By Laurence Vittes
In 1993 I reviewed Joel Krosnick‘s concert with Gilbert Kalish at the Los Angeles County Museum Bing Auditorium for the Los Angeles Times: “The evening’s star was A Life by the obscure Ernst Bacon, born in Chicago in 1898 and little more than a footnote in reference books (he founded the Carmel Bach Festival in 1935).
“Written in two installments, following his son’s birth in 1939 and tragic death in 1972, and employing what Krosnick called a ‘very personal, very intimate musical language,’ the five-movement suite kept the audience quietly engaged for more than 25 minutes. From the stage, Krosnick told how he had discovered the music in a New York library and how, upon contacting Bacon before his death in 1990, had been told of the pain it contained.
“Throughout the first three movements, the cello’s mainly tonal rhapsodizing was accompanied by so many suspended, empty harmonic resolutions in the piano that it was like overhearing the innermost thoughts of a man to whom life meant a great deal. After the angry angularities of “Young Manhood,” the concluding “Departure” was an almost unbearably sad, slow sequence of sighs and consolations.”
During our conversations at Banff and after it became clear that Krosnick, former BISQC juror and now mentor in residence, who played for the Juilliard Quartet from 1974 to 2016, also prizes very personal, very intimate musical engagement. And those “I got it!” miracles each teacher waits for.
Do you remember any specific musical miracles in your life?
Luigi Silva, with whom I studied from the time I was ten to 21, was a member of the very famous Mannes-Gimpel-Silva Piano Trio, and he didn’t see much point in my going to Columbia instead of Juilliard. “If you want to read books, read books,” he said. I took lessons with him privately, feeling some doubt and not too much connection with my own artistic voice. I was studying the last Beethoven sonata with him, but after I performed it, he expressed overt disapproval of my performance—for one of the few times. He said, “You played very well, everything was fine, but it was totally cerebral. Nothing was happening. I felt no connection with you at all.”
I was devastated. He said it very nicely, but he was waiting to hear real emotional involvement. “You’re playing another recital next week,” he added,” and I’ll be there. For god’s sake, do something.”
Was that the miracle?
Not yet. I left there thinking I had been paying close attention to what he told me to do with that Beethoven sonata, and there were a lot of things I wanted to do but didn’t because I was trying to do it the way way he was teaching. So I said to the pianist I was working with, “I want another rehearsal with you, I’m just going to let it rip, and do all sorts of things that I instinctively wanted to do but hadn’t done.”
The pianist was very supportive, he understood what I was talking about. “I’m very good at that kind of thing,” he said. “Let it rip. Wherever you are, I’ll be. Don’t worry about it.”
Mr. Silva made that possible for me by disapproving of my playing obediently. It meant a lot to me.
The next recital was an exclusive private affair in somebody’s Eastside apartment that had a very beautiful auditorium with a stage. I closed the program with the Beethoven sonata, and concentrated on just letting it rip. I was taking a bow and Mr. Silva was sitting in the third or fourth row right in the center without much expression on his face, and I thought, “Uh oh.” And then I took the second bow and I looked down and he had his right hand up to his chest making that sign of a circle with your thumb and first finger that you make when something is really good. And I thought, “OK.”
What do you tell your students about such moments?
I say, “I am telling you things I think about this piece, and sharing with you experiences I’ve had playing this piece, but it’s your performance. Put in what I say in with whatever else you’re feeling about it, and let happen what happens. Mr. Silva made that possible for me by disapproving of my playing obediently. It meant a lot to me.
What should we know about the ten quartets at BISQC?
How involved they all were in searching for whatever they’ll find. I found it reassuring that of these three winners, two were graduate resident quartets at Colburn and the Shepherd School, and the third had a fellowship at the Guildhall School in London. Then there’s the Ulysses Quartet residency at Juilliard—they’ll play the small hall at Carnegie—the Vera Quartet at Curtis, and the Omer at Yale. These preparatory positions will enable them to be on their own in public, playing as established performing quartets in alliance with whatever institutions they’re at.
How big a deal is that?
Big. It means that these quartets aren’t sitting alone in practice rooms, discussing and thinking about what they’re doing—they’re actually doing it out in public, encouraged by the school to do what they can on its behalf, but more importantly on their own behalf. The message is clear: Go and try your voice. See what it is you do. I thought it was the best possible thing for these young groups because it gave them time to work that way, to have somebody whose opinions they could seek out and hear, and above all, to have a platform in which to make their feelings and views heard, and to hear them themselves, in public.