Between the notes
LEONARD Rose was my cello teacher's hero. When I was 10 she took me to a recital he gave in Minneapolis. I remember the long drive from our small town, the snow-covered farmland along the way, the strangeness of the city at night. It seemed incredible that I might hear this famous cellist in person. The first notes he drew from the cello amazed me with their sweetness. I marveled at how easily he held the instrument. For me the cello was an uncontrollable object. I could barely carry it or wrap myself around it. The string hoarsely resisted my bow -- blistered my fingers. Rose and his cello created a circuit of sound, his bow unwavering, attached to the strings, his left hand leaping and sliding with the assurance of a dancer. I wanted to see his hands up close, to find out if they were like my teacher's: finger tips callused into fatness, flattened from years of conducting so much energy.
I spent the afternoon of my 20th birthday lying on my college dormitory bed listening to a recording of Schumann's Concerto in A minor for cello. Leonard Rose was soloist with the New York Philharmonic. I loved the concerto form and knew, from my own playing, the excitement generated in an orchestra by a really good soloist. I loved the Schumann concerto in particular -- the orchestra's tentative, early chords, the dark, restless voice of the cello announcing the drama to come. Sometimes lyrical, often impetuous, Rose's playing challenged the orchestra to match his intensity.
Rose's friend Isaac Stern said, ``Music in essence is what is happening between the printed notes, not on the notes themselves.'' Rose's playing rivets our attention because he shapes the melodic line so that each note grows out of the last with a sense of urgency. Approaching a climax, he often slows down like someone holding his breath before delivering a heart-stopping message. Stern continues (in a magazine interview), asking: ``How in that milli-milli-millisecond of time in going from one note to another note do you do what you do? Instinctively, thoughtfully, with head, heart, taste, and talent.''
I heard the news of Leonard Rose's passing on my birthday this year. During his long and distinguished career, he toured worldwide as a soloist, was first cellist in the Cleveland Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, taught at the Juilliard School in New York City, and performed with Isaac Stern and Eugene Istomin in a widely acclaimed trio.
Rose's musical legacy has passed into the hands of the many prominent cellists whom he taught, including Lynn Harrell and Yo-Yo Ma. In a radio interview, Yo-Yo Ma spoke with great feeling of his teacher's generosity and sensibility. Rose believed in baseball for young prodigies as he believed in a balanced life for mature performers. Lamenting the change since concert-giving became a year-round business, he said, ``It used to be seasonal. One had time to study and think, time for one's family, time to relax.''
In a record-jacket photograph he appears stern. While tuning his instrument, he turns toward the camera with the look of someone called from the depths of thought and feeling where music is made. In another photo he smiles boyishly. In a magazine interview he spoke of his special love: ``The great art is still the recital. Here the artist runs the gamut of styles. Here he reveals what is truly inside him.''
I did not grow up to become a professional musician. But music -- especially the sound of the cello and the playing of Leonard Rose -- has been important throughout my life. My own playing will never ``reveal what is truly inside'' me. But how grateful I am to someone who developed his craft to that exquisite degree.
Speaking about the time since Beethoven's death, Isaac Stern asserts that despite ``the horrors and tragedies'' of history, ``still this thread of music has gone on and remained, its power undiminished, its beauty more and more apparent to those who search for it.'' How grateful we are to those who connect us to that life-giving thread, the teachers in small towns everywhere, the great performers who never know what they set in motion in the lives of others.