Eugene Fodor, the American violinist who couldn't live up to youthful glory, dead a few days short of 61st birthday
An excellent obituary in yesterday's Washington Post mentions how American Eugene Fodor, who died on Feb. 26, was dubbed the Mick Jagger of the violin by New York magazine back in the 1970s.
Even back then, people were trying to give classical music a bit of popular sparkle. It's too bad that Fodor didn't really live up to his early promise.
He was 24 when he placed in the finals of the Tchaikovsky violin competition in Moscow in 1974. For a decade, he was a star -- even making regular appearances on late-night TV talk shows. But then he self-destructed. The public nadir came with a drug-related arrest in 1989.
I was struck by one particular paragraph in the obit:
"I think that cocaine was sort of a crutch for me," (Fodor) told CBS News in 1996. It helped him "rid myself of the pain of not having the career that I felt would make me happy."
Fodor's website cuts off in 1999. The contact information is a personal email address, meaning he had no agent, making it difficut to quickly check up on what he was up to in recent years.
But what, exactly, would have this dream career been? Doing more big violin concertos with big orchestras? Being able to do just chamber music? Teaching?
For me, the moral in Fodor's unfulfilled life is in being careful with prodigiously talented children. Too much focus on a goal and not a journey is a set-up for getting lost of once the goal is fulfilled.
I found a nice reminiscence of Fodor and his first (and third) wife, Daniella Davis, on the blog of Salt Lake City resident Peggy Pendleton, who blogs as Utah Savage. This was written in 2008:
This was the Eugene Fodor I knew. His fiance was a student of my husband's in the mid to late 1970's. I remember entertaining them in our tiny apartment in the Cherry Creek section of Denver. She was a small, voluptuous, dark haired beauty and she and I hit it off immediately. I was not so sure about Eugene. He was more politically conservative than she, and if I remember correctly, an ardent gun enthusiast. And when we met them, he was already a virtuoso concert violinist, world famous, and with a certain rock star following of lovesick young women. So I watched him for signs of arrogance, but what I saw instead was inexperience with anything other than his doting mother and his ambitious father whose talent was not so great, but a fierce desire for his sons to have what he could not. Eugene was a boy who grew up on a large ranch with an older brother who was also a talented violinist. Eugene was both a young genius and a strutting cowboy. And then it came so early, this star stature. Underneath that wattage was a sweet, generous, romantic young man with great good looks, a bit of a rough edge and a monster talent.
We were invited to the family ranch for an engagement party. It was a Spanish style event with a Mariachi band. And a short time later we were invited to the wedding. They moved to New York and I remember working on a painting in a new medium to send to them for a wedding present a few months later.
Shortly after that we moved to Missouri, where my husband got a teaching job at one of the lovely State Universities. We used to see Eugene play now and then on Johnny Carson.
They wrote letters, called occasionally, and then we got a call that they were playing in a concert in another Missouri City and wanted to come stay with us the night and day before the concert and that we would be their guests for the event. We were both delighted and worried. I more worried than my husband. Eugene's wife, my friend, whose name I can no longer recall I'm embarrassed to say, was very pregnant with twins. I worried that the bed in the guest room wasn't big enough or comfortable enough. But they were both so sweet. We had a lovely afternoon. Fixed dinner at home. We ate simply, at their request. And when she went to bed, he wandered into the backyard and played. So under a cool autumn sky full of stars on the edge of the Ozarks, we listened to perhaps the worlds most famous Paganini virtuoso play Paginini. It was the most magical, transcendent musical moment of my life.
And again, late the next afternoon, he wandered the backyard and played for at least an hour. Then the black limousine came to pick us up for the two hour ride to the concert hall. When we got out of the limousine, hordes of girls began screaming. Eugene signed some autographs and then we were herded into his dressing room. We had champaign, caviar, cheeses, fruit. And then we were taken to the first box in the balcony to look down on the stage. Before he began playing he blew his wife a kiss, and people rose from their seats to look up at us, she looked around and smiled and then the concert began.
I had never been a fan of classical music. I grew up with jazz. Oh I'd certainly heard plenty of classical music. My dad's mother loved it. But not until high school had I gone to concerts or listened to classical music of my own accord, until I heard Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead did I find something other than Jazz that really moved me. Then I discovered Stravinski's Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. And then Vivaldi, and so it went. Yet still, I did not like Beethoven, or Motzart, or Wagner, especially not Wagner. Then later found Bach and that was the sweet spot, classically speaking.
After the concert in an unnamed city in Missouri, there was a reception. As we walked into the room, a wave of applause swept over us, Eugene's wife grabbed me by the hand, asked me to come with her, approached the nearest matron in a flowered dress, and asked her where the ladies room was, all the while tightly clutching my hand to her ample bosom. She dragged me to the crowded ladies and then, just inside the door to the packed room, put a hand to either side of my face and pulled mine to hers and planted a juicy kiss on my startled lips. And the room went silent for just a moment as most of the waiting women held their breath. Then my hugely pregnant friend spoke in her rich musical contralto and asked to cut in line, as her husband was waiting for her, and because she was so very preggers, she needed to pee so very badly. And we walked into the first available stall together, since she still held my hand. Once inside, she opened her little evening bag and pulled a tiny silver vial out, unscrewed the lid, dipped in her little finger and scooped out a nail full of coke. She snorted rather noisily, then giggled and kissed me again. She had me backed against the wall, leaning into me slightly as she bent back and scooped another nail full. She whispered, don't breathe or you'll blow it all around. Then she snorted another. She said, close your eyes and hold your breath. I did. She said, "breathe" and I sucked air in through my nose along with a powerful hit of coke. And again. Then she pulled a joint from her purse and hiked her skirt and sat on the toilet. I whispered, "Do you think this is wise in here?" Never mind, "You're pregnant, aren't you?" She lit it, and we giggled through a joint while the ladies room emptied.
That is my last memory of them other than a birth announcement and a couple of letters. His career was in full swing, and she was hanging around with the guys in Divo and going to all the hot clubs and parites. I heard she was studying Opera Singning. Then silence.
Here is the final item mentioned in the "events" section of Fodor's website, an interview/performance segment from NBC's Today Show from 1999: