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Not Bad For a Local Boy

Upon getting my website redesigned, the developer recommended including a page about my violin. He asked me to write a little blurb about it and include something that makes it personal and special to me in addition to the obligatory who owned it, who made it, etc. Remembering how the violin found me was quite a nice memory and a little bittersweet since the person I purchased it from passed away this time last year.

My Cavani

I had all but given up finding “the” violin, but while visiting my parents in my home state of Colorado, I decided to get my bow rehaired by my friend and most excellent repairman, Rick Molzer. When I arrived at his studio, he mentioned that he was expecting one of his friends and fellow Colorado native, Eugene Fodor, to drop off a few violins for adjustments.

I had been inspired by Eugene Fodor’s brilliant career ever since I was in high school. Each time I would go to my violin lessons I would see his promotional posters hung with pride all over my violin teacher’s studio, the very studio and teacher where Eugene took his lessons as a boy. A few record covers were also framed on the wall reminding me each week that someone from a small town in Colorado could go on to win top prizes at the Paganini and Tchaikovsky competitions.

As a child, bumping into Eugene was a rare treat. He’d come back to Colorado every now and then to solo and visit with his family and former teacher. I’d only seen him perform a few times, but was astounded each time what a true master of the violin he was. So unapologetic and confident, so precise, and so brilliant; to me he was the best of the best. But then a bump in with the law, some controlled substances, and an arrest took his career a direction that never truly recovered.

Unlike in Hollywood, if you mess up this way in the classical music world, you have slim chances to keep your career afloat. And as a result of his entanglements, Eugene’s solo work went mostly to Europe and South America. It was about 15 years after Eugene’s arrest that I bumped into him in the Colorado repair shop. He was doing well; a solo career abroad seemed to be going well and keeping him busy. He’d just returned home to get some adjustments on some of his violins, and he had in tow the violin that I fell in love with, and eventually bought from him.

After his death last year, there was much discussion about why his career never rebounded, and why he always felt substandard compared to other soloists of his class and talent. He told CBS News in 1996 that he used cocaine to help relieve the pain of not having the career that “would make me happy.”

Maybe it didn’t help that some of the kudos and talk he received sounded like this: “Not bad for a local boy,” which was part of a discussion some students at the Aspen School were having over lunch when the name Eugene Fodor came up. One of my colleagues shared this conversation with me, and years after witnessing this exchange, is still stunned at the backhanded compliment.

But perhaps Eugene Fodor’s marketing and managers helped create that “local” hometown boy image that ultimately pinned him into a horseback riding cowboy kid from Colorado instead of superstar and world renowned violinist. And while it’s easy to see the marketing angle, much of society in the ‘70s and ‘80s seemed to want to be mystified and wowed by a more international and cosmopolitan image.

For years I have been pondering if there is a geographical prejudice and/or stereotype among the classical music world. It’s easy for musicians to blame the public for such stereotyping but I blame musicians as well.

And in next month’s article, I will cover the hard to talk about topic of prejudices in geographic origin, but continue on to age, race, and gender.

While there are obvious ways to point our collective fingers at the general public for certain prejudices and stereotyping, I will focus directly on musicians falling prey to fellow musicians’ prejudices and stereotyping. By the time April comes, there will hopefully be plenty of fodder for a lively and spirited discussion.

Until then, I only wish I could share my sincerest thanks with Eugene Fodor for his career which inspired me so much. Having one of his violins reminds me that this career is a journey, and while there are critics that come in many forms, one must keep the spirit of music lit. His talent is missed.

One Response to Not Bad For a Local Boy

  1. Janis May 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    I’m a latecomer to this blog post, but I often wonder if this same sort of dynamic isn’t at play with my absolute favorite tier-1 violin virtuoso sometimes, Rachel Barton Pine. She is absolutely breathtaking. She can lift you clean off the floor just by listening to her — but she is a child of the working-class who loves and plays heavy metal (and who doesn’t hide it), and who has always been open about coming from a financially struggling background. She is very much a midwesterner with a thick Chicago accent, for all her ability to hobnob with the bourgeoisie and crank away on that zillion-dollar del Gesu she’s got. She rarely plays with the sorts of orchestras who can truly keep up with her — good bands, but I sometimes wonder if her place and class of origin and her lack of pretense doesn’t keep her from settling in with the “international and cosmopolitan” crowd like her talent merits.

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