Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, is a very special place. Every weekend the orchestra performs three different programs with the world’s greatest conductors and guest artists. During the week there are chamber music concerts and recitals with the most accomplished artists and ensembles. This evening, however, was an event that was special among the special. It was a concert admirably organized by Tony Fogg, Artistic Administrator of the Boston Symphony in memory of, and as a tribute to, Joseph Silverstein, who died in November, 2015.
It would take too long to write out the complete list of Joe’s accomplishments, so I’ll just mention a few of the highlights. As concertmaster (and assistant conductor) of the Boston Symphony he is widely regarded as one of the greatest concertmasters of the 20th century. He played the violin with an unparalleled combination of virtuosity and musical integrity, and performed around the world even into his 80s. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the classical music repertoire and was a highly respected conductor, including his long tenure as music director of the Utah Symphony. As a dedicated teacher at such renowned institutions as the Curtis Institute, Yale University, and the Longy School, Joey had the ability to communicate the complex mechanics of playing the violin in a concise, effective, and humane way which made him one of the nation’s most sought-after teachers.
Joey’s photographic memory was legendary. He could play any of hundreds of obscure etudes–let alone any concerto–without music at the drop of hat. There is a famous section near the beginning of the suite from Daphnis and Chloe by Ravel where the two violin sections are each divided into four parts playing three pages of speeding chromatic 32nd notes. It takes most mortals hours of practice just to be able to play one of those lines accurately. Joey could demonstrate each of the eight parts perfectly from memory and not break a sweat.
So it was fitting that yesterday’s concert in his honor included some of the world’s great musicians: Yo Yo Ma, Hilary Hahn, Peter Serkin, Richard Goode, Emanuel Ax, and Garrick Ohlsson headed the field. A few who couldn’t be there, including Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Andre Previn, sent touching video messages. I had the honor of participating as principal second violin in an ensemble of string players that opened the program with the first movement of the Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky. Comprising mostly Boston Symphony members, some of whom, like Sheila Fiekowsky, Jennie Shames, James Cooke, Ronan Lefkowitz, and Victor Romanul, had been his students; and also including musical luminaries Peter Zazofsky and bassist and Edgar Meyer who had graciously volunteered their time and efforts, the ensemble was ably led without a conductor by Ralph Matson, longtime concertmaster of the Utah Symphony and also a former student of Silverstein.
Without doubt, though, the highlight of the concert was Joey himself. The full house at Seiji Ozawa Hall watched—teary-eyed and in awe—to a video montage of his life while listening to the recording of his jaw-dropping performance of the Russian Dance from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The evening ended with his on-screen performance of the Elgar Violin Concerto with Sir Colin Davis conducting the Boston Symphony in 1972. The standing ovation it received must have been a source of great pride for Joey’s family, including his dear wife Adrienne, who were in the audience.
There’s only one person who can claim the honor of having been Joey’s student and his colleague in the Boston Symphony and a Utah Symphony musician during his tenure as music director. That’s one reason why tonight’s tribute to Joseph Silverstein made Tanglewood even more special than usual for me.