The Luck of the Draw

A week ago, I submitted my edition of the Beethoven Eb Variations to International Music Company for publication. I was curious to see how I played these variations when I did the Beethoven cycle at Carnegie Recital Hall. I was surprised and delighted with how good it was! That gave me the courage to listen, for the first time in 35 years, to the whole recital. That recital was the first of two and I put all the big works on that recital expecting to get reviewed (if I was going to get reviewed) on that program. One cannot imagine my shock and chagrin at the way that I played. All the things that I tried not to do, I did in spades: rushing, over-accenting, and generally not being 100% with the piano 100% of the time.

The second program, a week later, featured all the early works of Beethoven, and fortunately for me, two of my students came to the dress rehearsal and read me the riot act about exactly what was coming out of my cello. I was advised, at no uncertain terms, to scale down my execution because it sounded too rough.

I took their advice seriously and ended up having an excellent review in the New York Times by a notoriously tough critic, Bernard Holland. Among other things, he commented on the fact that we played with great eloquence and really knew how to handle the acoustics of that “troubled space”. Needless to say, that was a review worth having, and, “What would have happened if he had come to the first concert,” I shudder to think.

Music reviews (particularly really good ones) are especially coveted third person endorsements. I was lucky enough to have a reasonable number of quotable quotes, and they definitely helped me have the credibility to be engaged and reengaged nationally and also, for the American Chamber Trio, internationally.

The most consequential review, in which I was dubbed, “A First Rate Cellist”, was written by the nastiest and most feared critic from the New York Times, Donal Henahan. This review appeared by dint of two accidental circumstances. In June of 1971, space was created only because the Nixon Administration had a restraining order on the publication of Daniel Ellesberg’s Pentagon Papers. Henahan had a great time writing, “Some musicians, and good ones, seem to struggle with music, to wrestle it out of themselves; others play as smoothly and effortlessly as politicians lie, and as effectively. The trio that appeared at Carnegie Recital Hall on Monday gave the latter impression, and it made for a wholly enjoyable program.”

The second reason why this concert should not have been reviewed was that there was an important concert happening at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center at the same time. In my opinion, Henahan showed good taste in attending our concerts.

The third unlikely incident happened in 2007. The critic from The STRAD (not the New York Times this time) called, leaving a message on my phone saying he wanted tickets to the American Chamber Trio concert in Carnegie Hall. Normally, I would’ve had no problem with that, in fact, I would’ve personally delivered them to him, even though I was in Chicago, and he was in New York, BUT he had given us a bad review three years earlier, so I had no intention of giving him a free ticket to do it again. Three months later, I saw a picture of my friend, the late Aaron Rosand, on the cover of The STRAD and bought a copy to check out the article. To my great surprise, there was a review of that concert, in which I was called, “A Superb Cellist”. While this review did not result in any more concerts for either me or the American Chamber Trio, I was in conflict with the music director, and being able to throw this golden review in his face, helped me keep my job for another five years. These three incidents reminded me of the capriciousness of fate.

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