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Don't be put off by the strained and cutesy first chapter here. Once concert pianist Graffman clears his throat and makes his coy apologies, he moves on to reminiscences, anecdotes, and musings which--though often too longwinded--are frequently diverting. As usual in such memoirs, the best stuff comes first--especially so in Graffman's case, because his Russian-Jewish ÉmigrÉ parents (papa was a violinist who studied alongside Heifetz) had such a colorful time getting to America at the end of World War I. (Graffman's exuberant, highly haimish mother is quoted at length.) And Graffman's own early years as a carefully nurtured student and contest-winner in Manhattan and at Curtis--""my father was dead set against turning me into a child performer""--are alive with the vivid, outsized personaLities of the music world: JosÉ Iturbi offered an early opinion (""Kill his teacher! Kill his teacher!""); ferocious teacher Madame Vengerova assaulted the rebellious young Gary with phone-calls; friends like Eugene Istomin would make constructive comments (""You played like a pig""). And though interest wanes a bit when Graffman's career gets fully underway--one of many ""OYAPs"" (Outstanding Young American Pianists) on the tour circuit, at Marlboro, at lessons with Horowitz, bigtime concerts--there's a fair measure of wry charm as he chats about record producers, booking agents, competitions, the perils of touring (Australia, Russia, Latin America), his fanatical expertise with plane schedules, George Szell's ""Annual Fit,"" or the luscious piano room in the Steinway basement. . . where synthetic keys once appeared on Graffman's favorite (""Plastic! Plastic on 199! You put. . . plastic. . . on my piano!""). True, many of the tour anecdotes go on much too long, there's little illumination of the music itself, and--aside from some references to a wife and an interest in Oriental art--there's no real sense of a personal life. But classical-music fans will find this sprightly and sporadically amusing--certainly less pompous than the self-portraits by many of Graffman's colleagues.

Pub Date: March 13th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday