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Martin Berkofsky
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Monday, 22 October 2007
Greatness in humility

I had only a month.  Hinako, Alan Hovhaness' wife had telephoned asking if I could record the Concerto No. 10 with the Seattle Symphony.  I asked her to send me the score as quickly as possible and promised to do my very best.  It was a lonely month of woodshedding.

I drove straight from the Seattle airport to the Hovhaness' home, armed with questions about the score, asking as many as possible and using every delay and stalling tactic which I could invent to postpone the inevitable, having to play this newly-learned concerto for Alan's scrutiny.

The moment of truth could not be denied any further.  I nervously launched into my fresh-from-the-woodshed efforts, arrived at the last note and holding my breath, prepared for a storm of criticism.

Only one gentle comment from Alan followed: "Thank you for playing my music."  How could I have imagined anything else from someone so humble in his greatness?

Posted by cristoforifund at 8:09 AM EDT
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Saturday, 20 October 2007
Astronomy-the best piano lesson

It was often, after our rehearsals, that Alan Hovhaness, Larry Sobol, and I would walk the late-night, less-than-prim streets of New York. Larry and I would listen with reverence as Alan told of the wisdom of Francis Bacon, or would humourously remark about an overly-liquified gentleman whose sprawled corpus was blocking the path, "looks like Gottschalk."

One late night,  the topic suddenly changed from our usual menu.  Alan pointed to the sky which bravely emerged through the neon haze.  "You should study astronomy."  I wasn't ready for this particular tutorial and replied with a simple "What do you mean?"

The answer was quite to the point.  "If you want to be a great musician, a great artist, you must first study astronomy to understand the vastness of all creation.  You will realise your own insignificance and then will achieve true humility."


It was the best piano lesson I had ever gotten. 

Posted by cristoforifund at 1:32 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 21 October 2007 12:13 AM EDT
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The most important letter I have ever received


(quoted with permission)

3 FEBRUARY, 1973

"Dear Martin,

Just a line to express how much I was impressed by your beautiful letter of Jan. 28, 1973. While I am very sorry that you were ill, at the same time I feel that you have had a genuine enlightenment or mystical experience. Don't let anyone discourage you on this point, as most people are thoroughly immersed in a world of thick, dense materialistic clouds of illusion, and in their present state are unfit to understand a true experience. They will say it is insane, but it is an experience of higher wisdom and comes in the form of vision. Also, often physical disability or sickness brings on this tremendous universal view. I remember a day in Seattle in 1967 when I was very ill and thought I could not travel with the orchestra, which I was supposed to do. Suddenly the heavens opened, also the dark walls of my hotel room opened. It seemed that I could see everything, including the mountain and the stars and other worlds beyond, all through the power of music, because at that moment, I heard inwardly for the first time the main theme of Fra Angelico which seemed to be played by the orchestra of the universe. After this experience, I seemed to be suddenly completely well, so I dressed as normally and went out to meet the orchestra. Later I copied the parts from memory without even making a score and conducted a brief rehearsal or runthrough of a wild cosmic sound leading to the full statement of this theme in its climax form, with brass and full strings. The members of the orchestra were quite shaken with the experience of the music and came up and told me so. I did not mention anything about how the music came to me, but I could see that it was a reality and not a dream or a spell of insanity. In fact, one learns many things by certain kinds of dreams, dreams which have the wind of truth blowing through them, dreams which are not dreams but a being lifted above the dense ocean of physical life. Because of this, I was much interested in your experience, which seems in every way normal and positive. These things are the most important things in life and any artist who has them has an important journey to make and something important to say to the world.

All best wishes in every way and much courage.



Posted by cristoforifund at 1:28 PM EDT
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It was still cold in Moscow, a late March day in 2004, only several days after Atakan Sari, the Globalis Symphony Orchestra, and I had premiered Alan Hovhaness' Two Piano Concerto in Tchaikovsky Hall.

We were sitting at our two pianos in the cavernous recording studio at Moscow's House of Sound; (everything in Russia is conceived as 'big-enormous-grand,") a historic venue where "USSR State Symphony Orchestra" was still to be seen stenciled on the instrument cases standing guard in the corridors; corridors inhabited by the spirits of the so many great Soviet-era artists who had opened their hearts to the waiting microphones.

Now it was our turn.  We were to record Alan Hovhaness' two-piano work "Mihr"-a tribute to the ancient Armenian God of Fire, an etherial and other-worldly prismatic panopticon honoured by Wiilliam Saroyan who suggested accompanying texts to Hovhaness.

It was demanding and exacting work as all worthy recording sessions must be.  Again and again, over and over; our veteran producer even leaving her sound-proofed booth to conduct through some moments of precision ensemble.

My mind briefly wandered through my pidgeon Russian: Mihr-Mihr-the work's title kept hovering above the American and Turkish pianists recording an Armenian work, being directed by a Russian producer-Mihr-Mihr...Mir...

 Mir.  Peace.  Of course.





Posted by cristoforifund at 11:47 AM EDT
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A Modest Beginning-with Thanks to So Many
Life is rich.  It is filled with reward and good example.  If we look and listen, we experience an endless flow of inspiration, good deed and high character; of selflessness, generosity, and honest vision.

May I humbly share the first of these treasures:

Last November, I presented the Armenian Premiere performance of Alan Hovhaness' Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra-a work which the composer had given me in the early 1970's, with the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra at Khatchaturian Hall in Yerevan.  The second pianist was one of my best Master-Class students, Atakan Sari, from Izmir, Turkey. He was the first Turkish soloist ever to perform with the Armenian Philharmonic and was given a heartfelt, warm and enthusiastic reception by both the musicians and the public.  The desire to create, share, and to experience beautiful music was the basis for this rewarding co-operation.  We had opened an important door for brotherhood and for peace.

Yet, it remained for an eight-year-old girl to show all of us the real truth and light.  After my return to the U.S.A., I happily shared video recordings of the concert with my young students.  The cameras clearly showed the Turkish Mr. Sari playing at his piano, his pages of the complicated Hovhaness score being turned by a young lady from Armenia.  

My eight-year-old asked about the page turner, "Is she his wife?"  Puzzled, I asked her why she said this.  "Because they look so much alike," came the most natural, observant, and enlightened answer that no politician, general, or president had ever been pure enough to realise.

Posted by cristoforifund at 1:12 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 20 October 2007 9:28 AM EDT
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