Leon and Brahms

I am busily working on this sonata and having a great time doing it.  There are very fond and funny memories associated with these particular sonatas.  One occurred at the International Clarinet Convention in Richmond, Virginia. 

Picture this, Richmond 1980ish, there I am with staying in the Holiday Inn and after a long day at the convention hearing some wonderful new compositions performed and meeting the composers, I retired to the lobby drinking establishment for an afternoon refreshment, (Gin and Tonic by the way), when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a little man in a red hat that had arrived from New York City.  Well Well Well, to my wondering surprise, it was none other than Leon Russianoff, the very one that I was performing for and with on the morrow.  Needless to say, we had dinner that night, got to know each other quite well and a mutual admiration society began.  The next morning, Kelly, my accompanist came into town to play with me during the Master Class series with Leon.  We met, ran the Brahms down quickly, well, quickly for Brahms is 45 minutes and prepared for the Performance with Russianoff doing a public coaching on the piece. 

Hitting the stage, there was Leon and in the audience were the premiere clarinetist of the era.  Leon took us through the first movement and into the second movement with a bit of ease, commenting only momentarily on the technique and the interpretation.  Of course, he had to ask who I was studying with and I said “Alan Balter”.  “Oh”, Leon said, “One of my former students who just happen to be in the audience.” 

Enough jocularity I thought, but that was not to be.  As Kelly and I began the Allegro Appassionato movement, Leon, with all the verve of a demented teacher in a red hat, grabbed and umbrella and started dancing behind us, Mary Poppins style.  There was laughter from the audience and I was wondering what was going on, was I doing something well, was it really messing up or were my pants unzipped.  Hummmm.  Well, I just happened to see out of the corner of my eye, that little man, an icon of professionalism and clarinet etiquette, doing this wonder umbrella waltz.  Thus began my wonderment and my private study with Leon Russianoff.  By the way, for a point of reference, it is a waltz movement and I was not conveying that at the time well enough for him.  Too stiff and not letting it flow.


  1. xander61012

    Thanks for posting this wonderful story! Leon was my great-uncle and was a really wonderful person to grow up around. He and my great aunt were an amazing couple and are much missed.

    • Thank you so much! I thought the world of Leon and his method of teaching. He was a lot of fun and very informative. Penelope was a hoot to be around and very knowledgeable. I really do miss both of them but have adapted their ways of doing things into my life and career.

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