WHAT might it have been like to become Heifetz's son for a brief time, like for about an hour and a half? Even if it wasn't in real life, just an hour and a half on screen? We don't know. But one person was as close as it comes to finding out and only a quirk of fate prevented him from becoming immortalized as Heifetz's son. As Mr Lessin recounts, it was David Schoenbaum's article in the New York Times which rekindled his memories and the narrowly missed opportunity of a lifetime.

Jascha Heifetz; A Son's Role

New York Times, Published: January 06, 2002

To the Editor:

David Schoenbaum's article about Jascha Heifetz brought dramatically to mind my tremulous audition before the virtuoso violinist, many years back, for a role in the movie that Mr. Schoenbaum mentioned.

The studio wanted a kid violinist and actor, about 13 or 14, to play Heifetz's son in a film starring Heifetz. I had done both a fair amount of acting and violin playing. However, I was scared to near death to audition for the great man.

The acting, I think, was O.K., but I didn't feel that I had done my best drawing my bow. I don't remember what I played. Heifetz politely listened and thanked me. At least there was no pained look on his face.

I was told by the studio that I would hear in a few days if I had been cast. Although I was told later that I was one of the two finalists, I didn't get the role. I regret it to this day. My only consolation is that I was nearly the movie son of probably the greatest violinist who has ever lived.

Arlen R. Lessin

REVISITING the question of Heifetz's age, or rather his mother's, we may gain some insight into the lady's lax and frugal attitude to age. It comes from the Ellis Island documents, the place where all non-US citizens had to check in upon their arrival to the United States.

No matter how many trips abroad and world tours Heifetz had undertaken until 1925 - when he became a US citizen - he and his family had to report at Ellis Island every time they re-entered the United States. At that time his return would invariably be from a sea voyage, returning mostly from Europe. Interestingly, in 1922 upon such one return, Heifetz's name is still given as Joseph.

Those early tours usually included his entire family, or at least his mother and father. Often it would be mother alone, with Rubin relegated to looking after the younger sisters at home in New York. The Ellis Island immigration documents report the details of the persons returning or entering the US. Thus, we find that upon returning from Europe with her son on board the ocean liner Olympic, Anna Heifetz is registered as Haia, married, Petrograd (St Petersburg) as last place of abode (before America) and 39 years of age

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Returning three years later in 1923, on board the luxurious Belgenland, her details recorded at Ellis Island are identical, except her age is now given as 40 years.

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This may of course mean nothing more than a customary vanity level perhaps acceptable in a woman over 40. Understandable? Yes, except here we are dealing with official US documents which are supposed to be filled accurately and truthfully. Perhaps in Anna Heifetz's opinion a marginal error of one or two years either side was considered acceptable. Perhaps a similar 'blip' had occurred with Jascha's age too. The fact that the age errors that might have slipped into documents had in both cases favoured younger ages, is not the point. Ellis Island officers of the time may be excused for failing to notice the discrepancy between the two entry documents; after all they dealt with perhaps thousands of immigrants every day.

There are other issues around Heifetz's own date of birth that may be taken into account. Were he to have been born in 1899 or 1900 as some sources suggest, his army duties might have prevented him from leaving Russia to commence his American tour. Had the earlier birth date been true, by 1917 Heifetz would have been eighteen years old and eligible for army service. Russia was at the time engrossed in WWI and it's army recruiting laws were pretty strict. In fact, by 1917, due to heavy losses, the country was recruiting even younger men (17), the age Heifetz would have been even if the later birth date was true.

That Russia followed it's recruitment laws quite strictly can be gauged from the events of 1914. In August that year, while the entire Heifetz family was on holiday in Germany (with Auer), WWI broke out. The German authorities interned the entire family and denied it's right of passage back to Russia (in contrast, the older Auer did return). The family was forced to spend the next five months on German soil until Rubin Heifetz had reached the age of forty-five and thus exempt by law from Russian army service. The Germans took no chance. As long as there was a possibility of Rubin being recruited into the Russian army - and thus fight against the Germans - he, and his family, were forbidden to return.

Although the children - Jascha, Polia and Elza - had enjoyed their 'enforced' and prolonged summer holiday riding horses, learning German, etc., being detained in Germany was a humiliating experience for the parents. Anna Heifetz learned her lesson (along with a deep dislike and distrust for anything German, a dislike incidentally inherited and assimilated by, and later much magnified by WWII, by Heifetz himself). Cometh 1917 with it's prospect of a beneficial and rewarding tour of the USA, it may have well been Jascha's turn to be denied the travel visa. Given her lax attitude to official documents, it is unlikely that Anna would have let the opportunity slip by on such flimsy grounds as mere 'age'. As related elsewhere, bad experience - three years earlier - was enough.

