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Recording by Stefanie Gardner, clarinet, Derek Stein, cello, and Gail Novak, piano
Commissioner: Arizona Wind Symphony
Mar.18, 2013 at Memorial Service of Dr. Norman Letvin, Harvard University
Amy Advocat, clarinet; Anne Black, viola; Laurence Berman, piano
Instrumentation: Clarinet, String Instrument (Violin, Viola, or Cello), and Piano
“Visionary” is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Norman Letvin, a world leader in basic immunology research. He was a dedicated medical investigator, an influential mentor and advisor, and a trusted colleague. Norm took great pleasure in his family, his medical research, and his music. A clarinet prodigy, he grew up in Detroit, Michigan, attended Cass Tech High School, performed at Interlochen, Michigan, and he was offered positions at top Conservatories and Departments of Music. He chose instead to attend Harvard College. He was a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and continued with the Leonard B. Smith Concert Band of Detroit. His accomplishments in the medical field were exemplary, making leading discoveries about the HIV/AIDS virus and its possible vaccination. Norm was widely published, and he was known for clarity of vision in science. He worked at an extraordinary pace. He was awarded the William Silen Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award from Harvard Medical College, where he trained students and postdoctoral fellows with great care and devotion.
Norm was also a devoted husband and father of four children. Great live music was always to be heard in their home, from clarinet, piano, violin, viola and cello. He often performed chamber music for the scientists at major conferences, and he loved to play both classical and Klezmer music at family gatherings. His brother recalled that Norm was “in an earthly heaven” when performing the slow movement of the Mozart quintet at a daughter’s bat mitzvah, with his children and a niece playing strings . At his eldest daughter’s wedding, he “roared with laughter” as a group of his family and friends elevated him on a chair, typical in Jewish celebrations; he played klezmer clarinet late into that night. Friends and family described him as having danced when he played clarinet: the “powers of the clarinet were not enough to allow full expression of what he was trying to free from the printed page.” Norm was energetic, compassionate, generous, artistic and courageous. His courage was most remarkable the last few years, during his illness, as he optimistically declared that “every day now is a gift.”
I was honored to write a piece for this remarkable man. I thank his college roommate and his family for bringing me the commission. Inspired by his life and legend, I came up with the title “Visionary.” What impressed me the most was his marvelous role model in achieving balance of work and family. Three notable aspects of his life—family, medical research, and music—became the main ideas on which the piece is based. Norm’s “frenetic pace of life, tempered with kindly sarcasm and laughter” inspired the driving energy behind the main theme. A dance-like section, with a hint of Klezmer style, comes alive in the middle of the piece, surrounded by lyrical sections representing his love—for his family, and for his music.