Jacob’s Ladder

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The Boston Conservatory Grand Opening Performance featuring Joseph Silverstein, violin Photo Eric Antoniou.

The Boston Conservatory
Grand Opening Performance featuring Joseph Silverstein, violin
Photo Eric Antoniou.

Great musical communities are very like a ladder, the humblest freshman at conservatory, right up to the geniuses at the top. Music students have a natural capacity to worship great artists. First, there is a sense of wonder that a human being can do something so beautiful with a piece of wood or a small muscle in the throat. Then they become familiars—a lesson every week, maybe eventually a first-name basis, maybe not. Then the blessed few climb, some all the way to the top. When I was in school in Boston, the rare ones at the top included the genius Seiji Ozawa, the other genius Gunther Schuller, and the late lamented concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Silverstein. Talking with the great ones was not always easy, not because of their way with other people, but because of deep respect for them. But each of these three was easy to talk to, didn’t mind interruptions, was happy to help. Gentlest of the three was Maestro Silverstein, a soft-spoken man who had no airs about him and who played the violin as naturally as a bird sings. What I will never forget is his heaven-like playing of the violin obbligato in Bach’s “Erbarme dich” from the Matthew Passion. His intense, fast vibrato which was inexplicably gentle, held the ear captive. I was a kid singing a small part in this performance, probably fifty feet away from him on the Symphony Hall stage, but the tone seemed to always be in my ear. The aria calls for playing which hides its own virtuosity and elevates the horrific event to follow into a salvation. No one played with a sweeter tone than Maestro Silverstein. I saw him a couple of weeks ago in the theatre. He told me about his place in Florida. Now he is gone. Farewell, Maestro.

About the author

Keith Kibler

Twice a Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center, Keith Kibler’s doctorate was earned at Yale University and the Eastman School of Music. He is one of the region’s most sought after teachers with students accepted at the New England Conservatory, the Juilliard School, Peabody and Hartt Conservatories, the Tanglewood Institute, and the Aspen Music School. Keith Kibler is an adjunct teacher of singing at Williams College and lectures frequently at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Read archived articles in Keith’s column, A Singer’s Notes on the Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts.

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