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David Finckel Remembers Bernard Greenhouse

On Friday, April 13th, the great cellist Bernard Greenhouse passed away, at the age of 95, at his home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.  A founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio, Greenhouse toured the world, played for millions of listeners, and left an indelible contribution to the art of cello playing.

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in David’s words…
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In sadness I write today in memory of Bernard Greenhouse.  But it also with great joy that I can express what his music making meant to me and to the music world.

Greenhouse was first and foremost a cellist of unsurpassed instrumental mastery.  His many chamber music recordings, plus a handful of solo recordings, reveal a technician of virtuoso level who possessed a personal and unmistakable voice.  Guided by the highest artistic integrity that he inherited from the masters of his time, Greenhouse rose to the top of his profession and remained there, inspiring students, colleagues and listeners around the world.

If there is one contribution that Bernard Greenhouse made to music that could be singled out as surpassing all others, I would venture (firmly!) to say that he was largely responsible for elevating the standard of chamber music performance to a whole new level. Indeed, his performances of the chamber repertoire’s most challenging works – the Schubert Trios, the Ravel Duo and Trio, Dvorak’s Dumky Trio, Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, etc. – remain the indisputable standard to which we all turn in search of inspiration and challenge.  His recordings of these pieces stand beside, for example: the Beethoven and Brahms piano concerti by Leon Fleisher and the Cleveland Orchestra; the Tchaikovsky violin concerto by Heifetz with Chicago; and the Shostakovich violin concerti by Oistrakh.

Because I’m a cellist I’ll take the liberty of going into details about Greenhouse’s playing.  As a warm up for this, I just listened to ten recordings online, by various ensembles, of the opening cello solo of the slow movement of Dvorak’s F minor trio.  With apologies to some friends, I can say that the Greenhouse rendition of this poignant phrase is in a class very much by itself, in every way.  First, there is the exquisite beauty of the vibrato: warm, rich, present, integrated into the sound, changing to suit the special needs of each note. There is that same attention to each pitch, the color of his sound always reflecting the emotion of the harmony under it. The intonation is so dead-on that one is never aware of it. The sound is among the most romantic you can hear, yet there are virtually no slides and it’s almost impossible to figure out his fingering.  The timing is disciplined yet alive with imagination; there is a pulse, but there is a feeling of spontaneity that responds from one millisecond to the next as the music calls for it. And finally, there is an overwhelming presence of humanity, of a person singing directly to you, of someone to whom you give yourself willingly and allow them to tell you the story of the music.

All of us – musicians and cellists especially – are fortunate to have Greenhouse’s recordings to return to for inspiration and guidance.  Through them, his legacy will last forever.  I, along with so many others, am grateful to have lived in his time and to have been enriched by his artistry.

Menahem Pressler and Bernard Greenhouse at the Hamburg International Chamber Music Competition, September 2009



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