Tanglewood Memories

Grandma led me to the Press Gate at Tanglewood where her dear friend Louie Esterman held court. Louie stopped us instead of waving us through – “I want you to meet Leonard Bernstein’s children: Jamie, Alex and Nina.” At ten years old, I wasn’t exactly sure who they were, but we nodded to each other. I could tell that Louie thought it was a special encounter.

My mother grew up in Pittsfield, next to Lenox, which is the location of Tanglewood in the beautiful Berkshires in western Massachusetts. As a child, my grandparents Anna and Nathan Bass began taking me to hear concerts at the summer home of the Boston Symphony because of my violin studies. I loved the beautiful environment and enjoyed the music.

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The legendary Kolisch Quartet had the singular distinction of playing its entire repertoire from memory, including the impossibly complex modern works of Schoenberg, Webern, Bartok, and Berg. Eugene Lehner was the violist for the quartet in the 1930’s. Lehner’s stories about their remarkable performances often included a hair-raising moment when one player or another had a memory slip. Although he relished the rapport that developed between them without the encumbrance of a music stand, he admits there was hardly a concert in which some mistake did not mar the performance. The alertness, presence, and attention required of the players in every performance is hard to fathom, but in one concert an event occurred that surpassed their ordinary brinkmanship.