Reposted in memory of Dr. Leon Tec (1919-2013) who passed away on Saturday.
Last night, Gwendolyn Howard, David Toto and Christine Xu gave a first-class concert of chamber music at the Unitarian Church in Westport, CT. There were moments during the program when if you closed your eyes, you might forget you were hearing music played by High School students. For 25 years The Leon Tec Showcase for Outstanding Young Musicians has been making its unique mark on the calendar of musical prodigies in Connecticut as one of the only showcases that is not a competition, an evening where everyone on stage walks away with a prize, not least of which is the joy and communion that only comes from playing chamber music.
It's nights like last night that remind me of just how proud I am of my Dad. And how cool is that to be able to say? He's a pretty cool guy. Leon Tec was thinking outside the box long before there even was a box. It was 1987 when he decided to found the annual concert on a simple premise: young musicians should be encouraged to cooperate, to play together, to achieve greatness in tandem not in competition with one another. And so every year, the stages of all the competitions for young musicians throughout the region are combed for bright young talent to invite to spend a few weeks getting to know some new music and some fellow young musicians.
In his opening remarks, Dad recounted the story he was told by Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine composer some call the "godfather of Tango Nuevo." As a young man, Piazzolla had won a prestigious composition prize which afforded him the opportunity to travel to Paris to study with the legendary guru of music composition in the middle of the last century, Nadia Boulanger. To those of us who have only heard of her pedagogy second-hand, she is legend. Her techniques were unorthodox but it's almost impossible to name a major 20th century composer who didn't at one time cross paths with her. Going to Paris to study with Boulanger was akin to visiting the oracle. You knew it would be a life-changing endeavor. It might frighten you to death, but sooner or later, if you harbored any dream of greatness, you had to grit your teeth and do it.
According to the story, as re-told by Dad last night, after showing Boulanger his sonatas and orchestral works, she sighed and remarked, "But where is Piazzolla?" She prodded him to reveal to her the music he secretly loved, but which he felt was somehow beneath the attention of serious music composition: the tango and specifically, the bandeleon. She made him play for her. To bring a bandeleon into Nadia Boulanger's studio was probably akin to bringing magic markers into a painting class led by Picasso. When she heard him play, her eyes widened, her finger pointed and she exclaimed, "There he is. There is Piazzolla. There you are!"
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Here, for your viewing pleasure is one of the pieces the kids played last night. Sadly, I didn't have my video camera on me, so this recording of Yo-Yo Ma and friends will have to suffiice. Incidentally, Yo-Yo Ma and I both shared one inspirational teacher, Luise Vosgerchain, who herself studied with Boulanger in Paris. Luise was also fond of shaking us up and forcing us to look within, often to discover things within us we had no clue were there. Thank you, Luise. You, too, changed my life... on more than one occasion.