"Society doesn't know how to handle it if you do too many things," says Eugenia Zukerman, who is a flute virtuoso, the wife of superstar violinist Pinchas Zukerman, the mother of two young daughters and now a novelist.
"If you do more than two things and do them well," says Zukerman, "it's like taking too many goodies. People begin to think you're greedy."
If not greedy, 35-year-old Eugenia Zukerman has been very busy recently, balancing a concert career and the promotion of her new novel, "Deceptive Cadence." She was in Washington Monday, but barely unpacked before moving on to Boston. En route, she was planning a one-night stand in her 10-room apartment on Manhattan's Riverside Drive, where a Scottish nanny watches over her two daughters, both born between concert tours: Arianna, who is almost 8, and Natalia, 5. Last week she was in Chicago and San Francisco, and on her way to Washington she spent a couple of days playing concertos in Charlottesville, Va.
The two halves of this existence can be "mutually stimulating," she finds -- a discovery she made during the 3 1/2 years it took to write the novel during quiet moments between concert tours. "I scribbled chapters in planes, buses, backstage at intermissions, in airport transit lounges."
Musicians and writers, she says, are "two different kinds of personalities. The writer has to be a generalist, interested in everything, but as a writer he lives a smaller life, working all alone.
"A musician is highly specialized -- someone who does just one thing and wears blinders. But musicians, on the whole, seem to be happier people, because their art is communal. I think the two activities probably use different lobes of the brain. My relation with the flite is direct and sensuous, but also highly disciplined. My life has become very complicated, but it's easy for me to organize it because of the discipline I acquired, learning to master an instrument when I was young."
A musical career was not the first choice of Eugenia Rich, the daughter of Stanley P. Rich, who holds patents on scores of inventions and became a professor at MIT although he had only a bachelor's degree. "He believes there is no problem that cannot be solved," Zukerman says.
After growing up in Cambridge and West Hartford, Conn., she entered Barnard College. "My intention was to major in English and become a writer," she says. "I even wrote a novel when I was 20, but thank God I read it over later and threw it out." Halfway through her college career, she switched to the Juilliard School, majoring in flute, then met the brilliant young Israeli violinist who was four years younger than she, and married him in 1968. Three years later, she won a Young Concert Artists competition and attracted the attention of impresario Sol Hurok. The Zukermans were launched in musical careers that sometimes interlock but more often go in separate directions.
"I find I have a lot more energy now," she says, "than before I had children. I do about 40 concerts per year, and I space them so that I can run out and back. Usually, I'm not away from home for more than three or four days, but once a year I allow myself a 10-day absence. One year, Pinky and I decided that at least one of us had to be home with the children at all times, and the result was that we didn't see one another for a whole year. Now, we perform separately most of the time, but we play together six to 10 times each year.
Even when she is home, she is not exactly at home. She rents a studio near her apartment where she goes to work on her second novel or to practice the flute while her daughters are in school, dashing back home for their return at 3 p.m. It may sound driven, but she loves it and has similar goals for her children. "Pinky and I agree on this, that life is like chamber music and has to be played with the same kind of intense concentration. Our big daughter plays the piano. The little one has a violin that she polishes a lot, and maybe some day she will play it. I want my kids to be driven, obsessed by something. I don't care if they're good or bad at it, but they should be dedicated to something."
Like the hero of "Deceptive Cadence"?
The book deals with a pianist whom she considers neurotic. "I talked to a lot of pianists while I was researching the book," says Zukerman "They were very helpful. I wanted to get the feeling of the piano, which is a very different kind of instrument. Now, they all feel flattered -- they hope the book is really about them."
The book is really about Tibor Szabo, international superstar pianist who gets bouquets in every concert hall and a new woman in every hotel room until he vanishes mysteriously in early July, 1976, on the evening he is scheduled to give a recital in Berlin. It is also about the pressurized life of jet-set musicians, about what music does to those who play it and those who simply enjoy it, and about the psychological problems you can encounter in your early 30s if you were too busy making music to grow up in your teens.
With the help of her friends, it is also about the piano: A pianist is the most solitary of all musicians. A violinist, a cellist, a wind-player -- he generally makes music in combination with others, and what's more, he embraces his instrument, but a pianist most often plays alone, and he doesn't even hold his instrument; he strikes it, then moves away."
When she was writing the novel, Eugenia Zukerman warned her husband that the hero was a bit of a womanizer and that readers might think she was writing about him. "He loved the idea," she says. "He said, 'Terrific, let them think it's me.'
"Then, later on he read my first draft and he came back to me with a complaint: 'How come I didn't make it with Dolores in Chicago?'"
Zukerman's next novel, she says, will be very different. "The central character will be a woman, and instead of taking the whole world for a canvas I want it to be tightly focused and intimate -- the story of one close relatioinship between two people. If possible, I would like to have the whole story take place in one room in a single day.
"I have also written a lot of children's stories, and I may do something with them. I would like to write another book about music, but not yet. If I mention music in my next one, I will probably make a deliberate mistake. Perhaps I'll talk about people listening to a Bartok symphony.