I RECALL how impressed I was in the 60s by Heifetz's recordings of Saint-Saĕns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and Sarasate's Zigeunerwisen. The LP sleeve blurb of the time described those as the 'definitive' interpretations. The Zigeunerwisen in particular was mentioned as a piece which Heifetz had literally made his own early on in his career.

Another work which Heifetz had made his own, and 'owned up' to that, was the Sibelius concerto. Needless to say, there are no recordings in the gramophone literature that equals it (one, by Ruggiero Ricci, to my mind comes pretty close and some passages in the slow movement are indeed unsurpassed). That Heifetz regarded the Sibelius as his 'own' is one thing, that other great violinists agreed with him is another.

During her three and a half years of studies with Nathan Mironovich Milstein, the former Heifetz student Elizabeth Matesky became close friends with the Odessa-born virtuoso. She recalls how Milstein liked to vary his teaching by nominating days in various keys. There were D major days, A major days, D minor days - all of them lessons in which only works corresponding to the designated key were to be rehearsed.

When a D minor day happened to come by, Ms. Matesky brought to lesson (which usually lasted 3-4 hours) a bunch of works in the respective key. When asked by Milstein what did she bring, she named the several works in D minor, including the Sibelius concerto. Milstein started to frown. "What's wrong Mr. Milstein, inquired Elizabeth.

"No Sibelius, put it away", instructed Milstein.
"But what's wrong, Mr. Milstein, it's a D minor day, and the Sibelius is in D minor.
"No Sibelius/", insisted Milstein.
"But why?"
"You don't play it, I don't play it, nobody plays it. The Sibelius belongs only to Heifetz.

THERE were not doubt many defining moments in Heifetz's career, all seemingly linked up by an invisible, ascending line, thereafter followed by a sustained level of virtuosity and artistic integrity which had probably never been equaled. But if I were to choose one such defining moment, I would go back to his childhood and pick a series of concerts which I believe marked a turning point and probably had much in the way of shaping things to come.

Heifetz had already appeared in recitals, especially in his native Vilna before he came to St. Petersburg. He played in various recitals in St. Petersburg and other cities as well, apart from the mandatory Conservatory auditions and exam concerts. Those were relatively low key events which, nevertheless, spread his name locally. But in 1911 an event had occurred which changed those low key recitals in a quite dramatic way.

One of the figures involved in the story was Viktor Walter, at the time a concert master and solo violinist in the Marynsky Theatre orchestra, a quartet leader and a noted music critic. Ilya Davidovich Malkin, Heifetz's violin teacher in Vilnius, was well acquainted with Walter, both having studied with Auer. It was Walter who Malkin approached when it was time for Jascha to move to St. Petersburg, asking him to take the boy under his patronage and help the family as he could. Walter certainly did that, and more. He became Heifetz's and the entire family champion in the city, advised Rubin on concert engagements, fees, and introduced the boy to several philanthropists in hope of gaining financial support. Incidentally, it was in Walter's home, in 1910 or early 1911, that Heifetz first became acquainted - and fascinated - by photography, having played with Walter son's Kodak camera. When asked which profession he thinks is more exciting, that of a violinist or photographer, little Jascha replied without hesitation: photographer.

On April 17 1911, young Heifetz gave his first recital at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in the Maly (small) Hall. By June he received an invitation from Odessa to play during the Great Exhibition in the city. Rubin rushed to write to Walter with the news, asking for guidance on repertoire, fees, etc. On June 30, 1911 Jascha was scheduled to play in Pavlosk the Glazunov violin concerto under the composer's baton (later, it seems, the concert was cancelled) The concerts in Odessa were scheduled to be conducted by Michael Wolf-Israel (1870-1934), a violinist and conductor (concertmaster of the Marynsky Theatre and a former student of Auer). Eventually, with Walter's advice, fees of 100 rubles per appearance and a further 100 rubles ticket returns per concert were agreed - quite impressive fees for a young artist at the time - with options to retain the boy for 1-2 more performances if he is a success.

