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Slava and Schelomo

He played the premiere of the piece in Russia. At rehearsals with the orchestra he was uncertain about the effect of his performance until he happened to catch sight of a violinist, Chernekovsky, who was absolutely in tears.


Slava’s only recording of the piece was made sometime later with Leonard Bernstein in London. Bernstein had definite ideas about how the piece should be played and Slava acceded to most of his wishes, but with reservations…he felt that Bernstein was doing too much and the recording would sound exaggerated. But when Slava heard the recording he realized that Lenny’s ideas were perfect. The recording was great and Slava let it stand as his only recording of the piece.


told by Slava during a lesson on Schelomo with Wendy Warner

A Bow For Britten

Benjamin Britten and Slava were on their way by car to meet some of Britten’s friends and during the trip Slava discovered that these friends, Lord and Lady Harwood, had titles. Royalty! Slava began to talk about how he would bow to them: a special Russian bow with a leap into the air, a twirl, then down on one knee. Britten, horrified at the spectacle planned by his exuberant friend, begged Slava to promise that he would not bow. They had stopped for some gasoline near a small restaurant so Slava took a menu from the restaurant and had Britten sign a contract: “In exchange for one bow I, Benjamin Britten, promise to write for Slava an unaccompanied suite for cello. Signed, Benjamin Britten.” Slava has the menu to this day, and we all have the Suite.


told by Slava at a masterclass on the Suite

Magic and technique

Magic and technique are key words for Slava. The performer masters technique so he can make it disappear, and that makes the magic! A humorous illustration occurred during a masterclass on the first movement of the Prokofieff Sinfonia Concertante. Slava surprised the performer when he pulled his hand away from the cello as he prepared for an entrance (the high b natural after number 21 in the first movement of the Concertante). The performer’s hand flew back to the cello and Slava pulled it away again. At the last moment, Slava allowed the performer to leap for the note. He missed. Slava explained: “All of the magic is gone when you find the note and then sit there waiting for your entrance. You must wait until it is time to play the note, then bring both hands up together and play.” The performer made the attempt and failed. Slava then showed him how to find the note. “The note is always in the same place. You must be like an archer, you breathe the same every time, you move your hands both together the same every time, you make the approach the same every time.” Then, the performer played the note correctly several times in a row. Slava concluded: “You will miss it a few times, but it is better to do it with confidence than to show the audience you are afraid of it.” Slava delights in making this kind of magic in performance, and for him it is always worth the risk. He tells of a magic trick he and Sviatislav Richter enjoyed. They always began pieces by breathing together, and they could hear each other when they breathed. When they arrived on-stage they would not look at each other. They would sit at their instruments, then magically bring their hands up and start to play…exactly together. Their secret: breathe together, and begin.


told by Slava at a masterclass on Sinfonia Concertante

Britten First Suite

Slava talks about life in his classes: music as part of life and life as reflected in music. He expressed his view of a performance as a “life” of a composition during a class on Britten’s First Suite. A very accomplished young cellist played the entire Suite for Slava. After the performance, Slava said: “Begin again.”. After three bars of the Canto primo, Slava leaned forward and said, “What do you think of the weather we are having?” The performer stopped and asked, “The weather?” “No, keep playing,” responded Slava, “and talk to me.” The performance resumed, but with a bit less focus. “So, do you prefer it sunny or rainy?” asked Slava. “Uh, I guess…sunny.” As the conversation continued, the Canto moved into the background. Slava explained: “Each performance brings to life a composition that until then existed only on paper. We performers are responsible to give that life meaning and balance. The Canto (primo, secondo, terzo, and quarto) is ultimately very important in the life of this composition, but here at the beginning the audience does not yet appreciate its significance. It should be like the music when we come into a church…the organist is playing big chords that echo through the building, but they do not demand all of our attention.” Slava offered some images the movements bring to his mind. In the Lamento the notes “b,” “g,” and “e,” represent some very sad news that the performer cannot escape, try as he may. A guitarist arrives to play for us in the Serenata, but he is not the most skilled artist and after a bold beginning it takes him a few false starts to get going. In the Bordone we see two mystical beings, one of them tall, thin, almost stalk-like, and extremely excitable; the other is short, rotund, with a slow, resonant voice. The two of them, neighbors, are having a conversation over the back yard fence. The “d” is the fence. The Moto Perpetuo e Canto Quarto shows us the triumph of the song as it gradually appears first between measures of the perpetual motion figures, then simultaneously with them.


told by Slava at a masterclass on the Suite

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