Just in time for July, I’m excited to announce the publication of The Nightingale’s Sonata, Thomas Wolf’s award-winning book revealing the tale of a musician who was ahead of her time. This is also my first book publication + music festival combo announcement. That’s right – a book that launched a music festival!
Wait. Who is Thomas Wolf? What festival? What is a Nightingale Sonata? Hang on. I’m about to tell you.
LRW: May I ask, how long have you been a professional musician? What is your instrument?
TW: For over five decades. I made my debut as flute soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of sixteen, and spent fourteen seasons as flutist and company manager of my Uncle (the world renowned pianist, conductor, opera producer, lecturer, and broadcaster) Boris Goldovsky’s touring opera company.
LRW: That’s so thrilling, especially at that young age. You have quite a musical family! What other musical endeavors have you been involved in?
TW: After that adventure, I enjoyed performing chamber music concerts with leading musicians in the United States and Canada. As Artistic Director of Bay Chamber Concerts, I was able to produce over 1,000 concerts and participated in the creation of a community music school.
LRW: An adventure, indeed. As the founder/instructor of Pastimes for a Lifetime Art and Piano School, learning of your creation of a community music school warmed my heart. I’m also a firm believer in giving back to the community. My school is a longtime supporter of CoachArt.org, providing free art classes and piano lessons to kids impacted by chronic illness. May I ask what charitable organizations you support?
TW: I’m pleased to have served as the Executive Director of the New England Foundation for the Arts and am currently a consultant with WolfBrown, with clients including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Boston Symphony, and the British Museum.
LRW: Nice! With everything you have on your plate, you also decide to publish a book? And one that received the coveted Sophie Brody Medal for achievement in Jewish literature in 2020! For my readers, would you kindly elaborate what this award is about?
TW: Sure. The Sophie Brody Medal is awarded to encourage, recognize and commend outstanding achievement in Jewish literature.
LRW: Thank you and congratulations! Speaking of your book, I understand this memoir relates the life and career of your grandmother, Lea Luboshutz, a Russian violin virtuoso who escaped the Bolsheviks with two of her three children. Her story resonates with me as my father, his brother and parents, both fine classical musicians, fled Nazi Germany in 1938. (Photos below.) My mother’s grandparents fled Russia with their 13 children in the early 1900s. Sadly I’m unable to locate their photos. Very brave spirits. I’m glad to learn your grandmother was able to continue her professional musical career.
TW: Yes, she was a concert soloist in Germany, France, and the United States. Lea’s concert career spanned decades and included performances in many of the important venues in Europe and the US. Her ability to charm her audiences musically and personally led to associations with many of the famous virtuosos of her era.
LRW: That’s wonderful. Very fulfilling. May I ask if Lea also taught music?
TW: Yes! My grandmother eventually settled in the US and became a faculty member at the famous Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1928. Over the next quarter century she taught roughly 150 students, many of whom won jobs in major orchestras, including six in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Two of Lea’s students became concertmasters—Rafael Druian (with orchestras in Dallas, Minnesota, Cleveland, and New York) and Henry Siegl with the Seattle Symphony. Lea also had success with female students including one, Ethel Stark, who became famous as the co-founder and longtime conductor of an orchestra made up entirely of women. Lea’s track record as a teacher was so impressive that Curtis bestowed on her an honorary doctorate in 1960, thirteen years after she retired.
LRW: Wow, Curtis Institute! What a wonderful lineage of successful students. Very rewarding. Did Lea have a famous saying or quote she was known for?
TW: Why yes. Lea’s philosophy of teaching was simple and mirrored that of Josef Hofmann: Good outcomes were not the result of genius teachers. Rather, they came about when brilliant students were willing to work hard with experienced performer/teachers as their guides.Teachers Don’t Make Geniuses. ~The Teaching Philosophy of Lea Luboshutz Click To Tweet
LRW: Amen to that. As a teacher for over 25 years, I couldn’t agree more. So, this book is quite an undertaking. What was the impetus behind the penning of your book about your grandmother Lea Luboshutz? Was it an anniversary of some sort? Were there several events that led up to the decision to write this memoir? Details, please.
TW: Before my mother died, she entrusted to me many family heirlooms along with documents, letters, photographs, and other material. I made a promise to her that I would tell the family story. Little did I know that it would be a ten-year journey both physically – trips to Moscow, Paris, London and other places important to the family history – and emotionally.
LRW: I can imagine. That’s quite a responsibility to shoulder. The music community is the richer for it. Would you happen to have any recordings of your grandmother’s performances?
TW: As to recordings, Lea made one early in her career (around 1909) but ended up not wishing to make more. I have a copy of that recording which is, of course, quite primitive and short. But you could share it if you wished.
LRW: Absolutely! I’m honored to include it here for my students and readers. Virtuosic playing!
LRW: As an art teacher, the cover art of a book gets noticed right away. May I ask who designed the cover art for The Nightingale Sonata? I love the type fonts. Was the designer hired by the publisher or did you get to choose?
TW: The designer was Lindy Martin of Faceout Studio, a choice made by the publisher, Pegasus Books Ltd. I was delighted with the result. The photo of my grandmother on the cover comes from the family archive and is one of my favorites.
LRW: The designer and her team did an outstanding job. Great photo. I’m intrigued by the title. May I ask, what is “The Nightingale”?
TW: “The Nightingale” was the name of my grandmother’s Stradivarius violin, so called for its beautiful tone.
LRW: Ah, I love this! Thank you for sharing that wonderful nugget. There are many great composers of violin sonatas. I understand Belgian-French Romantic composer César Franck’s Violin Sonata played an important role in your grandmother’s career. Why this composer? Why this piece? Perhaps a family connection?
