The Greenhouse Effect — by Robert Jesselson

The Greenhouse Effect — by Robert Jesselson

I feel like I have known Bernard Greenhouse for all of my life. Growing up in New York in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I heard him perform countless times with the Beaux Arts Trio and the Bach Aria Group. I can remember his warm sound and elegant appearance from my earliest days. It is probably because of hearing Mr. Greenhouse that I even wanted to play the cello. Then in 1971, when I was studying in Freiburg, Germany I got the first chance to actually meet him in person. It was backstage after an awe-inspiring performance of the Beethoven Triple by the Beaux Arts Trio.

I told him that I hoped to have the opportunity to study with him someday—and he generously responded by giving me his personal telephone number and address, saying to contact him when I was ready. I still have the address book with his name and address written in—it feels like a special talisman! It took another 18 years before I felt that I was really ready—after having studied with Paul Katz at Eastman, and after even having started to teach on the college level at Montana State University and the University of South Carolina. But I was fortunate that when the opportunity came, it was a high dose of the “Greenhouse effect.” He had just retired from the Trio, and was teaching at Rutgers full time. Since he was no longer touring with the Trio, he came to New Brunswick virtually every week, and we got massive doses of lessons and master classes. I still have tapes of all of my lessons and the master classes, and I regularly listen to them for continued inspiration. I also have all my notebooks, filled with comments that he made to me and to other students: “there should never be a straight line in music,” “the finger doesn’t make the vibrato, the arm does,” “don’t play in a monotone, like athletes sound in an interview on the radio,” and hundreds more gems of advice from his years of experience.

I worked on big literature with Mr. Greenhouse—the Shostakovich and Prokofiev concertos, the Stravinsky Suite Italienne, the Carter Sonata, among many other pieces for five different recitals. But one of the highlights for me was exploring the Bach 6th Suite with him. On the tapes I have him demonstrating various passages, showing articulation, strokes, and phrasing. And burned into my psyche is his way of playing the Allemande, which he showed me in several different lessons, until he was satisfied that I “got it.” His playing of the Allemande spoke so directly to me from his heart and soul, informed with a lifetime of thought and the influence of Casals. In one lesson, just before a recital, I remember playing the entire 6th Suite for him. After finishing playing, Mr. Greenhouse looked at me in his gentlemanly way, and said, “Very good. Now play the whole thing again.” And I proceeded to play the whole suite one more time. The point was that in order to play this long and difficult piece one time under pressure in a recital I had to be able to play it successfully several times in succession without getting tired. I still do this today in preparing for performances.

Also unforgettable for me was Mr. Greenhouse’s particular way of pronouncing the word “intonation,” which he seems to have used with me quite frequently—as in the phrase “you better fix your intonation!” What I can still hear is how he articulated every individual syllable, pronouncing it “in-to-na-tion.” The word seemed to be colored with a slightly European accent of unknown origin, conveying all the gravitas of its significance for a string player, and filled with complex subtleties of meaning. Whether he was referring to the expressive bending of pitch, or the harmonic movement of a chord, he emphasized that we must strive for the cleanest playing. Certainly his own playing reflected that level of commitment—even demonstrating in the lessons he was always “spot on,” and his accuracy in his own performances was legendary.

Many people have “heroes” and mentors whom they can look up to. Fewer have the opportunity to meet their mentors in person and even to be able to work with them. I have been fortunate to have lived my entire life with Mr. Greenhouse as a cello “hero,” to have been able to study with him, and to have been able to tell him this and to thank him.

About the Author:

Robert Jesselson

Robert Jesselson is a Carolina Distinguished Professor at the University of South Carolina, where he teaches cello and plays in the American Arts Trio and the Jesselson/Fugo Duo. In 2013 he was named as the Governor’s Professor of the Year by Governor Haley and the SC Commission on Higher Education.

Dr. Jesselson has performed in recital and with orchestras in Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States, and has participated in the Music Festivals at Nice (France), Granada (Spain), Santiago (Spain), Aspen (CO), Spoleto (SC), the Grand Tetons (WY), and the Festival Inverno (Brazil). His performance degrees are from the Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik in Freiburg, West Germany, from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Paul Katz, and the DMA from Rutgers where he studied with cellist Bernard Greenhouse. He has been principal cello of the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Orquesta-Sinfonica de Las Palmas, Spain. In 1983 Dr. Jesselson was in China for a six-month residency, one of the first Western cellists to visit that country. During that time he performed as soloist, gave master classes, and taught at several conservatories (including Beijing, Shanghai, and Canton). In December, 2001 he led a delegation of string players and teachers to Cuba to begin professional contact with Cuban musicians. He has also taught at Sookmyung University in Korea, Sun Yat Sen University in Taiwan, University of Auckland in New Zealand, at the Royal College of Music in London and recently in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. His recent CD of new music for cello and piano is called “Carolina Cellobration” and is available on CD Baby and Cellos2Go.

Dr. Jesselson was the national President of ASTA, the American String Teachers Association, from 2000-2002. During his tenure as president he initiated the National Studio Teachers Forums (2000 and 2002), started the National String Project Consortium (with sites now at 44 universities and grants of $3.1 million), and began the planning for the first stand-alone ASTA national convention in 2003. He was the founding Executive Director of the National String Project Consortium, and is currently on the NSPC Board.

Dr. Jesselson is former conductor of the USC University Orchestra and the Columbia Youth Orchestra, and he was the cello teacher at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts for 17 years. For 15 years he was the director of the USC String Project, building the program into one of the largest and most prominent string education programs in the country. His pioneering work on this program was recognized in an article in the New York Times in December, 2003. ASTA awarded him the “Marvin Rabin Community Service” Award in 2009 for his work with the NSPC and teacher training. He is the recipient of the 2015 USC Trustees Professorship and the 2010 Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year, the highest teaching awards given by USC. He has also been awarded the 2002 Cantey Award for Outstanding Faculty, the 1992 Verner Award, the 1989 S.C. Arts Commission Artist Fellowship, the 1995 Mungo Teaching Award, and the first SC ASTA Studio Teacher Award in 2005. Next summer Dr. Jesselson will be teaching cello at the Green Mountain Music Festival in Vermont and at the Cellospeak Festival. He plays a 1716 Jacques Boquay cello.

Robert Jesselson website: http://in.music.sc.edu/fs/jesselson/index.html
Articles by Jesselson: http://in.music.sc.edu/fs/jesselson/articles.html