Robert Jesselson

Robert Jesselson

About 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

The Joy of Feulliard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 6 – Feuillard #32, Variations #4-7)

Part 6 -  Feuillard #32 - Variations 4-7 Before working on the next few variations, I like to help refine the student's understanding of intonation. In Part 5 we talked about the basic concepts of using the perfect intervals to check the intonation with the open strings. We also helped to organize the left hand in first position by checking the first and fourth fingers with the open strings, thus creating a clear "structure" for the left hand (for most people the tendency is for the first finger to be sharp and the fourth finger to be flat in first position). I usually like to give the students at least a week to sort this all out, so that they can play the theme with more stable intonation, especially regarding [...]

The Joy of Feulliard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 5 – Feuillard #32 – Theme and Variations 1-3)

Part 5 -  Feuillard #32 - Theme and Variations 1-3 Now we are ready to start working on the Feuillard bowing exercises themselves. I usually begin explaining  how to approach the Theme and Variations in the very first lesson. But since most of the time in the first lesson is taken with all the necessary "preliminary" information about the bow (as discussed in Blogs 3 and 4), and with basic information about the scale/arpeggio system and etudes, there will be just a brief introduction to the Feuillard project in that initial lesson. First I explain to the students how these Feuillard exercises are organized, with a theme and then a set of variations. Theme of No. 32:   Theme from Lesson 1: https://videopress.com/v/6vwb5UKn Then I explain to them how we check [...]

The Joy of Feulliard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 4 – Preliminaries: The Second Lesson)

Part 4 -  Preliminaries: The Second Lesson Part 3  presented preliminary concepts which are necessary before starting the bowing exercises in Feuillard. These include the "core" sound, the "block of sound",  playing with a "straight" bow, and a basic kinesthetic  understanding of how the bow arm works (the correct movement of the upper and lower arm, and the elbow). These are all issues which should be addressed in the very first lesson with a new student. I spend a lot of time working with the bow arm first, because if a student can't get a good sound with the bow it won't matter how beautifully the left hand works. Basic sound production comes before addressing the myriad number of left hand issues involved in playing the cello (intonation, vibrato, shifting, [...]

The Joy of Feulliard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 3 – Preliminaries: The First Lesson)

Part 3 -  Preliminaries: The First Lesson As I mentioned in the Introductory Part 1, I am assuming for this series that I am working with an intermediate level student, building or re-building his or her right hand technique. This may be because this student has a poor basic sound, is playing with too much tension, or doesn’t understand the mechanics of how the body works in playing the cello. With more advanced students it may be because they have never really analyzed or thought about various aspects of bow technique, and as a result they are deficient in executing different strokes or rhythms or styles. The first step, starting in the very first lesson, is to make sure that the student understands the basic principles of the bow arm. [...]

The Joy of Feulliard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 2 – The Sequential Method)

Part 2 – The Sequential Method I believe that it is important for an applied cello teacher to have an organized and logical pedagogical system in order to ensure that intermediate level students are exposed to all the technical and musical information that they need. Just as a math teacher or an English teacher uses a syllabus to create a logical succession of tasks for a young student, the applied studio string teacher should have a clear methodology to insure that all the requisite material is covered and that the student builds a secure technique based on a solid foundation. Very often I hear cellists play who clearly have "holes" in their technique or in their understanding of how the body works. They may never have analyzed how string crossings [...]

The Joy of Feulliard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 1 – Introduction)

Part 1 – Introduction I started playing the cello seriously in 1971 when I was 22 years old. I had played somewhat earlier, but had very few lessons and was certainly not even considering music as a career. When I went to college I thought I was going to be a doctor, and I majored in anthropology and linguistics. It was only when I finally recognized that I really didn't want to pursue those career goals that I decided to “try” this music thing. When I went to Freiburg, I played for cellist Marçal Cervera, who ultimately became my teacher. He heard me play, and told me that there was “no way” that I could be accepted into the Conservatory. I just didn’t have the technique or background to make [...]

Travels with Ima – by Robert Jesselson

This year my cello is celebrating its 300th birthday. Made in 1716 by Jacques Boquay, I call her Ima, as in “I’m a Cello” because whenever I fly with her I book the ticket as Ima Cello. That way I collect the frequent flyer miles and get a free meal! When I was younger it was a lot easier to travel with a cello—in fact when I lived in Germany, I used to fly with Swiss Air and they usually just let me take Ima on the plane without paying for a seat. Later I bought a big Kolstein travel case—it is huge and bulky, but it has an inflatable “balloon” that surrounds the cello inside the case and is made out of Kevlar so you can shoot a gun at it and it won’t pierce the [...]

