Wanted: Accompanist to graying but ebullient violin virtuoso. Requirements: Outstanding pianistic ability, flexible ego and a tolerance for Cuban cigars. Lots of travel.
Isaac Stern, 66, probably won't place such an ad. Still, he's searching for a pianistic partner. Alexander Zakin, who played with him for more than three decades, retired several years ago. Andrew Wolf, who followed Zakin, died tragically a year ago at age 40 from a brain tumor.
Stern said the lack of a regular accompanist has prompted his joining with Soviet emigre pianist Yefim Bronfman for a recital tour that brings them to the Orange County Performing Arts Center Saturday night.
The way the violinist tells it, Bronfman is not an accompanist, but rather a collaborator.
Yet another artist nurtured by Stern's famous paternalism, Bronfman, 28, has a busy solo career. Pre-concert publicity bills him equally with Stern, who Thursday night will play works by Dvorak and Mendelssohn when he joins the Los Angeles Philharmonic in concert at Segerstrom Hall. Kurt Sanderling conducts.
With Bronfman, Stern will give a recital in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles on Oct. 20 and said he also looks forward to a European tour the next year. Nevertheless, the prospect of a protege's company did not offset the hint of loneliness that crept into Stern's voice when the subject turned to accompanists.
He said his relationships with his pianists have been second only to that with his family, which is known to be close. Great accompanists--rare hybrids of mastery and modesty--are prized among recitalists. Some, like Samuel Sanders, who plays with Itzhak Perlman, or Gerald Moore, known for his work with singers, acquire considerable reputations.
Speaking by phone from Tucson, where Stern and Bronfman played Tuesday night, Stern spoke of the death two years ago of Wolf, his former friend and pianist.
"He'd been with me 3 1/2 years and they were some of the very happiest years I had in music," he said. "I have not had a regular pianist as such, and I am looking for one. Until I do find someone who will be with me over a long period, I would prefer making chamber music with musicians with whom I have a great deal of pleasure."
Enter Bronfman, who was raised in Tashkent and settled in New York after a period in Israel, where he was discovered by pianist Eugene Istomin. Stern has known Bronfman since the pianist was 14 or 15. "He has helped guide the direction of my career," said Bronfman, also speaking from Tucson. "And this playing together is the culmination of our relationship."
Stern said the desire to assert Bronfman's status as fellow virtuoso prompted a search for a program that is particularly challenging on the keyboard. The pair settled on Brahms' Sonata in D Minor, Op. 108 and Sonata in A, Op. 162, by Schubert. In addition, Bronfman will play a solo piano work--Prokofiev's Sonata No. 1 in D Minor. "I wanted him to play a solo to counter the presence of the older notoriety," said Stern, referring to himself. "The music was chosen . . . to have as much of a partnership as we could find and to stay away from works I have played in Los Angeles in the past four or five years."
How many more recitals Stern gives is bound directly with the search for a full-time accompanist.
He said he is considering giving up the "high-wire trapeze act" of solo work entirely, with the hope of creating more time to play in larger chamber groups. Stern said he has often been influenced by the playing of his accompanists. "I look for someone who will stimulate me with their ideas and their sound," he said. "The person I'm looking for has a sound that is very rich and even and does not bang. . . . You want someone who communicates well and enthusiastically but who feels that his role in life is not to be a soloist but a partner. . . . Such people are very very hard to find."
Being a bearable, even enjoyable companion, for many hours on the road, is another prerequisite. For example, he and Zakin, now 84, played gin rummy together to while away the hours in airports and hotels. "The person must have a taste for good wine and like the same sorts of people," said Stern, adding that rich clouds of smoke from his occasional Havana cigars should not pose a hazard to mutual respect.
Before they are done working with their current string of recitals, Stern and Bronfman will have been through Zurich, Basel, Florence and Venice. How did Bronfman foresee life with so demanding a companion?
"I don't know," the pianist said. "We're just getting started."