But she had only conceded the initial skirmish. The showdown would come later, in Victoria, British Columbia. In the spring of that first year together, McCabe took her new student to perform at a music festival on Orcas Island. During a poolside reception, 13- year-old David chatted with David Weatherford, a top Seattle interior designer, who explained he raised money for talented artists as a member of the King County Arts Commission.
The budding pianist had been wanting to go with McCabe to the Johanessen International School of the Arts in Victoria. McCabe and some of her former Juilliard colleagues and their promising students summer there. But the Wolff family, with four growing boys, couldn't afford it.
Soon the two Davids were discussing money, $2,500. "I said, I can't give you $2,500," Weatherford recalls, "but I can give you $250 and find nine other people who'll do the same.'' David Wolff had found his patron. Each spring since then Weatherford has arranged a private recital to raise funds for another summer at the Johanessen school.
That first summer In Victoria, David was 13, away from home and testing his limits with his piano teacher, unaware that the showdown was looming.
Within the first two weeks, McCabe told David to play for two other teachers at the school, and she specified the pieces. "But I had in mind what I wanted to play," David remembers, "and so I thought, well, I could play this piece or play this piece, no big deal." McCabe also instructed David to attend a faculty piano recital. He didn't.
"And then I went to my lesson and got my music out, and she said, 'You won't need your music today." McCabe asked what he had played for the other music instructors, and he admitted he had not played what she'd asked. She asked about the recital. I said, 'You know, I was going to go to the concert like you said, but then I thought I really needed to practice for my lesson today, so I ended up not going.'
"That's when ... I knew it wasn't going to be a good day for me," David says.
McCabe ordered David home for the summer. He staggered out. "I remember going in the field and thinking, 'Oh, I should never have started studying with this person.' " He thought of Weatherford and the donors who footed the bill for the summer.
"Oh no, I can't go home. Oh, that would be terrible."
The next day, contrite, he promised to follow McCabe's instructions. She agreed to give him one more chance. "If you mess up once, I'll drive you to the ferry docks," he remembers her warning.
Musicians often speak about the musical line, referring to the sense of connectedness from note to note that is usually, but not always, carried by the melody. To David, line is all-important. "In instrumental music, basically we're trying to imitate the human voice. As a pianist, every time you play a note the sound just starts decaying, and so you have to connect it to the next note so it sounds even. To imitate the human voice is really an illusion because every note is decaying, but you're sounding like it's not.
"The line, that is the thought. That's the direct thought, the communication. It's like a sentence. It you stop (a line) in the middle, that's like saying, 'I am thinking that..."
The structural beauty of Johann Sebastian Bach's exposed lines captivates David's imagination, and over the weeks of preparation for his recital he practices his opening piece, Bach's Partita No. 2 in C minor, with a fierce fascination.
David likes to find a practice room about 6 p.m. as the Music Building quiets from the daytime hubbub of tuning instruments and practice scales. Not infrequently, he'll stay until 1 or 2 a.m.
"Something I was thinking about last night," he says one morning after a long and fruitful practice, particularly with Bach: "A lot of people say you have to make a long line. But I was thinking that the process of practicing is eliminating anything that would block the line."
He traces his finger in the air, envisioning electrical arcs. "If you have focused energy, like electricity that just keeps moving and never stays static, then that's what the audience really picks up on... It's movement, more than anything, it's movement."
As recital day approaches, the concert centerpiece, Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.6 in A minor, is in good shape. It is a work David has studied deeply.
Sometimes called the "War'' sonata, it is a large, unwieldy work, full of dissonant clashes, chaotic layering of sound and a pervasive sense of anguish.