A NOTE ABOUT MY FRIEND, ARKADY FOMIN
This is a long story, but if you read it, you will learn about someone who changed my life—and, many others.
Arkady Fomin took on the world with music. With his wife Sophie and young son Greg, he left a prestigious job as lead violinist of the Latvian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra and came to Dallas, where his brother Leon was already working as a pianist. Arkady won an audition in 1975 as a member of the Dallas Symphony’s first violin section. Three years later he started a string training program for young musicians at the University of Texas at Dallas and then at SMU. Later it became the New Conservatory of Dallas. Over the decades he molded hundreds, thousands of young people into professional musicians and lovers of musical culture. His students performed at the White House and in the USSR, Latvia, Czechoslovakia, Scotland, and many other venues. Some of his students are professional musicians in orchestras. Others are soloists, such as Vadim Gluzman, who is becoming one of the most prominent violinists in the world.
Arkady was also one of the most dynamic and active musicians from Dallas, performing with his Clavier Trio to sold-out houses at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in New York. He organized the Symphony of Toys concerts to raise toys for children at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas and exported it to Riga, Latvia, and New York, filling Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.
In 1988, Arkady said to me, “Let’s go to Russia.” I explained that I probably could not get a visa because I had been rejected years earlier for being a journalist. Don’t worry, he told me. We’ll come up with another occupation for you. After thinking about if for a while, he said, “Quisha, we’re going to call you a Cultural Programmer.” My new occupation worked. Soviet soldiers questioned the camera gear but let me in. Forty-four kids from the SMU Conservatory kicked down the Iron Curtain and won the hearts of other young people everywhere they went, in Moscow, Riga, and Leningrad. The forty-four were stars in the eyes of the young Russians. They exchanged addresses and gifts, and fell in love with each other. Those Russian kids grew up to be professional musicians and composers. Can you imagine how they view the United States today? It was no surprise to me that the USSR fell two years later.
I am sad about what did not continue. Arkady created the greatest music festival ever in this city. Every summer for about five weeks, every evening, there were performances by students from all over the world, Dallas Symphony members sitting in with the summer orchestra, and renowned artists like Pinchas Zukerman and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg working with students and performing. The festival is gone, but memory of those summers should inspire us to build new way of engaging people with music.
I grieve that we don’t have Arkady now. He was 68 and could have taught and performed for many additional years. But he has left big pieces of himself with us. Toward the end of his life I realized how he had sneaked into my life first in small bits, then year by year, becoming a larger and larger part of me. He was calculating in the most charming way, finding people who could help his mission, but he always gave us back much more than he took. I know I am one of hundreds—or more—whose lives are enriched today because of Arkady Fomin.
It was raining hard when Arkady’s family buried him yesterday. The canopies didn’t keep out the rain, and we were soaked. I recalled one of Arkady’s many sayings that I did not immediately understand. He said, “If you are wet, you can always get dry, but if you are dry you cannot always get wet.” It made sense yesterday. The rabbi pointed out in the Jewish tradition rain is a blessing. Sometimes blessings and sadness come at the same time.
Arkady was proud of his trio’s last concert at Carnegie, praised by Strad magazine in its lead review. At the end of his life, unable to perform, Arkady took out his prized Italian violin that he played in that last Carnegie concert. As he held it, you could sense the kind of sound he could make with it. I asked him if he ever went into his studio and played it a little. “No,” he said. “I want to go out on top.”
Over the years, I have documented Arkady’s kids in Dallas and overseas, so I’ve also had the opportunity to film Arkady. Here are some clips and photos put together for the service.