Remembering Giants


Last Sunday the world bid farewell to a musical giant – one who transformed what was possible on the piano and created a legacy as an artist, teacher, and mentor that will live on long after his years here on Earth.  Leon Fleisher was a force larger than life, most often quietly so, who commanded the stage for more than seven decades.  Through a battle with focal dystonia that left his right hand out of commission for much of his career, he returned to the stage with both hands in his mid-70s – something I was honored to witness.  I had the chance to work with him on many occasions, both in the coaching studio and on stage; from remembering his enveloping musical soul when performing Brahms together to finding myself in tears listening to him play Schubert’s late B-flat sonata during his final recital at Ravinia some years ago, I try to carry his wisdom with me always.  I quote him to my students often: when asked about his stunning command of musical timing, he said “the key is, to play at the last possible moment, without being late.”  One need not say much more.  Rest well, High Priest.

Backstage after performing the Brahms quintet with Fleisher in 2016 – his wonderful wife Katherine to his right and CMSM artists Sally Chisholm, Young-Nam Kim, Mina Smith


July 19th was his 100th birthday.  On New Year’s Day two years ago, we said goodbye to another musical giant, Robert Mann – his 97 years bore witness to a musical career that is nearly unparalleled.  From his earliest days as a rough-and-tumble Oregon boy assigning friends to be in his first string quartet outfitted with tree branches attached to a single violin string each, to serving in the army during World War II and reading quintets with Einstein, his life was fiercely rich.  Interwoven with his venerated 51 years with the Juilliard String Quartet – creating the gold standard for Beethoven and Bartok quartets and championing new music – was his dedication to the teaching of violin and chamber music.  I was lucky enough to observe the former and take part in the latter.  Lessons often included stories about how he hears the crashing waves on the coast of the Pacific Northwest when he thinks about rhythm, or how hiking in Glacier National Park (which was one of the first dates he had with his beloved wife Lucy) can inspire one’s sense of artistic affect.  When he was out of town on studio class days, my classmates and I would set up our own sessions to perform our works-in-progress for each other, gatherings that we lovingly termed “geek class.”  My life as an artist-teacher is forever impacted by him.  I tap into his wisdom often when I’m with my own students now, and when I played my last live concert for the foreseeable future on March 8th, it was his Beethoven concerto cadenzas that I braved.  I have been diving into this dazzling collection of videos, recordings, and interviews that the Naumburg Foundation put together in honor of his 100th that his son Nicholas sent my way.  What a life worth living.  We miss you dearly, Mr. Mann.

At my Juilliard graduation, 2009
With Bobby and Lucy at their home in December 2017, just days before his passing


…a life cut far too short at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.  George Floyd was yes, a giant in physical stature, but his story has become a giant that has captured a city, a nation, and our globe.  I saw recently the new body cam footage from the moments leading up to his arrest: an unarmed black man pleading, respectfully, with police, not to kill him.  He was not violent nor posing a threat, yet a gun was drawn and pointed at Floyd’s head.  My heart breaks and my soul is crushed every time I see or read about a story like this – of which there are far too many to count –  and I always ask “but why?”  I watched as my hometown wept and burned, crying out for there to be, finally, meaningful action to address police violence and systemic racism that has defined our country, centuries deep.  I think often of my own experience with and role in racism, how my thoughts or actions have been skewed by my own ignorance or lack of understanding.  I have struggled with my voice here as a woman, the child of an immigrant, an artist, and an educator.  What can and what do I do through these lenses?  Demonstrate, donate, volunteer, yes.  Listen, read, discuss, yes.  Yell, cry, express, yes.  And create.  I am honored to be putting together a small multimedia piece for solo violin + spoken word in honor of George Floyd with three spellbinding Twin Cities artists: actors Lou Bellamy and Sarah Bellamy (of the newly renamed Penumbra Center for Racial Healing, formerly Penumbra Theatre) and renowned St. Paul composer Steve Heitzeg, who speaks social justice and activism through music.  Stay tuned for an online premiere coming soon.  Rest in Power, Sir George.

At the demonstrations and memorial site in Minneapolis

And for something entirely different and distractionary, here’s a little photo diary of what life in quarantine land has looked like for me over the last couple of months.  Hugs from NY.

This thing we’re calling a social life:

Hanging with my dear friend Suzy in Jackie Robinson Park, each to her own bench…
A parking lot (well, car wash bay) hang with the Family Temkin
Stopping on my cross-country road trip in Pittsburgh to see my bestie Marta

Celebrating the Goldberg’s 10th wedding anniversary
Waiting in line for the ever-so-pleasant COVID test
Zoom date Crocs shopping with my sweetie “goddaughter” Alma

And family life…I’ve been lucky enough to have been together with family for much of the lockdown =)

Daniel’s first arrival back in MN before he was freed from the mask and the basement

Visiting dear friends Nandi and Rafi’s Rocky Acres Farm – hi baby Mili!

Exploring the incredible Finger Lakes with bro Daniel and his girlfriend Nora =)

One of the greatest silver linings of the pandemic is having time to take in so much if this gorgeous green earth, both in MN and NY…


Jay Cook State Park, MN

(and blowing a tire on the drive up to Jay Cook…good thing I paid attention that day in driver’s ed!)

The breathtaking Robert Treman Park, Ithaca

And this has somehow become my work life…

Coaching master classes at PACO and Crowden in Cali from NYC, Zoom-style
Recording a beautiful film score by Judy Hyman with socially-distanced, masked colleagues at Pyramid Studios…

And giving curbside concerts with family and friends for our neighbors =)

My greatest claim to fame in quarantine land is my learning how to use a hammer drill and masonry bits to build a bouldering wall into the concrete block wall of my parents’ garage…the things we do once we’re bitten by the climbing bug…

Step one: power wash the garage…

Step two: get them holds and hardware in order
Step three: drill that grid…
Step four: start setting routes (and pretend to know what I’m doing)

Time to climb =)

I’ve discovered that my happy place these days is in the kitchen, apron on, cooking up a storm.  Here’s my “covid cookbook…”

Lobster tails in honor of Mama Kim’s birthday!

Seafood pastas have been a serious staple…

Veggie side dishes…pasta pie, roasted roots, and zucchini medallions

Mushroom and asparagus risotto and seared broccoli rabe…

Thanksgiving in May!

Chicken & eggplant parm with pesto fusilli

Korean bibimbop night!
My first attempt at Hawaiian poke bowls…

…and sweets! Baking muffins, chocolate cake, peanut butter cake (thanks, Molly!) from scratch and mango sticky rice (with fresh Florida mangoes FedExed overnight)…

And Papa Kim’s annual farming expedition…mulberry jam from the berries in our backyard =)

Korean BBQ night!
And cheddar, chive, and scallion egg scramble with Rocky Acre Farm eggs!

That’s all for now.  Now it’s off to wrap my brain around how to teach this semester…Cornell is reopening in just three short weeks and there’s a mountain of uncertainty to climb!  To all of you and your friends and family, stay safe and healthy.

2 thoughts on “Remembering Giants”

  1. Hey AK, well done! We will have learned sharing is they key to survival and happiness. And looks that you have graduated cum laude!

    Don’t know about the radicchio kimchee ….. hmmmm. I am an old F when it comes to kimchee! Hahaha!

    Stay well And happy!

    1. Hi there! I just was going through blog comments – thanks for your kind words. It’s actually not radicchio – it’s red baechoo! It’s really yummy actually. I’m kind of a snob when it comes to kimchee…this one is good, I promise! Same to you, please stay well and healthy.

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