CONVERSATION WITH GLENN GARLICK
by TIM JANOF
Glenn Garlick is the Assistant Principal Cellist of the National Symphony in Washington, DC.
TJ: Looking over your bio, I see you studied at Eastman with Ron Leonard, who is now principal cellist of the LA Philharmonic. Did he have any principal themes in his teaching?
GG: Time and time again I give thanks to Ron Leonard for the work he did with my bow arm. The thing that Ron did the most was to clean up my approach to the bow. He had excellent training himself, being a disciple of Leonard Rose and the legendary violinist, Ivan Galamian, who taught at Juilliard and ran the Meadowmount Music Camp during the summers. Ron also played for Casals and was the principal cellist of the Casals Festival orchestra in Puerto Rico for many years.
TJ: Given that he studied with Leonard Rose, I assume Ron Leonard taught the "paintbrush technique" for the bow.
GG: Well, yes, although he usually didn't refer to it in those terms. He was more likely to use Galamian's descriptive words for the strokes and for the muscle movements. I can remember one very painful semester when I was learning the martelé stroke and Ron just wouldn't accept anything less than the exact pop. The way Ron taught me martelé was that you start off with an awful lot of pressure and no motion at all in the bow, and then from there, from that dead stop, you instantaneously start going 90 miles an hour until you stop the bow again. At the instant that you start the bow, you release the pressure. The bow would give a little pop at the beginning, but the stroke itself wouldn't sound heavy, it would have an airy sound to it. It took me a long time just to get to the point where the bow wouldn't fly off the string.
TJ: That's a great description. I was taught martelé incorrectly when I was young. I used to think that one had to maintain bow pressure throughout the bow stroke. This is something that Lynn Harrell discussed in the video tape he did with Orlando Cole on bow technique. It was a revelation that martelé was actually supposed to sound beautiful!
GG: That for me was easy enough because I constantly had Ron Leonard sounding beautiful across the studio from me. And if you don't think that's frustrating…
TJ: What was your association with Joseph Gingold at Meadowmount?
GG: Those were wonderful summers. Gingold was the chamber music coach. Five times each week, I would go hear Gingold talking about the old days and hear him constantly say, "Oh, you kids, you play so well now. We could never play like that." And then he'd take up his violin and just sing; his playing was glorious!
TJ: What was his approach? Was he more analytical or spiritual?
GG: He certainly knew the music. When it was necessary he could make theoretical points and he could analyze any piece of music. But what I remember about him was not saying, for instance, "Here we're going to go from A Major into A minor." He said things more in a broad brush. I'll give you an example. In the Smetana Quartet, in the polka movement, he said he always thought of a sailor who was kind of lurching down the street with his squeezebox. The guy was a little bit tipsy and was having a pretty good time playing his squeezebox. The cello was the sailor's walk and the violins were the squeezebox itself.
TJ: That's great!
GG: It was just that kind of imagery that stuck with me. And over everything was Gingold sitting there playing his violin and giving us encouragement. It was a spiritual thing with Gingold. I've had teachers who have been very impressive in the analytical sense. But it's funny, that kind of stuff, although I get what they're saying, doesn't stick with me like Gingold's imagery.
TJ: I see you were a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marines.
GG: Yes. I came to Washington to play in the Marine Band during the Vietnam War. One of the alternatives available to musicians was to play in one of the service bands. My friend, Marc Johnson, now in the Vermeer Quartet, was in the Marine Band and suggested that I come and audition for it, which I did.
TJ: Playing the cello?
GG: Yes. Although it is called the "Marine Band," the name also includes a special ensemble that plays chamber music in the White House. Most of the duty was to play for Presidential functions. Its members were my old Meadowmount buddies with the addition of a bunch of guys from Indiana. We were all Juilliard, Indiana, and Eastman graduates who had gone there because we had low draft numbers.
TJ: You also studied law at Georgetown University. Quite a career change!
GG: I'm afraid the Marine experience, in spite of the wonderful chamber music I played, soured me a little bit on music. The Marine Band felt a little bit like a dog and pony show a lot of the time. We didn't have the opportunity as professional musicians to play great music. The military discouraged it. They didn't want us to go out and play recitals or play in orchestras, because it would put us in competition with civilian musicians in the union. At that time we weren't allowed to join the union. That has changed since then, but in those days, it was against the law.
So during that time, all I was doing, aside from the private chamber music with the guys, was playing "Victory at Sea." We played that a lot because Nixon apparently loved it. But there were also lots of pop medleys and other similar music.
It was during that time that the Watergate hearings were going on. I became interested in the law, which had always been appealing to me because of the thought process involved. I took the LSAT and did well enough to get into Georgetown University. But, although I loved law school and the mental exercise, after I earned the degree and faced the prospect of having to find a 9 to 5 job, I found that my interest waned.
At the same time, an audition came up for the National Symphony. They had had several auditions and Rostropovich had not found a cellist that he wanted. I figured I'd give it a try because I had nothing to lose and it was right here in town. Besides, I'd always wanted to play for Rostropovich. I hoped that maybe he would give me some tips to improve my cello playing. Instead he told me to come and join the orchestra.
TJ: That's amazing!
GG: It amazed me!
TJ: What was Rostropovich like as a conductor?
GG: I loved him. Going back to what I said about Gingold, I would say Slava [Rostropovich's nickname] was also very spiritual. The music that I really loved to play with him was Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky -- the great Russian literature.
TJ: That was his forte? He has his share of critics in other types of music.
GG: Well, at least it was his forte for me. What I've come to feel about Slava is that many times it is the unexpected that he'll bring out of a piece or out of the musicians. This is not just as a conductor, but also as a cellist and as a pianist. If you go to a concert saying, "This is what this has to sound like and that's the way it's going to be," then you will miss out on a great experience. But if you go in, expecting the unexpected, having cleared your mind, then you can experience the performance with Rostropovich. If you can do this, you are in for a revelation.
By the way, I've just been listening to his Bach Suites.
TJ: Oh yes, the recordings that were recently released. How are they?
GG: It's amazing playing. I've had the opportunity to hear Slava talk about these Suites with Wendy Warner in lessons. I've had the honor of sitting there listening to Rostropovich talking about technique and also about music with this wonderful young cellist. Many times at lessons I acted as a translator for Slava…from English to English. But Slava would always come through. And Wendy would say, "I just don't see how I can play it that way because it's so different than anything I've done before."
Slava as a teacher was never looking for a copy; he very rarely played the cello in the lessons. Slava didn't want to play the cello because, as he said, "Then they can imitate me. That's fine, but that's not what I want. I will talk to them about the music and about my rules and principles, but they have to make it their own. In their performances, the music must come from their souls."
Here is another moment with Slava that I will always remember:
We were backstage at the Kennedy Center with Wendy Warner before a performance of the Schumann Concerto with the National Symphony, Slava conducting. Slava asked Wendy how she felt and she said: "Nervous." Slava stopped directly in front of her and said: "Do you love this music?" "Yes," said Wendy, "it is one of my favorite pieces." "Then, while you play, forget about the audience, forget about critics, forget everything but your love for the concerto. Then, you and the audience will walk hand in hand with the spirit of Schumann…and with God."
Another time, also talking about the Schumann:
Slava asks Wendy if the same melody can be interpreted in different ways. "Yes," he says, "The theme from the first movement of the Schumann is a good example. How many times does it occur in the first movement? (Wendy locates all of the occurrences in the first movement) It only occurs once in the second movement (in the orchestra). It occurs twice in the last movement."
"Music is like life - it must always develop in some way. The same melody must sound different depending on the context, its location in the music, your feelings at the moment. As you tell this story (this performance, this composition) to your audience, make your cello like the human voice.
"Wendy, I hope you have many opportunities to say 'I love you' during your life. You can say it many times and to different people and have all of them true - but you will never say it twice the same way. Sometimes you will say it loud and exuberant…other times you will whisper it reverently. It all depends on the context: where you are, who you say it to, how old you are… A musical phrase must be the same type of thing, it all depends on the context."
He also once said, "The most successful performances are those which seem built at the moment."
The best part of Slava's lessons for me were when he would illustrate with a story from his own life, and these stories were often hilarious. He once told me how he cajoled Britten into writing the First Unaccompanied Cello Suite. Slava still has a napkin that has the agreement, the contract, between Britten and Slava.
Slava and Britten had played together at some festival in England and they decided, rather than taking a train to their next destination, that they would take a car. Britten mentioned that he had some friends who had a house on their route and perhaps they could stop by and have a little bit of lunch with these friends. Slava was delighted. In the conversation Britten happened to mention that these people were distant royalty. They weren't king and queen, but they were duke and duchess or something like that.
Well, Slava was excited and enthusiastic because he'd never met royalty. So he asked Britten what he should do when he met them? Should he bow low or does one go down on a knee? How does one approach royalty? Britten, who was always a very shy person anyway, said "No, no, Slava, you don't bow to them. Just shake their hands and refer to them by their titles. But don't bow." Well, Slava sensed that Britten was actually worried about this, that he would be embarrassed if Slava did this. So Slava began practicing his bow every time they stopped for gas or for a snack or whatever. Slava told Britten that he couldn't give up this opportunity. He had to give a bow. Well, he'd gotten it to the point where he was leaping up in the air and spinning around once and coming down on one knee in a special Russian bow. Britten was, according to Slava, almost in tears. And finally at the last stop before they reached the house, Slava said, "Look, I'll tell you what. This bow means a lot to me, but I can see you really don't want me to do it. I will make a deal with you: if you will write an unaccompanied suite for the cello, then I will forego this bow." So Britten said, "Anything, anything, just don't bow!" And Slava said, "Well, we have to have a contract. We'll write it out saying "I, Benjamin Britten, will write an unaccompanied suite for Slava in exchange for one bow." They wrote it on this napkin and Britten signed it. Slava to this day has this napkin with the contract for the Britten suite.
TJ: Who would have thought that the origin of such a great piece would come from such a hilarious episode?!
GG: Yes, it's a great story. Even if you set aside all that he's done for humanity in conducting and with the cello, the inspiration and the contribution that his cello playing has made to our repertoire through inspiring all these composers is incredible. There are over 100 works in the literature now that were premiered by, dedicated to, or commissioned by Rostropovich.
By the way, David Hardy, principal cellist of the National Symphony, and I have volunteered to coordinate a special project for the National Capital Cello Club to honor Slava on his 70th birthday, and we invite the participation of cellists around the world. Slava will observe his 70th birthday on March 27, 1997. We hope that throughout the 1996/1997 concert season cellists worldwide will make a point to program (and assign to their students) pieces that are associated with Slava. After the performance, if they will send a copy of the program to my address, perhaps with a short note to Slava, I will include it in a book to be presented to Slava sometime after his birthday as a gift from the cello world.
c/o Glenn Garlick
1748 Kenyon Street NW
Washington DC 20010
If we get enough responses, a gesture like that will touch his soul, coming from his community, cellists.
TJ: What a great idea! I hope that you get a good response. Well, let's change gears now. I'd like to talk about orchestral playing, since you appear to be eminently qualified for such a discussion.
GG: Well, I've been doing it for a while.
TJ: First of all, what are the characteristics of a great orchestral musician?
GG: A few years ago I interviewed the former principal cellist of the National Symphony, John Martin, and I asked him the same question. One of the most important things that he talked about was the ability to keep one's musical identity and at the same time to find a way to fit it into the ideas of the rest of the orchestra and the conductor. This is one attribute that I look for, somebody who has a musical idea, a musical identity, but who can also find a way to stay in touch with it and play with the group. We've all had the experience of playing in an orchestra and hearing somebody near us who has such a musical identity that they're unable to become part of the group. They have a slightly faster tempo in mind or they have a different dynamic.
TJ: I sure have.
GG: Whatever makes that person stick out can be good, if that's what the conductor is asking for. But it's not good if that is not what is being asked for. You have to be able to accept what that guy up on the podium is saying, whether you agree or not and find some way to do it.
On the other hand, I think a great orchestra is in touch with its own identity, with its standard. No matter what is happening on the podium, the great orchestra is going to play up to that standard. There are times when you're looking up at the conductor and you're thinking, "This guy is just all wrong. I disagree with everything and so I'm just going to go my own way." Unfortunately, if enough people in the orchestra start to feel this way, the concert turns into chaos.
But at a time like that, in a great orchestra, when enough people in the orchestra have given up on the podium, the musicians still have enough pride and enough strength as a group to say "Yes, we disagree, but we are going to play well. We're not going to just throw up our arms and give up entirely."
TJ: Yet I balance this with another thing I've heard, that a sign of a great conductor is one who can trade orchestras with somebody and totally mold the new orchestra into his image, so that the orchestra loses the identity they once had and gains a new one.
GG: You mean the orchestra itself?
GG: It's not so much the identity of the orchestra, it's the standard of playing. In the National Symphony, we've played under many different conductors and in many different conditions. I like to think that the orchestra has an ability to play even when the conditions are not optimum, even problematic.
For example, I remember when we played in Red Square in February, winter in Russia. The organizers of the trip wanted to do something for the Russian people and they thought, what could be better than to bring out one of their treasures, Rostropovich and his National Symphony, and give a free concert in Red Square? Well, when we got there, it was extremely cold as you can imagine. They were hoping for a slightly warmer day, but it was very difficult playing conditions. The orchestra went ahead with the concert and still sounded like the National Symphony. It was uncomfortable and it was very difficult, but I was so proud of that orchestra. I think it distinguishes an orchestra when they can go ahead and sound professional and sound wonderful under adverse conditions.
TJ: Let's get back to your concept of being able to blend in an orchestra. In an orchestral audition, what becomes more important since one is playing alone?
GG: Well, going back to John Martin, I asked him what he would advise young musicians, and his advice was exactly what I tell people who are coming to play for me; you have to find something to project, something that is going to catch the audition committee's attention, and yet you have to play what's on the page. John said, "The first things that I listen for are good intonation, appropriate dynamics, a good sound, and good counting." A lot of times people will disqualify themselves one way or the other by just miscounting something or going off completely into a different world with the tempo. I think a lot of that is just nerves. Auditions are an unreal situation anyway.
But it's very difficult to say what one committee to the next is going to be looking for specifically. Generally, committees are looking for basic good playing. I also tell people that they need to hear the whole piece while playing an excerpt, because the judges on the committee do. They're hearing what's going on in the trombone section or what's going on in the flute section. They know what's going on with the rest of the piece because they've played it so many times. This is another way to tell audition candidates apart, those who are aware of the other parts and those who have never given it a thought.
TJ: So you're supposed to play as if you're in the cello section, which means you may not be playing soloistically. You shouldn't play a bass line like you're playing the Dvorak Concerto.
GG: Yes. First, buy the whole orchestra part. Don't work from the excerpt books. There are a bunch of mistakes in the excerpt books because they are a reprint of a reprint and so on. It's not good to trust your audition to these books. It's also good to have the orchestra part when you're practicing because you see the way the passage is going to be on the page when you get to the audition. And many times you are allowed to use your own part.
The second thing is listen to the music, buy a recording. If you can get a recording of the orchestra and the conductor that you are auditioning for, then the recording might answer some questions about how the orchestra views the dynamics.
The third thing is play for somebody who plays in an orchestra. It helps just getting some ideas about how an orchestra player sees this passage and what's most important to him or her?
And number four, I would say look at each of the excerpts and ask why each excerpt is on the list. If the second movement of the Brahms' Second Symphony is on the list, it is there for a reason. There's a certain sound that the judges are looking for.
I always want to have an idea of what each of these excerpts is for. I imagine a cartoon picture for each passage and then try to make the sound that matches the picture. A very fine cellist in this area, who is taking some auditions now, told me he tries to put into his cello playing the whole orchestra. When he's playing Don Juan at the beginning, although he knows that he can't be the entire string section for the fantastic run at the beginning, he wants to have the feeling that he's creating this whole theme, the whole string section, in his individual playing. He has to put that into his mind, but then of course accept the fact that he's only one cellist and not crush the hell out of his cello trying to accomplish the impossible.
TJ: Has the average level of the orchestral player changed in the last 20 years? Has it gotten better?
GG: Well, that's a loaded question. I would have to say yes, after all I'm here now, and I was hardly part of the scene 20 years ago. In fact I think it's going up and it's not just the new players, but players who have been in the orchestras for years.
I think the way orchestras treat their musicians has had a lot to do with this. Take the practice of rotating the musicians around in a section. I know there are some orchestra musicians who are not 100 percent in favor of the rotation. But I think it's done great things for the orchestra. It keeps people alive, it moves them. You're not in the same chair until you die. You can move around in the orchestra and also have a chance to play near other sections, sometimes playing right next to the bass section, sometimes playing practically in the middle of the viola section. More and more conductors now are moving whole sections.
Christopher Hogwood will often move us around and I think something as small as that keeps people alive in the orchestra. The encouragement on the parts of the management for orchestral musicians to play chamber music also helps. We have a chamber program in the National Symphony Orchestra where members of the orchestra play chamber works before selected orchestral concerts throughout the year. Slava started inviting orchestra members to play solos with the orchestra as well. Not only does it keep orchestra members interested, it's kind of fun to go out and be the big star.
It also helps the public, because they can see the high level of playing among the individual members of the orchestra. We've had many people in the orchestra, the younger, newer members and many people who have been in the orchestra for many years, who have come forward and said, "Hey, I'd like to do that too." So I would say it isn't just the basic quality that has improved, but I think orchestras are more careful to keep the "diamonds polished."
TJ: I often talk to conservatory students who refer to orchestral playing with dread and disdain. They see themselves doing it only as a last resort since they feel the level of personal artistry is diminished. They see orchestral playing as too robotic, having to take orders from the podium. They also fear having to play the war-horses such as Beethoven's 5th hundreds of times. They envision "making it" as playing chamber music or being a soloist. How do you feel about this?
GG: In the first place, "warhorses" got to be that way because they are great. Great to listen to, great to play. I can think of worse fates than to play Beethoven's 5th hundreds of times. And when you play in an orchestra, you play it one time with Rostropovich, another time with Slatkin, again with Neville Marriner, then with some young guy just starting his career, then with … well, it does not get old. Many of the conservatory students' fears date back to the old days, when orchestral musicians had fewer opportunities to play chamber music or as soloists. Things are different now, so in addition to the thrill of playing that "big band" sound, orchestral musicians are encouraged to play chamber music and solos. In our American Residencies program, members of the National Symphony also coach young musicians in chamber groups, we teach master classes, we give chamber concerts. In fact, for variety and excitement, nothing beats playing in an orchestra. And if I can paraphrase Ron Leonard: "String quartet playing is wonderful, but it has its dark side. If you are not getting along with one other member of the quartet, that is half of the quartet that is not getting along. If you are not getting along with one other member of the orchestra, there are still about a hundred other people to talk to."
TJ: We've all read about orchestras dying. Do you think they'll be around in 100 years?
GG: I sure do! I think they're going to look different and I think some of the changes are happening right now. You can't have Beethoven on a synthesizer anyway. Well, actually you can since the music is strong enough to take it, but you also have to hear Beethoven's music the way he wrote it, with an orchestra. I think that in the future we're going to have people coming to the concert halls who will see a concert as composed of beautiful works of art. You come in, you sit down, and you appreciate that these three works have been put together on a program for a reason. I think more and more, though, that people are saying, "Don't just tell me to sit here and appreciate the music. Tell me a little bit about it." They're expecting more.
Christopher Hogwood has been doing this for some time now. He'll turn around and say to the audience, "You're going to hear some strange sounds from the timpani, okay? Put yourself back in Haydn's day and imagine what audiences were expecting. The sound of the timpani was actually an alarm that was sounded. It was Turkish music ...." He'll start to explain why it's there and why it's so loud all of a sudden and what it meant to people in Haydn's day, that, if it hadn't occurred in the symphony, it would have been a signal for everybody to jump up and run for the exits. It was an example of Haydn's sense of humor. I think more and more we're going to hear conductors turning around and talking to people about music, so that people who are coming to the concert hall can appreciate the artwork within a context.
Leonard Slatkin did something ingenious in St. Louis. He had a television show that was broadcast at 4 o'clock in the morning. Well, there weren't a lot of insomniacs who were up watching it, but they still had 40,000 people tuning in…with their VCR's! The orchestra had a hot line that would tell you how to set your VCR. How many people could use the hotline these days? Is your VCR blinking 12 o'clock, 12 o'clock, 12 o'clock? "Call us up, we'll tell you how to set your VCR so that you can then tape the program and Leonard Slatkin will explain music for next week's concert."
I also think we're going to see more of the kind of programs like we have at the National Symphony, where there'll be some kind of a chamber music component on the program. You won't hear three different composers, but you'd might hear the same composer in three different musical idioms. One program that I would love to participate in: a chamber performance of the Brahms G minor Piano Quartet, and then Schöenberg's orchestral transcription of the same piece.
I think orchestras, in order to stay alive, are going to have to bring the audiences along with them, but from my experience the audiences are eager to come. We must see to it that there is something for everyone, including some hints on how to listen to the music, whether it is Haydn or Corigliano. If we do that, future generations will still have music to listen to.
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