News of Arkady Fomin’s death on May 5 in Dallas has taken many of us by surprise.
The ebullient founder and director of Conservatory Music in the Mountains filled many of our summers with a brisk human breeze. His cheerful welcome at every Conservatory recital, and especially the Gala, set a tone that is rare in classical music – pure, bursting-at-the seams delight.
Fomin always seemed happy to be here – wherever he was – on stage performing, on stage introducing musicians, in the audience, in his office, even in an interview.
My favorite assignment every summer for our Music in the Mountains Festival was the Conservatory Gala. Performed at the conclusion of an intensive, multiweek period of lessons, ensemble rehearsals, daily recitals and evening concerts, the Gala seemed to sum up Fomin’s idea of heaven – full musical immersion.
Miraculously, he assembled a large student orchestra and programmed challenging works.
Energetic, even balletic, Fomin all but danced on stage. Then he’d create a moment of stillness to concentrate attention before giving a precise downbeat. He encouraged his players to attack without fear, pedal down to pianissimo and stun everyone into respectful silence with a rest. His energetic style seemed to stimulate courage even in the youngest players.
To hear the Conservatory Chamber Orchestra open the concert with Schubert’s Overture in C minor, as they did last year, was to experience the joy of great music. Fomin closed that Gala with Carlos Bardel’s “Tango.” If memory serves, at one point he stopped conducting, stood to the side and let his young players reel out the middle section on their own.
Fomin had many musical lives, not just our Conservatory. Most notably, he played in the first violin section of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for almost 40 years. He joined that orchestra in 1975 after a successful career as a young violinist in Latvia, his birthplace. In 1975, he also became artist-in-residence at the University of Texas. Soon thereafter, he established the New Conservatory of Dallas, the parent organization of our summer Conservatory. His enormous gifts as a teacher matched his business acumen.
In 1997, Fomin co-founded the Clavier Trio, an act of spontaneous combustion, as he once told me in an interview. The Trio sprang to life out of a chamber music session at Music in the Mountains. Fomin, pianist David Korevaar and cellist Peter Steffens cooked up the idea. Steffens left the trio, but it continued with Jesús Castro Baldi. Every summer up to July 2013, the Trio has played brilliant, well-lived and -loved performances of works by Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Schönberg, Schubert and Smetana.
One of the most memorable interviews I’ve ever had took place a week before the Clavier concert in July. Castro Baldi was teaching, but Fomin and Korevaar were available.
It was one of those rare, one-question interviews: What will you be playing? The answer rapidly unspooled: Haydn, Kodály and Smetana. Fomin and Korevaar sparked each other with the high humor of old friendship. They told me why Haydn’s Trio in C major was so exhilarating, why Kodály is so challenging and why Smetana’s G minor, Op. 15 is a favorite. The program had a misprint, listing G major, but they doubted anyone would notice, and it just didn’t matter. They remembered other performances and their recording. All I did was listen and take notes.
In 2006, the Clavier Trio recorded the Smetana’s G minor and Brahms’s Trio in C Major, Op. 87. That’s one of the four Clavier recordings I own and which I’ve been playing since learning of Fomin’s untimely death. It’s titled “Passion and Glory.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.