In thinking over those highpoints or turning points of ones life it is difficult, without some distance and perspective, to weigh the importance, both positive and negative, of life’s happenings. I would have to start with the choice that my parents made when we moved to Dallas from New York City in 55 or 56.
The main cello teacher in town was a woman and my parents felt after the close association with Ruby Wenzel in Westchester N.Y. that I needed a male teacher. So, slightly nervous that this would not be a good move they contacted Lev Aronson, principal of the Dallas symphony, a brilliant pupil of Piatigorsky in Berlin before the war.
Well, he was totally captivating and I am so pleased that there is a life story of Lev just recently published: “The lost cellos of Lev Aronson” by Frances Brent. He was, for a young boy finding his own way with music, a mesmerizing influence. That I very quickly shared with him the overpowering world of music in a way that I somehow couldn’t with my parents was our secret. Lessons lasting over two hours sometimes were the norm and when one of my parents would collect me they somehow sensed not to intrude on our lessons or what we were doing.
Lev told them at dinner at my house after a few weeks that I was a great, great talent and destined to change the world of cello playing, they didn’t really think beyond his saying something complementary to his hosts. I seem to remember them answering, “ That’s lovely Lev, would you like some more roast beef?” It was memorable two or three years later when at my father’s funeral Lev played with some other musicians of the Dallas Symphony. He was, for sure, now my musical father and guided me.
And like a parent I must have had my turn at rebelling: A carte blanche scholarship was arranged with Piatigorsky in Los Angeles and I turned it down, because I wanted to stay in the east with my friends from the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute rather than go to California and “never come back.”
It was part of a battle that I had with Lev already a few years before; I loved Leonard Rose’s playing more than Piatigorsky’s. This may have been only that Rose’s playing was young and vital and so magnificent and that Piatigorsky’s was not on the same high level of technical assurance that it had been in the 30’s and 40’s. I had the opportunity of playing that winter when Lev and I were virtually not on speaking terms, with the New York Philharmonic on a Young Peoples’ concert narrated by Leonard Bernstein.
I suppose that losing a parent at 15 is a blow, but then to lose the other at seventeen was devastating. My mother was in a car accident on the way to a recital in Fort Worth Texas. We had moved to Denton from Dallas after my father’s death, perhaps because my mother could not afford staying in Dallas. I am not sure. But moving away from our home was an upheaval that was felt by everyone in my family.
Suddenly, I was without any anchor and support. There were, for sure, many well-meaning friends, but the reality of 3 children needing some family and continuity was another story. 17, 18, and 22 were our ages then. In a way, since I had the cello and music that my brother and sister did not, perhaps even so being the youngest of the three, I was the one who was more equipped to manage to find my footing.
Robert Shaw intervened and I went to Cleveland to play for Szell. It was an audition without orchestral music because there was no vacancy at the time. But it was a little later that I was offered a position in the orchestra. Obviously because Szell knew and had worked with my father at the Met Opera, he assumed I was of similar ilk.
In Part 2, I’ll pick up with my years playing in the Cleveland Orchestra under Szell, a music director that had no trouble telling me what he thought of my playing