The Chaperone of Death

I played ten concerts in Carnegie Recital Hall between 1970 and 1978: eight trio concerts and two recitals. Ever present backstage before all of these concerts, and all the other concerts held at Carnegie Recital Hall was Roger Villanova. If anybody looked like an undertaker, it was Roger. He had even features, a pallid complexion, and short, curly, blond-white hair. It was his job to let everybody know that it was time to play, and he would open the stage left door and send us out to face the critics from the New York Times. Since he looked so much like an undertaker, I teased him, calling him “The Chaperone of Death” before making my entrance, to which he would respond, “Get out there and play.” For whatever reason, I always had a warm, affectionate feeling toward Roger. That may have had to do with the fact that I usually got good reviews in the New York Times. Roger undoubtedly heard many concerts, so I was surprised and delighted when showed up in the audience of a concert I gave in 1980 in a church. I took it as a high compliment that on his day off Roger would come to hear one of my concerts.

In 1987 I gave a two-concert series of all the works for cello and piano by Beethoven. When I got backstage to play the first concert, I immediately asked, “Where’s Roger?” The stage manager told me that he wasn’t there that night. After I finished playing the concert he told me that Roger had died. He said that he didn’t want to upset me before the concert. I played five more concerts in Carnegie Recital Hall, and I always missed Roger backstage. It just never seemed the same.

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