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As a kid growing up on Long Island my dream was to play first base with the New York Yankees. For some reason, I never did receive a call from the Yankee brass. Though I still haven’t given up hope, it became necessary in the meantime to make a living. So at the age of eight I started playing the violin, studying with an inspirational Juilliard-trained teacher, Amadeo William Liva.
In 1966 I began four years of private lessons with the legendary Ivan Galamian (Mr. Liva accompanied me to all my lessons in Manhattan, stopping for doughnuts on 71st Street) until graduating Westbury High in 1970. While in public school I was concertmaster of the Long Island Youth Orchestra, conducted by Martin Dreiwitz. Not only was it a terrific orchestra, Mr. Dreiwitz, a professional travel agent, schlepped the orchestra on international tours every summer. What an experience as a teenager to perform the Saint Saens “Havanaise,” Bruch “Scottish Fantasy,” and Mozart Symphony Concertante on four continents! This no doubt accounts for my lifetime wanderlust.
In 1969 I attended the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, beginning a relationship with Tanglewood that has lasted to this day. In the same year I was selected to participate in the very first New York String Seminar, led by the inimitable Alexander Schneider. With soloists Isaac Stern and Jean Pierre Rampal, this experience opened my eyes to a lofty new world of ensemble playing. After two wonderful years at the Oberlin College Conservatory, where my teachers were David Cerone and Christopher Kimber, I transferred to Yale to study with the renowned concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, Joseph Silverstein. During my college days I attended Norfolk Chamber Music Festival where I was coached by members of the Guarneri String Quartet and Claude Frank, the Sarasota Music Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree (cum laude) from Yale College simultaneously with a Master of Music from the Yale University School of Music in 1975.
Still not having heard from the Yankees, I auditioned for and won a position with the Boston Symphony, joining that august ensemble at the age of twenty-two, and remained a member of the violin section for thirteen years. I performed as soloist with the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler and John Williams, was a member of the renowned Elias/Lefkowitz Violin Duo (or, as my partner recalls it, the Lefkowitz/Elias Violin Duo), and of the Andover Trio. I also had the opportunity and honor to represent the BSO musicians in collective bargaining negotiations, forming long-standing relationships with members of management.
In 1986-87, I took a sabbatical leave from the BSO and divided the year between Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, where I performed, taught, and conducted. My wife, Cecily, and I took our two children, Kate and Jacob, who were 28 and 8 months old when we departed, and provided them with an early world view. Some of Jake’s first solid food, in fact, was ground-up sushi. Another part of the adventure was being called upon to conduct a fully staged performance of La Traviata at the Innisfail (Australia) Opera Festival on short notice.
It was westward ho for my family in 1988, after I won the audition for Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony. The move to Utah, considered bold and daring by my BSO colleagues, turned out to be providential, offering performance, teaching, and eventually conducting opportunities that I wouldn’t have had in Boston. I performed solos with the orchestra regularly, was invited to the faculty of the University of Utah, was the founding first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, had several of my compositions receive their first performances, and became music director of the Vivaldi By Candlelight chamber music series in 2004.
Many other positive things came my way as well, one of which was a re-connection with the BSO, where I now regularly play with the orchestra during the summer at Tanglewood. Another development has been the establishment of an ongoing relationship with music-making in Peru and Ecuador, where I’ve had numerous opportunities to conduct, perform, and teach, and with a Fulbright grant in 2008, I was a guest professor of the National Conservatory in Lima. In 1997 a second sabbatical leave, this one from the Utah Symphony, took our family to Umbria, Italy. It was a great year of eating, drinking, exploring the Umbrian countryside, and immersing ourselves in the culture and history of Italy.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. I did a lot of composing, and significantly, I wrote my first book, Devil’s Trill. The ensuing years brought innumerable rewrites, but eventually I found an agent, Josh Getzler, at Writer’s House in New York, who ultimately found me a publisher, St. Martin’s Press. Devil’s Trill, a murder mystery which takes place in the classical music world (go figure!) was published in 2009, and was followed in annual sequence by Danse Macabre, Death and the Maiden, and Death and Transfiguration. Since then Josh has established his own firm, Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency in New York and the fifth book of the series, Playing With Fire, was published by Severn Press in 2016. Spring Break comes out in the summer of 2017, and Devil’s Trill, the audio book, will be released in February 2017. Where we go from there, only the literary gods know.
In May of 2011, I bid a fond farewell from full-time symphony playing. However, I continue to concertize, publish, and compose at a death-defying clip.
See what Gerald Elias has been writing lately…
At my MUSIC TO DIE FOR page are performances of the music mentioned in my novels and my audio notes on these works.