While I like to think I can pick many guitarists by their sound I wonder how much of this is the fact that when they solo they are making it all up. Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic tells this incredible story in The Art of Possibilty.
*The legendary Kolisch Quartet had the singular distinction of playing its entire repertoire from memory, including the impossibly complex modern works of Schoenberg, Webern, Bartok, and Berg. Eugene Lehner was the violist for the quartet in the 1930s. Lehner’s stories about their remarkable performances often included a hair-raising moment when one player or another had a memory slip. Although he relished the rapport that developed between them without the encumbrance of a music stand, he admits there was hardly a concert in which some mistake did not mar the performance. The alertness, presence, and attention required of the players in every performance is hard to fathom, but in one concert an event occurred that surpassed their ordinary brinkmanship.
In the middle of the slow movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 95, just before his big solo, Lehner suddenly had an inexplicable memory lapse, in a place where his memory had never failed him before. He literally blacked out. But the audience heard Opus 95 as it was meant to be played, the viola solo sounding in all its richness. Even the first violinist, Rudolph Kolisch, and cellist, Bennar Heifetz, both with their eyes closed and deeply absorbed in the music, were unaware that Lehner had dropped out. The second violinist, Felix Khuner, was playing Lehner’s melody, coming in without missing a beat at the viola’s designated entrance, the notes perfectly in tune and voiced like a viola on an instrument tuned a fifth higher. Lehner was stunned, and offstage after the performance asked Khuner how he could have possibly known to play. Khuner answered with a shrug: “I could see that your third finger was poised over the wrong string, so I knew you must have forgotten what came next.”*