Performing some of the world’s greatest music in the world’s greatest concert halls with one of the world’s greatest orchestras led by one of the world’s greatest conductors—it doesn’t get better than that, right?
Well, maybe it does. I’d bet many of my colleagues would agree that as musicians there’s no feeling more gratifying and fulfilling than seeing former students thrive and succeed. When you consider the years of intensive, often grueling lessons that are part and parcel of helping a student achieve their musical goals; of being part parent, part counselor, sometimes part therapist to your student; helping them find suitable instruments to play on, summer programs to participate in, scholarships to audition for, colleges to apply to, seeing them wend their way through life is almost like seeing your own child grow up. And today, within the universe of the first paragraph’s superlatives, I had that very opportunity to see the fruits of my labors as a teacher.
One of my former students, Celeste Carruth of Logan, Utah, is currently living in Geneva. When she saw I was playing in Lucerne she contacted me and asked if I could give her a lesson. I had seen Celeste, a talented student, only once since she went off to college about ten years ago, and I hadn’t heard play at all. She had been a conscientious hard worker and had made good strides as a violinist in high school. However, I had no idea what level to expect of her current violin playing but in any event I said, sure. Why not? It’ll be opportunity for a pleasant reunion and we’ll have a nice lunch in Lucerne together.
So a friend of hers in Lucerne arranged for a room for the lesson at the Hochschule der Musik. At the top of a very high hill outside of town and up an additional 100 steps, it literally is a “high” school. Here’s a view from the Hochscule. I’d have a hard time concentrating on practicing scales from here:
We met at 11:30 and it was wonderful to see my former student again. Celeste got out her violin and I asked her what she wanted to play for her lesson: Brahms Concerto, Prokofiev D Major Sonata, and Mozart A Major Concerto. Major repertoire. So far so good.
The ostensible reason Celeste wanted this lesson is that she’s hoping to audition for some of Europe’s major youth orchestras and this could be her audition repertoire. (Youth orchestras in Europe are different from what Americans call youth orchestras. They’re really orchestras of young professionals and have an extremely high level of music-making.) For the next two hours we had a splendidly productive lesson. I was very pleased, though not particularly surprised, that Celeste played as well as most conservatory students I’ve heard, with technical confidence and artistic understanding. The concepts and techniques we worked on at the lesson only made sense in the context of someone who already knows how to play at a very advanced level.
But that’s only half the story with Celeste. Along the way in her university studies—first at University of Michigan and then UC Berkeley— she picked up a little bit of physics. The reason she’s living in Geneva is that after earning her PhD last spring, she’s now doing anti-hydrogen research (don’t ask me to explain what that is) at the CERN European Organization for Nuclear Research particle accelerator (don’t ask me to explain what that is). See what practicing your scales can do?
So, yes, performing Mahler 3rd at the Kultur und Kongresszentrum with Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony was as wonderful an experience as any musician could ever ask for. But that’s not what made my day.
For more heartwarming orchestra stories, you may enjoy SYMPHONIES & SCORPIONS
If you’re not into heartwarming, but prefer a gritty mystery in the world of classical music, go for SPRING BREAK, now available in paperback.
Lake Lucerne is famous for its swans. But sometimes you can also spot a crane. (Such a bad joke. That’s why I saved it for last.)