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Miklós Rózsa - The Washington tribute
2-May-2007 -

Saturday evening, April 14th, 2007 at six p.m. at the Hungarian Embassy.

John Fitzpatrick at the Miklos Rozsa Society asked that anyone attending the Washington concert and reception last night write in and offer a report, and so here goes. Firstly, I hadn't any intention of attending the festivities in Washington until I received a special invitation from Juliet Rozsa. Now, Miklos Rozsa has been my favorite composer for fifty years and we were friends for twenty five of those wonderful years. I'd known Juliet Rozsa through correspondence only for the past fifteen or twenty years. When her father grew too ill to write any longer, Juliet would read him my articles and correspondence, and he would dictate a response. Prior to that, he was an avid correspondent and I have, perhaps, hundreds of hand written notes and letters from him. So, when Juliet announced that she would be attending the concert along with her daughter, Nicchi, I made arrangements with one of my dearest friends, John Durso, to drive to Washington and spend the evening. John's father, Eddie Durso, was Mario Lanza's best friend as boys growing up on the streets of South Philadelphia and John, himself, manages the career of the brilliant operatic tenor Frank Tenaglia. John, then, seemed the perfect traveling companion for the event.

The ceremonies began with remarks by the Hungarian Ambassador. He spoke of Miklos Rozsa's enormous contribution to the world of symphonic music, and of the honor and pride he brought to everyone of Hungarian ancestry. He then introduced the distinguished guests in the audience, including Janos Starker and both Juliet and Nicchi Rozsa. To my astonishment, bless his heart, he even introduced me to the audience, which took me completely by surprise.

Famed Cellist Janos Starker followed the ambassador and captivated the audience with affectionate and humorous stories about his beloved friend and colleague. He was utterly charming.

The concert was joyous and intense, and included The Toccata Capriocciosa for Cello Solo, the first movement of the Violin Concerto, and Tema Con Variazioni by Dr. Rozsa. Other pieces included works by Kodaly and Bartok.

The performance was wonderful, and featured passionate performances by Cellist Emilio W. Colon and, in particular, by the superb concert violinist, Anastasia Khitruk. Ms. Khitruk played beautifully throughout the evening. However, her inspired performance of Rozsa's Violin Concerto was breath taking, and the emotional highlight of the evening. She has, of course, recorded the entire Concerto For Violin and Orchestra with a significant symphony orchestra for release in September on the Naxos label.

After the concert I had an opportunity to speak at length with Mr. Starker, and share memories about the man we were all there to honor. Ms. Khitruk spoke with me enthusiastically about her upcoming recording of the Violin Concerto, and said that it would be an absolutely spectacular CD.

I shared substantial time with both Juliet and Nicchi Rozsa, and they were utterly delightful to talk with and be with. Afterward, I was honored to pose for official Embassy pictures with Juliet, Nicchi, and Janos Starker.

John and I were invited by the Ambassador to join the celebrated guests at a private dinner following the official reception in the Ambassador's residence. The dinner was sumptuous, and the company was delightful. I sat next to Juliet for the balance of the evening, as I had done so many years earlier with her illustrious father, while John shared conversation with Nicchi. I was also honored to speak for a time with the Hungarian Ambassador, and a fascinating gentleman by the name of Mike Pochna who represented Ms. Khitruk.

We stayed over night in Washington and returned by car through a nasty storm on Sunday morning. Juliet, Nicchi, and Janos Starker were scheduled to return home by Sunday afternoon. I grasped Mr. Starker's hands as we were leaving, and told him what a delightful experience it had been to meet him. I hugged and kissed both Juliet and Nicchi, and felt honored to have spent time with them at last. It was, in a sense, as though Miklos Rozsa was himself present in the Embassy. I trust that he was listening to and observing the outpouring of love paid in devotion and respect to his life and legacy. As for his family, colleagues and friends, I wish them all a safe journey home, and God Speed.

Steve Vertlieb

(Steve Vertlieb is an old friend of Miklos Rozsa. He also wrote the liner notes for the new The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes CD from Tadlow Music.)

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