A Tribute to Isidor Saslav (1938-2013)
(Swans - February 11, 2013) In the early 1990s, Jan Baughman and I lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment in a 28-unit rental building located at 1010 Noel Drive in Menlo Park, California. The property was owned by the Sobrato family, perhaps the wealthiest independent real-estate family in California. Our rent was $850 a month. Sobrato, without notice, decided to increase the rent by 25%. I organized a renter rebellion against that slumlord, which we won. That's how I met David Saslav, Isidor's son, and his wife Melissa Smith. They too rented an apartment in the complex. David worked in the tech industry (he still does) to pay the rent and bring food to the table. But his principal interest and passion was music. He was and still is a composer, a singer (tenor), and a choir director. Melissa is an accomplished pianist and teaches music to kids in the Bay Area. We became friendly acquaintances.
Though we had won the rent battle, we knew that we would eventually lose the war to the powerful Sobrato family. The writing was on the wall. (I hear that the same little apartment is now rented for almost $3,000 a month, though it apparently was remodeled.) So we left the complex after buying a small house that required a lot of TLC, in the fall of 1993. We lost touch with David and Melissa. They too moved away and rented an apartment in San Francisco. I'm not sure how we rekindled. I suppose that it was after May 1996 when I created Swans, and David may have found me on the Web. Anyway, we rekindled.
Life went on. We rented an apartment in San Francisco, bought a house in Boonville in 2003, and sold the one in Menlo Park. We kept in touch with David and Melissa by e-mail.
Then, in March 2007, I received the first contribution from Isidor Saslav. It was, of course, about music -- "Concerts And An Opera In New York." Somehow, David must have told his father to take a look at our little publication. Isidor liked what he saw and thus began a 7-year relationship -- a relationship I treasured to the very last day of his life. I loved him. I respected him. I reverenced him.
He was such a generous man whose love for music was only matched by his love for his wife, Ann, his kids David and Lea, and all kids...and for everything about George Bernard Shaw. He also had an immense sense of humor.
I won't repeat here what has already been written in these pages or in obits posted on the Web. Isidor was born in 1938 in what was then Palestine, a British protectorate. According to Lea, Isidor's daughter, his parents had met there in 1935. Isidor's original name was Israel Saslavski. His father was from Russia, apparently, and his mother from Poland. Much violence was tearing apart that little land of Palestine, so Mr. Saslavski decided to return to Russia; Mrs. Saslavski would have nothing of it. Instead, she took her infant son and moved to Detroit, Michigan. She then Americanized her last name, shortening it to Saslav, and changed Israel's first name to Isidor (there is a funny story Isidor once told me about the change of his first name, but regrettably I don't remember it -- perhaps Lea or David will remind us one of these days).
Isidor attended public school and was a life-long defender of the US public school system. By age seven he was already a violin prodigy and played in an orchestra by age seventeen. Here again, no need to repeat what can be read in his bio. He became one of the youngest concertmasters (the second most important person in an orchestra) in the country. He and his wife Ann -- herself a talented pianist since childhood -- toured the world time and over, giving recitals to roaring audiences.
Over the years, I was a bit puzzled that Isidor would contribute his amazing culture to this little journal of no import that is Swans. He deserved to be published in the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times. But it dawned on me that maybe Isidor was a bit of a rebel himself, for whatever reason (the disappearance of his father, not to ever been seen again?). He had a passion -- devotion -- for George Bernard Shaw, the great artist and a rebel himself.
Isidor and Ann have assembled what may be the world's largest private collection of items related to GBS -- at least 8,000 items that they began collecting in 1960 and filled countless rooms in a building on their property. Take a virtual tour of the Isidor Saslav collection (with videos shot by his son, David). You'll see an older man who had been stricken by cancer but tamed the beast, in full possession of his mind, knowing exactly the content of his huge collection. An impressive feat.
I could share a lot more stories about Isidor Saslav but my heart is not into it. I hurt too much. A week before his death, he sent me an e-mail advising that he was working on a new piece about Berlioz. Then the horrible beast reared its ugly head again. It must have been a violent, lightning, stunning attack. He was gone within a week.
What impressed me most about Isidor Saslav was the love of music, the sound of music, the world of music he passed on to his children and countless others. I wrote above how David is a musical artist, and Melissa an accomplished pianist. Lea is a classically-trained pianist who was an active accompanist in many venues. (For the past decade, besides managing a successful marketing business in San Francisco, she's been offering classes in yoga, and specializing in Feng Shui and Rasa Yoga.) Talented human beings who were groomed by Isidor and Ann (never forget Ann).
Ann and Isidor performing
Ann and Isidor enjoying togetherness
In the final analysis, I think that what Isidor Saslav brought to us all, and the world, was love and kindness.
He is irreplaceable.
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