And what a success he was. The scheduled concerts took place on 21 and 26 July at the old Yeni Dunia 'Turkish Fortress' open amphitheatre. A massive audience packed the theatre to listen to Jascha playing the Mendelssohn and the Wieniawski D minor concertos - and just refused to leave at the end. The option for further concerts was quickly seized and an extra concert was scheduled, mainly for students at reduced price. Some 28,000 people crammed the Turkish Fortress to listen to the little marvel. An eye witness described the post-concert events.

"In Odessa exhibition, relatively unknown, he [Heifetz] played with symphony orchestra under conductors Wolf-Israel and Pribick. Gave 3 concerts. After his third concert he was an idol. After the third concert he was invited to play on 1 September 1911, as soloist at a benefit concert for the Odessa students, who during vacation were employed as ticket chopper at various theatres in the city. Nearly 28,000 showed up for the open air arena and such was the crowding of the Heifetzes that he, his parents and two sisters could not pass out of the artists’ quarters, as all passages, doors and windows were blocked by admirers. They simply refused to leave the grounds".

This was Gdal Saleski, a cellist who happened to play in the orchestra and later, in 1927, wrote his memoirs “Famous Musicians of a Wondering Race”. Indeed, he came to the rescue and summoned an entire police squad to rescue the Heifetzes. He proceeded to cover little Jascha under his cloak and escort him outside. But someone did spot the child, and a new surge of people came onto them, and in the grand frenzy and chaos that ensued the boy became detached from the parents and sisters, He had to search for them until late into the night, whereas the parents who had forced their way out through a different exit spent the most anxious hours over Jascha’s fate, until the family was reunited.

Heifetz at the time of the Odessa

News spread quickly, newspapers picked up the story and within days Heifetz's name was carried on pages in most central cities. News quickly reached as far up as St. Petersburg (and Walter), Vilnius and Kaunas, etc. The Odessa News wrote that "a child with cherubic face and an artist's soul won the hearts of the audience" and that "crowds of people were rushing to the exhibition area on the evening of his concerts". (Apparently the least concerned about all the razzmatazz around was another prodigy-to-be, the seven-year-old Nathan Milstein, taken by his parents to listen to his future classmate. Many years later Milstein could recall but little of the concert - he fell asleep during the performance.)

From St. Petersburg, Viktor Walter reported that "the Press writes that nothing like that had ever happened before" and that "invitations from everywhere are pouring in". Poured they did indeed. Within less than a year the German Hermann Wolff Agency was offering Heifetz to play in Berlin with no less than Arthur Nikisch, as well as Austria, Prague, etc. He really became a hot property. No wonder that within a month or two of his return from Odessa, the boy was invited to make a few acoustic recordings in St. Petersburg (he had already made two in May that year; all of them were discovered and brought to the West some 65 years later).

Following that event, the entire family became pronouncedly more financially solvent, as Jascha's number of engagements and fees increased. They could progressively afford renting  larger and more comfortable apartments in increasingly better quarters of the city. Within a year or two they would travel abroad with Auer, hire tutors for the children and generally live a more comfortable life. Heifetz's concert fees provided a relatively secure source of income for the entire family. And by and large, the 1911 Odessa concerts proved to be that defining, turning point.

REVISITING the case of Erick Friedman who was, in my opinion, Heifetz's most talented student, may give some pause for reflection. Friedman was one of the great American-born violinists, a true virtuoso-romantic player of the highest order. Taught by Samuel Applebaum and later by Ivan Galamian, his precocious talent was evident early on. His mother was friends with another great American virtuoso's mother, Michael Rabin's, and through her agency Friedman was offered a concert contract. The famed music agent Arthur Judson was impressed with the 15-year old Friedman and proclaimed the boy to have been "born to play the violin".

Deep down Friedman felt that he wasn't yet ready for a concert career. On the night of his scheduled Lalo's Symhponie Espagnole, he had such a severe panic attack that instead of playing on stage, he ended up in a hospital's ER. He could hardly breathe and was diagnosed with asthma. Now, at fifteen years of age it is a bit late for suddenly diagnosing such an illness with no previously manifest symptoms. When later on he had learned how to keep control and relax, Friedman had realized that his malaise was nothing but a somatically-induced manifestation of anxiety. When he was ready and able to control his composure, the illness simply disappeared.

