My Juilliard graduation recital included the Frescobaldi Toccata, the Bach G minor Gamba Sonata, the Brahms F major, the Hindemith Unaccompanied Sonata, and the Boccherini Concerto (with a string quartet accompaniment), but I graduated under a cloud. My teacher, Claus Adam, gave me a C+ as my final grade, and every comment on my graduation exam was negative. I also got a letter from the dean saying that they were revoking my scholarship, but, using the most patronizing language, he said the school would allow me to attempt a Master’s Degree, although the faculty had doubts. I demanded to know why I got a C+ from Claus Adam, and he told me, “If Itzhak Perlman gets an A, you get a C+.” According to that logic, if I got a C+, Claus Adam would get an F-.
The only reason for me to go back to Juilliard for a Master’s Degree, particularly under those ignominious conditions, was that I was prime material for the draft board, and the war in Vietnam was looming. Fortunately, the draft board rejected me, and I did not have to go back to Juilliard.
Marianne Kneisel engaged me and another professional cellist for her summer festival and school in Blue Hill, Maine. Kneisel Hall had a very distinguished faculty, which included Joseph and Lillian Fuchs, Sascha Jacobson, Edgar Ortenberg, Paul Olefsky, and Artur Balsam. Shortly after the festival began, Joseph Fuchs came up to me and told me “you’re doing great. This summer is going to be the making of you.”
I asked him if he thought I had learned to play the cello in the last four weeks, and told him that there were ten negative comments from the faculty on my Juilliard graduation recital, and that his was one of them. His response was, “Kid, don’t go back to Juilliard. They don’t like you there. Go out into the world. Get a job. Make money. You’ll do well.” I certainly appreciated his candor. He was a great artist and a great violinist, and I learned a great deal from him that summer.
Success is the best revenge. I graduated from Juilliard in 1963, and by 1971 I was getting rave reviews in the New York Times. I have reprinted those reviews often, but I have not reprinted (and will not ever) those comments from my graduation recital.
I made a lasting friendship with Paul Olefsky that summer in Blue Hill. My main reason for going to Blue Hill was to study with him. Paul was a distinguished soloist who had been principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony. Paul played two recitals at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1963. One was unaccompanied: he played the Kodaly Sonata and the Bach Sixth Suite; and the other had the Beethoven A Major and the Brahms F Major Sonatas.
Paul encouraged me a great deal, and praised my talent and ability. On the last concert of the summer, he said very publicly, “We all try to do what Danny did today.” When we returned to New York, Paul gave me long lessons on the repertoire, charging me $10 a lesson. He told me a story about how he taught a very disadvantaged kid in Detroit for $5 a lesson. At the end of that year, the student’s mother thanked Paul and said, “You did a wonderful job, but now we need to find a new teacher.” When Paul asked why, she said, “If he did so well with a $5 teacher, imagine what he could do with a $10 teacher!”
Paul was very good friends with Emile Siminel, the contractor for the Mantovani Orchestra. It was through that connection that I got my first job: a nine-week bus tour that paid $173 and change a week (gross). I considered this a step up from Juilliard and it was through connections in the Mantovani Orchestra that I got my job as first chair cellist of the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra.
Paul remained a friend and mentor to me until his death in 2013, and his advice was invaluable in the trajectory of my career. He brought all his students from Hartt College to my Alice Tully Hall debut recital, and complained that even the very good review in the New York Times did not do me justice. He joined the faculty of the University of Texas in Austin, and invited me to give master classes.
Robert Gardner, the principal cellist of the New York City Opera and the Aspen Festival orchestra, was one of the great cello talents of all time. 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 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.
Since I grew up in the era of reel-to-reel tape, I have had to transfer many old recordings to CD in order to hear them. I was surprised to find recordings of the violinist Gerald Beal playing the Vitali Chaconne and the Bach Air on the G String on a tape from 1971. I had forgotten the extent of his extraordinary artistry. Jerry had tremendous influence on the development of my playing. He was an amazing character, who lived in a strange world, defined on one side by genius, and fantasy on the other. It is impossible for me or anyone else to separate fact from fiction about who Jerry actually is, but I feel compelled to write about him. And these events from 40 years ago are true.
Jerry was the assistant concertmaster on a long tour of the Royal Ballet, featuring Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev. Jerry had been a famous child prodigy who toured the world with his identical twin brother, Wilfred, playing the Bach Double Concerto and various other two-violin works. He had a notorious tendency to make things up, so I had mostly avoided him. But one day, between matinee and an evening performance at the Metropolitan Opera House, I heard him play an extraordinary performance of the Fugue in C Major by Bach. There were two things about Jerry that I knew were absolute fact: he was a long-time student of Galamian, had studied with Heifetz at a time before Heifetz gave master classes.
My wife, June, who was also on the tour, had asked Jerry to give her a lesson on how to practice scales. I was intrigued, and so I audited the lesson. I asked Jerry to show me a few things as well, and it took him less than 45 minutes to elevate the level of my playing beyond anything that I had ever been able to do. I worked with Jerry seriously over the next five years, experiencing his generosity of spirit and his unique musical genius. He helped me prepare my first five New York recitals (March 1970 through May 1972).
