I had the privilege of playing a peripheral role in a lovely event last night. SUNY Stony Brook had a surprise 75th birthday party for Gilbert Kalish, who has been a professor at SB for 40 years.
Kalish is an icon in contemporary music circles, championing a plethora of composers who were giants in the field during his youth. Many of them have gone dramatically out of fashion nowadays, but when their time for a positive reassessment comes, their causes will be aided by the hundreds of superb performances and recordings Kalish made of their work.
I heard Kalish perform a few times many years ago. On this occasion he was playing Brahms’s F Minor Quartet with the Emerson. It was a superb rendering of this crowning work of 19th-century chamber literature. At the conclusion of the performance, Phil Setzer grabbed a microphone and announced that the school was establishing a Gilbert Kalish scholarship in honor of the occasion.
A number of surprise guests followed. Wu Han came onstage to say that Kalish was “simply the best” and to announce the release of “a very expensive” CD of Kalish’s performances at Music@Menlo, the proceeds of which would go to the scholarship fund. Tributes were read from colleagues who could not be in attendance, including Joel Krosnick, Dawn Upshaw and Leon Fleisher (whose quote of Bette Davis – “growing old is not for sissies” – brought down the house.)
Kalish was clearly touched, and blowing out quite a few candles, spoke movingly in gratitude for what he called the greatest possible gift – the scholarship that would allow further generations to pursue their studies.
I was there because I had a very fine performance of my fifth quartet on the program, but I almost had a more powerful impact on the evening. After the dress rehearsal, about an hour before the concert, I decided to take a stroll through the bowels of the Staller Center. One of my many talents is an ability to get lost pretty much anywhere. Trying to find my way back to something familiar, I pushed open a door that clearly should have remained closed. A deafening alarm went off, and everyone was cleared from the building. I found an exit, and stood outside for a while, innocently standing among the many displaced students and staffers who were wondering what had happened.
Always good to have a composer around to add a little spice to an evening.