He went on to give some public concerts and also to record. At seventeen he responded to an invitation from Heifetz to study with him in Los Angeles, thus becoming one of three pupils who formed the initial nucleus of Heifetz's new pedagogical career. [Small number perhaps, but when Miklos Rosza expressed his surprise to Heifetz of becoming a teacher and asked how many students he had, the latter replied cryptically: "Three. Two too many (and Erick wasn't among those two).]  When Friedman informed Judson of his decision to study with Heifetz, the impresario was dead against the move, knowing full well that Heifetz would insist that Friedman stopped concertising. "Judson - with some validity, I might add - felt that a career could not be stopped and restarted successfully', recalled Friedman.

In 1962 Heifetz chose Friedman to record the Bach Double Violin concerto in London, a disc released shortly afterwards by RCA. To understand the momentous, unusual event, it should be recalled that Heifetz had never shared the concert stage with another violinist, live or on record, in his entire career. (Excluded of course are the Jack Benny skit during the War and chamber music occasions.) In fact, when he released his first version of the Bach Double, Heifetz chose to play it ... with himself - dubbing the two parts in the studio.

It was indeed high praise for a student and no doubt a recognition of his superb talent. Heifetz, the ever superstitious man, told Friedman to add an extra "k" to his first name, such that the letters of his full name would add up to 13 - the same as Heifetz's and Kreisler's. Friedman duly obliged and thereafter his name read Erick Friedman. He stayed with Heifetz for a number of years but eventually the roads parted. "I think that he felt that I was not fulfilling my responsibility to pass on what he taught me" reminisced Friedman. "After teaching me for several years I think  - although he never said so - that he expected me to stay with him and teach; but I couldn't. I hated California - the smog and the tinsel town atmosphere of Los Angeles especially, and I also felt that if I stayed I would lose myself, become completely under his thumb."

It may be perhaps far-fetched to assume that Heifetz had actually expected Friedman to start a fully fledged teaching career at such a young age. After all, Heifetz himself didn't begin teaching until he felt 'ready' for it in his late fifties. More likely perhaps, Heifetz might have had plans for Friedman to possibly become his assistant, preparing perhaps students for the masterclass, much as other former students would do so in later years. If he did harbor such intentions we will never know since, as Friedman recalled, he never said so.

When he returned to New York Friedman found out several, rather painful truths. The first one was about Judson's truism that "a career could not be stopped and restarted successfully". Second, that being a Heifetz pupil was, against all apparent common sense or logic, a liability rather than an asset. "‘Heifetz's attitude toward style was that it was the performer's prerogative to play music in the way that was most moving and dramatic without losing either rhythm or pulse. He presumed that one used a string for colour, and he used positions only for colour. For a while, I myself used to use those devices but in my own way .... People who identified me with Heifetz would be upset by this. I couldn't win. If I played like Heifetz, I was a carbon copy; a clone; if I didn't play like him, I was less. I recorded the First Paganini concerto, which Heifetz never did. I even wrote my own cadenza for it. When Irving Kolodin reviewed it in The Saturday Review, he wrote that I played it “like Heifetz would have played it”, as if that was somehow a fault. But how could he have known? Heifetz didn't play it as an adult!’

For a couple or so years his career seemed to reaffirm itself, several successful recordings followed - particularly Prokofiev's First violin concerto with Erich Leinsdorf. But around 1967 Friedman had seemingly reached an impasse. Some of it had to do with music agencies and some alleged misunderstanding. Sol Hurok is said to have promised to sign up Friedman on condition that he severs his ties with CAMI. Having obtain a release from CAMI, not without some residue of animosity, he proceeded to contact Hurok who all but seemed to have disappeared - suddenly he refused to receive calls or meet Friedman. The young man was left hanging in limbo and nowhere to turn to. As if by chance, he started being encouraged to go to Russia and take part in the Tchaikovsky Competition. The strongest encouragement came from none other than David Oistrakh, Friedman's friend, who was visiting USA at the time. The Russian violinist assured Friedman that he risked nothing by taking part, that he was the jury chairman and knows his playing and Friedman has nothing to worry about. What followed next at the Tchaikovsky Competition is history. Friedman tied for sixth place. The public in the hall protested but to no avail. An ashamed Joseph Szigeti sitting in the jury, later assured Friedman that he scored highest on his marking list.