During the Royal Ballet tour in 1967, I was extremely tight and desensitized to the instrument. I found it impossible to express myself musically. One night in a hotel room in Seattle, Jerry showed me a series of exercises to learn to use the least possible amount of pressure in either hand to get a sound. I objected vehemently to the whole concept that less is more. Jerry, however, patiently worked with me, saying over and over again, “Just try it!”, to which I said over and over again, “You must be out of your mind!” After an hour and a half of this back-and-forth, which no reasonable teacher would put up with for two minutes, I got it. I was then able to actually initiate a note, develop the sound, and end the note any way I wanted to. Jerry made sure that I knew that every note has a beginning, which is an attack, a middle, which is a development, and an end, which is either a tapering off or a connection to another note. Jerry opened my consciousness to the connection of silence to sound, the infinite variety of expression the sound, once created, could achieve, and the joining of sound back to silence, or continuing to join one note to another. In those ninety minutes, Jerry managed to get me to organize my playing into terms of attack and release.
I had problems with the release part, but once I got it I had a degree of control that I never even imagined was possible. I owe my success with auditions to what I learned that day from Jerry Beal.
In 1968 there were a mere three weeks between the American Ballet Theatre’s Metropolitan Opera season and the first rehearsal of the Lyric Opera in September, and my first opera was Richard Strauss’s Salome. Jerry insisted that I work through the entire cello part plus several important solos in the “B” cello part with him. During those lessons, where we explored the possibilities technically and musically of every single note, I came to know large sections of the opera by memory.
Jerry’s extraordinary imagination managed to make a line of notes technically secure and musically compelling. I still don’t understand how he did it, but it took him 24 hours of intensive work spread over three days to accomplish this with me. It boggles the mind to imagine the generosity of soul a teacher could have to volunteer this level of commitment. Jerry definitely understood that making a stunning impression would have the longest-range positive implications for my career. The result of all my work with Jerry on Salome was that I was completely lionized by Bruno Bartoletti, the music director, and Carol Fox, the general director. I have an ineffaceable memory of my first performance on that opening night. I played the cello part like a concerto, and led both the cello and bass sections with a level of power that I have rarely experienced since.
In January of 1969 I returned to New York from my first season with the Lyric Opera, and was offered a job as the cellist in the Reston Trio, which performed as part of a summer program in Reston, Virginia. I was faced with the daunting task of playing six chamber music concerts and the Dvorak Concerto with the orchestra. Jerry saw the long-range implications of me succeeding above and beyond my or anybody else’s expectations, so lesson after lesson, and hour after hour, he taught me to pull every single bit of beauty out of the Dvorak Concerto, and all the solos in the Schubert B-flat Trio, Mendelssohn D minor Trio, the Mozart Divertimento, and the rest of the trios that I would be playing that summer. As the summer approached I became so nervous that I broke out in boils. I was ready to resign until Jerry assured me that my reaction was a perfectly natural reaction to something that challenged me beyond what I had previously ever done. To this end, Jerry gave me extra lessons, just to make sure that I knew that I could do everything that was required of me.
Jerry probably knew that he had an unsavory reputation, and that may have been the reason he encouraged me never to mention him in print as one of my teachers. He assured me that the name of Leonard Rose would carry a great deal more weight, and would cast me in a more positive light. He absolutely maintained this position through the five years that I worked with him. There was nothing in this extraordinary act of generosity for Jerry in terms of furthering his career.
Elliot Magaziner, the violinist of the Reston Trio, booked Carnegie Recital Hall for two trio concerts scheduled for March and May of 1970. I had not played any major concerts in New York, and I had read many extremely damaging and unfair reviews of colleagues in the New York Times. I was so worried that I would join their number that I went into a tailspin that could be described as a nervous breakdown. When I was in this state of psychological vulnerability, Jerry showed his very best qualities as a caring and compassionate human being. He told me again and again that many artists go through these kinds of lapses of confidence, and that by coming through could create a sort of bank account of psychic strength, which I could tap into in the future. He listened to me play by the hour, constantly encouraging me, but a week before my first concert he simply disappeared.
I made up my mind to show up and play those concerts, regardless of the consequences. Jerry reappeared the day before my first concert to check me out, and he told me that he knew it was me who had to make the decision to play.
The concerts went well enough, and my emotional state fortunately switched from depression to mania. I decided it was time for me to make my New York debut. When I told Jerry about my plan, he insisted that Carnegie Recital Hall was no place for a major debut. He said that the only place to do it would be the newly opened Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. The thought of that both took my breath away and shook my confidence. I told Jerry that I would be willing to do it under the condition that he work with me as much as necessary for six weeks before the recital. He agreed, and he did.
I first worked with the great violinist Aaron Rosand in 1965 when he played the Bruch G minor Concerto with the American Ballet Theatre orchestra. At 37, Aaron was very handsome, and he played the violin like a god. Hearing him from barely ten feet away was a revelation. Three years later, he returned to the American Ballet Theatre to play the violin solos in Swan Lake. One of those solos included a big cello solo, so I had the opportunity to play one-on-one with him. Aaron said he liked my playing a lot, and he recommended me to play the Dvorak cello concerto on the same series that he was playing the Brahms Violin Concerto.
