Growing Up With Tristan

by Lesly Livengood

In the early post-World War II years, our family usually consisted of Dad, Mom, my brother, Chris, and myself, the firstborn. It was a fairly normal, middle-class childhood, in which my brother and I constantly got into it, got over it (with or without intercession from our parents), and got into it again. I'm sure you know what I mean.

I say “usually consisted” because, at times, based solely upon the whimsy of the Met's schedule, others wafted in like so many wisps of incoming fog, and that's when Chris and I intuitively knew to shape up and step lightly. We may not have been the brightest bulbs in the pack, as they say, but we knew. Let me explain.

Richard Nass ("Dad"), and Lesly

Richard Nass ("Dad"), and Lesly

Daddy was the English horn player in the MET Orchestra for over 40 years, passing away a year ago this past April. Absolutely none of our peers in school or on the playgrounds of suburban New Jersey had a father whose occupation was in any way similar to our Dad's. Reactions ranged from “Cool!” to “What's an English horn?” (Actually, they still do. But I digress.) Some of Chris' and my most treasured memories include watching Daddy make his reeds, laughing at the family's dogs' reactions to the inevitable squawking as he honed, shaped, scraped, and yes, cursed. And it had to be French cane. I still have a couple of examples of his work, thanks to Chris. During the season we had to sit down to supper at 5:00 each evening - sharp - because, as a wind player, Dad could not get up from a meal and go play a performance without having had time for the meal to settle. That was a non-negotiable rule.

This year, the Met season opened with Tristan und Isolde. It was a poignant reminder that he was gone, but it also made me reflect - with smiles - of how Dad, even the pro he was, would get very serious and, yes, nervous before that big English horn solo. You see, he was an artist, and he cared. A lot. The Met is fortunate to have many such artists and I was proud he was among them.  Most of the time he played from off stage, but in one production he had to play while walking along a parapet on stage!

I am, of course, partial, but I do so love the beautiful, forlorn sound of the English horn. Daddy loved it, too, with a dedication that others recognized as well. He so often would say how lucky he was to have found a calling that he so truly loved, with people he loved, in a place he loved and was so proud to be a part of. I loved him dearly, still do, miss him, and I'll let you in on a little secret: Tristan and Isolde will always be welcome in my home and in my heart.