I promised myself I’d write at least one post a day for a year. Not sure what to write about.
But the wonderful cellist Leslie Parnas has been on my mind recently. I auditioned for him back when I was a senior in high school. My teacher then was Denis Brott, an intense, creative, headstrong virtuoso whom I hero worshiped–wanted to be, really, but that’s a long story. Anyway, I’d always loved Parnas’s recording of the Beethoven Triple Concerto with Alexander Schnieder and . . . well, I don’t remember who else–it was the extraordinary cello playing that grabbed my attention. (At certain times in my cello life, especially as a teenager, the was the cello part, and everything else was accompaniment or bothersome intrusion!)
When I played for Parnas, my playing was about feeling the feelings of the music and being as expressive as possible, technique and intonation be damned. Denis, who was just in his mid-twenties himself, was partly responsible for this. “I don’t care if you stand on your head and spit green nickels,” he said in one master class for his students at the North Carolina School of the Arts, “as long as you SAY SOMETHING!”
I was intonationally challenged to begin with, but I began to feel that playing expressively and out of tune was almost a badge of honor. (Teenagers!) And I did have so many peers who avoided expressiveness and creativity in their playing in order to play accurately, if dully.
I think Parnas was tough on making me get the cello really in tune before I started playing for him. (He certainly was a few years later when I played for him in a master class. My D string was false, but he kept asking me, “is that in tune enough for you? It’s not in tune enough for me.” It went on and on; the rest of that class is yet another story.) I started playing the Debussy sonata for him, with great theatrical involvement; I was the drunk Pierrot distraught at being rejected by his lover. Into my fantasy world intruded a somewhat sweet voice. “I don’t think that’s in tune.”
I remember it being a great lesson. We discussed phrasing at great length, and I had the sense that if I studied with him my creativity would grow endlessly. I ended up staying at NCSA with Denis another year, and then going on to Juilliard.
I often wonder how I would developed had I studied for an extended period with Leslie Parnas. When I was practicing today, I imagined I was playing for him. I was more in tune and more musical. So thanks, Mr. Parnas.