A recital by world-famous pianist, Stephen Kovacevich (formerly Bishop) was an event not to be missed, especially since the programme contained Schubert’s divine posthumous Sonata, Deutsch no. 960. So we bought our tickets and eagerly awaited the appointed date.
The evening was set to start with Beethoven’s Bagatelles, opus 126, continue with his sonata no. 31, and culminate with the aforementioned Schubert sonata. The programme notes were extremely long and informative, especially about the genre known as ‘bagatelle,’ and we were told in great detail about their character and history. The notes (by Uri Ya’akov) also dealt extensively with the Beethoven sonata, but to my astonishment and dismay, dismissed the Schubert sonata with a few casual lines.
Just before the recital was due to begin, an announcement was made to the effect that instead of the Bagatelles, Kovacevich would be playing a Bach partita. No one complained, and in the event this turned out to create a very satisfying programme, showing the development of musical forms and styles.
And then, to tumultuous applause, Kovacevich himself came onto the stage. He was wearing a mandarin-style black shirt and trousers, not the customary evening dress. He started playing the Bach partita very beautifully, but stopped after a couple of minutes, stood up and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, it is very cold up here. I’m freezing, and it’s difficult to play when one is cold.”
Nobody knew what to do. One kind gentleman from the audience dashed up onto the stage and offered him his jacket, but the pianist declined. Then a distinguished-looking gentleman went up onto the stage, was greeted in very friendly fashion by Kovacevich (I later found out that this was Murray Perahia, who heads the Music Centre at Mishkenot Sha’ananim), and then returned to his seat right behind me. Finally, a technician spoke to the pianist and said he would turn the heating up (it was very warm in the auditorium), and Kovacevich said, “We’ll wait five minutes.”
After a little while he resumed playing. I think he had made the mistake that many tourists do, namely, thinking that Israel is warm all year round. But we certainly experience winter, and Jerusalem is higher than the rest of the country so that the winters can be very cold. We even have snow from time to time, and Kovacevich really wasn’t dressed appropriately for the Jerusalem winter.
As far as I could tell, he played very well. He ended the concert with Schubert’s posthumous sonata, Deutsch no.960, which I adore, and so everyone went home happy. But I overheard someone in the audience say ‘only in Israel,’ and I think that’s true. It certainly was quite an experience.