Cellist Anner Bylsma
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Born: February 17, 1934 - The Hague, the Netherlands
The Dutch cellist, Anner Bylsma [Bijlsma], received his
first lessons from his father, also a multi-talented musician. At the
age of 16, he enrolled at the Royal Conservatory, The Hague, to study
with Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp, principal cellist with the
Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam. It was Boomkamp who introduced
Bylsma to the Baroque cello. Bylsma won the school's Prix d'excellence
in 1957, and after becoming the Netherlands Opera Orchestra's principal
cellist, he won first prize in the Casals Competition in Mexico in 1959.
Playing with impeccable technique and a beautiful, unadulterated tone,
Bylsma is acknowledged as a master cellist, comfortable in a wide range
of music on both both modern cello and period instrument cello in an
historically informed Baroque style. As his father, he himself was
principal cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam for six
years (from 1962 to 1968). He left the orchestra to devote his
performing career to solo and chamber ensemble touring. He is one of
the pioneers of the 'Dutch Baroque School', and rose to fame as a
partner of period flutist Frans Brüggen (1934-2014) and
harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt (1928-2012), who toured extensively
together and made many recordings. In the 1990’s-2000’s he was joined
by keyboardists Malcolm Bilson and Jos van Immerseel. He continues to
be a towering figure in the Baroque cello movement. Bylsma was also a
co-founder of the string chamber ensemble L'Archibudelli. As a solo
performer he plays regularly with such orchestras as the Orpheus
Chamber Orchestra, Tafelmusik, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra
of the Age of Enlightenment, the Freiburger Barockorchester, and the
20th century music ensemble Rondom Kwartet. His chamber music partners
include violinists Lucy van Dael and Catherine Manson, and
harpsichordist Bob van Asperen.
Bylsma became an Erasmus Scholar at Harvard University in 1982. He is
also a noted scholar and teacher and author of Bach - The Fencing Master, a
stylistic and aesthetic analysis of the first three of J.S. Bach's
Cello Suites. His playing is always based on what he finds in the
composers' manuscripts. However, he quickly admits that his
interpretation of a work is not and should not be the only one, an idea
which he also impresses on his students. Although he doesn't like to
use the term 'authentic', it is in keeping with period performance that
he avoids the use of steel strings. This is a major element of his
tone. Both his 1695 Gofriller cello and his 1865 Pressenda are strung
with gut or silver-wrapped gut. He also has a five-string 'violoncello
piccolo' that he has used to record J.S. Bach's solo works.
His recordings can be found on several labels, covering a variety of
works, from Antonio Vivaldi to Paul Hindemith. In 1979 Bijlsma recorded
the Six Suites for unaccompanied cello (BWV 1007-1012) by J.S. Bach,
the first of its kind on a period instrument. He also made a second
recording of the same music in 1992 on the large Servais Stradivarius
and on a five-string violoncello piccolo. Many of his recordings on
Sony, both as a soloist and with L'Archibudelli, have won the Edison
prize, the Diapason d'or, the Liszt prize, and the Vivaldi prize.
Anner Bylsma is married to Dutch violinist Vera Beths.
In April of 1989, Bylsma, along with Leonhardt and Brüggen,
performed at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Despite his
busy schedule, Bylsma met with me for about half an hour, and what
follows is our conversation . . . . . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: Is
your life all centered around this
chamber ensemble, or do you still do solo and orchestral work?
No, nowadays it’s more or less for old times’
sake. I was a cellist in my own right when we started, the three
of us. I must have been about 25, and I had just won first prize
in an international
contest — the Casals
Contest — and I was first cellist of
the conservatory orchestra. It happens when you’re 25,
often you fall out with your profession, and
that’s what happened to me. I had been a cellist all my
life. My father was a musician. I never made a
decision to become a musician. I have a friend who is Chinese
from Indonesia, and his father is a pharmacist. They heard the
trio play, and he was
so taken in by it that he became a violinist. Well, that was a
decision and I’m not sure his father liked it very much. But
anyway, my father was a musician, so I have been a musician all my
life, but when I was twenty-five I fell out with
music. For me it was an awful idea that I had to play music all
my life. I was looking for a decent profession — maybe
a medical doctor, but then I would have to go to the university for so
many years. I was sitting at home very depressed, and then
Frans Brüggen rang me up. He had actually just started at
that time, and nobody knew him. People knew me, actually, and I
thought, well what the hell? Let’s do that,
then. Let’s try. I was so inspired by his ideas
and his playing, and a couple of
months later it was the same with the personality and the playing and
the ideas of Gustav
Leonhardt. So when I say it’s for old times’ sake, it plays a
part because we’re dear old friends, and we have been
playing now for so many years. But we don’t play all the
time. Not at all. To answer your
question now, my professional life is playing with orchestras,
playing with myself, playing this piece of Bach, and playing modern
things. I have two cellos. Still, when I
found back my love for music, I found back my love for all music.
