By Larry Martin
“Maestro, the candidates are waiting.”
The 50-year-old conductor, tall, handsome and urbane, nodded to his young assistant. They walked to the audition auditorium.
“How many performers today?”
“Four, sir. Two from Curtis in Philadelphia, two from Julliard.”
“These are a chore, Robert, but I must endure them. You have the Mahler score, so I can study it during the auditions?”
“Yes. About the performers, three are seasoned violinists, and one is a Juilliard student.”
“Oh, they always try to slip in a student, heh? A waste of my valuable time.”
They took seats and the auditions began. During the performances Maestro rarely looked up from the score on his lap. The first three went quickly; after each, Robert told the performer, “we will be in touch.”
“Any of them are acceptable,” said Maestro, “but none is outstanding. I am conductor of the world’s top orchestra. Why don’t they send me the world’s top violinists? One more, Robert?”
“Yes, Maestro, the Juilliard student, a Miss M.”
“Oh, well. If we must. Bring her on.”
Ms. M. walked on stage wearing dark blue dress pants and white blouse. Though quite young as a candidate for the Maestro’s Philharmonic, with violin in hand she appeared poised and confident. She began playing Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Opus 8, by Antonio Vivaldi, otherwise known as the Winter movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
“Oh, not that piece again. I shan’t care if I never hear Four Seasons again, Robert.”
While she played Maestro continued his attention on the Mahler score. It was Vivaldi vs. Mahler, and Mahler won easily. He checked his watch. Five more minutes and they would be done.
She began the second movement and something in her playing changed. It would hardly (if at all) be noted by most musicians, but to Maestro the change was obvious, and caught him by surprise. What am I hearing?
He lifted his head. The playing was strange yet somehow vaguely familiar. He had heard that musical style before, but where? His mind wandered back across innumerable musical encounters. Yes! Now he remembered where. And when. Long ago, before he became a famous conductor.
A few minutes remained in her piece. Maestro abandoned Mahler and fixed his eyes on the performer. When she finished he whispered to his assistant.
“Ms. M.,” said Robert, “could you please wait backstage? We would like to interview you, discuss the performance.”
“Yes, thank you.”
A few minutes later Robert made the introduction. “Ms. Michaux, the Philharmonic’s Maestro.”
She stood and they shook hands.
“Please, call me Michelle,” she said.
“An interesting performance, Michelle,” said Maestro. “Who is your teacher? Who taught you to play Vivaldi’s largo the way you just did?”
“I’m sorry, Maestro, I am not sure what you mean.”
“In the second movement, where Vivaldi slows down, or most people interpret it that way, you increased the tempo. And those staccato notes in the third movement. It was good, mind you, I am not critical, but who taught you that phrasing?”
“I, I…I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s the way I’ve always played it. Perhaps my mother taught me that way. I’m not sure.”
“Your mother is a violinist?”
“Her name is Michaux?” Maestro knew no violin instructor of that name, but hoped there was such a person.
“No, her professional name is Bennington. Amanda Bennington.”
The conductor steeled himself with every bit of nerve. He did not want to face Robert directly, lest his assistant ask what’s wrong? He must stay in control.
“Robert, please wait outside. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Robert did as asked and closed the door behind him
“May I ask when and where you were born? I hope I am not being intrusive.”
“Not at all. Paris, France, November 16, 1996.”
There was a pause as Maestro digested the information and did a quick calculation. Then you are eighteen?”
“Your parents are French?”
“No, no, Maestro. My mother is American. My adopted father is French.”
“Yes, my biological father left my mother before I was born. I never met him.”
“Was he a musician?”
“Maestro, I never knew my biological father. I don’t even know if he’s alive. My real father, the only one who matters, is Henri Michaux. That is my name.” Her response was assertive, signaling she did not wish further inquiry on this issue.
“I am so sorry. It’s none of my business. But tell me about your mother’s teaching. Your interpretation of the Vivaldi movement intrigues me.”
“I started playing at age six. My mother was with the Paris Symphony at the time. She did not trust the teachers for someone my age, so she taught me the first four years. When we moved to America I entered Juilliard, with other teachers.”
“Your father is a musician?”
“No, a businessman. He travels back and forth to France, but we live here in Manhattan.”
He studied her face and the way she responded to his questions.
“Do you have brothers or sisters? And if so, do they play?”
“A fourteen-year-old brother, or half-brother, if you will. Andre plays the piano.”
“Your mother taught him also?”
“No, she always says she’s a one-instrument girl.”
“Your mother says that?” His voice emphasized the last word, showing more surprise than warranted. He almost asked, still says that? but caught himself.
“Yes. Michelle, I’m just a one-instrument girl. That’s my mother.” She gave a little laugh, accompanied by a slight upturn of her lips to one side, and then a wry smile. He stared at that confluence of upturned lips and smile. His smile.
He wanted to walk over and embrace the young violinist, but that would seem most inappropriate. He could not embrace her, could not move nor speak. He could only stare at the young woman and ponder, try his best to contain an emotion never imagined. The interview was over.
“Maestro, why are you crying?”