JULY 1975 – The Moog Recording
In July 1975, Robert and Shirleigh Moog came to New York and recorded Clara and Nadia on 5-track audiotape — in straight takes, they recorded around 30 different compositions. In 1977 twelve of those performances were released as a 33 rpm LP on Delos Records titled “Clara Rockmore, Theremin – ‘premiere artiste’ of the electronic music medium, with Nadia Reisenberg, piano”. This was Clara’s first ever commercially available recording, and for many people worldwide, their first introduction to the theremin.
In 1986, Nadia’s two sons, Robert (my father) and Alexander, authored a commemorative book on Nadia’s life entitled “Nadia Reisenberg, A Musician’s Scrapbook”, that coincided with a number of exhibitions on Nadia’s life and work, produced by the family and the International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland (IPAM). Many wonderful photographs and details of Clara’s early life are presented in this book.
In 1987, Delos Records re-released Clara and Nadia’s 1977 LP as a CD entitled “The Art of the Theremin”. Although probably re-recorded from the LP and not re-mastered from the original tapes, this CD nonetheless brought Clara’s artistry to many new listeners, and created new interest in the theremin and Clara herself. Clara was thrilled to finally have her music publicly available on such a level, and her star began to rise again.
In 1989, IPAM records released a 2 CD set from prior recordings entitled “Nadia Reisenberg; An Album of Chamber Music”, which included 3 pieces from the Moog recording sessions of Clara and Nadia that were not included on the Delos recording (but would re-surface 17 years later on “Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Album”, along with 13 previously unreleased tracks, all beautifully re-mastered).
In January of 1989, Steven M. Martin, a filmmaker, met Clara for the first time. Trying to get Clara to perform the music for a film he wanted to make, she politely but firmly refused, telling him that she was retired from the stage. Steve continued to visit Clara and they struck up a friendship, but she continued to refuse his film idea. Clara told Steve her life story and the history of the instrument, and she played for him — he was mesmerized. He abandoned the original film idea he had approached Clara about in the first place, and declared his intent to make a film about Clara, Leon Theremin and the instrument they shared in common. Clara, whose life mission was the furtherance of the theremin, was flattered, but demurred nonetheless, saying that her instrument was no longer working properly. “What if I can get it fixed for you, will you then let me film you?” he asked.
That same year, in conjunction with Nadia’s chamber music CD release, our family began planning a tribute concert to Nadia Reisenberg to be held that September in NY’s Merkin Concert Hall. When Dad asked Clara to play, she again insisted that she was retired from the stage, but “for Nadia I would do anything”. Now she had a double incentive to get her instrument fixed, and Steve Martin arranged (and paid for) Clara’s friend and admirer Robert Moog to come up to NY. Bob Moog, along with Clara’s long time NY engineer Mike Jasen, rebuilt her theremin over the course of a weekend, bringing it into solid working condition. Clara was thrilled – as Bob Moog described it, when they finally got it working just right, Clara played “Summertime” and at its end, turned to them with tears in her eyes, and said “I thought I would never play this instrument again.”
Clara prepared with pianist Morey Ritt, a former student of Nadia’s and Professor of Piano and Music at Queens College. Clara was keenly aware that this would be her first public concert in many years, and her first since her beloved Nadia had died, and therefore she was all the more reluctant to be filmed, but Steve was very persuasive in a gentlemanly but honest and direct manner, and promised her that he would do a “good job”.
Steve Martin arranged to film during the rehearsal on the afternoon of September 28, 1989, in the hours prior to the concert. That morning, I remember helping my dad and Mike Jasen (Bob Moog was not able to return to NY for the concert) take the theremin and speaker apart, wrapping them in blankets, and taking them down to Dad’s car for the 10 block ride up to 67th St. with Clara worriedly watching our every move. Once on stage, set up and turned on, the instrument was erratic — Clara’s cries of “Where’s Mike?” caused us to hold our breath as Mike sweated to adjust the instrument to Clara’s satisfaction. Finally, it was ready; I picked up my cameras, which Clara was used to, and Steve’s crew of at least 6 people and 2 cameras jumped to life and moved in, which immediately made Clara nervous. Shooing away the cameramen and establishing a no-mans zone around her, she began playing (this scene opens Martin’s film). The sound was glorious, and she soon forgot about all the people on stage; when we saw that familiar “Clara trance” take hold, we all settled in for a brilliant and beautiful performance. Clara was playing for Nadia – there was not a dry eye in that hall, including her own.
That night’s concert, “Nadia Reisenberg, A Joyful Remembrance”, was an incredibly moving and gratifying experience. Hosted by my father, performers/speakers included Alexander (Sasha) Schneider, Artur Balsam, Richard Goode, Rudolf Firkusny, David Glazer, Earl Carlyss, Joel Krosnick, Ann Schein, Nadia’s child student Dalit Warshaw and her mom Ruti Warshaw), and of course, Clara with Morey Ritt. The music throughout was superb, the reminiscences warm and poignant, and Clara’s presence was spellbinding. It was to be her last public performance.
In the months following, Steve Martin began to work feverishly on the Theremin film, and naturally, spent a lot of time with Clara. With his cocky yet honest and straight shooting attitude, his quirky sense of humor, and his dark but visionary intellect, they grew very close and eventually Steve became a regular part of Clara’s life. In her final years, he was one of the few who had virtually unrestricted access to Clara – he was always there for her, willing to come out at any hour of the day or night for whatever she needed, and by the end, was perhaps her closest non-family friend and confidant.