Our diarist, the violinist Anthea Kreston, is returning to teach at Curtis, where she passed a turbulent youth.
I have recently become re-engaged with the Curtis Institute of Music – both as an alumni and as a teacher (I return to Philadelphia this summer to teach at Curtis as a guest). I have reconnected with the alumni association, the Curtis Magazine “Overtones”, and look forward to future collaborations with Roberto Diaz (President of Curtis and incredible violist) with my piano trio (Amelia Piano Trio), the pianist of which teaches at Curtis (the incredible Amy Yang). Our Trios’ – both Humboldt and Amelia – manager is the former manager of the Curtis orchestra and personal assistant to Roberto Diaz.
This unexpected reconnection has brought back a thick rush of memories of my years there – my pride, my feelings of inadequacy, the love of orchestra, the sustained and vigorous learning. My teacher, Felix Galimir, was in his 80’s when I studied with him. He spoke always with a twinkle in his eyes – he was exacting, tough, specific, and explicit in his teaching style. I am a tall woman (6 feet), and at the time was extremely adventurous in my clothing style (vintage, self-designed, platform shoes etc), with unruly auburn hair which reached half-way down my back. I had previously had a moderately successful stint as a model in Chicago, as one of 4 high-school girls selected by a top Chicago agency. Suffice it to say that I used to enjoy entering a room with a big splash.
Mr. Galimir was 5 feet tall, on a really good day, and he often would ask for my hand during lessons, and get on a chair to get a better view of what I was doing up there. Or, if he was in a hurry, he would reach up, grab my scroll, and pull it down, and I would play with the scroll pointed towards the floor so he could see my fingerings. He was always dressed the same – dress pants, suspenders, comfortable sneakers, and a jacket and hat. After lessons, he would ask me to accompany him, arm-in-arm, down the grand staircase (Curtis is also a designated museum, because of the large original art collection gracing its wooden hallways – every room with antique furnishings and oriental rugs). We would turn to each other, and giggle a little, and say what a handsome couple we made.
I was not the best student. I probably wasn’t even in the middle, to be honest – but I learned a lot, and continue to draw on those experiences in my daily life. Our teachers were made up mainly of people who had come over during the wars – the great influx of incredible musicians, them in their 80’s, who had (and some continued to have) illustrious careers. They taught us in the old style – rigorous, romantic, thick and passionate sounds – cultivation of individuality. Felix was born in 1910 – an Austrian Jew, and studied in Berlin with Carl Flesch. His quartet – the Galimir Quartet (with his three sisters) recorded both the Berg Lyric Suite and the Ravel Quartet, under the supervision of the composers. He was kicked out of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1937 for being Jewish, and found his way to the States (via Israel). In some ways, I feel as if we, as Americans, were taught in as much (or more than) of a true German/Russian/Israeli style than many of my friends who grew up in Europe.
As I teach in the Carl Flesch hall at the University of the Arts in Berlin, I feel as if, in some way, I am coming full circle. I draw out the big sounds from my students, slow down and widen their vibratos (I call it the “man hand” vibrato), add slides, demand individuality and truth. In some ways, I feel like I am coming back home.
Galimir with the young Eugene Drucker of the Emerson Quartet