July 31, 2016

Baller, Menuhin and Tomoko

Tomoko personally knew Adolph Baller and Yehudi Menuhin, who exemplify different approaches to early talent. As a piano teacher, Tomoko does not like the idea of child proteges; “They may have technical skill, but not the experience.” She also feels for the child; “They are controlled by adults who are focusing on money, and they throw out the child when he is burned out.”
Adolph Baller was born July 30, 1909, in Brody (now in western Ukraine). At age eight he was sent to Vienna to study the piano, and he debuted with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at age thirteen. In 1938 the Nazis beat him up because he was a Jew, and crushed his hands when they realized that he was a pianist. He and his fiancee escaped to Budapest, and immigrated to the States. His hands healed, and he restarted his performance career, included forming the Alma Trio with Gabor Rejto and Roman Totenberg. He also taught at Stanford, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Dominican College.
               Yehudi Menuhin was born April 22, 1916, in New York City. He started violin instruction at age four, and was a solo violinist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at age seven. He played in Carnegie Hall at age 11, and had his first concerto recording at age 15, in London. As a young adult he seemed to stall in his musical growth, being protected from everyday life. That changed.
               In the early years of World War II Baller played for a New York radio station, where he met Menuhin. Together they performed for U.S. troops around the world, including in the Aleutian Islands. Experiencing the life of men his age and younger in army bases opened Menuhin's world, and gave him more self-assurance.
The two Jewish musicians continued to tour together after the war, and Tomoko met them when she studied with Adolph Baller at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Baller was impressed with her playing, and asked if she would serve as a page-turner for his own performance; there she also met Menuhin. Not only did Tomoko have the opportunity to see the back stage of world-reknown performers, but she was able to earn money as a page-turner to help pay for her own studies at the Conservatory. And her experiences with these two grand names in music informed her own piano teaching.

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