Question: How did you first get interested in classical
Leon Botstein: Classical music was, as is
always the case in middle-class European Jewish homes, a requirement.
Everybody sort of played an instrument. My mother was an amateur
pianist. And the interesting part was that she was a physician. A very
distinguished physician and she lost her hearing through a very strange
disease where she lost hearing on both sides. The disease that Jonathan
Swift had called Meniere’s. And it destroys the inner ear, so you lose
not only volume but pitch. And when I was a little boy, I have no real
memory of my mother ever hearing, so she lost her hearing gradually in
fits and starts.
And the thing that was most tragic, it seemed
to me as a child, was that she was no longer able to play. So I think
that was a kind of psychological motivator for me to study music. So
they were very encouraging and I started out on the piano then switched
to the violin.
Question: What was your musical
Leon Botstein: Well, we started out in
sort of varies of ignorant context. That is to say my parents knowing
nobody, through some recommendation through other immigrants we ended up
with an immigrant piano teacher and then I ended up with a violin
teacher, again through recommendations and finally I was lucky. When I
was an adolescent, my grandparents live in Mexico City, and so I spent
the summers there and there was an immigrate German Austrian violin
teacher who actually set me straight and through him I was then
recommended to my major teacher, Roman Totenberg, a very distinguished
violinist who is alive today at 99.
Fantastic violinist and
fantastic teacher. So I studied with him for seven years. But then
during my late adolescent I already thought I wanted to be either a
composer or a conductor. So I tried my hand at composing and I didn’t
write music that I found memorable myself. I was more interesting in
other people’s music, so I then got interested in doing conducting. Then
when I was in college, I began to study and do conducting.
Recorded on May 10, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman