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In Memoriam Slava

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 8 months ago

Share your experience with our beloved Slava. Perhaps you attended one of his concerts and remember some detail vividly. Or something he said or did at a master class meant a lot to you. If you are a cellist you may have played for Slava and you want to describe that experience. Try to include as much detail as possible about the event so others can add their details if they attended the same event. --- Glenn Garlick

N.B. The password for this page is "Slava27". Click on "Edit Page" above. You can find "Style Help" at the bottom right.


  • I once played for Slava in a closed master class for National Symphony Orchestra musicians. I played the first movement of Prokofieff's Sinfonia Concertante. I had just finished all of the big runs (on the third page of the cello part) and I was preparing for the high "b" after a short series of chords in the orchestra (piano in this case). My preparation consisted of finding the note with my finger and then waiting for the moment to play. Slava saw my preparation and came over to pull my hand away from the cello! I heard my entrance approaching and I desperately found the note again. Slava pulled my hand away again! Then, at the last second he stepped away and left me to grab for the note as best I could. I will paraphrase what he said to me after I finished the movement: "Glennchik, I pulled your hand away from the cello because if you locate the note like that it looks like you don't know where the note is. But it always exists in the same place on the fingerboard. Your job is to find it always at that same place with a minimum of effort. To do this, you must always approach the note in the same way...not just with the left hand but with the bow as well. Bring both hands up together at the same time and with the same breath, then play. Try it now." I missed a couple of times, then began to hit the note every time. Slava continued, "It is better to risk missing some notes than to ruin the magic you create when you look confident that you know where the notes are." --- Glenn Garlick


  • The Army Strolling Strings was entertaining guests at the first Bush White House and I found myself playing two feet from Slava. I was embarassed to be playing stroll tunes for the Maestro, but I put on a show and Slava noticed. He applauded like I was Slava Rostropovich. The next time I saw him was in the Clinton White House. We Strollers were waiting in the Visitors Room and in came Slava with his cello. This time he was just another musician playing a gig. At a loss for words, I asked what cello he was playing. He proudly showed us his new cello by Bob Spear, a local maker. --- Bob Park



  • In the middle of his 17-year tenure as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich announced that he would take a one-year sabbatical to complete some projects of his own. At a rehearsal shortly before he left he told the orchestra that one of his goals was to improve his command of the English language, and that when he returned to us he would speak "Shakespearean English." The year passed and Slava came back. At our first rehearsal he greeted everyone: "Hello, hello, my deeerest friends, I sooo hoppy see you my beloved colleagues, I luff you all so much!" An orchestra member pointed out that Slava sounded much like he had when he left...what happened to his project to learn Shakespearean English? "You know," Slava replied, "I tell you what is happens. After I leave you last year I fly straight to Oxford for my English lessons. I say to them I must speak Shakespearean English for my dearest colleagues in Vashington. The professors at Oxford tells me: But Slava, in England when Shakespeare is lives, they speak a special kind of English called Old English. And Old English is sounds just like you are talking now."---Glenn Garlick



  • I had the opportunity to play for Slava in a master class at the University of Michigan in the mid-1970s. I played Haydn D Major Concerto for him and the gist of his message was that he wanted me to lighten up and enjoy the music. To make his point he had me play the opening of the concerto in D minor! I remember his generosity and his buoyancy. He must have taught the Haydn D Major Concerto a gazillion times…but he made his gazillion and first time sound fresh and inspiring.---Evelyn Elsing




In 1984, Slava offered to lead the Catholic University Orchestra in a fundraising performance at the Kennedy Center. He wanted to help CU build a musical conservatory worthy of the Nation's Capital. It was an unbelievably generous gift: he conducted the Overture from "Ruslan and Ludmyla" by Glinka and "The Bells" by Rachmaninov and he played and conducted the Haydn C major concerto. As principal, I got to play the solo part during rehearsals. I moved the metronome up one click at a time trying to reach the blistering tempo in the last movement of his recording. But when Slava came, the challenge was not the tempi but the dynamics, which were so soft it was impossible to play under the solo. Slava twice rebuked me (us cellos) for playing too loud and insensitively. It was the performance of a lifetime, and I never sweated so hard. --- Bob Park



Slava featured members of the orchestra every season in what were called Orchestra Soloists nights. One year he asked me to be one of the soloists, and we agreed upon the J. C. Bach (Casadesus) C minor concerto. It was an absolute thrill to be the soloist with Slava conducting! I was even given an artist dressing room backstage, so I made sure I had a different gown to wear for each performance, just like the divas we see on a regular basis. Backstage Slava would hum a few measures of the piece to check tempos with me, and then we’d walk onstage together to perform. For someone who had grown up in Spokane, WA, you can be sure that such an experience was beyond any of my youthful fantasies. Slava was wonderfully supportive during the whole experience. I treasure the autographed page you see below.

