Lorin Hollander: The prodigy as a pioneer of human development
Lehane, J.
Gifted and Talented International
Vol. 16, pp. 69-71
2001

This article by Janine Lehane describes some of the musical accomplishments of Lorin Hollander, as well as other work and charity he is involved with. The piano prodigy's childhood is explored briefly to give the reader an idea of what it was like to be Lorin Hollander as a child. The article seems to be based on extensive interviews with Hollander and includes some of his personal thoughts and philosophy on music.

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.

    And my father was getting angry and said, "Look, I'm going to take this out of here until you can handle it." And then he looked at the record and saw that the center hole had enlarged a little so that the recording was distorted. It was so hurting me that he realized what it was and took it downstairs and taped it up and made a new hole.

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."

    And he showed me a score of music. And...I recognized it instantly, and...I fell into the notes. It was as if they were not black print but, as is often the case in the Cabala of Judaism, that one falls into the Hebrew letters, I fell into the musical page.

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.

    What I did in the Copland is just a short one-acter of what I will do in a Khachaturian concerto or in a Saint-Saens concerto where I...begin to pull into the musical performance emotions, experiences that are unheard-of to express from a public place such as a concert stage. Occasionally one will find these in a play that really deals with darkness, awakening, and the path toward the Light and divine love. Occasionally it will be found in a film that deals with real issues. But to find the music and to choose repertory that gives me, first of all, the license to delve into my creative imagination and allow the mythological access...to primal, pre-conscious experiences...

He once more supplies the example of the Khachaturian Concerto, which is "bombastic" and "noisy."

    I recorded it when I was nineteen with London's Philharmonic. I had played it with Leonard Bernstein when I was sixteen with the New York Philharmonic. And I played it as everyone else did; as fast and loud and brilliant and noisy. And it had excitement, it had some beauty....Then I put it away.

    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

    a type of outrage and feelings of exploitation and imprisonment, and...that type of anger, which perhaps a character actor can bring out in film, whereas one doesn't hear it in music very often. And then, salvation; being released from hell and propelled into divine grace; treading Dante's path from the "dark wood to the white rose." A great Mahler interpreter might start to delve into some of these colors. Carmina Burana might deal with some of this. But to go as deeply into this realm and be able to be a conduit that does not self-destruct when bringing up these energies, it became a very intense, a demanding, a fascinating experience.

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.

    As a conductor,... my job is to encourage, to empower, to call for the expression of all of my musicians, and to allow them an authentic ownership in the work that we're performing so that it is their expression, their deep self-expression which they will give when they feel the space to do it – no micro-managing, just allowing them to do that. And my work is to empower them to give all that they have. Then I keep the standards higher and higher and higher and I keep the vision.

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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