Saturday, March 31, 2018

Who is Saul Chandler?

The New York Times has a strange and compelling story today, “Redemption of a Lost Prodigy,” by Alex Vadukul, about Saul Chandler, a seventy-year-old boat builder who, as Saul Robert Lipshutz, was once a violin prodigy. Both Elaine and I are skeptical about this story. There is indeed a Saul Robert Chandler with addresses in Manhattan and Miami Beach: that makes sense for someone devoted to boats and sailing. And the Times ran a wedding announcement in 1975 with a Saul Robert Chandler who changed his name from Lipshutz. Mr. Chandler née Lipshutz is real.

Elaine’s skepticism is founded on her knowledge of all things musical. She finds details in the account of SRL’s studies improbable. And she finds utterly implausible the dramatic scene in which SC opens his violin case and plays his instrument for the first time in fifty years. Fifty years! The violin’s strings would have unraveled, she says, and the sound post would likely have fallen.

My skepticism is founded on the absence of any record of SRL as prodigy. Vadukul writes that SRL performed in Town Hall and Carnegie Hall before turning eleven, yet the Times archive has no evidence of these performances or of any others. And back then, the Times reviewed everything: in 1956, for instance, performances by the twelve- and then thirteen-year-old violinist Paul Zukofsky at the Juilliard School and Carnegie Hall received lengthy reviews — with photographs, no less. But nothing for SRL.

The Times article includes a photograph of SRL credited to the Paterson Evening News Photo Collection, via the Passaic County Historical Society. The finding aid for that collection lists a candid April 15, 1960 photograph of Saul Lipschutz. But there’s nothing in the Times with that name either.

I did find one bit of evidence for a performing career, an announcement in the Madison News, a New Jersey paper, preserved at

[“Friends of Fairleigh Dickinson Chamber Ensemble will present Bach’s Brandenberg [sic] Concerto No. Five with Saul Lipschutz, New Providence high school student, as violin soloist.” March 28, 1963.]

So there’s every reason to think that SRL played the violin. But we’re a long way from Carnegie Hall. There’s nothing more at that would document the career of a prodigy: nothing for Saul or Saul Robert or Saul R., nothing for Lipshutz or Lipschutz. And though the Times article quotes musicians who remember SRL and speak highly of his playing, none of them describe him as a prodigy.

I don’t know what to make of the Times article. But I’ve begun to wonder about a March 29 tweet by the writer: “Story tease. For Sunday NYT, a story I spent some months on. At times, I felt like I found my Joe Gould.”

Alex Vadukul has to know that Joe Gould was a master fabulist, doesn’t he?


April 1: Elaine has shared her thoughts about this article: What to believe? And I’ve written to the Times.


February 28, 2022: For whatever it’s worth, the Times Archive now returns an article that mentions Saul Robert Lipschutz at Carnegie Hall. From May 10, 1959, ”League Winners Heard in Concert; Two Programs Presented by Music Education Group at Carnegie Recital Hall.” Lipschutz was one of forty-one young musicians divided across two group recitals presented by the Music Education League.

[The New York Times, May 10, 1959.]

Why update? This post, now four years old, still gets visits. And if participation in a group recital is what it means to play Carnegie Hall, the gist of the Times story is still in doubt.

comments: 10

Anonymous said...

The story is dated April 1.

Michael Leddy said...

The online story is dated March 30. The information about the print version at the end of the online story says March 31. I thought about the possibility of a prank, but I can’t imagine the Times pranking its readers in this way, especially not in the era of fake news (or “fake news”). Consider the deeply felt comments on the article. If the article is the paper’s prank, it’s a matter of really bad faith with readers.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for my skepticism. The article had a Sidd Finch feel about it and the coincidence of its publication in the hard copy on April 1 made my antennae perk up.

Michael Leddy said...

No need to apologize — I’m skeptical too, and hoping to hear something from the Times. If there is evidence of Chandler’s career, I’d like to know about it.

Michael Leddy said...

For anyone wanting to read or reread the story of Sidd Finch, it’s here: “The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch.”

Anonymous said...

I knew Saul at the Curtis Institute in 1964. He was a good guy, and good violinist. But I feel that much of the article is exaggerated and unlikely. For example, if he had been an outstanding prodigy Perlman would surely have remembered him. I remember him as just being one of the group of violinists who were admitted to Curtis that year, but not as standing out from that group as a unique, fabulous player. I also knew his uncle Seymour Lipshutz, a well known mathematician in probability theory. If he is still alive, perhaps he could shed some light on the accuracy of the story.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for sharing what you recall, Anon. As you may know, some readers of the article have advanced the idea that Perlman is being snobbish in professing not to remember a mere commoner. I think Perlman’s response is a tactful way to avoid challenging Mr. Chandler’s claims to greatness. I’m still hoping that the Times will say something about this article.

Michael Leddy said...

For whatever it’s worth, the programs for 1963–1966 recitals at Curtis show no trace of a Lipschutz or Lipshutz. If SLR was at Curtis briefly, that might explain the absence.

Anonymous said...

Saul was at Curtis for only a brief period in 1964. As I remember, he left after a few months. That would explain why he is not listed in any school programs, because first year students never performed on school recitals, at least at that time.

My impression is that his adult, post-student life may be depicted accurately, but to write that he was on track for a solo career before burning out is a gross exaggeration. In my life as a professional musician I have met many amateurs with such claims. There are tens of thousands of people out there who studied music, planned or counted on a career, then drifted into another profession for one reason or another. Their stories are full of early successes, the famous teachers they studied with, the well known artists whom they bested in early competitions.

I do not see Saul's story as a tragedy at all. He was obviously unsuited for music and ended up doing what he loved. I don't blame him for the article, but the journalist should be censured for stretching the truth in an effort to make interesting copy. Like the old saying, "not so much a lie, but a truth and a half."

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for your further thoughts, Anon. I hope that the Times sets things straight here, either by confirming the writer’s story (which I think is unlikely) or by acknowledging that this story was published without proper editorial oversight.