By |2018-08-05T06:32:03+00:00March 9th, 2017|Categories: Luthiers|Tags: , , , |

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. [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 21: Alexanian Exercises — by Robert Jesselson

Today’s Blog is devoted to some thumb position exercises by Diran Alexanian that my teacher in Freiburg, Spanish cellist Marcal Cervera, gave to me in 1972. These exercises are not in included in Alexanian’s seminal book on cello technique, Traite Theorique et Pratique du Violoncelle  (Theoretical and practical treatise of the violoncello).Alexanian’s book includes several pages of other thumb position exercises (pages 125 ff.) which are well worth practicing, but I believe that these 13 exercises have never actually been published.  I do not know how Cervera got these exercises, but I copied them from his notebook, and studied them with him.  I find them to be very useful. Alexanian was born in Armenia in 1881. He became Casals’ assistant at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. His treatise [...]

100 Cello Warm-ups and Exercises Blog 20: Thumb Position and the Upper Registers (Part 2) — by Robert Jesselson

In the first part of this series on thumb position (Blog #19), we discussed the basic techniques for understanding the geography of the upper registers of the cello. There are three concepts for knowing the “latitude and longitude” in this part of the instrument: 1. Using nodes and other fixed points for reference 2. Measuring distances: a) understanding and using intervals b) the “Configuration of the Hand” across string 3. Using the basic thumb position, as described above, and organizing  the finger spacing with tetrachords We looked at #1 and #2a in Blog #19. Next we will discuss the “Configuration of the Hand.” 2b. Configuration of the Hand Knowing the intervals and distances on one string is vital in understanding the geography of the upper part of the cello. But one still needs [...]

100 Cello Warm-ups and Exercises Blog 19: Cello Geography Part 5: Thumb Position and the Upper Registers — by Robert Jesselson

  Blogs #15 and #16 discussed the geography of the lower regions of the cello. In sorting out the “latitude” and “longitude” in this part of the instrument the main organizing principle is the knowledge and use of positions. We identify the positions by the location of the first finger on the string up through Seventh position, with “normal” and “extended” variants throughout. When the first finger is playing the A in seventh position on the A string the thumb is still behind the neck—so this is still considered neck position. Seventh position is a significant place on the cello, because it divides the string into two equal parts, and as a result we find the A harmonic there as well. After seventh position, the thumb is used as a [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 18: Cello Geography Part 4: The Fabulous Thumb — by Robert Jesselson

When students come to study cello with me in college they often arrive with problems in their fundamental technique which must be addressed: issues with collapsing fingers, bow angle, underlying tension, weak sound, etc. Most of these basic problems can be dealt with fairly quickly once the student becomes aware of the issues and knows how to fix them. However the bad habits that seem to be the most intractable are problems regarding the curvature of the thumb. In pedagogy classes and in talking with teachers I always emphasize that young cellists should be taught to train their thumbs correctly in order to help avoid excess tension and to allow maximum flexibility. Teachers need to be vigilant about this in the early stages of a cellist’s development in order to [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 17: Cello Geography Part 3: The “Mary System” — by Robert Jesselson

This blog will be the last one of the year – but we look forward to starting up again in 2016. In the first two blogs on Cello Geography we discussed the basic neck positions, and extensions. Next I would like to focus on a tool that I feel is helpful for sorting out one of the most important fingering principles on the cello: the “Mary” System. […]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 16: Cello Geography Part 2: Extensions — by Robert Jesselson

In many ways holding and playing the cello is just a “natural” addition to the body. The instrument rests nicely on our chest, we don’t need to twist and contort our arms like violinists, and if we employ weight, healthy balances and learn the ergonomically healthy use of the body we should have no pain or tension in playing. One of the only things that is not quite “natural” about playing the cello is our left-hand extensions. Stretching between the first and second fingers requires some specific training. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I used to walk around Freiburg as a student with a cork between my fingers to help train this stretch: […]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 15: Cello Geography Part 1: Neck Positions — by Robert Jesselson

Learning to play a string instrument means having to figure out where the left hand goes on the fingerboard in order to play the notes. Since we don’t have a GPS system for the cello, most people initially learn where the notes are by knowing the positions. The positions are like the latitude and longitude of the cello, and knowing them can help organize the grid of the fingerboard. Unfortunately many students learn just First and Fourth positions, because then they can play almost all the notes in the lower part of the cello. However, that limits the myriad choices of fingerings that can produce different shifts, slides, string crossings, etc. It reduces the creative possibilities, and it can make it almost impossible to play difficult passages that require the intermediate [...]