TW: Franck dedicated the work to the great violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe, who taught it to my grandmother. It became a work associated with her and with the entire family. Four family members performed the piece in Carnegie Hall, for example, and one played it at a state dinner at the White House. It has been associated with many important moments in the life of the family.
LRW: Wonderful story. A musical treasure traveling from composer to teacher to your family, who in turn honored it in great concert halls. What a great idea to include an audio-visual presentation along with your book signing. How did you come up with this idea? May I ask, will the presentation at the Montana Chamber Music Society festival be available on your website or YouTube so I may share with my students?
TW: The original version of this presentation is already available on my website at this link. It seemed obvious that a story based around a piece of music should include both the narrative and the music. The presentation also includes the projection of nearly a hundred historical photographs. I have done the show throughout the country and people really love it.
LRW: Thank you for the link. A labor of love. I look forward to sharing it with my students. So glad to hear it has been so well received. There are many venues in which to conduct this presentation and book signing. What made you choose the Montana Chamber Music Society?
TW: The founder of the series, the cellist, Michael Reynolds, is a dear friend and colleague of mine (and, by the way, a fly fishing buddy as well). I have performed on the series as a musician many times. But this will be a very different kind of performance since I am the narrator.
LRW: Very cool. I hope you two might get in some fly fishing during your upcoming visit.
BTW, I reached out to Executive Director of the Montana Chamber Music Society, Mr. William (Bill) Scharnberg for a little background on the MCMS and its festival. Here’s what he had to say.
Bill Scharnberg: The history of the MCMS festival is a little complicated because a chamber music festival was begun 32 years ago in Bozeman, centering around MSU. It met and performed annually. Then twelve years ago, Mike Reynolds (son of Creech Reynolds who was chair of the MSU Music Department and founded the Bozeman Symphony) created the Montana Chamber Music Society. The goal was to bring top quality chamber music to Bozeman audiences year round and it was centered on Mike’s string quartet – the Muir String Quartet whose members are also now all on the Boston University‘s faculty.
LRW: Thank you, Bill. That’s quite a lineage of great musicians. Can you tell my readers how this current festival came about?
Bill Scharnberg: Between Tom and Mike, they cooked up the idea of Tom presenting his award-winning book about his grandmother (which is very interesting in many ways). This was supposed to have happened last summer but everything was cancelled. In addition to the lecture, 60 copies of the book were sent to Bozeman to be given as gifts to our regular donors. Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata was an often performed work by Tom’s grandmother (Lea Luboshutz) and it will be performed during Tom’s event by Angella Ahn (MSU faculty) and Steven Vanhauwaert (from Belgium living in LA). I was not sure the book presentation should be part of our series but the MCMS board thought it should be – so it is.
LRW: Thank you so much for the backstory. Best wishes for this year’s festival. Back to Dr. Wolf, it makes sense to have the fine Belgian pianist Steven Vanhauwaert play Belgian composer César Franck’s Violin Sonata. May I ask what is the connection with Angella Ahn performing the violin for this beautiful piece?
TW: Angella now lives in Bozeman and teaches at Montana State University. She is such a gifted player and I am thrilled she is playing.
**LRW: Quick interruption – I reached out to Dr. Angella Ahn for her comments and am pleased to share them.
Dr. Ahn, have you performed the Franck Sonata before? Can you offer any insights into the work?
AA: I performed the Franck Sonata while I was in college, many decades ago. I’m thrilled to have learned it again and experience the love and the passion in the piece. Franck wrote this Sonata for a fellow Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe as a wedding present.
LRW: A wedding present! What a wonderful gesture and great historic nugget. Thank you for that. May I ask, is this the first time you have collaborated with Steven Vanhauwaert? How were you introduced?
AA: This is the first time I’m collaborating with Steven Vanhauwaert. And I’m loving every moment! We were introduced by a mutual friend, David Porter.
LRW: Very nice. So glad to hear. Small world! Thank you for taking the time with everything you have going on with the festival. Best wishes on your performances at the festival.
**LRW: One more quick side interview. I was able to hear from pianist Steven Vanhauwaert. Steven how did you become involved in this project? Are you a guest or regular with the MCMS?
SVW: This is my first time here at MCMS. Really nice atmosphere.
LRW: Lovely. I bet! Thank you for your gracious time in replying. Now, back to Dr. Wolf.
LRW: Trilling, indeed. Will the concert premiere by Vanhauwaert and Ahn also be available for viewing on YouTube for those of us unable to attend this memorable performance?
TW: I understand they are live streaming it. It will be available on Bozeman Arts-Live! at this link.
LRW: I see. Thank you for the link. Looking forward to enjoying the live stream!
**Quick side story: For my readers, Bozeman Arts Live is a digital platform for Bozeman artists. They provide an online home, as well as production and marketing support for organizations such as the Montana Chamber Music Society. Tonight and Thursday, they will be filming, recording, and live-streaming their concerts on their site. So cool!
LRW: I meant to ask, where may my readers purchase your book?
TW: One obvious place is Amazon, of course, Some bookstores also carry it.
LRW. Thank you. Do you plan to host more of these audio-visual book signings? If so, may we know where?
TW. Yes, and the next one after Bozeman is coming up soon. It will be at the Kingston Chamber Music Festival in Rhode Island on July 28th.
LRW. Very nice. I understand you have a blog. Where may my students and readers subscribe?
TW. Here is the link.
LRW: Thank you for the links and your inspiring story. I wish you all the best with your upcoming presentation and book signing and look forward to receiving my autographed copy soon.
To learn more about this remarkable musician and author, please visit his website.
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Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.