Yvonne Caruthers




One of the times that I played for Slava was at his apartment across from the Watergate and Ha-Na Chang was there to play for him as well. Myriam and I played my own composition, the Adagio and Allegro, which has a Schumannesque opening followed by a quick and somewhat less tonal fugue. Ha-Na and I each sat in on the other’s lesson – Slava’s advice to me was that a composer must have a recognizable “face” and that my Adagio sounded as if it could have been written by any number of composers but the Allegro was music that showed the personality of my own face and that I should continue to write in that style. In Ha-Na’s lesson, she played the Rococo variations and Slava was not happy with her spiccato. He said “You can have a good career without an up-bow staccato, but you can not have a good career without a spiccato.” He demonstrated that a spiccato stroke is achieved by creating an elongated, clockwise circle mostly from the wrist (he then referred to it as an “elipse”, articulating the word carefully and with a little smile, a little proud of his use of the word). He had her practice the stroke by alternating between a down-bow on the upper string and an up-bow on the lower string, beginning slowly and gradually accelerating, when the bow comes off of the string on its own, you simply turn the cello without changing the bow angle and you have the spiccato stroke on a single string! He asked her to play another piece that she was to have prepared and she refused. He was adamant and insisted that a respectful and diligent student would do as the teacher instructed, but the twelve-year old Ha-Na refused again. (I remember thinking that such stubbornness might benefit her in the future.) After the lessons we had lunch and Slava told us about the series of all-Shostakovich concerts that he would be conducting in St. Petersburg. He had been going through his letters and found one from Shostakovich that was a response to Slava’s request to tell him what he felt were his finest works. Slava used the very list that Shostakovich gave to him to create the programs for the concerts. Included was his eighth symphony, and I said that I considered it to be the greatest work of the twentieth century and he agreed. I miss Slava, I have missed him for years now, but it is comforting to know that he left little undone in his life. His accomplishments could be spread out between a hundred people and each of them could be proud to have achieved so much in one lifetime.

- David Teie



Keith Fleming, formerly a cellist with the Opera House Orchestra, told this story about Slava. The year Catholic University awarded Slava an honorary doctorate the graduation ceremony was held outdoors on a very hot day in late spring / early summer. Keith was principal cellist of the school orchestra at the time and the orchestra was sent to play the processional and the recessional pieces for the graduates. The day before the ceremony Keith had changed the lower strings on his cello and they were proving to be difficult to keep in tune on a hot, muggy day in Washington. But Keith was not worried because he knew that after the processional piece he would not play for some time and he could tune immediately before the recessional. In the middle of the ceremony Slava was awarded his honorary degree and he stepped to the podium to make his acceptance speech. His speech was short and to the point: “My dear friends, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this great honor. I cannot express myself well enough in English, but I would like to say my thanks in a language that I know very well… music.” With that he strode across the stage and, with a smile, asked Keith if he could borrow his cello for a moment. Keith gave it to him and whispered that Slava might like to check the tuning. Slava did not hear him. In any case, it was a point of pride with Slava that he never tuned in front of the public. He sat down and began to play the Sarabande to the Third Bach Suite. Keith said it sounded like his cello had the two lower strings tuned down for Kodaly Sonata. Slava’s eyes went wide…but he did not stop to tune. As Keith watched in amazement, Slava made up an entire new set of fingerings for the Sarabande, on the spot.---as told to Glenn Garlick



Slava accepted me into the NSO cello section when I was an impressionable twenty-two year old cellist. He seemed to me to have no limits as a cellist and his personality was larger than life. He also took special care with his cello section, always willing to coach us either in chamber music or individually. Sometimes his coaching occurred during concerts. Once on tour I forgot to observe a “senza vibrato” indication and I looked up to see that Slava had noticed my use of vibrato. His gaze was fixed on my left hand while he held his own left hand perfectly still on his chest. I got the message and immediately went to “senza vibrato.” The next day while I was out for a stroll a limousine pulled up next to me, and Slava popped out to say; “Stevechik…SENZA vibrato!” For the rest of the tour he looked my way at that passage to make sure I was not using vibrato and he would nod approvingly and smile when he saw that I was looking back at him with my left hand perfectly still.---Steve Honigberg



I remember a remarkable rehearsal with Slava. The National Symphony Orchestra cello section had commissioned a work for 12 celli by composer David Ott, to be performed at a Cello Congress at the University of Maryland. Slava agreed to conduct. At our first rehearsal of the piece, Slava arrived at the last minute. His plane had been delayed and he came to the Kennedy Center directly from the airport. We gave him the recently finished score, and we began. After two straight readings of the 15-minute piece Slava said: "Now must be time for coffee". We all went downstairs to the KC canteen for coffee and sweet rolls while he regaled us with some outrageously funny stories. A few minutes later, when the rehearsal reconvened, Slava had a firm idea of his complete interpretation in mind. He delved into the work with renewed energy and brought it to life. His idea of the piece changed little after that through several rehearsals and subsequent performances. There was no need to. His remarkable mind had completely grasped the music while he was socializing with us. ---Robert Blatt, NSO cellist



The Music Director of the Greeley (Colorado) Philharmonic was a good friend of my family. His wife gave me an autograph book that he had kept over the years. Many great artists had stopped in Greeley to play with the orchestra, among them the cellists Gregor Piatigorsky (in 1944) and Joseph Schuster (in 1951). Piatigorsky had signed the book with a short excerpt from the Prelude to the C Major Suite. Schuster apparently did not care for his bowing and seven years later added his own notation, with bowings. I showed the book to Slava in 1994 and asked if he would add his name. He leafed through the book, commenting on some of the autographs as he went, then stopped and stared at the page with the Bach excerpts. “No,” he said, “Grisha could not have bowed it that way, do you think? Maybe it was just the way he thought of the phrase. In any case, I play different from Schuster, also.” So saying, Slava took the pen and wrote his bowing on the opposite page, bigger than either of the other two, and signed it. ---Glenn Garlick








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