When we left off in Part 1, I had just traveled to Cleveland to play for George Szell and a short while thereafter, I was offered a position in the Cleveland Orchestra. Well, a few weeks into my first season Szell was frustrated with my ensemble sense and knowledge of the music.
“Your father was such a good musician- what happened to you?” He continued, “ You don’t know the music, you are staring at your part, as if seeing it for the first time, you don’t know how to play with the conductor or your colleagues and the other choirs of the orchestra!”
I, of course, at 18 was in tears. But I recognized that he was right. And the greatest journey of my education began.
My second year in the orchestra (1964) James Levine was invited to come to work and study with Szell. We renewed our friendship, having met in aspen when Jim was a pianist in some of my fathers vocal classes, and I started to see what a prepared musician should be! Wow! I had so much work, study, and practice to do to live up to the Harrell name. Shortly after I met Walter Levin, Jim’s teacher and 1st violin of the great La Salle quartet. I subsequently performed with them and recorded the Schubert C major quintet.
After 8 years in Cleveland having moved up to the Principal position, and having played the solos and only once in a concerto, I left the orchestra because I wanted to expand my horizons. If that meant more solo playing so be it. But I did miss playing the great literature for the orchestra. And I did not want necessarily to become a soloist; I just wanted to play good music well. The accent here is on good music and playing it well. Whether I would be famous or not just didn’t figure into the equation.
Shortly after I left the orchestra I was awarded the Avery Fisher Award, which meant so much to me psychologically. Here I was being awarded for my work, my daily work, not because of a special effort at a one off performance or audition. It was such a boost to my confidence.
I have been blessed with great musicians in my collaborations; La Salle quartet, Perlman, Zukerman, Mutter, Laredo, Ricci, Shum sky, Repine, Kremer, Kalakos, Brooks Smith, Levine, Ashkenazy, Achenbach, Kovacevich, and so many wise conductors who invariably made suggestions to me, particularly when I was just starting out.
My early managers, Herbert Barrett and the late Samuel Niefeld were wonderfully supportive and helped in shaping my career growth and guided me wisely with not accepting some things that I wasn’t in a position to understand why not; that I was not ready for.
Perhaps the one most meaningful and transforming moment in my career was playing Kol Nidre in the Vatican for Pope Jean Paul in 1994. This was a special concert in the Vatican with the chief Rabbi of Rome in attendance that was organized for the commemoration of the Holocaust (which had not been formally acknowledged by the Pope and the Vatican) and the twenty million Jews who were lost in the concentration camps. Lev Aronson was one who survived 5 years in the camps. Now I was able to play for him and in his memory give back some of what he gave me. It was made into a VHS tape but never, to my knowledge made it into the DVD format.