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  • My college sweetheart and I married on a pleasant day in June on a velveted grassy slope under a tent with a view of the Hudson River. Martha wore a lovely white gown and I a handsome white Nehru suit. You see, it was 1968, and although we weren’t quite yet the flower children we would soon come to be, we had aspirations, going so far as to invite the Beatles through their recording company. Alas, reaching out to the Fab Four was to no avail. We did not even receive the courtesy of an autographed reply.

    Cambridge MA 02138 was our post-honeymoon destination. We had waited to tie the knot until Martha had copped her Masters in Performance from Juilliard School of Music. I myself was struggling to perform what I had to do to get mine from Harvard and then to go forth to be a city planner. (I never entered the profession, but that’s another story.) She had studied violin and viola for ages and wasn’t at all a bad fiddler, but never managed to hit the big time. That was all right with her because she never fancied herself a soloist. She played a lot of chamber music with friends and enjoyed subbing at the BSO and the Boston Pops. Extra pennies came from gigging at a number of smaller outfits around town that played a lot of dead men’s music, while back at home we listened to the Dead on our stereo as we spaced out with pot. It was, after all, that Strawberry Fields-Woodstock-Mello Yellow era, even for classical music folk.

    Let me not get ahead of things, so to speak. Our wedding was well attended by both sides of family and friends. It featured two—count ‘em two—Unitarian ministers intoning in stereo, and live music that was furnished by two other Juilliard musicians who happened to be at the time Martha’s roommates. They shared a two-bedroom apartment that her father subsidized forty blocks down Riverside Drive from our schools. As I recall, the actor Ben Gazzara lived in the building, though we never spotted him.

    Ruthie Something-Unprouncable was Martha’s newest roommate, a sweet and plainly pretty Israeli girl with a pleasant smile who spoke with a strong Hebrew overlay. She too took at the conservatory, plucking away on a massive golden harp that, along with Toby’s piano, half-filled the living room where she slept. Thank goodness she didn’t have to drag her axe on the subway up to 119th Street every day. At the wedding Ruthie performed—quite ably—the processional and then the recessional as we fled down the aisle, Handel one way and perhaps Vivaldi the other.

    Her other paying roommate was also a fiddler studying at Julliard, a pretty, vivacious young Jewish woman with a broad smile named Toby, who occupied the main bedroom. Martha’s bedroom was more private, a closet of a room at the end of the hallway, and the place where we both lost our virginity one fine spring evening in 1965. I don’t know when Toby had lost hers, but it may have been before I met her, and probably to the man she was engaged to marry, another Julliard School student named Itzhak. He and she and Martha shared the same violin instructors, the redoubtable Ivan Galamian and the accomplished Dorothy DeLay, who was an old friend of Martha’s family and had tutored Martha since she was in grade school. Mister Galamian, a gentle but exacting soul, was an Armenian violinist late of Iran by way of Moscow who managed to make it to New York between the wars and became a preeminent pedagogue of music. He founded a music school in the wilds of the Adirondacks called Meadowmount that Martha and her fellow fiddlers fled to almost every summer. Mister Galamian didn’t make it to our wedding, but I did get to meet him at the one for Toby and Itzhak a year or two before ours.
  • At our wedding, Itzhak (whom Toby always called Isaac for some reason) performed the musical interlude, a Bach partita, sitting on a chair. You know, the one that goes diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-diddle DAH, diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-diddle DUM. He was just starting out on the concert circuit and was fresh from recording his first album featuring the Mendelsohn concerto, having already been snatched up by RCA. Of course, the rest is history.

    Before we all got married, Itzhak and I now and then surreptitiously dwelled at Martha and Toby’s pad, and basically moved in for the summer of ’65. Our parents either didn’t know of our intimacy or didn’t care as much as we feared they might. We all got on really well. He was good people, of cheery disposition and with a smile was almost as broad as Toby’s. He walked using sticks and had lived with his disability so long it no longer to mattered to him and even joked about it. He loved to tell and pass on all sorts of jokes, mostly tasteless. Despite being of Polish parentage (via Israel) he loved Polish Jokes, which had a brief vogue in the sixties before being interred as politically incorrect. I never saw the guy in a bad mood.

    Due to various incompatible attitudes and what with us both having engaged in affairs, Martha and I disengaged after less than three years together. We split up our friends as well as our stuff; the music people stayed with her, the intellectuals with me. We cleave to them still, after so many years. And so, I lost touch with Itzhak and Toby, who by then were living on Central Park West, visited by all sorts of classical music luminaries from Ashkenazy and Bernstein to Zuckerman. The only other time I spoke to them (well, Itzhak; Toby still wasn’t having any of me) was at a recital he gave at Symphony Hall in Boston, circa 1975. I scored two tix and brought my friend (and fittingly, my ex-Best Man) Dan as my “date.” We settled into good seats up front on the right, and just before the lights dimmed, who should come in and sit in front of us but Toby, my ex Martha, and Earl, her newish husband, a Harvard Professor and composer. The ladies vaguely nodded, but Earl was quite friendly and chatted us up.

    After Itzhak’s enchanting performance, Dan and I warily worked our way backstage to the Green Room to say hi to him. We stood in the receiving line as the ladies glared at us, as if witnessing child molesters in the act, but when we finally got up to him he grinned and gave me a bear hug and asked how I was. Had there not been pressure to move on, we probably would have swapped Polish jokes. Always the mensch, Itzhak deserves all the fame and adulation that he’s earned and more.

    I would display photos from those days had I any left, but they were all carefully bound into a big white album that Martha unceremoniously trashed when we split up. Instead, the album cover that follows shows Itzhak as I remember him. I still have that recording, and it still stirs.

    The photo up front is the contemporaneous Itzhak Perlman, as he was in Chicago when he conducted the Juilliard Orchestra in January of this year, now motivating in a well-earned wheelchair. Image © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
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