Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Farewell to Fodor

The news has just reached me (via Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc) that the violinist Eugene Fodor has died, aged 60. He claimed to be Heifetz's last disciple, though some others say he wasn't. He also had the more dubious accolade of being my weirdest-ever interviewee.

I met Eugene in spring 1994. At that time I was in crisis after the death of my mother that February and to get myself through I'd taken up a yoga and meditation system that involved vegetarianism, ashrams, a guru and so forth. Eugene was in town to play at the Wigmore Hall and The Strad wanted an interview, so I went up to Muswell Hill to talk to him. About ten minutes into the interview, some of his remarks began to ring bells: he practised yoga and meditation, he said, but it wasn't a religious thing, just a spiritual one that enhanced the &c&c&c. It turned out, of course, that we were doing the same method, had the same guru... and along came the Sanskrit passwords and greeting, after which we were supposed to be best buddies. He turned up that week at the Thursday evening central London "satsang" and kindly offered anyone there who wanted to go free tickets for his Wigmore recital (somewhat to the consternation of his concert manager, I think).

During the interview he talked a lot, very movingly, about Heifetz, the Tchaikovsky Competition and why violin playing is a form of mysticism; we discussed technique and he showed me a trick he had of putting resin on the fingertips of his bowing hand to enhance control (this didn't go into the article). He said nevertheless that were I to ask any questions about the allegations of substance abuse or his arrest, he'd stop the interview there and then. So we talked violin. I wrote an article that eventually was entitled "Fodor's Guide to Violin Playing", which you can read on his website.

Six or eight of us from the meditation centre went along to the Wigmore. The Strad, meanwhile, had asked me to review the recital. Fodor's technique was dazzling indeed in the showpieces; with a powerful sound and remarkable security, he inspired much enthusiasm in a very impressed hall. But the Brahms sonata was deeply uncomfortable, not least because he seemed to be at war with his pianist, who looked on the point of collapse. I congratulated him backstage, escaped home and wrote an honest review of what I'd witnessed.

A week or two later I was staying with my father when the phone rings and there's Eugene. The magazine had a new editor who, for reasons that escape me, had agreed to fax my unpublished review to the artist when said artist requested it. Eugene wasn't too happy. So he had written another one. Couldn't we run that instead? Probably not, I said. He faxed it through. To say that the writing was not my style would have been putting it a bit mildly. And for some reason I didn't much like the notion of putting my name to a non-review of a concert written by the performer himself, even if we did both have the same guru and Sanskrit greeting. The contrite editor was on my side and my review appeared as written. Eugene rang again. Dad told him I was out. Not long afterwards I looked at his website. There upon it was his own review of his own London recital. (It isn't there now.)

I didn't go back to the meditation centre. It was revealed, not long afterwards, to be a very dubious organisation indeed, so Mr Fodor had done me a great favour. A strange man, but a wonderful violinist. I shall never forget him.