I was listening a recording of a recital that Leonard Rose gave shortly before his death, and was very disturbed by how tired he sounded. Moments of his glorious past would come shining through, but on only an occasional basis. The playing was good, but definitely not great, and some of it was actually not good at all.
After listening, I thought about something that happened when I was teaching at the String Academy at Indiana University. I was in the bathroom soaking my hands in hot water, when Menahem Pressler, the pianist of the Beux Arts Trio, came through the door and asked me what I was doing. I explained that I always soak my hands in warm water before I start to practice because it softens up my callouses and warms up my hands. He said. “I played with Bernard Greenhouse for thirty years, and I never saw him do that.” “Good for him,” I responded. Pressler then said, “You know, I must’ve played close to ten thousand concerts in my life, and I can honestly say that I was never 100% satisfied that I had achieved perfection.” I told him my point of view: if I’m having a bad day and can only do 25% of what I could do at my very best, but I did all 25% of it, I give myself the same credit that I would if I was playing great when it was easy to do so. To that he responded, “You’ll never get any place that way.” I asked him, “Where do I have to get?”
At the time of that final recital Leonard Rose had recently recovered from both a broken arm and an operation to remove a kidney. Three weeks after that recital, he entered the hospital with terminal leukemia. It occurred to me that under those circumstances having the courage to play a long and difficult recital in front of 2000 people and not cancel was Rose’s version of doing all 25% of what he could have done when he was at his very best. That, more than anything else, revealed Leonard Rose’s true character and greatness as a human being.