In Praise of Joan

In praise of Joan
“I met Joan and Vlado for the first time in Dartington in 1968 and then studied with him in 1972/73 commuting to Paris whenever I received a postcard from him written in his turquoise ink . If it was a Saturday I sometimes had to wait while the Rugby match finished !
In 1984, two years after the opening of our theatre in Rome with my wife Ileana Ghione, I approached Basil Douglas with the idea of persuading Vlado to make his debut in Italy. He came in December 1984 and made his debut at the age of 81. The French Ambassador sent a note saying he had a prior engagement a letter that Vlado tore up once he had asked me if I thought he could not be of use to the theatre in the future ! Always the perfect gentleman.
He came one year that was the anniversary of Ravel’s birth and the TV wanted to record part of the concert and make an interview. Vlado refused but we had the crew hidden out of sight in the balcony,with Joan’s connivance too, and he was on the news that night.
When he realised it would be useful for the theatre he agreed to the interview as well.
Immediately after his Rome debut Filippo Juvarra called from Padua to ask if Vlado would come and play for them in the Sala dei Giganti. He did not know that this leggendary figure was still playing.
We shared Vlado for the next 9 years and he played every year for us in Rome giving masterclasses too .
He was invited to play afterwards in many cities notably Florence where Jane Camilloni lives and whose parents lived in Florence – Joan’s God daughter who she used to take to boarding school in England.
Jane’s aunts were living in Ewelme at the time -Jelly D’Aranyi and Adila Fackiri .
Jane’s parents came to hear his Florentine debut .
Jane played too in Vlado’s masterclasses in Rome ….he was very impressed .
There was an angry crowd in the interval that could not understand why this great pianist had not played in Florence before.
No one had thought of asking him until Claudio Arrau at 84 cancelled and they needed someone to open their season. They called me up and I took him to Florence always with Joan of course.
He played in Milan,Venice too.
In Venice my wife ,who was a well known actress was allowed to jump the queue with Vlado to visit S Marks Tower whilst Joan and Filippo looked on bemused.

Filippo Juvarra Vlado Perlemuter Joan Booth Ileana Ghione
P.S. I have known Joan and Vlado since 1968 as a student in Dartington but could only consider them as close friends from their first visit to us in Italy in 1984 .
Joan loved to recall the time in 1972 when Vlado was giving classes at the Royal Academy and I was playing to him  Beethoven’s op .111 and exclaiming how come there were not more people for one of the greatest musicians of our time. He was demonstrating the most difficult of  the Chopin Preludes …n 16 in B flat minor when the lights went out ……… It was the time of Heath and strikes etc …………….Vlado continued playing to the end in pitch darkness …it has passed into history at the RAM
We had often visited them in Ewelme and Markham Square and of course loved having them both with us in Rome.
Joan often used to say that he came for us ….He adored my wife Ileana .
We visited Vlado in Paris a month before he died .Joan who commuted regularly into her late 80’s on Eurostar was not there on that occasion as Mmlle Schmidt was very much in charge .
Vlado did not recognise us on this last occasion but he loved my caressing his hand and we loved being with him .
Mlle Schmidt was very kind to us all. She was an ex student of his and became his carer. It must have been difficult for Joan and Vlado with their very discreet relationship mostly afar from Paris.
When we arrived back in Italy we were listening to the Italian Radio 3   and heard someone playing Chopin.
“This is Vlado Perlemuter who passed away today”
My wife,Ileana Ghione, passed away too in 2005 playing Hecuba on stage in our theatre ……..” an eye for an eye ……when will it ever finish” she was struck down by an aneurism and died on the operating table that night.
Since then Joan has been an absolute rock .
No rhetoric ,as my wife had asked me just before her all night operation,but warmth,intelligence and always there .
Many memorable evenings in Markham Square on my monthly visits to London.
She would provide the simplest most wonderful meals …Baked potato,Baked apple and Steak cooked on the red hot slab which she tested for its heat in the only way possible!
When she could no longer cook easily I would take pot luck from Marks and Spencer’s just at the end of the Square or a Roast chicken when in Ewelme .
One visit I had just arrived from Italy and took my nephew’s Jaguar around to Joan’s with the usual Marks and Spencer fare .
Included a bottle of red wine too in the deal …….Joan was not a great drinker and maybe had a glass.The rest of the bottle seemed to disappear though .
Driving back I was flashed at by the police who suggested I was driving erratically ……….I was of course driving on the opposite side from Italy and in a car much bigger than mine in Italy so I was ultra careful.
Asking if I had been drinking I explained I was having an M&S dinner for two with my dear 100 year old friend ………….one of the pleasant young policemen said that he was recently married and often took advantage of the same deal.
We were near my house in Kew and I suggested we go back there whilst we waited for the breathaliser to arrive.They were quite happy to wait by the car and were obviously sizing me up.They explained about the test and that if it was over 30  what the eventual consequences would be .
Blowing into the thing we waited with baited breath to see the result …………..15 !!!!!!
They offered to drive me back home with apologies all round and I considered sueing M&S for selling me coloured water !!!!
As she got older I realised she was missing music in the house and I took along many young pianists to give private recitals on Vlado’s piano ………… Ewelme too ………Alexander Ullman,winner of the Liszt International Competitions in Budapest and Utrecht,Vitaly Pisarenko winner of the Leeds Competition,Mark Viner,winner of Alkan Competition in Athens,Evgeny Genchev ,Marcos Madrigal ……..Pablo Rossi who I took down to Ewelme one evening bringing supper with the music too.
Mark Viner,the last to play, came over about eight months ago when it seemed that Joan was on her way out.
The family had be reunited and she began giving away her books and pictures to dear friends and family.
I was not convinced that we should give up so easily and Mark came over to play ….it was just what she needed together with the three pints of blood provided at the local hospital ….and our Joan was back with us for a while longer .
She even asked for her books and pictures back to enjoy until the end was in fact nigh.
I was with Joan all day Saturday 2 December,fire ablaze as always ………..I hope she knew that I was there with the red scarf that she had given me for my birthday just a month or so ago.
Fond memories of the Birthday cake that she had ordered from Martin- the Viking’s wife Nitta……………………I told her I was looking forward to seeing the curtains that Nitta was making with Eileen,her sister’s design .We had a lovely evening together admiring the curtains and talking just a week before she died.. ………….I told her I had booked a flight to spend Christmas with her ……to give her something to look forward to …… too of course,nothing could have been nicer.She was wonderful company right to the end .
She passed away the same day as my wife (12 years previously) in the light of the Super Moon and I like to think that Ileana opened her arms to light the way for my dearest friend.
“Underneath the spreading chestnut tree little old Hitler said to me:if you want to get your gas mask free join the blinking ARP.(air raid protection corp).”
Amazing recollection from a 104 year old .
How could you ever forget it she comments
Here is a recent page from her diary that she kept every day of her long life
A beautiful day to say Goodbye ………18th December 2017 Ewelme

The last photos of Vlado Perlemuter taken in Rue Ampere Paris 26th August 2002 just a few weeks before his death on the 4th September that was announced on the Italian radio on the return of my wife Ileana Ghione and I to our holiday home in Sabaudia.On the train from London to Paris I had noticed a man looking like the Abbé Liszt studying a music score .Just as we arrived in Paris I remembered his name having seen him often on Antenne 2 French Television.I thanked Ivry Gitlis for all the wonderful performances we had enjoyed.I explained that we had a theatre in Rome and were on our way to see Vlado .He was thrilled to meet us and immediately invited us back to his house !

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