Thursday, December 22, 2011

In Memoriam Paul Kling

One of the greatest gifts that the world of music gives to those who become musicians is the extraordinary people you may meet. For me the most remarkable person I met in a life of music was the Czech violinist Paul Kling. I taught at the same conservatory as his wife, Taka Kling, a very charming Japanese woman. We even shared a recital together once. But I was very privileged to come to know her husband. Somehow it was decided that one day we would get together and read some music for violin and guitar--Giuliani, I believe. Now at this time I was already an established artist, a graduate of McGill University with a Concert Diploma in classical guitar and chairman of the guitar department at the conservatory. But this experience was extraordinary as I realized quite quickly that Paul was a truly great musician. I had never played chamber music with someone of his quality before. We ended up doing quite a few concerts together and he asked me to come teach at the university where he was chairman of the School of Music.

He had a great sense of humor. A friend of mine and I were just coming out of a concert by a young Canadian cellist, known for her orgasmic expressions while playing, and when we said something critical he replied, in his distinctive Czech accent, "you were expecting maybe Rostropovich?" A young violinist was auditioning for the performance program--this was at the University of Victoria in British Columbia--and she rather brashly said, "why should I come study here instead of one of the bigger music schools?" He said, "Well, I've been fooling everyone for fifty years, I can fool you too." He used to tell a story about his grandfather and father. His grandfather was a doctor and had a good practice. He was prosperous and had a nice house and some land. Then came World War I and after the war they moved all the borders around and now his grandfather's house was in another country. His father also became a doctor, had a nice practice, bought a house and some land. Then came World War II and after the war they moved all the borders and now his father's house was also in another country. "So I became a violinist."

He told me about studying in Vienna. One day he had an amazing lesson in which his teacher told him the great secret of violin-playing. He was so excited afterwards he walked around Vienna for hours, taking the occasional coffee and pastry in the marvelous coffee shops they have. Finally he got back to his apartment and as he went in he suddenly realized he had forgotten what his teacher said! If you were going on a trip somewhere, to France, or the US or Japan or Brazil, he always knew the best restaurants.

He was a violinist of great accomplishment. At seven he played Mozart and Bach concertos with the Vienna Philharmonic. At nine he was broadcast on Austrian radio. He was concertmaster in Tokyo and Louisville, Kentucky. He toured Japan with Herbert von Karajan playing the Brahms violin concerto. Once I lent him a fine recording of Itzak Perlman and John Williams playing music for violin and guitar and all he said when he returned it was "Perlman always plays sharp." I had a listen, and yes, he was right.

Another good friend of mine, also Czech, told me an amazing story about Paul Kling: he was Jewish and when he was quite young, fifteen years old, he was sent to a concentration camp. In 1943 he arrived in Terezin where he played music under the auspices of a program set up by the SS called Freizeitgestaltung. This did not last too long. In 1944 he was sent to Auschwitz. He never spoke of these things, but my friend, a pianist, knew because her parents had also been in Auschwitz. He had brought his violin along with him to Terezin, of course, but no scores.  He said later on, “I had everything memorized.  And I wasn't thinking of, you know, staying there for a long vacation."

What sort of violinist was Paul Kling? He reminded me of Jascha Heifetz more than anyone else. He once said that every great violinist in the 20th century was either a Russian Jew from the Caucasus or studied with one. On one occasion we were doing a recital together and decided that we would each play a solo piece. I called him up and asked him what he had decided on and he said "the Chaconne". The Chaconne, as opposed to all the other chaconnes, is the last movement of the 2nd Partita for solo violin by J. S. Bach and is not only the greatest piece for solo violin, but also one of the greatest pieces from the Baroque Era. Good heavens, I thought, what could I possibly play? His performance was sheer perfection.

Here is a brief online biography of Paul Kling. And below is a photo taken when we were doing a chamber music series together. Paul is holding his Guarnerius violin.

Paul Kling, Bryan Townsend, Michael Strutt and Lanny Pollet

I have a CD of Paul playing the Beethoven violin concerto that was presented to him when he was awarded thCross of Honour for Arts and Letters by the President of Austria. But all I can find of him on YouTube is this performance of the Easley Blackwood Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, op 21:


UPDATE: I see there is a new Wikipedia entry for Paul Kling that links to this post. While I am flattered, I must correct an error. Paul passed away in 2005. I simply chose to do a post on him in 2011. For some odd reason, the Wikipedia entry takes the date of my post as the date of his passing.

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