Diocesan News

Grossman Family, Father Vassalotti, Bring Classical Back to Brooklyn

The classical music performance at Divine Mercy Parish on Oct. 24 in Williamsburg featured acclaimed violinist Eric Grossman, wife Lida, their four children, and others, including the pastor, Father Thomas Vassalotti. They are (foreground from left) Lida, daughter Vera, and son Sasha; (background from left) son Misha, Eric Grossman, Eric’s sister Colette Abel, daughter Cecilia, Father Thomas Vassalotti, and Colette’s daughter Clara Abel.  (Photos: Bill Miller)

WILLIAMSBURG — Sasha Grossman, 12, wore a Spiderman t-shirt, sweat pants, and heavy work boots as he sat down at a baby grand Steinway piano and played Mozart with one hand.

The piece was “Twelve Variations on the Theme,” the melody used for several other songs, including the lullaby, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Sasha Grossman and his father, Eric, rehearse.

Also playing was his father, acclaimed violinist Eric Grossman, the curator of the stringed instrument collection at the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan.

But this was just a rehearsal for the Saturday evening concert following Mass on Oct. 24, at St. Francis of Paola Church, one of the three churches of the Divine Mercy Parish of Williamsburg.

The entire Grossman family performed with Father Thomas Vassalotti, Divine Mercy’s pastor, joining in on double bass.

The performance was an opportunity for the family to perform publicly since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of live musical performances in New York City and beyond. The event also was a reunion for Eric Grossman and Father Vassalotti — they attended the Juilliard School together in the 1980s.

Eric Grossman said he was excited to rekindle his friendship with Father Vassalotti. The priest scheduled concerts at the church as often as possible before the pandemic. He pastors three communities of the Divine Mercy Parish: St. Cecilia (patron saint of musicians), St. Nicholas, and St. Francis of Paola.

“He’s doing such a great job and bringing music to his parishes,” Eric said. “It’s something we love dearly — sharing music with other people who certainly missed the opportunity of hearing live music.

“It has all come together beautifully.”

For this performance, Sasha swapped the Spiderman top for a crisp white dress shirt and black bow tie. His family also wore formal attire. The audience members wore face masks and sat in spaced pews in adherence to pandemic safety protocols.

The Grossmans played selections from Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Vivaldi, and Rachmaninoff.

Eric Grossman and one of his sons, Misha, rehearse for the classical music performance.

Eric’s wife, Lida, played piano and sang, son Misha, 16, was on the violin, daughter Cecilia, 18, played cello, and 14-year-old daughter Vera also sang. Cecilia, named for the patron saint of musicians, is a freshman at Hunter College.

Also performing was Eric’s sister, Colette Abel, on viola, and her daughter, cellist Clara Abel, a recent Juilliard graduate. 

Lida, who grew up in Cuba, was born in Russia. Her father, the Cuban composer Jorge López Marín, was there to study at the Moscow Conservatory. He composed two pieces performed by the family Saturday — “En viaje” and “Noche de tango.”

Sasha played his first recital at the church a few weeks before the performance. On Saturday, he also sang opera and served as master of ceremonies. He said performing works written by his grandfather was “pretty cool.”

“It’s great performing a piece someone wrote for you,” said Sasha, who attends the Special Music School in Manhattan. “I feel fortunate because a lot of kids don’t get exposed to great music, but we did because we’re in a musical family.”

Lida described how, before the pandemic, each of her children kept a dizzying schedule of rehearsals, recitals, and performances. All that changed in March, and the Grossmans, like other families, found themselves sheltering in place to avoid the coronavirus.

They played plenty of board games, Lida said. Still, the lockdown also was a very enriching time of making music together.

“Normally, we’re spread out all over, and all of a sudden, we were all together,” Lida said. “So it was nice in that sense.”

Father Thomas Vassalotti contributes his skills on double bass to the classical music performance featuring the Grossman family.

Eric said the family takes every precaution to avoid COVID-19.

“We’re absolutely aware of how dangerous it is,” he said. “We don’t take chances. When Father Tom asked us to perform here, he informed us that all the precautions were being taken.

“So we feel this is the beginning of getting back to normal, little by little, to what I guess is now the new normal.”

Lida said the family is eager to perform again at St. Francis of Paola.

 “We think this venue has such great acoustics,” she said, “and it was a treat to have Father Tom join us. He is a fabulous musician.”

Father Vassalotti said live performances help people feel human again after months of COVID isolation. The Grossman family brought that opportunity to Williamsburg on Saturday.

“During this time of the pandemic, I thought people would appreciate it,” he said.

The audience, about 40 people, including a few children, showed their appreciation with hearty applause, standing ovations, and a few bravos. Some brought flowers for the family.

Father Vassalotti called the performance “humanizing.”

“That’s because you’re connected with what it means to be human — sharing,” he said. “And sharing music.”

He added, “We should never lose touch with what’s true and inspiring — that human impulse to make music and to see it in children. It’s a wonderful experience.”