Friedman returned back home emotionally crushed; he could hardly believe that he was set up for a fall - violinists of student-caliber fared higher than him in the competition. The dream of duplicating Van Cliburn's triumph of a few years previously had vanished. With the distance of time however, Friedman had acquired a better understanding of the machinations behind the competition. "Heifetz was very anti-Soviet, and he and Auer were at that time still considered defectors. Oistrakh, a patriotic Soviet citizen, may have hoped to lend additional luster to Soviet violin pedagogy by discrediting that of those internationally acclaimed emigrés." Just before the competition Heifetz "called me up, middle of the night, in that cryptic manner of his, and emphatically advised me not to go. 'Erick, you'll see what will happen there. I'm warning you—'. But I went to Moscow anyway at the insistence of David Oistrakh. I figured since Oistrakh was head of the jury and a friend—. Heifetz suspected that I was being set up by his detractors; after all, he was anti-Soviet, and they were anti-Heifetz. I was rather naive back then in the 60's."

So, apart from New York, Friedman had also learned that being a Heifetz student was an even greater liability in Russia. Unfortunately, the event had also taken a toll on the teacher-pupil relationship. Heifetz had sensed, probably correctly, that the Russians would discredit his former student as a means to indirectly discredit his own standing. Moreover, Friedman had refused to follow his advice. In Heifetz's world that was a no-no. "Erick, I'm warning you", but Friedman didn't heed the warning. After the competition, another nocturnal phone call followed from master to pupil. "You see Erick, I told you this would happen. You have no respect for me".

It is difficult to assess if Heifetz used his "you don't have respect for me" as a telling-off to his disobedient student, or he was actually angry that, through Friedman, he had himself been snubbed by the Russians. Either way - and most probably a mixture of the two - Friedman concluded that "My relationship with Jascha was never the same after that."

Friedman continued to concertise and also began to teach. He was a successful teacher whose pupils remember him very fondly. One of those is Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi who wrote an engaging series of blogs (Frantic: The Memoirs) which include some of the quotes brought here. Friedman continued to face obstacles to his career from the New York music establishment and his former pupil Talvi recalls that "he had shared his conviction that violinist Isaac Stern, president of Carnegie Hall, was on a mission to destroy his solo career with an agenda to belittle Heifetz's teaching. To that end, Erick Friedman was collateral damage; a victim of Heifetz's foes, real or perceived. But one thing was for certain. Stern could make or break a career. He'd regularly travel to Israel and listen to young talented violinists. With glasses perched on top of his head, in an avuncular manner, he'd point and say, "You and you. Come to America." Those who were chosen became soloists; the ones left behind, and not chosen, would eventually become orchestra musicians". Friedman described in no uncertain terms that "if the Stern Mafia could silence me—. Yes, that's right. Isaac Stern. If he had his way, I'd no longer be concertizing."

But in 1976 Friedman prepared himself for a grand statement that even New York couldn't ignore: he performed a massive six violin concertos in two programmes spread over two consecutive nights with Izler Solomon and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, among others, featured in the programme. As an encore on the first evening he played the second movement of Korngold's violin concert - a Heifetz specialty needless to say - and dedicated it from the stage to his former master.

As to the relationship between the two, things only went from bad to worse. In 1969 the Roger Kahn Life magazine article quoted some derogatory remarks allegedly made by Friedman regarding Heifetz (here). Friedman replied in a letter, attempting to deny and minimise the damage; Life printed his edited letter in the Readers' column. "...It was with some surprise I read a statement attributed to me ...  aside from this being highly unlikely, it would be the height of presumption on my part to venture any recent evaluation of the class because I have neither personally participated for almost ten years, nor do I know any of his present students." It the letter's intention was to appease Heifetz, it seems to have missed it's purpose. Very shortly after his Carnegie Hall marathon concerts, his own pupil Talvi moved to Los Angeles to study with Heifetz. After auditioning for him, Heifetz asked her:

"Who, may I ask, have you studied with - recently, that is?"
"Erick Friedman".
"Erick Friedman," I repeated, thinking Mr. Heifetz must not have heard.
 "I don't know the name," he said.

Heifetz knew of course very well both who she studied with and the name - the same name which he had once modified its spelling to add up to 13.... But it was his own way of letting the young girl know that the name of Erick Friedman is off limits in his studio.

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May I add a personal postscript here. My encounter with Mr. Friedman had occurred in less than auspicious circumstances. Shortly after the publication of the Jascha Heifetz biography, Mr. Friedman had informed the publishers that he is unhappy with the way he comes across, professionally, in the book. As compensation, he had asked for a substantial sum of money. Whatever the reasons and circumstances then, I must say that the incident did not then, nor in the intervening years, lessen to any degree my admiration and appreciation for his artistry.

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Erick Friedman had died at the premature age of 64, on March 30, 2004. His tragic death after a battle with cancer had been a great loss to the music world and had personally saddened me deeply.