Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Swan Lake and Tosca

Many, many years ago, in fact, in 1957, I had a lesson with Leonard Rose on an important cello solo which I was to play as principal cellist of the All-City High School Orchestra of New York in Carnegie Hall. After he demonstrated for me the possibilities that I never dreamed about, and then showed me how he figured it out, he said “No one can absolutely guarantee that a performance will go the way that you want it to, BUT there are many things you can do to put the odds in your favor.”

Eleven years later, I was sitting in a hotel room in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the music to the Second Act Swan Lake solo. Fortunately for me, I had done a long tour which featured Swan Lake with the Royal Ballet featuring Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn as assistant principal cellist. The principal cellist, Albert Cattell, was an excellent cellist who was not shy about the way he played the opening cadenza. He used many separate bows and lots of vibrato.

I set up the opening for myself in the following way: The first three notes are “E-Flat, D-Flat, and C-Flat. C-Flat doesn’t exist in my mind. However, B-Natural is immediately apparent for me, so the first conversion was to change the “C-Flat” in my mind to a “B-Natural. . On the eighth note rest before the initial “E-Flat,” I played a silent “D-Flat” before the “E-Flat” which definitely helped me make the entrance. The other fingerings and bowings for this opening are included here along with the original slurs that I totally discounted. For the main body of the fingerings, which are included, I figured out for myself how it could be the most comfortable and sure of the intonation from one note to the next. I figured this out note by note, and in 30 years afterwards, I never changed any of it, except for one thing. Eventually, I played the “E-Flat” and the “D-Flat” on the D String and crossed over to the A String for the “C-Flat,” now named “B-Natural.” This decision improved my life.)

I was rewarded right away when the review in the Cincinnati Inquirer said, “Daniel Morganstern’s solo cello passages in Act II added greatly to the luminous beauty of the duo-dances.” A few weeks later, at the end of the tour, I got a call at 10 o’clock in the morning in Chicago from a stentorian voice on the other end saying “I am Carol Fox, general manager of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. I heard you play the solos in Swan Lake last night, and I need a solo cellist for my orchestra. I think you’re it. Will you come and play for me at 12 o’clock?” I said, “Yes, but no Strauss and no Wagner at such an early hour.” Long and short, I played and I got the job, which I kept for 44 years.

Also Swan Lake for the next 35 at the American Ballet Theatre in New York.

The famous solo from Tosca came into my life sometime in May/June of 1967. I got a call from Rudy Pulitz (former principal horn of the Cleveland Orchestra and New York Philharmonic) asking me to play the next day for Sarah Caldwell who was forming a touring opera company and that she would definitely want to hear the solo from Tosca. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the solo from Tosca, so I called my friend Bob Gardner Principal Cellist of the New York City Opera and ask him if he could sing it for me over the phone so I could copy it down. He did, and an hour later I played it through for him to make sure I had it right. It never occurred to me that you were supposed to play this solo all on the A String, jumping up and down like a seek and destroy mission. So, I learned it with the fingerings that I have put in the document below. I never bothered to change that either, and it worked year after year both in Sarah Caldwell’s opera company and at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The only change I made in the first part was to play it coming down the D String so that I could cross over for the “F-Sharp” on the A String without interrupting the motion of the phrase.

Robert Gardner

One of the most uniquely gifted cellists to cross my path is Robert Gardner. A consummate musician and artist, his extraordinary sound and total authenticity is immediately apparent in his rendition of the solos found in Shostakovich Fifteenth Symphony.

(Shostakovich Symphony No. 15, 2nd Movement, Aspen Music Festival)
$126.00 Juzek (revarnished)

Besides Bob’s playing, his remarkable inventiveness manifested in other ways. At one point, he bought a factory-made Juzek cello for $126. After many hours of research and experimentation, he created a bridge for this factory-made cello that turned it into what was known as The Gardner Strad. He played on this instrument for 50 years, blending its sound with the greatest voices in the world: Pavarotti, Domingo, Sutherland, and Sills, and many others. In my opinion, he never suffered by comparison to anyone.

(Giordano Andrea Chenier, Carnegie Hall)

At one point, Bob broke the index finger on his left hand, and with the finger in a  splint played an entire season, including solos from Tosca and Don Giovanni, without the use of that particular finger. I can’t imagine how this could be accomplished, but it’s documented that Bob accomplished it and suffered no loss of quality. In fact, I understand that the conductor Sergiu Comissiona demanded that Bob play for him privately using just three fingers to prove that he could do it.

