<< -- 3 -- John Bell Young LEGENDARY GENEROSITY
Strong and opinionated, Constance didn't care much for Mozart, though that hardly affected her profound understanding of the music and her ability to teach it. Her sense of humor was delicious. Koechel numbers (K533, K366, for example), she once told me, sounded like department store markdowns!
I cannot count the number of times in all the years I knew her that she would demonstrate, by her words and actions, her genuine interest, care, and passion for other artists, no matter their status, métier, or accomplishments. This ability to empathize and to lavish devotion was an exceptionally rare quality. For example -- one among hundreds I recall fondly -- in 1991 she opened her home for two weeks to the eminent Russian pianist, Margarita Fyodorova on her first visit to America. She may not have known just how meaningful that gesture was. After all, Fyodorova's world had just been turned upside down by the fall of the Soviet Union. Though Fyodorova didn't speak a word of English, and Constance not a word of Russian, they understood each other perfectly. In Fyodorova's eyes, Constance was sunlight itself. For this distinguished Russian artist, whose privileged world had vanished overnight, Constance's reassuring presence somehow served to diminish the terrifying uncertainty of a dangerous new era. To this day Fyodorova, now 81, talks about that first, optimistic, and altogether positive experience of America -- which Constance in so many ways represented for her -- with passion, respect, and the deepest gratitude.
As a matron of New York society, Constance dined with celebrities, threw chic musicales and cocktail parties, and held court for visiting artists. She threw a party for Hugh Downs and me upon the release of my new recording, Prisms, which featured a musical composition by Hugh. Shortly after that, she invited us to lunch, along with other prominent musicians, to discuss, over freshly imported smoked salmon, the fragile state of classical music. But no celebrity could ever take precedence over her duties as a teacher, or her devotion to her students. When she allowed actor Michael York and me to rehearse Strauss's Enoch Arden last year at her glittering new penthouse opposite Lincoln Center, she was apologetic but hardly concerned that she was not able to be there to meet him. She was busy teaching a young freshman at Manhattan School of Music, and so Michael and I were on our own amid her memorabilia, artwork, sweeping metropolitan views, and two Steinway grands.
Copyright © 8 January 2006
John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA