TUTTI CELLI CONTENTS -- Volume 12, Issue 1

Tim Janof, Editor

Featured Artist


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by Tim Janof

Having been named "Young Artist to Watch" by Musical America and the youngest recipient of the Pro Musicis International Award, celebrated cellist Shauna Rolston is considered to be one of the most compelling musicians of her generation. She has been praised for the ease and naturalness of her technique, her pure intonation, sheer fearlessness, and her ability to produce a huge tone and to play with great delicacy. According to Classic CD Magazine "…her recording of Elgar's cello concerto is worthy to stand alongside Jacqueline du Pré's classic account. This could be the most remarkable performance of the last 20 years."

Following her formative studies at the renowned Banff Centre, Shauna earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from Yale University and a Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music. At Yale, she studied with the distinguished cellist and pedagogue, Aldo Parisot; she also served as his teaching assistant.

Since her New York City Town Hall debut at the age of 16, Shauna continues to perform regularly in major concert venues and festivals around the world. She has collaborated with conductors Krzysztof Penderecki, Mario Bernardi, Bramwell Tovey, William Eddins, Hans Graf, Andrew Davis, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Marin Alsop, Pavel Kogan, Andreas Delfs, Keith Lockhart, Kenneth Jean, Uri Meyer, Peter Bay, Sam Wong, George Hansen, Andrey Boreyko, Alexander Rudin and Yoav Talmi, among others.

Gifted prodigy turned masterful innovator, Shauna is an enthusiastic advocate for and performer of the music of our time. She has given the world premiere of an astounding number of works -many written for her. For example, her CD "This is the Colour of My Dreams" which won Best Classical CD at the 2002 West Coast Music Awards, is dedicated to concerti and concert pieces for cello and orchestra written for her by Heather Schmidt, Christos Hatzis, Chan Ka Nin, and Kelly-Marie Murphy. A prolific recording artist, her discography includes releases of the Elgar, Saint-Saëns and Bliss concerti, and Fauré and Frank sonatas. Both CDs are included on a list of 13 "Cello Recordings to Please Discriminating Audiophiles" (Benjamin Ivry, the audiophile voice). Her latest CD "Shauna and Friends," features arrangements of popular favorites by Claude Kenneson for solo cello and an ensemble of 12 cellists, conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson.

As a chamber musician, Shauna has performed and recorded with many pre-eminent artists and ensembles including the Gallois Quintet, and pianist Menahem Pressler. Her most recent artistic partnership is with pianist and composer Heather Schmidt. This collaboration began with critically acclaimed duo recitals at the Winnipeg New Music Festival in 2002, and developed with performances as part of the Governor General of Canada's state delegation visit to Finland and Iceland and a tour of the Maritime Provinces through Debut Atlantic. Current and upcoming performances include recitals in Ottawa (National Arts Centre), Winnipeg, Vancouver, Victoria, Dallas, Shreveport and Boston (the Harvard Musical Association), as well as two benefit concerts in Grand Cayman and a tour of Quebec (Piano Plus).

Shauna's artistic interests extend beyond solo and concerto performances. Her latest video "A Pairing of Swans" with prima ballerina Evelyn Hart (directed by Veronica Tennant) was premiered at the 2004 International Moving Pictures Festival and was recently nominated for a Gemeni award. Two of Shauna's previous videos "smokin f-holes" with Squeezplay, and "Words Fail" with dancer and choreographer, Peggy Baker, are featured regularly on BRAVO. Future projects include several recordings, a profile interview for BIOGRAPHY, an in-depth interview for the Internet Cello Society, and a full-length film (RedStar films for BRAVO) "Synchronicity" featuring Shauna and Heather Schmidt. She is also featured in "The Great Cellists" by Margaret Campbell and the soon to be released "The Popular Guide to Women in Classical Music" by Anne Gray.

In addition to her busy concert and recording career, Shauna is a passionate and devoted educator. Much in demand as a guest master class instructor, Shauna is also a Professor of Cello and Co-Head of the String Department at the University of Toronto and a Visiting Artist for the Music and Sound Programs at The Banff Centre.

Shauna Rolston is represented by Michael Dufresne –President, Michael Gerard Management Group

TJ: Your parents are professional musicians.

SR: Yes, my dad is a violinist and my mom is a pianist. This meant that I was completely immersed in music as a child and that music was an essential part of my family experience. I started playing trios with my parents when I was three or four years old.

Your first cello teacher was Claude Kenneson, author of several books, including A Cellist's Guide to the New Approach.

He was my teacher from the age of two to twelve. He's a wonderful cellist, teacher, and author, as well as a prolific arranger. I have a CD coming out in the next few months which features all of his arrangements for solo cello and cello ensemble. I am really excited about this recording.

My parents played in a trio with him when we lived in Edmonton, Canada, so he was also a part of my family. Claude was the perfect teacher for me because he kept the learning process alive by giving me fun exercises and games that were both challenging and educational. He also liberated my curiosity by encouraging me to explore wherever my imagination led me instead of forcing me to stick to a rigid curriculum.

My time with Claude was extremely important because he set the tone for the rest of my life. He taught me to ask questions and to seek my own answers. He also provided an environment in which I felt safe to try out different ways of doing things. He taught me to trust my own learning process.

(Click here for the complete transcript.)



by Margaret Bartley

I had heard of cellist Gregor Piatigorsky when I was young, but like other famous musicians of the era (Vladimir Horowitz and Jascha Heifetz), Piatigorsky was a celebrity, remote and distant. My impressions changed when my husband Harry took me visit his childhood home in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York.

"That's where the famous Russian Cellist Gregor Piatigorsky lived" He pointed to Windy Cliff, the Tudor castle high on a mountainside across the road from the farm where he had grown up. "I remember swimming with Piatigorsky and his children in the river."

(Click here for the complete transcript.)


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>> Toughest Piece

hodol88: Do you all agree that it would be the Dvorak cello concerto? Compared to that piece, Rococo variations, Haydn Concerto in C Major, and Schumann concertos, are a piece of cake. What would be more challenging than this piece?

Which Dvorak cello concerto CD is the best? I own Yo Yo Ma's album, and I am not that impressed other than his techniques. Who played with both technique and emotion?

ericedberg: Give the Barber concerto a whirl and Dvorak will seem like a comparative breeze. Yo-Yo played the Barber with the Boston Symphony this summer at Tanglewood and told a mutual friend that it was the hardest piece he's ever played, or the hardest concerto, or something like that. Leonard Rose reportedly told an interviewer that after performing the Barber once he decided not to do so again because he'd "rather live a long life."

You may also find the Shostakovich First Concerto (I don't know the second), the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante, and the Kodaly Solo Sonata (to name a few) at least as equally difficult as the Dvorak.

By the way, I've heard two different recordings of Yo-Yo playing the Dvorak and heard him do it live. I felt a lot of emotion in all three, so I don't know who to suggest if Yo-Yo doesn't do it for you. There are two or three du Pré recordings available, all of which are very emotionally charged, so you might try them.

Adagio918: The thing about Dvorak is, it's difficult musically and technically, but someone who has the technical part covered can perform the piece and get a decent response. I think that Schumann not only requires technical strength, but is especially challenging musically. In my opinion, it is much more difficult to give a truly convincing performance of Schumann.

BA: Dvorak falls in about the mid-range of concerto difficulty. There are far more difficult things to do on the cello if you want to play it well than simply being able to play the written notes- that's only the start of our difficulties! Rococo and Schumann both contain challenges different and in ways harder than Dvorak. Haydn (particularly the D Major) takes an unbelievable amount of work to make it sound easy and natural. As far as nasty technical challenges, the Rozsa concerto I find is the hardest concerto I've ever played, quite a bit harder than the Barber (which is bad enough). And of course Dvorak is almost a guaranteed standing ovation no matter who plays it- Thank you Antonin!

If you are looking for a very different approach from Yo-Yo, I would recommend not du Pre but this Feuermann:


(or the live on with Barzin if you can find it). Alternately, there are versions by Casals, Fournier, Gendron and Nelsova (with Krips preferable to Susskind/St Louis, but either way) (Piatigorsky's two Dvorak recordings are, to me, not up to the standards of his great recordings, particularly the one with Munch)

du Pré's Dvorak was (to me, and only me, so please don't crucify me yet again) not successful, either technically or musically. You should ideally hear all of these recordings including du Pré and decide from comparison what you like and don't like.

Recordings are a fantastic way to learn. They can be a constant source of new ideas. There is a danger, however, when one hears only a few cellists (often just those from whom the record companies can make the most money and are therefore the most easily accessible) that it may close our imagination to other, different ways of doing things and end up limiting our imagination instead of expanding it. Any recording played often enough begins to sound 'normal'.

KeithHall: According to Mr Rostropovich, Alfred Schnittke's second cello concerto is the most difficult thing he has ever tackled in his life to date....(personally told to me in 1992).

rbcello: In response to BA, I would not recommend Feuermann or Casals, especially Casals. It's hard to get much out of the Casals recording, due to bad quality and other things, you'd understand if you listened. The Feuermann is just kind of cool, because it is SO much faster than any other recording or performance I have heard, but that is the basic difference. The disc of Rostropovich playing it along with Rococo is supposedly the bible performance, so look for that.

BA: We all have opinions, but what you say is clearly and demonstrably untrue. To say that the only basic difference between Yo-Yo Ma's interpretation and Feuermann's is that Feuermann plays it "SO much faster" is so wrong I don't even know where to begin. I actually wrote my dissertation about exactly this (www.cello.org/theses/smith/). Casals, BTW, plays at the same basic tempi as Feuermann.

You are under no obligation to like Feuermann's Dvorak but if listen to it with any degree of understanding, you could not possibly say that it is, apart from tempo, similar to Yo-Yo's and/or not worth hearing. As for Rostropovich's recording being the "bible" that's the first time I've heard that and I've been doing this for rather a while. But in any case my point was not to limit your ears and imagination by accepting any one recording as "The Way" as you are suggesting to him.

>> Stretched Left Hand

The Ancient One: Could one of you possibly take a look at Dotzauer #48 (113 Studies) and tell me if it's really true that ALL the fingers must be held down for ALL the slurs? A couple of the measures seem utterly impossible without the hands of King Kong!

Bob: I don't have that one (is it found in the Schroeder collection?), but you should never hold down more than one finger at a time unless you're playing double-stops or double-stop-like passages. The editorial indications in some of these 19th-century etudes about leaving fingers down should be studiously ignored.

zambocello: The point of this etude IS to keep the fingers down. Ultimately, as the chord grabbing becomes better learned, you will push the tempo up (Allegro assai!) so that by holding down all the notes the harmonies ring as chords rather than one note at a time. True, the extensions can be a pain, even literally, so be careful not to strain something. But by practicing this exercise you will improve your strength and flexibility. Also, as important as anything in playing those extensions is to have a good position and balance in your left hand. I like the word "attitude." Find an attitude for your left hand so that those stretches aren't such a strain and each finger is equally strong and in reach of the string.

cellofan07: I very much appreciate the advice. I am taking it much slower and paying attention to the left hand "attitude". In keeping the fingers down, it's not just the stretches that I'm finding difficult. Also of importance here is the finger height needed to keep the tone decent. Very hard with small hands. But anyway...slow for now, and perhaps I shall survive tomorrow's lesson.

zambocello: 1) Always do what your teacher says.

That said:

2) It's good that you are learning the piece slowly. While you are practicing it slowly, holding all the notes down may make undesirable strain, so I will think none the less of you if you do let up on your fingers. But I suggest that even if you do allow your fingers to come up, keep them in place, perhaps touching the string in the right place but just not pressing it down solidly to the fingerboard. That way you are learning the positioning for holding the notes down, just not yet practicing the exertion.

3) Small hands can be an issue for a piece with these demands. Again, I will think none the less of you if the size of your hand prohibits you from holding some of the extensions (like the one at the very beginning of the piece!).

4) For arching your fingers over the higher strings to reach the lower, try an "attitude" for your left hand that has it a little closer to the neck than usual. From that position more of the length of your fingers can be spent in arching over higher strings rather than having to reach straight across to the G string (for example).

5) In my International Edition there's at least one fingering I would change: in measure 12 I would put 1st finger on the G-string C and stay in that position until the double bar. The downside of this fingering is that in measure 14 the first two notes must be barred with third finger. The upside is that it's all in one position until the double bar, rather than needing the little shift in measure 14 (which, though only a 1/2 step shift, makes it easy to lose the perfect pitch match on the A-string F).

TtheCellist: Tell me then, if Feuermann didn't "believe" in stretching, how then would he accomplish this etude...or...would he even consider it necessary?

BA: Feuermann did indeed believe in extensions. I don't know where this rumor got started or why we haven't been able to stomp it out. Feuermann used lots of extensions, he just never held the hand in an extended position for any longer than necessary, usually just for a brief instant while changing position. Watch the video and you can see for yourself.

TtheCellist: Unless I am misunderstanding him, Bernard Greenhouse specifically states it in the master classes on DVD from Cello Classics. He then goes into a small exercise that can assist the cellist in not having to extend. He does mention having the hand in the position does not allow for freedom of movement but I believe, and correct me someone if I heard him incorrectly, he said that Feuermann did not extend. In fact, Greenhouse corrects a couple students more than once on it.

Bob: You're both right. Greenhouse said it, but Feuermann quite clearly does it in the film. A sweeping statement like "Feuermann never used extensions" cannot stand up. He had lightning-quick shifts, and may well have avoided some extensions that others might have taken, but you can't play the cello without extending now and again.

ericedberg: Speaking tongue-in-cheek, I think Greenhouse must be the "patient zero," so to speak, from which the Feuermann-didn't-use-extensions virus has propagated. He often told me this in my lessons back when I was his teaching assistant at Stony Brook (and he was helping me develop more ease in my left hand), and states it quite emphatically and demonstrates it in the recent master class video TtheCellist mentions. I was a "carrier" of the virus myself until BA enlightened me in the slanted/square hand thread my video set off.

It was interesting to learn from BA that Feuermann did use extensions, as he and Bob verify the film shows (I am trying to be patient while waiting for my CD to arrive so I can see the film for myself), and wrote about and discussed his use of them. The important observation BA makes, which I'll reemphasize, is that Feuermann didn't keep his hand in an extended position for any length of time.

That's such a key element in successful cello playing in my experience. I often tell my advanced students that "extended position" is one of those useful fictions, like Santa Claus, that can be important and useful early in life but must be abandoned to reach maturity. As a general principle, if the music is slow enough to vibrate, I only use extensions as a way to get from one position to another close by; it's really important to allow the fingers to return to their unextended state once the new note has been arrived at. It's only in fast passages in which I am going to be using 1 and 4 a major third or more (or the equivalent) in quick succession, or sustained in a double stop, that I'll keep the fingers extended.

I haven't seen Feuermann the film for years. I'm wondering if in it Feuermann may also have done fewer actual extensions and more short "jumps" of the hand, as Greenhouse demonstrates in the video, than many other cellists of his day.

In lessons, master classes, and the video, Greenhouse's discussion of his understanding/memory that Feuermann didn't use extensions always comes up in the context of a larger discussion about keeping the left hand "loose," and how keeping the hand in an extended position causes excess and unnecessary tension. Greenhouse would make the same "no extensions" claim about his own playing, too. My observation, though, was that he used some actual extensions--he uses some in the recent video, too--but less than many other cellists, and never keeping his hand extended, except in certain fast passages or double stops.

The question comes up as to why Greenhouse remembers Feuermann as "never" using extensions, when quite obviously he did. There is no question in my mind that Greenhouse is convinced this is fact. My educated guess is that Greenhouse's memory probably has roots in pedagogical hyperbole on the part of Feurermann, Greenhouse, or both. It could be that, as a way to get Greenhouse to do less of the tense sort of extensions, that Feuermann demonstrated how to play without extensions, or told in some overstated fashion that he never used extensions as he strove to drive home a point.

It may be that over time Greenhouse's memory evolved, especially as he strove to make a point with his students.

Greenhouse has always stated things in a very strong way, pulling no punches. There was some comment in a thread about the video about this. I've seen other teachers of the "old school" use this sort of teaching, often speaking in what strikes me as exaggeratedly black-or-white terms. "If you use that fingering, the phrase has absolutely no meaning," I heard another well-known teacher tell a student in a master class. I sometimes I find the only way to get a student to try something is to exaggerate or overstate it, or to initially present the concept in overly simplistic terms.

So pedagogical fictions can have their uses.

Here's how this played out in my experience as a student. When Greenhouse told me that Feuermann taught him to never extend, and that he (Greenhouse) didn't extend, this caused me to work towards that unattainable goal. In the process, I eliminated a lot of unnecessary extensions that were tensing my hand. I worked diligently to keep my hand as loose as possible when extending, to not prepare the extension too soon, and to release the extension as soon as the new finger was down.

I grew immensely as a cellist because of it. And now, with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan,

"And I never use the great big 'E'!"

"What, never?"

"No, never!"

"What, never?"

"Well, hardly ever!"

"He hardly ever uses the great big 'E'!"

BA: At the risk of beating this into the ground, if you read the interview I did with Greenhouse here: (Second interview- scroll down)


you can see that he does state explicitly that Feuermann "did not ever use extensions" (also some interesting comments about Feuermann's 'pronation', Casals' musicianship and one of the sources of the "Alexanian was a great teacher and a bad cellist" information)

And if you read the video analysis (which admittedly only scratches the surface) that I did in the previous chapter:


you will see that what I observed was not that Feuermann didn't use extensions, but that, far more than the other cellists I compared to, he always avoided keeping the hand in an extended position for more than an instant. Doubtless this is what Greenhouse had in mind when he said Feuermann 'never extended' but I'm afraid his dogmatic terminology created quite a bit of confusion. Luckily we have the film.

I also went into a brief analysis of the 'pronation' of Casals, Feuermann, Rostropovich, Piatigorsky, and Ma as well as their bow holds, that are interesting for me to read back, all these years later, in the context of the discussions here. But really I only scratched the surface of what could be done.

David Sanders: I thought it might be interesting to point out that one of our former cellists, Sam Sciacchitano, who had studied with Feuermann at some point, mentioned once at a Cello Society meeting when we played the Feuermann film that Feuermann didn't look like he looks in the film at all. He moved around much more than the constraints of the film would let him. Now, I don't know if this is true or not, but that's what we were all told.

BA: I suspect that is true David, as Eva told me that she could barely recognize the person on the film as her husband. Apparently he sucked in his cheeks while he played (and I think I may remember someone saying he swayed a bit as well but don't quote on the latter -- it might be in the Moreau book).

For the filming, Eva said they took of Munio's glasses away and told him to sit still, look at the camera and not make faces. Also remember that he was playing along to a track he had pre-recorded.

However, I wouldn't expect any of these features of 'appearance' to influence his basic technique- fingerings, bow hold, hand position, etc.. so I think the film is reliable evidence of that.

ericedberg: To clarify (or confuse) things a bit further, when Greenhouse said he doesn't, and (in his recollection) Feuermann didn't, use extensions, he always refers to a melodic passage, not to double stops, which require an extension, or a fast passage which requires staying in an extended position. Greenhouse is very pragmatic, and would never suggest one try to do something physically impossible.

The point of extending as little as possible is to keep the left hand as "loose" and free of tension as you can.

When you really and truly need to extend, extend! Just play in tune. Feurermann and Casals will smile down at you from heaven, and Greenhouse himself would give you his blessing, I'm sure!

>> Period Performance

guido: I haven't made up my mind completely about it. However I do object to being told what I can and can't do by the musical community with certain pieces. My biggest objection perhaps is that if Historically Informed Playing really is a concern, then shouldn't we play Elgar with a huge amount of portamento (it's how Elgar envisioned it!), and Schumann with much less vibrato than we usually enjoy? If not, then why is Bach any different?

Babinicello: Interpreting it based on the period it was written???? So much nonsense discussed about musical periods. Does anybody wants to listen to a dead sound with no sparkle, no excitement, with a minimal vibrato that existed during Schumann's time? There is nothing more beautiful than an artfull slide "in the Heifetz style" or an intelligent portamento connecting two notes in a phrase they way Maria Callas or Renata Tebaldi used to do it. Of course, no one would dare to perform a Bach Suite using the style of a tango or the samba, but let's not become fanatics about musical periods. Play what is in your heart. Express it with conviction, using all one's resources to create a beautiful musical moment.

timscott: Some performers play everything in their own style, which can be wonderful. However, I think that knowledge of Elgar, Bach, Monteverdi, Brahms style, and why they wrote things certain ways, can only help. Just try playing Prokofiev in the style of Bach, Dvorak concerto in the style of say Boccherini, and you will see how ridiculous you sound.

zambocello: There is nothing inherently better about a sound with or without vibrato, or a connection between notes with or without a slide, or a louder of softer sound, or a bow stroke that is more sustained or more inflected. The point is to apply these variables in a way that serves the content and qualities of the composition.

If you feel there's a difference between Tchaikovsky and Mozart, then play in a way so that your listener will also enjoy the differences. If you don't feel a difference....um, well, I guess that's okay, too! (I've thought of having a stamp made for when I adjudicate competitions: "your Mozart sounds just like your Tchaikovsky." It would save on the writers cramps.)

And I'm confident in my presumption that players from the times of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms didn't all play the same, in some codified way that has become a lost secret, any more than Nadia Solerno-Sonnenberg and Hillary Hahn would play the works of those masters the same. Furthermore, contemporary players playing contemporary pieces will sound the music in different ways.

mvotapek: Doing it "your" way is fine as long as it still serves the goal of the composition. Play the Sarabande from the Bach 5th Suite at 60 to the eighth note, with heavy slow vibrato, if you think the goal of Bach was to make people weep (or sleep.) Too often to my ears, "playing it my way" ends up changing the intent of a piece and making it into something much worse. Spending some time getting involved with period performance can only get you closer to what Bach might have been writing for. Or it could simply provide another angle that gets you no closer, but it's not going to lead you any further away. Now that i think about it, I can't come up with anybody I know who has thoroughly explored period performance and NOT had it deeply influence their style. People don't spend a year on it and come out saying, "blech!" Generally it's the people who never work on it who don't like it.

As for Schumann, I happen to ADORE it played well with minimal vibrato. There's a great Schumann Salon Concert CD out there by the Helicon Ensemble.

As for Elgar, I happen to adore it with a huge amount of portamento.

I guess I'm just moldy and uncreative. It's not that you can NOT do what you want to do. It's that if what you want isn't in line with what makes sense to a certain audience ("the musical community" in your case), you'll end up, well, not making sense. Do you want your cover of Led Zeppelin to sound like a cheery R&B song? You could (I'm sure it's been done), but the Zeppelin fans will get nauseous.

batmanvcl: Let's not forget that when we play music by someone else, we are RE-creating something. Just playing Bach (or whoever) "the way you feel it" is not good enough. some of those "views" of other performers you refer to may have been arrived at after much careful study and experience. is this restrictive? Not necessarily -- except to someone who wants to bypass actually studying a piece and just go by instinct.

Yes, we all have our points of view (i.e. our different personalities, life experiences, etc.) from which we look at any piece, but the point is that we should study that piece, first and foremost, in an effort to come closer to the composer's message.

rocel: I've been thinking about this post a lot as it is something that I feel incredibly strongly about. I fear that I'm not able to express myself as well as so many of the posters here, so I'll try to keep it brief!

I am of the opinion that my job is to express what the composer has written, and find amazing arrogance in the opinion that what a composer has written (or when he wrote it) could ever restrict the performers interpretation. Schumann wrote years, geographical miles, and in cultural/ sociological worlds apart from Prokofiev. If one approaches the music with the same sound palate, how can one ever characterize the music rather than merely implanting oneself onto it?

For me, the only way to approach interpretation of any work is through study of the music and background (historical, cultural, harmonic, formal... the list goes on). One's playing is merely a vehicle to have the versitility to play Haydn like Haydn and Elgar like Elgar. The "restrictions" of a "period" approach should actually open many more interpretational doors than it shuts.

I fear that recordings have tailored our approach to interpretation by making us lazy. "Ah, that's how the Elgar concerto sounds" we say, listening to du Pre, and even though what she does can be beautiful, she is playing a cello piece, not a piece of Elgar- yet we have generations brought up to play the piece in the same way because they take their interpretations rather than thinking them out freshly. The piece was written at a time of grief, and is hugely introspective and nostalgic, yet it has become an extrovert appassionato, because we are lazy in our approach and want to show how "musical" we are.

"Good" cello playing can be the most boring thing in the world. Music shouldn't always be beautiful or comfortable to hear- it's far to easy for everything to become bland and the ear, or interpretative quest to become lazy. Don't limit yourself by ignoring the composer or his world.

guido: I haven't made up my mind completely about it. However I do object to being told what I can and can't do by the musical community with certain pieces. My biggest objection perhaps is that if Historically Informed Playing really is a concern, then shouldn't we play Elgar with a huge amount of portamento (it's how Elgar envisioned it!), and Schumann with much less vibrato than we usually enjoy? If not, then why is Bach any different?

>> Memorizing Bach

ubercellist: Does anybody have tips for memorizing the Bach Suites?

batmanvcl: It is imperative to understand every harmony which every note in every bar outlines.

If you are young enough to not have had formal theory classes, get a book and read. And start banging on a piano somwhere. The piano is the springboard to ear training. If you don't understand basic major, minor, and diminished chords, you will be memorizing a string of notes moving horizontally through time. Then, when you forget what note comes next and your fingers don't grab it purely from muscle memory, you're sunk.

To say that harmony is everything in Bach is STILL practically an understatement. Seeing his music through this perspective may not guarantee you'll never bobble a few notes, but chances are that it will be only a few notes, because you'll have a much broader world view of exactly where you are.

zambocello: Know the harmonic context of that puny, one-note-at-a-time line you're playing!

My biggest fear, in playing a piece by memory is going into it as if i were going down a narrow tube: unable to see anything except at is immediately in front of me.

Know the piece, not just the next note!

babinicello: Are you used to play recitals in front of an audience and feel comfortable doing it most of the time? This question is important and related to playing music from memory. Do you believe that playing the Suites from memory makes them sound better? Did your teacher insist on you memorizing all the etudes and scales when you started with the cello, and did you follow this system for many years, training your memory? Or do you just want to memorize a piece in particular? Kreisler once said, "Never perform a piece the first time from memory." There are good reasons for his statement. When you have played the suites in front of an audience many times, sooner or later you will not need the score in front of you. There are no tricks to memorizing.

When you perform in public, you don't have the time to think about fingerings, or whether something is the first theme, or harmonic development. All these foolish suggestions are from people who don't know what it's like to be in front of an audience constantly. If you try to think about fingerings when you play from memory the odds are that you will distract your brain from what you are doing.

Play the music over and over. This is the secret. There is a huge difference between playing from memory at home and doing it in front of a audience. Play with the score in a public recital. Do it a hundred times. Then gradually you will be more comfortable without a score as you play.

Rudolph Serkin always felt uneasy playing from memory. He could never get this aspect out of his performance. People come to hear your playing not your memorization. If you are already comfortable with your memory in front of a audience, by all means do it. But note that there is no difference in music-making.

cbrey: I was lucky enough to hear Sviatoslav Richter in recital not once, but twice. Both times were in Italy in the 1990's, not many years before his death.

He not only used the music-- he had a page turner as well. The stage was completely darkened except for a floor lamp next to the piano. It created a very intimate, concentrated atmosphere. As the Italians said, faceva l'impressione.

The music making was what it had always been with him. Italo's right. Do what makes you comfortable. In the end, nobody cares about anything except how well you made the music come alive.

MsCheryl: I was driving home and pondering this "memorizing Bach" thread. It suddenly struck me that maybe what bothered me about the whole harmony thing in B, was that perhaps some of the Suite movements are written contrapuntally as opposed to harmonically. I have not yet sat down to check this out, but am thinking that maybe this is why I have problems also memorizing some of the movements.

batmanvcl: You are right, there is an exceptionally strong contrapuntal element to most of Bach's music, but it would be a mistake to say that Bach is written either contrapuntally OR harmonically. It's more of a yin and yang thing.

Within the contrapuntal part of Bach's music lies the danger for string players, not only for memorization, but for depth of musical understanding. String players play only one note at a time most of the time. Same with non-keyboard jazz players. The counterpoint in much jazz is not so different from Bach: different quasi-independent lines moving together horizontally through time. (and it is no accident that many great jazz players idolize Bach).

Can you imagine a jazz player taking a solo (i.e. playing a horizontal line) without giving any regard to each important harmonic change going on underneath? Yet what some cellists do is the exact equivalent. They just "play the line". Sure, there are ups and downs, but the expression isn't based on any level of thinking which goes below the surface.

I don't think it's necessary to "memorize" the harmonic progressions in Bach. What is required is the kind of thing many students seem to loathe: detailed initial study. Most of us just want to play the piece through as fast as possible. This is a large issue for me which comes up repeatedly in teaching -- the tendency to grab the nearest workable fingering and bowing (mostly Leonard Rose's) with no thought or exploration whatsoever. It really should be the opposite: recognize the function of each note, then groups of notes, then phrases, etc. then, how do you hear this group of notes, that color change, etc. THEN, what are the right things I need to do at the cello to bring this to life the way I hear it?

This process results in a level of understanding where, when you perform, you don't think about each note anymore, but because at some point you have, performing a movement of Bach is like carving a statue. Meticulousness and whimsy can coexist, but even the "spontaneous" things you do are executed with a meaningful instinct and knowledge of the whole. You can't have an accurate view of the forest if you haven't looked at the trees first.

>> Left Hand Angle

chiddler: I've come across a video on left arm weight by Eric Edberg, Professor of Music (Cello), at DePauw University School of Music:


I think he's done a fine job of it; a straight-forward explanation and demonstration. He makes a point for the sloped, as opposed to the squared-hand, in the application of arm weight.

cbrey: Edberg says in the video, "...if you look at players in a professional orchestra, most of the players use a slanted left hand." The principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic begs to differ strenuously. Good luck with your extensions!

Larry in Delaware: I'd have to say that I'm pretty much with Carter on this, and I'd love to hear his description of the use of the left hand in this regard (as he's got a technique that I much admire and try to model). The misleading thing that Eric Edberg shows in his video is that the hand would slide off the fingerboard if it were squared up, but what he does with his hand isn't squaring it up, but massively supenating it (tipping toward the 4th finger). If the hand "slants" too much back towards the first finger, the cellist gets stuck on the first finger and stabs at the other fingers rather than shifting weight from one finger to the next.

I think there is a tiny bit of pronation of the left hand, but just a tiny bit. Actually, if it's pronated too much, I've seen cases of that making thumb tension even worse.

One statement that I agree with from the video is that arm weight can help relieve thumb pressure. I actually find it healthy to even play with the thumb not necessarily touching the neck (still behind the neck of course, though). This requires good finger strength, but doesn't require slanting the hand back so much.

cbrey: It may be controversial, but it's not really debatable. Pronating your left hand results in a restricted range of extension, and concomitant tension that arises from trying to stretch through a hand position that really does not allow it. It also (and this is my real objection) results in bad musical habits such as hopping or sliding to span intervals which, with a square hand and free thumb, can be effortlessly grasped. I've had so many students come through my studio who had difficulty with certain fingerings or passagework simply because they were pronating. When they stopped doing that, the difficulties vanished or at least became manageable.

Pronation offers no compensatory advantages. Rationales having to do with "arm weight" are, I'm afraid, bollocks. You can use arm weight just as well with a square hand. I do it all the time.

Pseudo-scientific explanations that show how collapsing the wrist to make the hand more parallel to the plane of the floor ignore the unfortunate fact that in doing so, gravity still works to pull the hand down the fingerboard. Placing your fingers at right angles to the gravitational pull doesn't make any practical difference at all. Keeping your left arm low and your wrist supple and slightly convex will give you all the gravitational advantage you need. The natural range of motion of the arm results in a movement backwards as well as down.

I'm not saying that one cannot learn how to play well using a pronated technique; but I do see, every day, how it limits a player by forcing him or her to work around its limitations. You can get used to anything. But why should you?

Victor Sazer, on this board, once suggested a very simple maneuver to demonstrate what the hand naturally wants to do. Hold your hand up in the air. Spread your fingers and thumb. What does your wrist want to do-- rise or fall? What does pronation make your wrist do? What does a square hand allow it to do? (Thank you, Victor-- I hope I'm not misrepresenting you.)

What is also not debatable is the fact that, if you compare an extension with a pronated hand with one executed with a hand square to the fingerboard and the thumb free, you gain as much as a half an inch with a square hand. Your hand, in addition, is much more relaxed. Try playing slurred octaves in first position both ways. Is there any doubt as to which is better?

As I said, it may be controversial, but I'm afraid I don't see two sides to this one. It's time to retire left hand pronation along with the Flat Earth Theory and crop circles created by space aliens.

cbrey: It was many years ago that the word "hopping" came up in a chat with a colleague to describe his way of avoiding extensions.

I recall walking away from that conversation thinking, yeah... but he doesn't really play sostenuto when he crosses strings on a whole step... or tries to reach for a high note and can't quite make it without that tiny break in the sound.

The point, pace Batmanvcl, my respected colleague in another major orchestra, is not to extend all day, all the time, like the news on an AM radio station. The point is... ach, Gott, forgive me, friends, I cannot resist the temptation to resort to italic letters... I'm trying not to push the little "i" button, but the temptation is too weak for my moral constitution... the point is to leave the option to slide or not to slide completely in the realm of musical choice, and not to have it depend on one's technical approach.

If you play with a slanted hand, yet feel that you need to make no compromises in that arena, then read no further, and close your browser with a dismissive monosyllable. But, as I said before, I had many students who did not have this control... and have watched many professionals with the same problem... because they played with a slanted hand.

There are too many instances in our literature where an extension is not just an isolated little event, but an integral part of the passagework in question. Bruckner comes to mind. Sometimes you just don't have the luxury of relaxing back to a basic hand position for a while. I find that having the hand squared means being able to pivot on that first finger and then relax in quick sequence without having to change the basic position very much. It certainly means that in a sostenuto lyrical passage that contains, let's say for the sake of example, a slurred scale-wise descent from D natural on the A string to C natural on the D string, you'll have no trouble reaching for that interval to link the two notes together as if they were on the same string. You just pivot on the first finger, extend the hand forward, and there you have a nice major second with no extra slurping noise. I don't maintain that this cannot be managed with a slanted hand; just that it's more natural with a square one. And despite my admiration, indeed shameless adoration of the playing of Bernard Greenhouse and Emanuel Feuermann, I don't understand anyone's antipathy to wisely-used extensions, which I frankly adore, and which I use, well, extensively, because they give me freedom to eliminate slides or burps where I don't want them. God knows I'm not shy about using them (slides) elsewhere. My enthusiasm for old-fashioned glissandi is almost a joke among my colleagues. And I do not squeeze. At the age of 51, I have no hand tension problems. I doubt that slanting one's hand can eliminate those, and I also doubt that squaring your hand causes them.

Continuing with the subject of problems specific to cello literature, it also happens very often in the orchestral repertoire that we have to play ostinato octaves in low positions for a long time. It makes me cringe to see slanted-handers going into contortions to manage this. I just lower the old elbow, pivot around on my first finger, and start thinking about how best to install an extra set of reefing points on my boat's mainsail. I usually wake up in time to stop playing the octaves. Usually.

Lastly, let me address Batmanvcl's slightly rhetorical question about what happens after fourth position. It was a good question, and I admit I was concentrating on the ramifications of hand form in the lower positions.

The point is not to avoid a "broken" wrist; the point is to maintain as much as possible the relationship of the fingers to the fingerboard. Your left arm goes way up to clear the cello when you go above fourth position, and then the higher up you go, the more the angle of your elbow changes. It has to; it's exactly like what happens when your right arm straightens out as you move your bow toward the tip. You have to pronate your right hand in that case to compensate for the change in angle, so that the bow stays straight; similarly, I start flattening and then collapsing my left wrist as I go higher up on the fingerboard. That way-- and here's the important point-- when I need to pivot on my first finger to reach a large interval, all of my fingers are still close, and nearly perpendicular to, the fingerboard.

In any case, or at least in mine, I find this transition to be seamless and very natural.

In either case, and whatever your approach otherwise, you have to deal with the fact that your arm remains attached to a static point at your shoulder while your hand moves farther away.

Well, it's back to Verklaerte Nacht.

Here's extending to you, kid.

jbentson: To give an alternate viewpoint to what Carter Brey has posted about the desirability of the 'square' hand, I am copying the following from the late William Pleeth's book "Cello", pgs 159-160.

As part of this discussion, Pleeth's book contains two sets of photos showing the 'square' hand and 'sloped' hand from the side and top view and these are what is referenced in the quote below. Also; notice Pleeth's comment in the next to last paragraph on vibrato needing to be about both sides of the point of contact!! – Another contentious issue here.

To me, the last paragraph states what I think is the essence of the present discussion. No two people have the same geometry of arm and hand or the same range of motion. Thus there is no "single" way. Whatever leads to the best combination of relaxation, fluidity of motion and tonal control is what is best for you. For some people, shifting rather than extending may be preferable and improve their playing. These people would probably benefit from a somewhat slanted hand. The main thing I have found in twenty years of teaching various technical subjects is, never discourage the student from finding what works for them. I learned more than I taught sometimes by following that rule.

Here is the Pleeth quote----

"The slope of the left hand determines the angle at which the fingers meet the strings. It also governs the degree of independence the fingers are going to have and hence their capacity to discriminate in minute pitch differences."

"The 'square' hand to the cello is often praised as a good cello hand, but when the hand is held 'square' to the cello (the 'squareness of the hand usually being determined by the angle of the two middle fingers to the string), the first and fourth fingers are forced into positions which are anything but 'square' and which also severely limit their freedom and agility. The fourth finger especially is handicapped by this position. When the two middle fingers are 'square' to the string, it is all but impossible not to deform the fourth finger: it meets the string at an angle like an old shoe which is worn down at the side. (See upper illustration)"

"Now look at the lower pictures, where the hand is shown in a 'sloped' position. The differences in the various finger lengths have been evened up, and each finger is given an equal degree of independence and thus discrimination in pitch differentiation; and the fourth finger does not have to become bandy-legged in order to reach the finger board…."

"The sloped position of the left hand has a great bearing on many factors. Because there is a straight line from the hand back to the elbow the hand is centralized, and this not only allows a free and direct transmission of the energy of the hand into the string (giving the sound greater richness and expression) but also enables the hand to create a vibrato which has perfect movement to either side of contact and hence a core which can be expanded and contracted at will)."

"It is important to stress, however, that one needs to discover the right degree of slope for each individual hand. My hand is not someone else's hand. The sloped position illustrated is only a 'basic' position. All hand shapes are different and all finger lengths are different, and therefore the slope will vary slightly from person to person. This is again something which needs investigation on the part of both the teacher and the student."

Again, just a copy from Pleeth. Take it for what you can get from it.

Victor Sazer: I think it is better. NOT to have a single 'position' at all. Just as we use different tools in different ways, the function determines the form.

I find the best results with the hand generally more square or even at times allowing the fingers to point a bit toward the scroll when doing ascending patterns and allowing them to point a bit toward the bridge when descending.

This is because; I believe that it is the arm that determines where the fingers will be. In other words, you place your fingers with your arm. If your arm is in the right place, your fingers will be in the right place. Your arm anticipates or leads your hand and fingers to their desired destination. This is why the angle of your hand and fingers might vary.

One way to test the extremes that you might use is to place your fingers: 1st on the C, 2nd on the G, 3rd on the D and 4th on the A. Your fingers will now point toward the bridge. Now reverse your fingers so that your 4th finger is on the C, etc. and allow your entire arm to accommodate the freest setting of your hand. Your fingers will now point toward the scroll.

A subtle lifting impulse of the wrist can provides the natural leverage for the hand and fingers to go toward the fingerboard rather than weight or pressure. The downward pull of gravity is constant. Making your arm feel heavy, defeats the natural way in which your hands and arms function.

If you touch an object with your finger, you might notice that you bring your hand and finger toward its destination with your arm. And when your finger is within range, it drops as a reflex; you do not have to use force to make it go down. At the same time, you might notice that your wrist tends to go in the opposite direction from that of your finger. Utilizing this natural mechanism can make cello playing easier while inhibiting it by dead weight or pressing undermines it.

I think that the greatest freedom of movement can be achieved by completely liberating the thumb from behind the neck and playing more from above than below the fingerboard, much as you would on a keyboard.

It is also helpful to use only one finger at a time when playing single notes and releasing your hand as much as possible. You can open to reach a note but close to play it. Keeping the hand fixed with your fingers separated causes unneeded tension.

BA: Theoretical discussions generally hold only marginal interest for me, as I have seen people with different body types and setups playing amazingly well with all different kinds of approaches. In my experience, the more broad the theory, the less it's actually helpful to me in solving day to day cellistic problems -- I find I need a whole bag of different tricks for different situations. But that's just me. I would have to agree with Italo that there is a lot to be gained by watching videos of the greats and experimenting with what actually works for you, but bear in mind that it might not work for your body. I've seen a lot more people emulate Rostropovich's setup than his playing... Results are the only thing that matters.

Anyway, I'm just jumping in as an annoying self-appointed member of the Feuermann police. I didn't want to let this stand without some clarification:

"This reminded me of my lessons with Mr. Greenhouse, who use to refer quite often to his lessons with Mr. Feuermann, who advocated more shifting and much less extending than the extension-centric Casals school of playing. Greenhouse got me (and a lot of other cellists) doing more small "jumps" of the hand and fewer extensions, to avoid the tension extensions create in many cellists. He was certainly the most anti-extension teacher I ever had."

Perhaps you meant only to refer to Mr. Greenhouse's desire to avoid extensions, but just to clarify, the Feuermann video is quite indisputable. Feuermann himself considered his use of extensions to avoid unmusical shifts to be one of his larger technical accomplishments, continuing very much in the Casals' direction. You can read in his own writings how, as young man, he surprised his teachers by using extensions to avoid traditional shifts that he did not wish to make. Secondly, in his lone video, you will see that Feuermann regularly uses extensions. He has large hands and he never mantains the hand in an extended position, but Feuermann was clearly very much a proponent of extensions when he felt it was appropriate musically, just as he was an advocate of portamento where he felt that was appropriate.

I actually just went back and watched the video three times today, partly to double check my memory, and partly because I just can't believe how easy and simple he makes it look. Does Feuermann 'supinate' his left hand? Sometimes, he does a bit, when playing first or second finger, particularly in slower moving melodic passages or in the higher registers. Does he use a 'square' hand? When playing third or fourth fingers, or in rapid passagework involving the fourth finger his hand is very square. One doesn't come away from the video impressed with his dogmatic adherence to either 'school', but instead impressed at how relaxed, simple and organic every motion of his left hand appears to be as it moves freely and adjusts to the demands of the moment. No straining, no awkwardness, no fingers sticking wildly in the air, no over-articulation. It looks in fact, so organic and effortless as to cause this particular cellist quite a bit of personal despair. (And that holds equally for his right hand, BTW, right thumb is STRAIGHT, with the pad facing upwards)

In any case, the video is ample proof (and his performing editions verify it) that Feuermann was very much a proponent of extensions, and that it is possible, at least for him, to make them in a very relaxed natural manner. (Again, he had large hands and never held an extended position. He streched at the last minute and immediately re-adjusted the hand at the new note. Generally his hand looked like it was moving as a unit, despite the many quick extensions).

Cello Classics has done a great service in making this video widely available -- http://www.celloclassics.com/cc1013.htm

Bob: I have to say I'm very surprised that cellists at the level of Paul Katz and Carter Brey see this as an either/or sort of thing. Just as it's impossible to play 1-4 octaves in the lower positions without a very square hand and low elbow, so it is impossible to produce a beautiful vibrato with the first finger in the lowest positions unless your arm is quite diagonal to the strings. Different musical demands require different approaches.

Like Feuermann and Starker, we should use the arm position that best allows us to make music, and such position will change from phrase to phrase, even from note to note. Extensions are preferable to shifts in some instances, and shifts are preferable in others. The slower the passage, the more time we have to reposition the arm, note-by-note, for optimal weight, vibrato, finger articulation, etc. The faster the passage, the more compact and centered everything must be; like a figure skater drawing in her arms to increase the speed of a spin, so too we must move about less as the velocity of the notes becomes faster.

This is why practicing scales in 3ds is so important -- it helps our arm find the "center" of each position, for those times when we need all notes available in immediate proximity. But the "center" of the position is rarely the optimal place when trying to sing with the first finger.

cbrey: Bob says, "It is impossible to produce a beautiful vibrato with the first finger in the lowest positions unless your arm is quite diagonal to the strings." I just did it. And my cat, Blimpo, is sitting right here and will tell you so.

Seriously, you guys. Don't make me out to be the rigid dogmatist that I'm not. My whole purpose in bringing this up was to point out specific problems in extensions that I observe in pronaters who don't change their hand form in response to musical needs that are not being met with their technique.

I don't give a fart what someone's hand looks like if they can do everything they want musically and don't do things they don't want to do musically. If someone came here and played for me with a pronated hand and did not have any difficulty in doing precisely what they wanted-- musically-- I would not change a thing.

It's only when something interferes with a musical decision, or makes someone decide to put up with something audible that's unattractive or unmusical for a technical reason, that I object to it. Can I possibly make that idea any clearer? The musical idea has to come first. The technique serves it. If it does not serve it, it has to change. It doesn't matter if the hand looks like an old shoe or not, if the phrase comes out just as you want it.

>> Right hand and bowing

Sobachnik: After the thread on weight and pronation in the left hand that was so helpful, can I ask about the right hand?

My teacher has helped me understand using the weight of the arm, but now I'm having a hard time understanding a legato bow change. He keeps telling me: the bow slows down and then starts off in the other direction. He keeps telling me to be "supple," which only makes me tense up. And it's much too abstract for me to understand.

I've got this idea that the weight passing through the hand to the bow and the string shifts just before the bow changes direction. So on a downbow most of the weight is coming though my first finger, towards the tip I start to shift the weight towards the frog and fingers 3 and 4 and then I change direction.

Then on an upbow, I'm pushing with the weight on the outside of my hand, heavier on the frog. When I get near the change, I shift the weight to the first finger and the inside of my hand in order to start the pull.

This seemed like a good idea, because it would accomplish the slowing and releasing pressure before the change.

Except, when I tried practicing like this today: I dropped the bow constantly.

Can anybody help?

zambocello: There is just sooooo much thinking involved in your bow work! In fact, I can't really respond to what you've posted. Not that it's bad, it's just so far removed from what ever it is that I think about when I'm scraping hair on my cello.

For one thing, never think of your bow slowing down. That's what makes for an asphyxiated, anti-legato sound. (Do singers or wind players ever think of slowing down their breath leading up to an articulation? And a sure-fired way to screw up a golf shot is to decelerate the swing.) And never think of pushing on the bow, either into or across the string. In either direction, pull the bow.

Of course bow speed is not always constant. But use different speeds for different colors and volumes, not to artificially manage the bow change. Indeed, I don't know if I really speed up my bow, but when I want a really legato bow change, I think of speeding up my bow (imperceptibly) into the bow change.

Bob: Certainly the HAND is "pulling" the bow in both directions, but the ARM does "push" during the up-bow. The arm is in front of the stick (in the direction of travel) on the down-bow but it's behind the stick on the up-bow, like an outboard motor pushing a boat.

>> Fifths in Thumb Position

zambocello: In your bow hand, which way does your thumb face? Is your thumb pad facing straight up towards the stick, or does the pad face back towards the frog with the stick resting on the side of the thumb?

PatWhite: Here's what I have my students do when I show them the natural lie of the bow hand. Take the bow hand and turn it over, so that the palm is facing the ceiling. The thumb naturally is curved in a bit, and the fingers naturally are slightly curved and slightly spaced apart from each other. That is what we are trying to capture when we place our fingers on the bow to hold it. The answer to your question is therefore the latter: the pad faces back towards the frog with the stick resting on the side of the thumb.

cbrey: Have you ever seen Mark O'Connor play? He actually places his thumb on the bottom surface of the frog, directly on the pearl slide. I always forget to ask him about this, but I assume it's a country fiddle thing.

Just goes to show that gifted people will play well no matter what. Look at Django Rheinhardt and his missing digits.

FWIW, my thumb pad faces up. Like a cockroach on Raid.

hodol88: Interesting comment Carter. But I have a question . When I take my right hand and arrange the thumbpad so it faces "up" ( i.e. my thumbnail is parallel to the floor ) my fingers are stacked almost vertically and my palm is to the right when my hand is relaxed- no matter how I move my thumb relative to the palm !!

By "up" you mean the right hand side of the thumb is up or is your thumb pad parallel to the bottom of the stick?.

Where is the point of contact on your thumb and the bow in your bowhold?

cbrey: This just goes to show that you shouldn't be making cockroach jokes when someone asks you a perfectly decent question about a bow hold. My thumb contacts the stick exactly where it touches the second finger if I simply hold my hand in the air and close it lightly. In other words, halfway between the center and side of the pad.

>> Cellists of the Past vs. Present

cellofan07: I pulled out some of my old Casals records this morning, and my god, that man was incredible. I've been listening to his complete Beethoven recordings with Serkin all morning, and the playing is so rich, and full of life. Now, I'm as much of an Isserlis freak as some of the others here, but when it comes down to it, Casals had something special that I don't think is going to exist ever again. It's so easy to forget these days, with modern digital audio editing magic, that the old school players often made recordings in one take, or at least complete takes. There's an old Casals story that goes something like this (paraphrased): Casals plays a concerto movement, and the producer tells him that there were a few wrong notes, and would he like to try it again? Casals says no, "That's how I played it." Can you imagine Deutsche-Grammophone being okay with that today? I certainly cannot.

I love how good modern cello playing is, but mein Gott!, the players of old really had something that we don't have anymore. Maybe it's just the warmth of old analog recordings, I don't know. What I do know, is that I won't be listening to any cd's this month. It will just be me and my LP collection!

cbrey: Ah, yes, the old "The Don't Make 'em Like They Used To" plaint, keened to the accompaniment of Auld Lang Syne.

I've been following the monster of this well-worn argument with some amusement; it comes up for air as regularly as clockwork before having its head shoved back under the water.

How about some balance?

Like many others born before a certain time, I grew up on a steady diet-- and I do mean steady-- of old masters from the acoustic and early electric eras, courtesy of my father's and grandfather's collection of 78 rpm shellacs.

Caruso (how can I forget his maniacal, bitter laugh at the end of Vesti la Giubba?), Rachmaninov (I am still one of the few non-pianists familiar with his Fourth Piano Concerto, and I know all of his recorded performances, including his monumental Chopin), Schnabel (he opened the path to my love of Schubert with his groundbreaking championing of the piano sonatas).

Casals (I still have the 10-inch 78's of his exquisite playing of concert miniatures like the Spinning Song and Goyescas), Feuermann (my high school string teacher lent me his priceless original 78's of Feuermann performances of Weber, Schubert and Beethoven with Franz Rupp and Gerald Moore). Rostropovich (I recall as if it were yesterday the classic technical purity-- yes, purity!-- and staggering emotive power of his early playing). Fournier and his collaborations with Kempf and Schnabel as well as his great solo Bach for DG in 1960.

Violinists galore, including of course Heifetz in his pre- and post- LP days (probably the biggest single influence on my playing style, for better or for worse) as well as the occasional revival at the New Yorker Twin Cinema here in NYC, now alas defunct, of one of his concert movies (They Shall Have Music, Carnegie Hall), Zimbalist, Elman, Kreisler and Kubelik. I remember listening fascinatedly with school friends to archive recordings of Sarasate and Joachim.

Right here, at this moment, a reissue of Nathan Milstein's Beethoven and Brahms concerto recordings with Steinberg and Pittsburgh is in my CD player in the kitchen. I took along his solo Bach on a recent long drive up the Hudson.

All wonderful, all so different. I'm grateful that they take their rightful place as giants and that they continue to nourish my soul.

But there are, today, many thoughtful instrumentalists and singers whose only crime in the eyes of some, I think, is not to have been born before a certain date.

It's very true that there are mediocre talents who've benefited from an unfortunate symbiosis of recording company cynicism and audience ignorance. I won't name them; it's not necessary, because we all have our favorites among them.

Their opposite numbers existed in the past. It was not an untrammeled Golden Age, my friends. Charlatans have always flourished, and will continue to do so. It's in the nature of an art that requires some measure of sophistication on the part of the listener. Tant pis.

Getting back to younger musicians: I remember a performance by soprano Dawn Upshaw of a Menotti aria from The Old Maid and the Thief that brought tears to my eyes. Likewise her portrayal of Pamina in a Met production of The Magic Flute. I have never heard the G-minor aria sung with such radiant, understated tragedy.

Pianists Richard Goode, Murray Perahia, Christian Zacharias and Mitsuko Uchida continue a great tradition of classical pianism that would do honor to Serkin and Schnabel. Garrick Ohlsson is a staggeringly versatile and intelligent representative of the virtuoso tradition of figures like Rachmininov and Hoffman.

Steven Isserlis may have offended some with his caustic manner in a masterclass. That's regrettable. And I'll offer a caution that we've been good friends for many years-- I admit that I may not be the world's most objective judge. But when I attended a dress rehearsal for his performance of the Schumann Concerto here in New York many years ago, I went with an open mind despite my own history with this piece, which by the way includes performances with non-slouch conductors like Abbado and Rostropovich, and I learned something. He had something new to show me about the music and I was delighted with the exchange.

I can say much the same thing about a violinist such as Gidon Kremer. I respect his decision to dispense with surface prettiness and dig down in search of something else. He may fail, just as I've heard Steven fail now and then, and as the players of an older generation such as those I enumerated earlier also did (if you don't believe me, listen to Casals' performance of an arrangement of the Preislied from Die Meistersinger. It is not good). But I like the fact that they have a vision and pursue it with integrity.

On the other side of things, Pinchas Zuckerman owes nobody an apology for his combination of wide-ranging curiosity (a dedication to Mozart as well as to new music) and sensual, magnificently beautiful violin playing.

Peter Wispelway is in my opinion a fantastic cellist, a very smart, accomplished artist whose solo Bach in particular is some of the best I've heard in decades.

My friend Gil Shaham recently played the Sibelius Concerto with the New York Philharmonic. It was not generally considered a success; his playing was over the top and exceeded his ability to control the technical side of things. I found it interesting because I felt he was looking for something. I didn't dismiss it out of hand, because I was listening in the context of the countless performances of his that I've heard or participated in over the years, and I know him to be a self-effacing, highly intelligent player who respects the music and tries mightily to honor it with beautiful playing. He usually succeeds.

BA: I have to disagree somewhat with my friend and colleague, Mr. Brey, on this issue. But what follows is just a bunch of my own wacky opinions, so who's to say...

I do agree that there are some wonderful performers today that would be unjustly neglected by broadly dismissing everything today as inferior, and that there were unquestionably second rate talents performing alongside the greats during the height of the 'golden era', but I believe that the relative quantities of each, as well as the level of the very best performers of that age are quite different.

Who were the top violinists performing in the era of the 1930-50? Heifetz, Kreisler, Oistrakh, Milstein, Szeryng, Szigeti, Francescatti (not to mention the short career of Hassid), etc. How many of the most famous violinists today would you rank as belonging to this list? Is there any violinist today you would rank alongside Heifetz or Kreisler? Even the secondary figures of this era look quite impressive to me compared to certain of today's most famous violinists.

While I admire all the pianists Carter mentioned, Zacharias particularly, I couldn't place any of them in a league with Rachmaninov or Hoffman. It doesn't mean I don't think they're great. There are lots of pianists I absolutely love from the older era as well that I still couldn't place in a a league with these two.

As for Isserlis, the only time I've heard him live, which is really the only way to judge how someone actually plays, I heard from the audience all four performances and a dress rehearsal of the original version of Rococo that he did with the New York Philharmonic. While he did display a good, solid facility on the instrument, I simply couldn't get past the sound, which was not just small, but also to my ears quite rough, nasal and lacking in variety and color. For me, ideal string playing is like singing. If the sound they produce doesn't grab your soul, it doesn't really matter what else they do. Beyond that, there was for me nothing that I found particularly beautiful in the performance (for what it's worth many of my colleagues in the New York Philharmonic shared those sentiments.) However, he could have simply been having an off week, I don't know. I have a lot of respect for Isserlis' intelligence and his thoughtful exploration of the repertoire, so I would certainly go to hear him again whenever I get the chance. I expect I could always learn something. But I personally couldn't put him in a league with other cellists I consider the 'best' (including several cellists performing today). Wispelway, well, I haven't heard his Bach. I'll have to listen again, but what I've heard I really did not care for. Again a relative coarseness and lack color and variety in his sound was a big issue for me, along with some very quirky musical choices. But I've only heard recordings, so I'll listen again based on Carter's enthusiasm.

If we are talking about conductors, talk to an member of a Top 5 orchestra who's been doing it for 30 years or more and ask how they think the average level of guest conductor compares to what it was. Human nature does of course tend to idealize the past, remembering only what was best, but even accounting heavily for that tendency, you will find broad, almost universal, agreement that the average level of ability and musical understanding has declined DRAMATICALLY.

By taking a selection of the recordings of the 'most famous' musicians of the 'golden era' and comparing with a similar selection of today's 'most famous', there are - on average- real and obvious differences. The sound and style of most string players today tends to be far for homogeneous and less personal. Tempi are almost universally slower and rubati much more expansive, while portamenti are far less common.. Regardless of which style you prefer, I think it would be hard to argue that there aren't very different stylistic tendencies that broadly but noticeably define the most famous performers of that era compared to the most famous performers of the last 30 years or so. Of course there are exceptions, and generalizations always leave themselves open to counter-example, but for instance, the playing of Casals and Feuermann, while very distinct, are far more similar to each other than they are to that of any of the most famous cello soloists today.

Of course there are exceptions and no one is claiming that being born at a certain time makes you a great muscian or not a great muscian, but to me it seems rather obvious that there was a period in which a uniquely large number of performers were on the planet at the same time pushing the boundaries and reshaping our conception of how their instruments could be played, and in comparison there seem to be far fewer today, or at least far fewer breaking into the top ranks of the most famous performers. Remember no one is longing for the return of the pre-Casals era cellists or players in the style of Sarasate. We are talking about one specific period. Most arts have 'golden ages' similar to this, and simply acknowledging it doesn't imply that everyone born at a later date is necessarily lesser.

But I do believe it is important that we recognize this era that produced so many great musicians and speak often of it. There is an entire generation of musicians growing up most of whom have heard only the recordings of today's most commercially successful musicians and have no other frame of reference to make up their own minds. The point for those of us living in modern times is not to sadly pine for an era gone by, but to appreciate, learn and steal everything we like. In music stealing from past greats has always been the pathway towards new horizons.

By the way, in my opinion there are two particularly bright spots in modern classical performance; I have heard a lot of first rate singers in recent years, many of them relatively young and unknown. Again, only my opinion, but I feel like I hear more singers I consider excellent, exciting musicians these days than string players or pianists. And secondly I think most orchestras are performing at higher levels (at least technically) than at any time I have ever heard on recording. When I listen to recordings of different eras, I hear a consistent trend of improvement in the quality of orchestral performance over the years, even as the interpretations of some of the maestri decline.

zambocello: I suspect that modern orchestras do play better than ever. I also suspect that that is why conductors seem worse than ever. At one time, conductors were head and shoulders above their orchestras; in a position to actually teach their players. Now, conductors are still (theoretically) the top musicians in the biz, but as orchestras have gotten better, the difference between conductor and follower is less. Indeed, I'm so confident in my colleagues' abilities that I believe that on a weekly guest conductor-basis, the conductor is not as good at being a conductor as the orchestra players are at being orchestra players.

There is also the issue of dilution. Just as baseball expansion diluted the wealth of starting pitching, the expansion of the number of orchestras and the amount of work that orchestras do has diluted the limited wealth of fine conductors.

As far as soloists of the past being better than the current crop ,I don't know. Expectations are different, that's for sure. I wonder if the daily performances of some of the past greats would stand up under the daily recorded and broadcast scrutiny that moderns deal with.

Perhaps analogous is baseball players of the past retaining their luster in spite of the accomplishments of the moderns. Who's the greatest base stealer? Maybe Ty Cobb. But what was his success percentage? Many moderns have a better one, I suspect, based on what I've read. Cobb took such risks. He was thrown out more than once in a game, and more than once. Did that EVER happen to Brock, Henderson, or Wills? Similarly, modern soloists, I think, just can't take the chances that the past greats could. There is a modern expectation for instrumental-craftsmanship perfection that makes those risks untenable.

David Sanders: I of course never played with Heifetz, but my colleague Phil Blum recorded with him and played with him many times, and he says there was nobody like him and certainly nobody like him today.

I don't believe that current conductors are worse now because the orchestras are better. I think they're worse now because they are more interested in making a career-defining impact than in what the music means. The self-indulgent conductors of today, the ones who can't keep a tempo or a beat, the ones who don't know that a downbeat is supposed to be down, these are people who are only interested in what they want, not what the composer had in mind.

Babinicello: It is interesting to evaluate the many concepts of sound and projection that different musicians have. I also heard many live performances of Isserlis, and I always thought he was handicapped with the projection of his sound. Casals also used gut strings, but he projected his tone in a superlative way in a large hall. As for "living in the past" or the great ones of the era, much manure has been written about it. Yes, I also can talk about pianists and violinists and singers, but I prefer to talk about string players. Casals talked about the works of Ravel and Debussy as "una mierda." Did Casals reveal his limitations or was his opinion well-considered? I for one love Ravel and Debussy, but I cannot disregard the greatness of Casals just because what he says does not match my opinion.

BA: Re: "I suspect that modern orchestras do play better than ever...I also suspect that that is why conductors seem worse than ever."

I think that notion is pretty quickly dispelled simply by watching concert and rehearsal tapes of the old guys. As an older colleague in the New York Philharmonic remarked to me about Maazel, "There was a time when almost weekly we had someone similarly talented. Now he's head and shoulders above most of the guests. He didn't change, the others just died."

Re: " I wonder if the daily performances of some of the past greats would stand up under the daily recorded and broadcast scrutiny that moderns deal with."

This really seems like a bizarre statement to me. There are plenty of live broadcast recordings to prove that they did in fact play just as well live. In fact the recordings of the older players were often far more representative of how they played live than modern recordings are, as they were done with little editing. Even today's 'live broadcast' performances are usually a pastiche of the best individual movements of three nights of a performance. Not so for the old live radio broadcasts.

Heifetz live was in many cases superior to Heifetz from recording sessions. I've listened to many out-takes from Feuermann recordings and Rubinstein-Heifetz-Feuermann trio recordings and the out-takes sound almost exactly like the takes they used.

The only thing the old guys did not deal with is the era of jet travel where concerts can be and often are packed so close together as to give an artist very little travel time for contemplation, practice, and relaxation, but that's not really an excuse because anyone who wanted the time today could certainly take it.

zambocello: Bizarre indeed, BA. Perhaps I didn't express myself well. Believe me, I believe Heifetz was great just about every moment that he was playing. But try this analogy:

The fact that all modern instruments are not as good as the surviving and well-restored old Italians does not indicate to me that modern makers are less gifted and able than older makers. Similarly, the fact that all modern players do not play as did Heifetz and Feuermann does not indicate to me that modern players are less gifted or able than older players.

Just as less-than-great older instruments were turned into kindling, less-than-great older players are similarly forgotten.

BA: Well, my problem with that analogy would be two-fold. First, instruments, unlike players, seem to improve with age. A Strad today probably sounds much better than it did when it was new. And if a Strad did sound just as good when it was new, then what modern maker would you claim makes an instrument that sounds as good as a Strad?

Similarly, for your analogy to hold there must be at least a few violinists out there playing on the level of Heifetz or Kreisler that will endure after the N S-S kindling has disappeared from memory. Who would they be? As I said, though I like a lot of modern players, I haven't heard the modern day equivalent of a Rachmaninov or a Heifetz (in either technical OR musical ability) though I certainly would love to and I will keep hoping. But I suspect there is something more fundamentally different in the musical culture today -- how young musicians are trained, marketed and promoted -- than just an aversion to risk.

To continue with your analogy, there was clearly a 'golden age' in which many great instrument makers flourished. While we do see good instruments emerging from the 19th century, it is not at the same rate or from as many makers. Simply acknowledging that there was this golden age in instrument making doesn't automatically imply that an instrument made after it isn't any good or that there aren't certain selected 19th century instruments worthy of standing next to many of the better instruments from the golden age.

But applying this analogy to musicians is more complicated. As I said, I feel that by and large there was a broad stylistic change, so comparing most modern style players to the past players, you're not really comparing apples to apples in most cases. To me, Stern on the violin (early on, when he still practiced) and Rostropovich (when HE still practiced) on the cello marked a sea change in style -- the first representatives of what I would call the 'modern' approach. Dividing it into camps is of course ridiculously broad as it is really a spectrum, with some players like Perlman (when HE still practiced...hmm, maybe we're on to something here) sitting somewhere in the nexus between the two. And of course, every player is quite distinct and some completely contradict the generalization, but there is still obvious truth in the broad statement of the stylistic difference, on average, between their time and ours. It is not simply an issue of quality, but of a different approach and aesthetic, on the average. Doubtless the style of our time will change and new trends will emerge as well.

>> Bow Hand Thumb

zambocello: In your bow hand, which way does your thumb face? Is your thumb pad facing straight up towards the stick, or does the pad face back towards the frog with the stick resting on the side of the thumb?

PatWhite: Here's what I have my students do when I show them the natural lie of the bow hand. Take the bow hand and turn it over, so that the palm is facing the ceiling. The thumb naturally is curved in a bit, and the fingers naturally are slightly curved and slightly spaced apart from each other. That is what we are trying to capture when we place our fingers on the bow to hold it. The answer to your question is therefore the latter: the pad faces back towards the frog with the stick resting on the side of the thumb.

cbrey: Have you ever seen Mark O'Connor play? He actually places his thumb on the bottom surface of the frog, directly on the pearl slide. I always forget to ask him about this, but I assume it's a country fiddle thing.

Just goes to show that gifted people will play well no matter what. Look at Django Rheinhardt and his missing digits.

FWIW, my thumb pad faces up. Like a cockroach on Raid.

hodol88: Interesting comment Carter. But I have a question . When I take my right hand and arrange the thumbpad so it faces "up" ( i.e. my thumbnail is parallel to the floor ) my fingers are stacked almost vertically and my palm is to the right when my hand is relaxed- no matter how I move my thumb relative to the palm !!

By "up" you mean the right hand side of the thumb is up or is your thumb pad parallel to the bottom of the stick?.

Where is the point of contact on your thumb and the bow in your bowhold?

cbrey: This just goes to show that you shouldn't be making cockroach jokes when someone asks you a perfectly decent question about a bow hold. My thumb contacts the stick exactly where it touches the second finger if I simply hold my hand in the air and close it lightly. In other words, halfway between the center and side of the pad.

>> Book Under Arm

Sublime Bach: In old cello playing, cellists were instructed to play with books under their arms for practice. Short of holding a massively thick book under ones arm, how on earth does one reach up the fingerboard with the left arm, and bow at all with the right? I've tried to position my cello at every angle, and have failed miserably. What am i missing?

BobS: I hadn't heard this one, but my first teacher, a member of the New York Philharmonic and NBC Symphony in the early 1900's, used to tell me about having to sleep with corks between the fingers of his left hand in his early years at the conservatory in Belgium.

Chiddler: My understanding of the book exercise is that it started as a violin exercise. In violin, more so than cello, once your bow gets past a certain point, nearly all of the motion comes from the elbow, not the shoulder. Rather, the elbow and shoulder start to move in opposite ways. On a downbow the elbow opens out, while the shoulder closes back in . On an upbow, the elbow closes while the shoulder opens. The effect is most pronounced on the E string. The opposing motions help keep the bow straight.

Holding a book while bowing in the upper half, especially on E string, helps a violinst feel how the shoulder moves contrary to the elbow. It makes for an informative demonstration. But, I gather, the concept was taken way too far by people that didn't understand the point, and it really falls down (both the concept and the book) when applied to cello.

ericedberg: I am not a "Baroque" cellist, but I do have friends who are, and I did attend the Oberlin Baroque performance Institute 5 or 6 years ago, where I had the opportunity to work with both Ken Slowick and Cathy Meintz, each a big gun in the historically-informed performance practice world.

There I was taught that playing cello with an overhand bow grip evolved from viola da gamba bowing. With a gamba bow, one uses an underhanded bow hold, much like the German double bass bow hold. With this style of bowing, virtually everything is done with the forearm opening from the elbow, while the upper arm remains motionless. In viola da gamba class, doing everything from the elbow made perfect sense, with the underhanded grip, it worked well.

On the cello, though, it is not an easy skill to develop, and there are a number of professional contemporary "Baroque" players who use a more modern (i.e., post-Casals) bow arm, in which a down bow motion starts with the arm opening at the shoulder.

While I was at Oberlin, in order to learn the "Baroque" bowing technique (about which Meintz and Slowick were quite insistent), I actually found it helpful to hold something under my arm. I tried a pillow, a running shoe, and did find that a nice thick book worked well. Despite this practice, I was often chastised in classes/lessons for having too active an upper arm.

Another thing to take into account is that remember that in the old, book-under-the-arm days, the cello was usually played without an endpin, and even when and endpin was used, the instrument was held very low (as low as when one didn't use an endpin). It was also often held so that there was more of an angle across the body. So it was (and still is, if you hold the cello like this) possible to play keeping the upper arm very low and close to the body.

If I remember correctly (from his memoir "Joys and Sorrows"), Casals was 12 and studying in Barcelona when he rebelled against the book-under-the-arm thing, and his teacher was somewhat up in years. Consequently, his teacher MAY have been using an approach which in other parts of Europe would have been considered anachronistic anyway. I don't believe anyone has documented that the liberated, de-booked upper arm originated with Casals alone and then spread throughout the cello world. It may be that while he discovered this for himself in the relative isolation of his teacher's studio in Barcelona, other cellists elsewhere in Europe were coming to the same conclusion.

Once he became famous, of course, Casals's use of the freer bow arm would have given it legitimacy and inspired many to use it. So even if other cellists had discovered the benefits independently, it is probably true that Casals was the most important force in its widespread acceptance. Just as Rostropovich probably did more to popularize the Tortelier bent endpin than its inventor, at least in certain parts of the world, especially in the United States.

>> Bach Suite Edition

Polypro: Does anyone know if Casals ever published an edition of the Bach cello suites with his bowings? I'd like to hear some recommendations on which editions provide the best bowings and phrasing, etc.

jbentson:Sarah Schenkman The one I recommend, and I have quite a few different editions, is the Wenzinger Barenreiter.

Bob: Casals never did an edition. There have been at least a half dozen editions that claim to convey his intentions.

Two helpful articles for you:


HiramAbif357: I just watched one of the videos of Casals doing a masterclass at Berkeley and he comments on all the different editions. He said he will never make an edition because he feels cellists have messed up the music enough. HE did recommend an edition which I believe is no longer in print.

mlunapiena01: If I remember correctly, Casals altered his bowings all the time when playing the suites anyway.

cbrey I agree with Sarah Schenkman. There's no substitute for doing your own research with the new Baerenreiter manuscript facsimile edition, but if you really have a jones for an edited version, August Wenzinger's old Baerenreiter from 1950 is exemplary, despite the fact that he did not have access to all the (now) available sources. He makes it clear where his emendations begin and end, his meddling is minimal, and what he does have to contribute is sophisticated and very musically sound. His suggestions spring not from what is cellistically facile but from what makes sense according to his take on polyphony and line.

Babinicello: The DIRAN ALEXANIAN edition had the total support of Casals, who also used this version in his recordings and performances. ALEXANIAN spent 10 years of research on each note of his version. Casals used the same version for a year before Alexanian printed the manuscript. Paul Tortelier referred to the exhaustive version done by Alexanian as the ULTIMATE WORK. This printed version contains the copies of the original manuscript in the first half of the book, and in the second half the complete research for possible mistakes. IT IS TRULY THE ULTIMATE SOURCE FOR ANY CELLIST. Bob: Babinicello is mistaken both about Casals and Alexanian. Listen to the Casals recording, while following along with the Alexanian edition, and it will be immediately apparent that Casals is going very much his own way. His version is just as often different from as similar to Alexanian's. Moreover, as has already been pointed out, Casals's conception of the music evolved constantly. I have a copy of the music carefully annotated by Willard Collins, who studied the Suites with Casals in the 1960's. The fingerings and bowings are frequently unlike either the Alexanian edition or Casals's recordings from 30 years earlier. If Casals taught us anything, it is that the Suites are a protean opponent, and we must re-study and re-think each time we approach them. ANY fixed edition is antithetical to this ideal, which is why he never made one. If he ever "recommended" an edition to anyone, he was, in essence, giving up on them ("you can't figure this stuff out for yourself, so just go do what this other guy has done."). As for Alexanian, his edition is its own indictment. Leaving aside the fact that it's graphically incomprehensible, compare any movement therein to the manuscript helpfully reproduced in the front. In measure after measure, he takes it upon himself to emend and embellish what is there, which we all do, of course, but as my little cousin would say, "Who died and made him god?" Alexanian didn't have access to the early sources that we all now have thanks to the new Barenreiter edition, which many of us agree is the true "ultimate source" for this music. His decisions are sometimes weird, and, in places where Bach's articulations are both clear and consistent (such as the Allemande from Suite III) he is inexplicably different. In short, while it's an interesting portrait of an overly-analytical mind ruminating about this music, the Alexanian edition is not one that should be accorded any special deference.

timscott: I also like the Wenzinger edition. However, to stimulate and annoy yourself, look at Anner Bylsma's Bach, the Fencing Master. It is, I think, intentionally provocative, almost crazy, but has a lot of useful ideas and insights designed to prod us to try and think very outside the box.

G M Stucka: Has the Alexanian version now fallen from favor? It's a pain in the butt to perform from, but I've enjoyed studying the phrasing options.

zambocello: I had the benefit/burden of the Alexanian edition being my first and, for years only, Bach Suites edition. The graphics of the edition were almost incomprehensible to me (though very pretty) at that youthful and stupid age. I think Alexanian's analysis is interestingly provocative, but I don't use it as a primary teaching aid. The new edition with all the facsimiles is what I urge students to ask their parents for Christmas. Even that has no good performance edition. Thanks to the ease of Finale, Sibelius, or whatever, we can all make -- and constantly amend -- our own editions now. In lessons, my students read off the Garrett edition!

babinicello: Before Alexanian finished his edition of the Suites, Casals used a different edition, his choice of IT, was based in the simple fact HE NEEDED the notes to play the Suites, and not because the edition itself. If you ever looked at the ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT YOU CAN REALIZE HOW DIFFICULT IS TO READ FROM IT. Of course, as it happens often, cellists choose bowings and fingerings that better fits the fingers, and Casals was not an exception in modifying any printed edition, since his fingerings were MUSICALLY ORIENTED.

During my stay in Puerto Rico, many years ago, one day I was quite late for my lessons, in the commotion to get to his home I left my notes at the room I rented during 2 years DURING MY STAY IN SAN JUAN. After finishing the Schumann concerto he asked for the Sarabande of the 4th suite. Of course I was just starting to learn it and had not yet memorized the Suite. CASALS PUT ON THE STAND HIS ALEXANIAN VERSION, with some of his bowings and fingerings done with a pencil. There were not many.

Alexanian was a great pedagogue of the cello, his musical knowledge was immense. Casals had only praise for the man, they were close friends and his version of the Suites was endorsed by the Spanish Maestro. THERE ARE NO QUESTIONS ABOUT IT from people who knows the facts.

Of course, the complexity of the suites as exposed by Alexanian, ALSO needs also a great amount of musical knowledge from the point of the PLAYER. IT NEEDS MUCH MENTAL EFFORT TO COME TO A FULL UNDERSTANDING of Alexanian's work. It is a monumental work. He spent 10 years working on the suites, and only printed them AFTER CASALS analyzed it and TOTALLY APPROVED. He also used much extensions in his fingerings, and the notations of Casals were done in this particular manner. Please do not insist that Casals NEVER used the Alexanian.

David Sanders: I have two short comments about this issue, both that I was told by Garbousova. The first was about Casals. She and a few fellow students were with Casals backstage before a concert where he was to play the Bach 4th Suite. They were bugging him about his bowings for the prelude. He played it backstage for them with all kinds of slurs, which they were quickly trying to jot down in their copies of the music. When they got out in front for the concert, he played the entire movement with separate bows. He obviously played the suites how he wanted, whenever he wanted.

About Alexanian, Raya knew him very well and she told me once that she yelled at him about his edition (she told me this when I studied the 6th suite with her), that it might be theoretically correct and interesting, all the different strings for voice leading, etc., but she was a performer and needed to be able to play in a way that suited her and the music, not some analytical approach that made performing much more difficult.

Anyway, that's what she told me she said.

Hiram Abiff 37: Ok, this is from The Library of Master Performances- Master Class Series Casals Vol 2. On the DVD Casals is teaching the 1st Prelude and Allemande and the 3rd Courante. He says this to his student during the video. "The best edition….well if you don't have the original facsimile the edition of Hau…Hausmann (?) is the best." He goes on to say " there is so much confusion with so many editions, every cellist thinks they have the right to make an edition huh.. and the result is such a confusion. That is why I always refuse to make an edition."

cbrey: I don't see why editions have to be mutually exclusive; in fact, I can only see harm in that, if one is talking about highly personalized editions, as opposed to attempts at scholarship based on primary sources.

One can study the suites from the manuscripts (it never hurts to learn initially from the earliest possible sources, and that's what I insisted on with my students), and then sit at the feet of masters like Starker and Alexanian and Wenzinger to see what they have to say about them, much like reading the glosses of scholars in the margins of manuscripts. The earliest editions of the King James Bible (as I just read in Adam Nicolson's wonderful book, God's Secretaries), had such marginalia provided by the Translators themselves. But it was clear that they drew a strong line of demarcation between, on one hand, what they felt was a faithful rendition into English of holy writ and, on the other, their interpretation, as opposed to a translation.

Context helps, too. Bach autographs of other repertoire, particularly the violin sonatas and partitas, would be an invaluable aid to someone exploring this music. Becoming familiar with Bach's visual vocabulary and styles of articulation and notation can only help elucidate what seems, on first blush, a confusing welter of contradictions in the available manuscript sources. I find it fascinating and instructive to look at differences as well as similarities between different copyists of Bach's time. They were, after all, practical musicians living and working in the same culture as he.

BA: I would value the Alexanian on its own merits regardless of the Casals connection. Alexanian was by all accounts a terrible cellist and a brilliant musical thinker. Both Feuermann and Casals held him in high regard and Feuermann used to go try out his new programs for him before playing them in public.

I would value Casals' recordings as evidence of Casals' approach only to a limited degree. Virtually all his students say that the way he played the suites when he was relaxed in the lessons was very different and better than the recordings, and that he became nervous and exaggerated things in the recording studio. Zara relates the story of learning the 6th suite until she could perfectly mimic Casals recording. Then she went in to play for him and he had a fit "Why do you play so distorted, so exaggerated?" he screamed. Zara didn't dare say "well, I copied it off your recording," so she kept her mouth shut. I would be careful accepting those recordings as definitive proof of his approach. Also there is an almost complete C major suite from much earlier- I think the early 20s- that may be a more typical example of Casals' playing in his prime.

>> Elliot Carter Sonata

mkkaufman: Recently I started listening to Carter's Sonata (piano and cello) and Figment (solo cello). I had not listened to them previously because I had heard so many negative things about Carter--"his music is really cold", "you don't feel good after you play it", "it's really complicated but otherwise musically dull" and so on. But I finally decided to listen for myself. For me, in order to get into the works, I had to listen about 3 times, but now I think that they are really great. They sound devilishly hard (especially Figment) but have a whole lot of musical value.

My questions are these: what are the best recordings of them? How often are they played? (I have friends that have played them 2 or so years ago at CIM, but currently no one is playing them.) What do you guys think of Carter?

I heard that there is a cello concerto as well--how is that?

JuilliardRock: Carter's position as one of the elder statesmen of American music is well-deserved -- his music is endlessly inventive and even now, well into his 90s, he is still writing and rethinking his approach. I've played a number of his newest pieces, including several for ensemble and Figment II, and I'm consistently amazed at how fresh it all seems.

Figment II is a beautiful piece and altogether different from the first; it's subtitle, 'Remembering Mr. Ives,' well describes its mood which is meant to evoke the hymn tunes of which Ives was so fond. It is in many ways far more difficult than the first as it is full of perfect intervals in double stops which jump all over the cello.

In terms of recordings, there are many choices for the sonata; of these I enjoy the versions by my former teacher, Fred Sherry, as well as that of Rohan da Saram.

There are a few recordings out there of Figment I, though da Saram's trumps them all -- his facility, crucial to playing it, is extraordinary.

There are two versions of Figment II, one by Fred Sherry of which I'm not fond and another of Thomas Demenga which I've not heard but imagine would be quite nice.

I'd say buy these scores and play them -- they're worth every moment you'll spend studying and learning them and very satisfying.

One thing to keep in mind when learning the sonata is that you can feel free to play any bowings, slurs, articulations, etc. that you like or see fit -- while in some cases the markings in the cello part work, in others less so, and Carter didn't write any of them -- he wrote only the pitches and left all the editing to Greenhouse.

Bob:Not so; Greenhouse did make some suggestions after seeing an early draft which was essentially only pitches & rhythms, and he did do some additional editing on the finished product before publication. But the composer's autograph is in the Library of Congress, and there are plenty of slurs and dots in it. In other words, don't mess around.

JuilliardRock: I wasn't aware of the condition of the autograph.

Nevertheless, from Carter's own mouth, feel free to make changes as you see fit with regard to slurs and articulations regardless of the autograph. Additionally, despite a recent newer edition, these issues have changed very little as Carter remains open to this kind of interpretive freedom in this piece.

I surely don't mean to suggest one should discard Greenhouse's mainly good suggestions, but in general his preference for slurs over separate bows seems to smooth out much of the angular cello writing to the piece's detriment.

Bob: I'd be very curious about the circumstances of this alleged remark of Carter's, e.g., made to whom; in answer to what question; whether concerning a particular lick, the whole sonata, or his music in general, etc., etc. The articulations in the autograph were clearly his, and slur placement can totally change the meaning of a gesture.

JuilliardRock: Carter has reiterated this idea with respect to the cello sonata in years of conversation and rehearsals with Fred Sherry. It is as if he himself denies the validity of (or forgets!) his own autograph score. Off the top of my head (and without the score in front of me), I can think of nearly a dozen spots where Fred had me make small alterations to the bowings/articulations as they exist in the printed score. There were I believe two other spots where we discard completely long stretches of slurs that were solely Greenhouse's and which smoothed things out in a way Carter has not intended.

I can't speak to Carter's feelings with respect to other works, though oddly, I own a photocopy of the autograph of Enchanted Preludes and there are a number of discrepancies between it and the published version. In addition, as rigorously worked out as his music is, I've never found him dogmatic at all about the interpretation of his music.

cbrey: I remember running into Fred Sherry on the street (Columbus Avenue at 67th, to be exact) about 2 years ago, and I happened to have the music to the Sonata in my hand. He noticed that I was carrying it and we talked about it for a while. My memory is vague on this point, but I seem to remember him saying the same thing, i.e. that Carter had given Bernie Greenhouse carte blanche as far as articulation marks went. I might be wrong; it's worth asking Fred about this (I'll try to call im today). He certainly would know E.C. well enough to know.

I also remember talking to Bernie about the same thing in his kitchen, and I have the same impression-- that he said the markings were his. Again, my memory is vague on this point-- that was seven years ago. I'll try to ask them both about it.

cbrey: Okay, I just got off the phone with Bernie Greenhouse, whom I reached at his home in Cape Cod. Here's what he said.

During the process of composition, the two worked closely together as Carter wrote the music and sent drafts to Bernie. Bernie received notes and nothing else-- no slurs, dots, or articulation marks of any kind. He wrote them in as he learned the piece in consultation with the composer, and E.C. approved the phrasings and articulations as they went along.

About 20 years after the first edition appeared, Carter came out with a slightly revised second edition. He added a few things, but basically retained everything that he and Bernie had originally produced. I asked Bernie point-blank whether a student should treat the music as something to which they should feel free to add their own articulations, emendations, etc. He emphatically said absolutely not, that the printed score as it stands represents Elliott Carter's express desires regarding those things.

Hope this settles the matter.

JuilliardRock: The important issue here, as with all music by living composers, is that there are other sources beyond the autograph and published editions. I would certainly consider Fred's 30+ years of studying and playing Carter's music in collaboration with the composer to be as valid a document as a printed score.

Oftentimes, as here and elsewhere, the sources to which Bob refers can tell less than the entire picture. A good example is the Berio Sequenza XIV. There does exist an autograph score which was indeed the basis for a composer-supervised edition. And yet, a cellist interpreting this piece would only really have half the story. Berio's widow and Rohan da Saram, the dedicatee of the piece who worked with the composer during the work's genesis, have showed me specific places in the work, as directed by the composer, which require my slight retooling.

And as Barber made certain alterations in the cello sonata which are a) not in the autograph, b) not in the published edition, and c) transmitted directly by the composer, in pencil, to the man for whom it was written, one of my former teachers, Orlando Cole, likewise there is more to the interpretation of the Carter sonata than what is actually available in print.



** Members can submit announcements or news to editor@cello.org **

1. Eva Feuermann's Widow Dies

Emanuel Feuermann's widow, Eva, passed away at a nursing home in upstate New York. With their only child, Monica, also deceased, there remains only his granddaughter, Marika.

2. John Martin Dies

John Martin, one of the last of the great principal cellists from 20th century, passed away on Nov. 15. A pupil of Piatigorsky, he led the National Symphony section for more than 50 years, frequently appearing as soloist under Mstislav Rostropovich and Antal Dorati.


3. Yo-Yo as Peace Ambassador

Yo-Yo Ma has taken on the role of UN peace ambassador, offered to him by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. He joins stars such as Mohammad Ali and Michael Douglas with the mission of promoting peace.

4. Another Soundtrack with Yo-Yo

The soundtrack to the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, which features Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman won a Golden Globe award.

5. Yo-Yo honored

Yo-Yo Ma won a $1 million Dan David award from Israel's Tel Aviv University for his cultural achievement with the Silk Road Project.

6. Kronberg Master Classes

Cello master classes in Kronberg, ,Germany, will take place September 18-24, 2006. Featured cellists will be Bernard Greenhouse, Frans Helmerson, Gary Hoffman, and Truls Mork. Application deadline is July 31. 2006.


7. Feuermann Competition

The International Grand Prix Emanuel Feuermann Cello Competition will take place November 21-26, 2006, at the Kronberg Academy.


8. Fred Sherry Recording

Bridge Records has released a recording of Fred Sherry playing the cello concerto by Elliott Carter.

9. Rostropovich Competition

Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, 18, from Germany, was awarded the Grand Prix at the Rostropovich Cello Competition. She also won a prize for the best interpretation of the Shostakovich 1st Concerto. Julian Steckel, 23, came in second and Giorgi Kharadze, 21, came in third. Kharadze was also awarded the Pierre Fournier prize.

10. Irene Sharp Cello Seminar

Irene Sharp Cello Seminar will take place June 19-23, 2006, in Scarsdale, New York.

http://homepage.Mac.com/ISharp .

11. Julian Lloyd Webber as Patron

Julian Lloyd Webber has become the new patron of the Annual Jacqueline du Pré Charity Concerts at London's Wigmore Hall.

12. Teaching Children the Cello

Teaching Children the Cello, a seminar presented by the String Academy of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will take place July 20-23,2006.


13. New Zara Nelsova DVD

Teaching Children the Cello, a seminar presented by the String Academy of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will take place July 20-23,2006.


14. Elsa Hilger Honored

Elsa Hilger Ezerman received, posthumously, the American String Teacher Association's Paul Rolland Lifetime Achievement Award.

15. Janos Starker Honored

Janos Starker received the American String Teacher Associations Isaac Stern International Award.

16. New Instrument

Cellist Matthew Barley premiered a new instrument. The Cello-and-Apple Mac combinated uses software to analyze the noise of the cello and react to the player's intentions. These are picked up by various sensors -- on the instrument, the player's right arm, and the treble side of the cello.

17. New Elgar Edition

Barenreiter has published the Elgar Cello Concerto as edited by Jonathan Del Mar.

18. Zuill Bailey honored

Zuill Bailey, artistic director of El Paso Pro Musica Chamber Music Festival, has won the Classical Recording Foundation Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of promising young players. As part of the award, Bailey will record the compete works of Beethoven for piano and cello, which will be produced by Grammy-winning Adam Abeshouse.

19. Faculty Moves

20. Prize Winners

21. More Cello News

A cello news link has been engineered using Google.com's features. Be sure to bookmark it.



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