The year: 1987. The scene: Vevey, Switzerland, the Clara Haskil Piano Competition. Personae: Me, my friend Kevin for moral support, a gaggle of international piano whiz kids. The jury: included Abbey Simon, Martha Argerich, and Nikita Magaloff.
It was that time in my early pianistic life when one tries these damn competitions and hopes for something. I was never particularly good at them. At least the stated values of the Clara Haskil were more “musicianly” than most, as befit the memory of the namesake.
We all had to prepare the same three (first three) pieces of Schumann’s “Bunte Blätter” (Colored Leaves, Opus 99), then a Scarlatti sonata and a Bach Prelude and Fugue. That was Round 1, beyond which I did not progress, though I played respectably. Abbey Simon said I was “very interesting.” Sounds like a punch line from Laugh-In. I was terrified to even touch a piano in front of Argerich.
After the elimination, Kevin and I disported ourselves around Switzerland in unseemly fashion.
But here’s the kicker. Each contestant was assigned a host family, someone who volunteered, who also had a piano in their home so we could practice, like they do in Fort Worth for the Van Cliburn competition. On arriving in Vevey, I was given the name of my host: Serge Ansermet. He wasn’t around and I had to find his house by myself via cab. It was perched on a pretty foothill overlooking Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc on the other side.
Of course, when I hear the name Ansermet, I think of the conductor Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969), and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and all those historic recordings. He was born in Vevey and gave the world premieres of “L’Histoire du soldat” “The Three Cornered Hat” “La Boutique fantasque” “Pulcinella” “Chout” and “Les Noces”!
So when I finally met Serge Ansermet, I assumed he was a son or nephew, since he was hosting a musician. He had never heard of him.
© 2012 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs