the Edinburgh Festival, and with the Vienna Philharmonic.   I remain convinced that the most constructive way to learn the art of conducting is to watch as many practitioners as one can.  And not just in performance, but in rehearsal.  It was watching Maestro Abbado that I learned volumes about the servant/leader paradigm.  Abbado empowered his players to create great music, and always approached his role with a warm, engaging sense of collegiality that always seemed to work.  He was totally unassuming in his approach to music and the great orchestras he led.  I remember several strolls through the Galleria in Milan where he quizzed me on my favorite repertoire, my favorite recordings. One thing that impressed me long after my sojourn to Italy was over, was Abbado’s constant involvement with the youth orchestra movement.  He regularly supported efforts of young musicians, and championed them till his final days.