The musical world that I knew when I was growing up was very different from the musical world we have today. When I was a student at Midwood High School in Brooklyn and principal cellist of the All City High School Orchestra, I was selected to present Van Cliburn with an award from the music students of New York at a ticker-tape parade held in his honor after he won the first Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. As we were being photographed for the centerfold of the New York Daily News, he said, “I hope that my victory will help the next generation have an easier time making a career.” For awhile, this generated a lot of interest in competitions, but no careers on the Van Cliburn scale were launched.
I heard Mstislav Rostropovich give his New York debut recital at Carnegie Hall, and I had the opportunity to hear David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein, and Leonard Rose play concerts there as well. I aspired to be like them. They inspired and motivated me to play the best I could under every circumstance through my entire career, and enriched my life in every possible way. It seemed possible, if you did the right things, you would have the right outcomes, as I believe I did in my career.
In the musical world of my youth a fairly large number of big names dominated the field. Most of their names are still recognized: Rubinstein, Horowitz, Heifetz, Rostropovich, Oistrakh, Gilels, Bernstein, von Karajan, and others. There were also a great many exceptional musicians around who were appreciated by large audiences, and a considerable number of musicians who, though they did not have substantial solo careers were, nevertheless, able to support themselves as musicians. Now everything seems to work in reverse. Thanks to a generation of excellent teachers, there seem to be more capable musicians around than there are audiences to support them, and child prodigies are nearly a dime a dozen. The possibilities of gainful professional employment for young musicians who play traditional repertoire are slim.
I feel very fortunate to have lived through an era where, by taking my destiny into my own hands, I was able to have a truly fulfilling career in music. It is possible that such an era will return, but in the meantime it is vital to continue passing on the love of music to future generations, regardless whether seeking it produces gainful employment. Living a musical life is to spend time in the company of greatness.