Bach may have been the master of contrapuntal harmonies, but he had nothing on one of his leading contemporary interpreters, pianist Lorin Hollander. As the E Minor Partita soars from the Steinway in Hollander’s oceanfront Maine spread, his wife, Cali—in perfect dissonance—hums a Dolly Parton ditty or a TV jingle, or, more likely these days, harangues a state legislator on the phone about the unacceptable risk of nuclear power.
Yet for all their clanging tastes, Lorin genuinely believes that his career might well have peaked at 4 (when he performed Bach for his kindergarten classmates) or certainly at 11 (his Carnegie Hall debut) were it not for his green-eyed, tin-eared lady. The New York-born “Young Horowitz,” as Lorin was once intimidatingly dubbed, concedes: “There are terrible periods in the transition from adolescence when all the emotional and sexual changes you go through, all the pain and fear, show in your playing. Without Cali’s understanding of people—that’s where her greatness lies—I don’t think I’d have seen the light or found the sense of peace with which I now work.”
Cali, who like her husband is 32, credits Lorin for helping her through her own premature midlife crises. She used to put herself down as just a “spoiled Jewish princess” from Brooklyn or a “genius groupie.” One friend close to both since their first liaison recounts: “In the early years, musicians and writers would gather in their apartment every night. Cali mostly stayed in the kitchen. No one knew her well—she was just the girl Lorin lived with.” “I was painfully shy,” Cali admits. Then two years ago she began to emerge, setting up an activist group called Safe Power for Maine. Its purpose is to stop the construction of a nuclear plant two miles from the Hollanders’ home near Stockton Springs. “In the early days when I toured with Lorin, I couldn’t meet the public,” she recalls. “All I could think about was how not to embarrass him. Now I’m president of Safe Power, not just Lorin’s wife, and I’m happier.” Lorin agrees: “To see her excited, her intelligence being used, has enriched all our lives.”
They met at a concert. “Probably my first,” laughs Cali, who was in rebellion from “too many years of piano lessons. I was living at home, and remarkably pure,” she laughs. “I went to hear Lorin ’cause my mother insisted. I was ready to sneak out to meet my boyfriend but she made me go to a reception because she knew friends of the Hollanders. I remember Lorin’s playing tore my heart out. He called for a date, but he was going through his Hollywood phase then. I was going into my hippie phase. My mother was thrilled—I’d finally met a nice Jewish boy.” Hollander’s showbiz period (among his playmates: Minnelli, Hamlisch, Uggams) soon ended, as did her mom’s exultation when he invited Cali on a European tour. “My mother said not without a diamond ring on your finger,” reports Cali, who paid no attention. “Mother and I are better friends now that I’m married,” she giggles. That happened two years later in 1968, at which point Cali gave up her graduate studies and part-time teaching of emotionally disturbed children.
Lorin’s background was more Bohemian. He was the son of violinist Max Hollander, longtime assistant concert-master under Toscanini. At 14, he filled in with one day’s notice for an ailing Van Cliburn in San Antonio and was carried out of the hall on the shoulders of the exuberant crowd. “They’re crazy, those Texans,” he smiles today. Hollander’s woman hauled him the rest of the way. “It was Cali,” says Lorin, “who really taught me about living. I thought life was work: she thought it was fun and laughter. Until I encountered Call’s emotional honesty I had not really discovered what music was all about—or I had forgotten from childhood.”
One of the pioneering contributions of the reborn Hollander was to start an annual series of performances in ghetto streets, schools for the blind and prisons. “I decided to get rid of the tails, of the stiffness of the concert hall,” he says. “Concerts have always been too humorless, too antihuman.” He usually warms up such gigs with a short rap about stage fright, drugs, racism. “I tell kids Bach was a guy with 20 children who screwed a lot, that Brahms was a messed-up kid of 23 in love with a woman 19 years older when he wrote the D Minor Concerto. We’ve got to get away from the uptight classicism: that’s not what music is or ever was.”
Six years ago the Hollanders left Greenwich Village for Maine. They helped clear the land and built their expensive split-level hewn-wood home. (Neighbors admittedly find it a bit unnerving to see Lorin’s $4,500-a-concert hands operating a chain saw.) Cali had their two boys 15 months apart. “If we don’t do things impetuously, we don’t do them,” she notes.
Lorin now often finds himself babysitting while Cali campaigns against atomic power. Symbolically, not long ago she shed the name she’d “hated for 30 years” for one that sounded right. Margo became Cali. “I look at myself differently now,” she says firmly, “except people all across the country think Lorin has remarried.”
Although Hollander has booked some 95 concerts worldwide this year, they have a house rule against separations of more than three weeks. “She’ll fly to Singapore with the kids for a week,” beams Lorin. “I couldn’t continue to tour without that.” Social evenings are shared with Safe Power soulmates from the area. When her 5-year-old asked if she were going to run for office, Cali answered, “No. I like working outside the Establishment.” Her other interests include pottery and photography. “Lorin divides himself between the piano, reading and the kids,” she says.
He practices four to six hours a day, sometimes starting at 3 a.m. Lessons are not forced on the boys. “I try to make it something joyful for them,” explains Lorin. “They see the compulsion and inexorable importance of it in my life. That’s enough.” Hollander realizes that his own existence was special—he never had a true vacation until Cali dragged him off at 24 on a delayed honeymoon to Africa. “But I don’t think I missed anything,” muses Lorin. “After all, how can playing Mozart compare with playing miniature golf?”