With the exception of the individual members of my immediate family, the person who has impacted my life most significantly was, unquestionably…. Sir William Primrose!! In my up-coming autobiography, “Malibu Man”, (projected release Fall 2015) you will find numerous pages devoted to this incredible human being, amazing artist and inspirational icon! However, I have additionally elected to fill both this week’s and next week’s blogs with a brief overview of the unique, complex and very special relationship the two of us shared for many years.
Officially I would say it all began in 1961 when I was invited to appear as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for the very first time. The chosen repertoire was to be the rarely performed “Concerto for Viola” by Handel-Barbirolli. (If you do not happen to be familiar with this work, it is comprised of five movements, all based on original works of Handel, arranged and compiled into a concerto format by Sir John Barbirolli.)
When the Philharmonic contacted Oxford University Press, the publisher, about renting the orchestral parts for my performance, they were informed that their rental set of parts had already been committed for the dates the orchestra had requested. However, Oxford suggested that the Philharmonic contact Mr. Primrose directly since they believed he had recently moved to the Los Angeles area and they were quite certain he personally owned a complete set of parts to the concerto.
Sure enough, Mr. Primrose had, in fact, recently moved to the L.A. area and did INDEED own a complete set of parts to this concerto. Further he was delighted to loan the parts to the Philharmonic for my performance and all he requested in return was an invite to my concert, where he could witness, for the very first time, a youngster actually performing a viola concerto with a major symphony orchestra! ( You may recall from my earlier blog, “The Viola and Me…..Half a Century Ago!” in the early 1960’s times were truly different with regards to the viola….and violists. The viola was rarely heard as a solo instrument and almost all violists were at least of college age.)
Actually as fate would have it….due to a personal conflict… he was unfortunately unable to attend that performance. However, shortly thereafter, he was able to hear a recording of the performance, and as a result, made it a priority to attend a subsequent performance I gave of the same Concerto approximately one month later. This time with the “Debut Orchestra” of the Young Musicians Foundation on the campus of UCLA.
It was immediately following that performance that we met backstage for the very first time. What a life changing experience for me! I had never met anyone like him before. So proper, so British (Scottish actually) yet so warm, personable and supportive. Amazingly, we just seemed to hit it off immediately.
Well, a few days later my father received a phone call from none other than Sir William, himself. He wanted my family to know, not only how truly unique it was for him to have witnessed a youngster actually performing a viola concerto with an orchestra but how pleased he had been with my performance and my apparent comfort on stage. Before completing the call and much to the surprise (and delight) of my father, our illustrious caller expressed a true desire to spend some one -on-one time with me at his home in the near future…. providing, of course, we would be open to the idea.
If my memory serves me correctly, his invitation became a reality within a week or two. I remember my parents driving me to Mr. Primrose’s house for the first time. His home, conservative but stately was located immediately adjacent to the infamous “Deadman’s Curves” of Sunset Blvd, popularized by a great surf band of the day….and one of my favorites, “The Beach Boys”!
Throughout our entire visit that day Mr. Primrose was so warm, friendly and enthusiastic. I played some, he played and demonstrated some and we spoke a lot about the future of the viola in general as well as the potential he believed could be realized from our working together. I can assure you that it did not take either my parents or myself long to recognize the incredible opportunity that had just miraculously be-fallen me.
Our initial work together was remarkable. It is difficult to put into words what it was like for a recently- turned teenager to experience this level of instrumental and musical artistry at such close range….. week after week. Now try to put yourself in my position for a moment. Here I was, the very first young violist to ever be studying with the instrumentalist considered by many to be the greatest string player that had ever lived!!! Pretty awesome…..and….pretty overwhelming at times!!
Then disaster struck. A few months into my euphoric state, Mr. Primrose suffered a major heart attack!
I was stunned, and devastated as were many members of the world-wide musical community. However, much to everyone’s relief, it was eventually determined that although he had suffered significant damage his prognosis for recovery was quite good as long as he was willing to withstand a lengthy and disciplined recovery program.
NEXT WEEK’S EPISODE: “HOW I STUMBLED ONTO THE PRIMROSE PATH (PART TWO)”