By Barbara Bogatin | From the July-August 2023 issue of Strings Magazine
This is a heartfelt story of musical connections and personal history, vividly and powerfully told.
The Cello Still Sings is much more than the engrossing, entertaining memoir of a creative and successful cellist in the highly competitive musical world of 21st century America. Cellist Janet Horvath interweaves the personal story of her career—as it unfolds from her student days in the class of Janos Starker at Indiana University to the herculean task of winning the audition for associate principal cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra—with the unraveling of mysteries surrounding her parents’ lives before she was born. As the author coaxes long-hidden stories from the failing memories of her aging parents, it becomes a search for the truth of her family’s gripping story of survival during the Holocaust.
Inspired by a chance question to her cellist father, George Horvath, about whether he had ever worked with Leonard Bernstein, she begins to uncover and then thoroughly research her father’s harrowing life and struggles to survive Hitler’s persecution of Jews in his native Hungary. It was Horvath’s love of the cello that got him through those difficult years and then after the war to a prestigious position in the Toronto Symphony. Janet sleuths out clues from articles, photos, and interviews before making an expeditionary trip to Hungary for a first-hand glimpse of places he’d lived and performed. Her discoveries help her understand how the trauma he lived with affected their relationship, eventually bringing healing and closure.
Carrying on the family musical tradition, Janet Horvath carved out her own impressive career. In addition to her position in the Minnesota Orchestra, she toured with Music from Marlboro and frequently performed as a concerto soloist and chamber musician. She details how her performances of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidre connected her deeply to her father’s life and her own Jewish identity. Most striking throughout this gripping tale of intergenerational talent and trauma is the clarity and honesty with which the author examines her complex relationships, both with her parents and to music itself, as she deals with devastating hearing loss that eventually derails her career. For any musician, the diagnosis of a hearing impairment such as noise-induced hyperacusis would be an unfathomable obstacle, but with formidable perseverance, Horvath manages to reinvent herself as a gifted writer, speaker, and Holocaust educator.
Cellists will especially appreciate her thoughts about technique, recital programming, performance preparation, and her path to finding the perfect instrument. Through all the difficulties of the past and struggles of the present that Horvath has faced, her humor, warmth, and writer’s eye for detail create a bond with the reader that makes for a compelling, richly rewarding read for everyone else, too.