Tuesday, July 19, 2016

in the room the cellists come and go, talking of Rostropovich

The Music@Menlo festival has begun, and will be occupying a fair bit of my time for three weeks. More then the Republican convention, that's for sure. I've already attended one concert, review to appear later, and today ventured onto the festival's Menlo School hq - this year under construction, the lawns all torn up, the parking lots taken over by trailers, and a man standing in front waving his finger vaguely in an effort to indicate you should look for parking over there instead - where noted cellist David Finckel, normally the quiet half of Menlo's artistic codirectorship, talked about the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Turns out that Finckel was quite the Rostropovich groupie in his youth, once traveling to England to camp out in front of Benjamin Britten's house in hopes that Rostropovich would show up, until he was told by Peter Pears that Rostropovich was in America.

He talked mostly of Rostropovich's unorthodox teaching methods, mostly intended to get his pupils to play outside of the box. He once ignored all the music a student had prepared, and told her to play instead something she'd performed only a long time ago. "I want to hear how you play the music you've forgotten," he said. Other times he told a pupil to play triplet exercises in duplets, or to play the piece he'd brought along transposed half a step downward, which would require you to rethink the entire piece.

R. was a great cellist (and conductor - the only capacity I ever heard his work in person in - and pianist, and protester against Soviet tyranny), who enlarged the cello repertoire tremendously by commissioning works from just about every composer he met, and then memorizing the music as soon as he got it.

PS: Am I plagiarizing T.S. Eliot, or are literary allusions that educated people may be expected to get exempt?

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