(Puccini Tosca, Live from Lincoln Center)

These two incidents are emblematic of a 50-year career, when he was principal cellist of the New York City Opera and the Aspen Festival orchestra, where all sorts of miracles were accomplished on a daily basis. He was an important mentor to me, and I admired him tremendously. During a time when I didn’t believe in myself, it was his encouragement that kept me going when I might otherwise have faulted. On Bob’s recommendation I was invited to audition for the principal chair of the Saint Louis Symphony in 1967. I did not get the job, but in preparing for that audition I found my voice. Immediately after the Saint Louis audition, I won an audition for the principal chair of the American National Opera Company, which led to becoming the principal cellist of the Chicago Lyric Opera orchestra. When I went off to Chicago, Bob rode in the cab with me to LaGuardia Airport. His parting words to me there were, “As principal cellist of an opera orchestra, you will either be bored to death or scared to death.”

Every Sunday during that first season at the Lyric Opera, Bob would accept my collect calls, advise me, and sympathize with me. Throughout the years, he’s been my dearest friend and supported my career and my life, and I consider his friendship one of the greatest blessings in my life.

Robert Gardner, Cellist

Robert Gardner

Principal cellist of the New York City Opera for over 46 years, Robert Gardner was one of the longest-serving principal cellists in the United States.  He was also for many years principal cellist of the Aspen Music Festival Orchestra and a member of the Festival faculty. In addition, he maintained a large private teaching practice in New York City.

From the beginning, his career followed an unusual trajectory.  He began his cello studies at the relatively late age of 13, and a year later became a student of Leonard Rose, the greatest American cellist and teacher of his time.  Mr. Gardner stopped playing the cello at 18 for five years while he explored other career interests.  At 23 he returned to the cello as the result of a chance encounter with Charlotte Moorman, legendary avant-garde cellist of the 60’s.

Augmented Efficiency Bridge

Mr. Gardner’s first instrument after returning to music was a $75.00 plywood cello whose inadequate tone prompted a search for improvement, culminating in Mr. Gardner’s invention of his “Augmented Efficiency” bridge, which he eventually applied to his first “real” (and current) cello, a $126.00 factory-made Juzak. He used this cello exclusively for more than 50 years. Colleagues often referred to it as “the Gardner Strad.”    

His unusually varied career includes the American premiere of Carl Friedrich Abel’s Triple Concerto, at Carnegie Hall; one of the earliest performances of Alberto Ginastera’s  Second String Quartet with the York String Quartet, which helped launch this work into the standard repertoire; the American premiere of the Triple Concerto of Emanuel Moor with the New York Philharmonic; guest artist in the Lark Woodwind Quintet’s recording of the complete chamber works of Carl Nielsen, which won Stereo Review’s “Recording of Special Merit” award; a solo collaboration with Jazz-great Ornette Coleman in the feature movie “Chappaqua”; and solo cellist in the RCA prize-winning recording of Handel’s Julius Caesar, with Beverly Sills.

(Abel Symphony Concertante in D Major, 2nd & 3rd Movements, Alice Tully Hall)

Critics have singled out his orchestral solos for praise.  The Los Angeles Times lauded the “sumptuous tone and expansive musicality” of his solo playing in Richard Strauss’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. In The Aspen Festival Orchestra’s performance of Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony The Denver Post praised  his 2nd movement solo as “bold and convincing with a gorgeous big tone”.  In a Lincoln center performance of Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” the New York Post devoted a separate paragraph to his solo playing, entitled “A Nice Touch”.  During a NYC Opera Live From Lincoln Center nationally telecast performance of opera highlights, Luciano Pavorotti invited Mr. Gardner to take a solo bow, while praising his beautiful tone.

(Verdi Masked Ball, Live from Lincoln Center)

Robert Gardner was one of New York’s prominent cello teachers.  His students occupy positions in orchestras throughout the United States and Europe, including three of the four resident Lincoln Center orchestras.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Aside from his performance of the Dvorak Concerto at the age of 18, most examples of Mr. Gardner’s playing occurred in the course of his work at Lincoln Center and the Aspen Festival.