+ By Gundel Bowen

The lights dimmed, the audience hushed, and Isaac Stern lifted the violin under his chin, raised his bow, and floated the first ascending strains of Max Bruch’s “Violin Concerto No. 1, in G minor” out of his instrument into the expectant air when—abruptly!—he took his bow off the violin, flung his arm forward, stabbed down, pointing at the first rows in the hall, and growled, “Out! OUT! OUT!”

Sitting in the third row, I froze. Had I done something wrong? Disturbed the maestro with a stifled cough or the rustling of my program?

lf-conductingFrom 1969 to 1982, the internationally renowned pianist Leon Fleisher conducted the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra while he tried to figure out what was wrong with his right hand—a condition that would not allow him to play for many years. Because of his professional standing, Fleisher attracted world-class musicians to Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, among them pianists André Watts and Ruth Laredo, and now violinist Isaac Stern. What a musically heady time this was for our little town!

And what was it that upset our guest soloist, the man who was courted by the finest orchestras all over the world?

It was a reporter from our local paper, then the Evening Capital, crouching in front of the first row, pointing his huge camera upwards to catch a prize image of Isaac Stern at work. That poor reporter must have wished for his own demise! Red-faced, he hurriedly rose to his feet and fled the hall.

You could sense the audience collectively holding its breath in anticipation of Isaac Stern’s next move. Would he leave the stage and not return? Or perhaps did he plan to continue where he left off? No, nothing like that happened. He closed his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them, took a step forward, and—squinting his eyes against the bright stage lights—said in a quiet voice: “When I play the violin, I commune with my audience. I will begin again.”

And so he did.