The veteran critic and broadcaster Martin Bookspan has written for Slipped Disc a beautiful memoir of his friend, concertmaster Joseph Silverstein, who died at the weekend.
“Extraordinaire!” That’s the word Charles Munch used when he told me about his newest hire for the violin section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And Munch knew a thing or two about playing the violin: he served as Concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Furtwangler from 1926 until 1933. As is customary, the new violinist was assigned the last seat in the last row of the violins. I quickly learned the name of the new member of the orchestra: Joseph Silverstein.
Weeks after the start of the season Mr. Silverstein did what some thought was sheer chutzpah on his part: in a small auditorium in Boston he played a concert of unaccompanied violin works, some Bach as well as the Bartok Sonata. Those of us who were privileged to have attended went back to Munch’s word, “extraordinaire”.
When the orchestra’s venerable Concertmaster, Richard Burgin, announced that he would retire at the end of the 1961-62 season, the floodgates opened for aspirants to succeed him. Among those applying was the young Mr. Silverstein. Another act of chutzpah?
In the meantime I had become friends with Erich Leinsdorf, whose home in Larchmont was a ten-minute drive from mine in Eastchester. When Leinsdorf became the chosen successor to Munch, it fell to him to chose the successor to Burgin. After the auditions were concluded, I received a phone call from Leinsdorf. “It’s Silverstein!” were his first words, before he went on to rave about his chosen second-in-command. By then Silverstein was known to everyone as “Joey”.
In the Fall of 1983 we bought a summer cottage in Stockbridge, minutes away from Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We formed a little kibbutz: the cottage up the road just before ours was the summer home of the family of Victor Alpert, the beloved librarian of the BSO. And just behind ours was the summer home of Joey and his family. We were a raucous but supremely happy group whenever we got together—which was often!
When I think of him, I remember all those wonderful times we spent together. Rest in Peace, Joey……….
(c) Martin Bookspan/Slipped Disc