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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Million Dollar Trio

THE RECENT PROCTORS THEATRE visit of the hit show “Million Dollar Quartet” reminded me that the same sum had been bruited six years earlier in parallel context. The quartet comprised Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins in an unplanned meeting at the Sun Records studio in 1956. In 1950, Life Magazine gave the moniker “Million Dollar Trio” to pianist Arthur Rubinstein, violinist Jascha Heifetz, and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who got together for a series of concerts and recordings. It was a short-lived association. Heifetz and Rubinstein quarreled, it’s said, over billing, although a film made of the group contains a staged argument that suggests it may have been for publicity purposes. In any event, it got me to dreaming what the Broadway show about this ensemble might be like . . .


SCENE: RCA Studios, Hollywood, 1950. GREGOR PIATIGORSKY, a tall, handsome man, is warming up on the cello he dwarfs. Producer JACK PFEIFFER, newly hired and nervous, paces the floor.

PFEIFFER: If they show up too late to record, it’s my butt that’s on the line.
PIATIGORSKY: Calm down, my friend. They’ll be here. Let me remind you why we’re here. 
(PIATIGORSKY plays Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. As the final movement concludes, ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN enters, with young, lovely JOHANNA MARTZY on his arm.)
RUBINSTEIN (Applauding): Beautiful, beautiful, Grisha!
PIATIGORSKY (Stands and bows): But it is no match for the beauty of this delightful creature! Introduce us quickly, Arthur, and I will say nothing to your wife.
RUBINSTEIN (Sotto voce): It would have been better, my friend, had you said nothing about my wife. (Full voice:) This is Johanna. She is very exotic, from Transylvania, and her violin playing is angelic and sublime.
PFEIFFER: A violinist!
RUBINSTEIN: This business is fickle. You might need her talent today.
(MARTZY takes out her violin. SHE and RUBINSTEIN play the Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3. As the final movement reaches its climax, JASCHA HEIFETZ enters, looking unhappy. In other words, looking as he usually does. MARTZY catches sight of him and flubs the finale. There is a horrified silence.)
HEIFETZ (Lighting a cigarette): Try it again.
RUBINSTEIN: From the codetta.
(THEY try again. Same mistake. HEIFETZ now his own fiddle out. HE nods to RUBINSTEIN and they finish the piece effortlessly. MARTZY runs out in tears.)
RUBINSTEIN: Why do you have to do that, Jascha? She is a great talent!
HEIFETZ: I assure you that it takes the nerves of a bullfighter, the digestion of a peasant, the vitality of a nightclub hostess, the tact of a diplomat, and the concentration of a Tibetan monk to lead the strenuous life of a virtuoso. Tell her to go back to Phil Spitalny.
RUBINSTEIN: Which we all know you possess! Except, perhaps, for the tact.
PFEIFFER: Gentlemen, please! If you must show such passion, do it with the music!
(RUBINSTEIN plays Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance.”)
PIATIGORSKY (Good humoredly): This is the first time he has performed that with no ladies to impress. Don’t tell me it is I you now desire?
HEIFETZ: I hope he is not thinking of a triangle!
PFEIFFER: Gentlemen! You are the finest soloists in the world. I am asking you to combine those talents again, as you did a decade ago with Manny Feuermann.
(HEIFETZ, distraught, sinks into a chair. PIATIGORSKY and RUBINSTEIN console him with Saint-Saëns “The Swan.” As they finish, a photographer arrives.)
HEIFETZ: Mr. Pfeiffer, you are quite correct. We shall – how do they say it? – meld our identities. To the success of the Heifetz-Rubinstein-Piatigorsky Trio!
RUBINSTEIN: Jascha, you know very well –
(THEY are momentarily blinded by the photographer’s flash.)
PHOTOGRAPHER: This is great! I’m gonna tell the magazine to call this “The Million Dollar Trio”!
PFEIFFER: That’s it! Of course! That’s exactly what we’ll call it! If, of course, you can live up to the
name . . .
(THE ENSEMBLE launches into Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor as ... )

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