Aaron Rosand made a lot of money playing commercial music in New York, and he used the money to travel to Europe and record concertos with orchestras there, and those recordings are still being reissued. He also played stupendous programs of virtuoso violin music in Carnegie Hall. His example that enabled me to follow Danny Newman’s advice, and take my destiny into my own hands whenever possible. I was perfectly willing to finance my own recitals and recordings.
He gave me great advice. He said to practice in front of a mirror a certain amount every day to make sure that my form was good, and he advised me to record much of my practicing but only listen to five minutes of it every day. He told me about the time he snuck into Carnegie Hall three hours before a Heifetz recital. He observed Heifetz walk on stage and practice a small phrase over and over until he was satisfied. Then Heifetz walked off the stage. When he walked back on to play his recital, every phrase sounded like the one he had practiced.
Rosand told me that you need to be 200% prepared in order to play at 100% on stage. That was great advice for me, because my nerves often reduced my capacity to well under 100% of what I could do under the best circumstances. I was so nervous in the opening piece of my Alice Tully debut recital, the Francoeur E-major Sonata, that I wondered in the last movement, a very fast allegro, whether I could be that nervous and still play. Fortunately for me all 50% of what I would normally do was enough to get me through, so that there was no noticeable lapse.
Once again I wondered how one could be this nervous and still play on opening night of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire at the Metropolitan Opera House with Rudolph Nureyev dancing the title role (which absolutely guaranteed a full house). Luckily, I had taken Aaron Rosand’s very good advice and practiced the part assiduously for a month before that performance. Interestingly, I was not nervous at all for any of the subsequent performances.
Aaron spent all his money promoting himself as a violin soloist, and he compromised himself financially in order to afford the “Kochanski” del Gesù, one of the world’s greatest violins. At the end of his performing career, he sold the instrument for $10 million, became the head of the violin department at the Curtis Institute, and told me on his 90th birthday that he could still outplay all of his students. I am happy that I was able to repay Aaron Rosand’s kindness to me when I recommended him to the International Music Company as their principal violin editor.
Building a Legacy
Without a doubt, the person who will have the greatest impact on my legacy is William Ryden (1939-2018), an excellent composer who served for many years as the editorial director of International Music Company in New York. I first met Bill when I suggested that International publish a compilation of cello solos from the operatic and ballet repertoire. Leonard Rose edited three books of orchestral excerpts for IMC, and they also published Strauss and Wagner excerpt books, but those books didn’t include the very important opera and ballet repertoire. Since I had studied with Leonard Rose, and had been principal cellist of both a major ballet and a major opera company for many decades, Bill embraced the project and published the book in 1999, the year that Puccini’s music entered the public domain. When a review came out two years later in the American Record Guide of our recording of the complete Brahms trios for violin, cello, and piano, Bill asked us to make editions of these trios for IMC. This was most unusual, since IMC already published unedited editions of all three trios.
After the success of the Brahms, Bill mentioned that a trumpet book by Michael Sachs, the principal trumpet player of the Cleveland Orchestra, was selling very well. He asked me if I could write a method book for cello. I was happy to write a method book, and I took the opportunity to write in detail about the way Leonard Rose taught the bow arm. Bill mentioned that in the Sachs book had explanations and practice exercises for the Hummel and Haydn Trumpet Concertos, and he wanted to know if I could do something like similar for the cello. With Bill’s help and encouragement, I made editions of concertos by Boccherini, Haydn, Saint-Saens, Schumann, Dvorak, Lalo, Elgar, and Tchaikovsky. Making these editions gave me the opportunity to ask the following question on every eight bars of every concerto: “if I was having a bad day, and I had to play these eight bars at the Metropolitan Opera House, and sound good doing it, how would I finger and bow these passages?” I was able to publish cello reductions of the orchestral accompaniments so that teachers could accompany their students, and I was able to include exercises to help with specific passages.
I was always stimulated by Bill’s vast knowledge and deep insight into music and musicians when we met for lunch at Keene’s in New York, or at Russian Tea Time in Chicago. During one of these lunches in Chicago, June asked Bill if he had written any music for piano trio. A week later, a manuscript with two string parts arrived at our home. These were the first of twelve rags that the American Chamber performed in Carnegie Hall and recorded shortly afterward. When we inserted a group of three Ryden rags between trios by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Ravel, Beethoven, Dvorak, and Schumann, it was always Bill’s pieces that got the most enthusiastic audience reaction. Bill had a beautiful, unique, and authentic voice and his music often touched me as deeply as Chopin or Beethoven. The day before Bill died, June and I were listening to our recording of the Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello which we in the process of editing for International Music. At the end of the Ravel came three of Bill’s rags for violin and cello, and we were both struck by how much more we liked Bill’s duos than Ravel’s. His music will always bring a smile to my face or tears to my eyes.