World-class musician, Lorin Hollander is now in the fifth decade of a career that commenced with his professional concert debut at Carnegie Hall at eleven years of age. He has performed with virtually every major symphony orchestra in the world. His more than 2000 performances include recitals and lecture/recitals with orchestra and chamber ensemble as pianist and symphony and choral conductor. For much of this time, Lorin has also led community outreach programs and university residencies that incorporate master classes, work with youth orchestras, counseling of gifted students, and training of mentors for the arts and sciences. Lorin's work with teachers acknowledges the fundamental place of the arts in education. He also leads workshops that involve exploration of interdisciplinary connections, creativity, and spiritual and psychological health.
I first met Lorin Hollander in Iowa City in May, 2000, at the Fifth Biennial Henry B. and Jocelyn Wallace National Research Symposium on Talent Development, sponsored by the Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, and our conversation began in earnest. It soon became evident that the talent development process in his life continues to be insistent, dynamic, and self-propelled.
Lorin is a denizen of that realm in which spirituality and artistry are inextricable. The interpenetration of music and the man moves him, through performance, into inevitable communion with mystic forces. How is the "ordinary" person to establish a point of contact with such a man? Robert Frost proposed a solution to this dilemma in his poem "Revelation," in which he acknowledges the human need for understanding and advises those who appear to "hide too well away," perhaps in virtue of their difference from other people, to "speak and tell us where they are." Lorin's life is indeed characterized by his quest to reach out to others and to help them find some sense of location in this world. While his prodigious talent does not lend itself to explanation, certain moments from his life and some of his thoughts on our common humanity are recounted here in order that people who find joy in talent realized may share in something of the character of the man and of the character of his immense talent.
During our interview, Lorin obligingly recalled a series of moments in his early development. He was an infant prodigy. At thirteen months he would wake in the middle of the night and proceed to the record player in his family home and play Alexander Nevsky, the work he adored. He knew the order of the twelve sides of the recording and would "go through it endlessly." Lorin's father would tell the story of the night that his young son began to scream and to retch and cry, all the while pointing at the record.
Lorin's father was Toscanini's Associate Concertmaster, and later, Concertmaster, with the NBC Symphony for seventeen years. During that time, he was also first violinist of the American Arts String Quartet with the NBC. Lorin would attend rehearsals with his father and remembers that at three years of age, upon returning home after hearing a Haydn serenade, he began to draw spirals on a page so as not to "lose that music." When his father asked what he was doing, Lorin showed him the spirals and followed them as he sang. "You silly boy," his father said. "We have this written down already."
At five years of age, he had memorized the complete first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and began to play that in concert for school children and in the homes of other musicians. At seven years, he played his first professional concert, the program comprising works of Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. His first performance with orchestra was given at ten years of age, and when he was eleven, he made his official debut at Carnegie Hall. "Every year after, there were concerts," he said. At fourteen, he substituted, on two night's notice, for an internationally recognized pianist "and played a Saint-Saens, the Second Concerto. And that got international press and suddenly I was playing forty concerts a year."
The experience of Lorin Hollander in performance is one of exultancy, and one for which, despite my own conservatory training, I was unprepared. His interpretation of the Copland Piano Concerto, for example, left me wondering how it is possible for a human being to accomplish the feat in such a manner. Lorin describes it as "a very special, enigmatic work and...it's a beast because one has to put the soul into the work." There is, in his playing, something distinctive, no matter the work—something beyond sensitivity in interpretation and brilliance in execution. Happily, upon discussing the phenomenon with him, the secret, despite the telling, remains clothed in mystery.
He once more supplies the example of the Khachaturian Concerto, which is "bombastic" and "noisy."
And I was asked to play it about ten years later. Suddenly, I would be awakened, or I would be walking, and it's as if from inside I would become blinded and aurally deafened by an inward playing of the music from a totally different realm. It's as if the original mythological, gypsy, shamanic, songful dance...took me over. And within a few days, the entire work was simply played for me, coming from my creative unconscious.
Lorin here mentions Joseph Campbell's belief, which he shares, that mythology is the entrance through which the energies of the cosmos enter into human culture. "And for me," he said, "the experience was from inside, a way of singing these themes with a depth of sadness, of longing, of unutterable pain and beauty. But then, one started getting into the cruelty." He likened this aspect to the experience of feeling
When playing "exquisitely structured" pieces such as those written by Bach or arranged by Grainger, he accesses this deep place within, "the emotional well-spring," in a different way and with the express purpose of announcing the most heartfelt experience of his listeners through the musical medium; "expressing love, tenderness, and ineffable beauty." Each of these examples conveys Lorin's repeated experience of being led to balance by "breaking through the grips of the darkness, and emerging into an expression of gentleness, compassion, love, inexpressible beauty, and the passions of humanity."
His life is guided by irreducible and seminal principles. Their consequences resound from his home and from the stage. As father and performing artist, Lorin considers his greatest achievement to be "the nurture of three young boys into men who are creative, gentle, sensitive, caring, loving, tender, and unafraid to share the depth of their emotional and spiritual beings." These principles are also evident in his conception of leadership. He employs the metaphor of the conductor when discussing this aspect of his role within the performing arts.
In his maturity, the development of Lorin's talent as musician is subsumed in his quest for a more fully developed understanding of human potential. The full flowering of his prodigious talent demands the integration of the psyche. Where others might balk, Lorin Hollander dares to venture into realms of human consciousness for which we lack adequate description. He finds them "hidden in the harmonies of the music," and attends to the words of William James who observed that we are separated from these realms "by the filmiest of screens" and that "no account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded." As he pioneers this terrain, Lorin models the struggle that the highly gifted must undergo in their movement towards spiritual and psychological wholeness.
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