There’s only one music. Music touches you always
the same way, whether you play jazz or sounds from the eleventh
century. What it does to you is the same thing. The
emotions are always the same even if the styles are different.
BD: When you’re
playing with the group, do you play
AB: Oh, no,
no. I play baroque cello.
BD: Why not
gamba? Is that too early for these
AB: The gamba
is not so much an accompanying
instrument. A gamba is a solo instrument, and the cello is much
more fitted out to play accompaniment because your
dynamic range is bigger, especially when I play with a recorder and a
cembalo that have almost no dynamics. It’s very fine when someone
can express it. Also, a gamba has these frets on it, like a
guitar, and frets make sure that your
in-tune playing is quite restricted to what the frets give you.
You can slide your finger back and forth, but that doesn’t make any
difference. On a cello and the violin you can do all
things, so you can play middle tone tuning. You
can play everything. Most important is when the flute is a
little too high or a little too low, you can pull it and make it
a straight octave.
BD: Is it
always the responsibility of the
string players to adjust to the intonation of the wind players?
AB: It is the
accompanist who plays to
the needs of the solo part. It’s the top part, and mostly if he
starts something, I am the one that imitates. So
he calls the shots when we play, the three of us.
BD: Do you
try to sound like a recorder, or do
you try to sound like a baroque cello imitating?
AB: There is
such a thing as trying to fit
in, to make an ensemble, like you say with the French word. Of
course you should not try to play like a recorder, but when he
plays a tune with a short note and a long note, you should do that,
because that’s the diction. That’s a way of speaking.
BD: So it
becomes the phrasing?
AB: Yes, the
phrasing. His phrasing and my phrasing don’t have to be the same
but at least it should have to say something,
it should have something to do with it.
BD: So he’s
phrasing with the breath and you’re
phrasing with the bow.
sure. With the bow, yes. Another thing we gloss
over is the baroque cello. [Rhetorically asking his own
question] What the hell is a baroque
[Laughs] How is it different from the modern cello that
you would play in the Concertgebouw Orchestra?
AB: When we
played my modern cello, and I still play that cello. It’s a
lovely cello. But then I found that I had to play so softly that
couldn’t make any dynamic differences. It was ppp and pp, and never mezzo forte or forte. It was walk on my toes
time, and it was very unnatural.
[Naïvely] Couldn’t you just use the mute?
would change the color of the sound so much in
the first place. So it was wonderful to do and very hard, also,
because when these recorders are well played they are
very distinct. When they play a run, you hear every note very,
very precisely! We string plays tend to slur them together,
or to make them a little louder or a little softer, and do all kinds of
different things to them. To play so precisely and so clearly,
I really had to go back to bowing exercises to do it. But at the
same time, I still did
not like it because it was so unnatural. It’s like
speaking to you in a super soft voice all the time because
you do that, too. That could not be
authentic. That could not be the case. That could not
be like every day normal flesh-and-blood people. The other
players could never have
played that softly, so gradually music has ended, more or less, the
need for the baroque cello, and what you
should change is your cello. Every old cello is, of course, a
cello. When you play a Stradivarius cello, it’s an old cello, it’
a baroque cello but has been changed. What’s also very important
is the bow.
BD: Now the
size and the shape of the cello is
roughly the same?
BD: What is
it that makes it not be able to project
AB: It is not
the projection, it’s the loudness of
the sound, actually. I can best answer this question for all
baroque instruments and modern instruments at the same time. The
instruments like they are now are either modern or they are old
instruments outfitted like modern instruments. The modern
instruments are made for singing. Now singing, like when you
a sing an opera nowadays, is the big line, and every note is about the
same loudness. The old instruments are much more made for
speaking. If you analyze our voices
when we speak, every syllable is different in loudness. Every
syllable... imagine! So every tenth of a second we have different
range, different forte-piano,
they call it. When you have a
modern orchestra, the conductor’s pride is to make them play
softly. It’s very hard to make people play softly because all the
instruments are made for making big sound. It’s very hard for
strings to play softly, and it takes all your
attention. You have to lift your arms off the bow and off the
string. It’s hard! It’s very difficult, and it’s not very
well liked because you can’t control yourself very well when you play
so softly. The olden instruments are made for playing softly, and
if you want to stress your point you go a little louder. You have
to do that to make it louder. So you come
from a totally different direction. A modern instrument is, in
principle, loud, and it’s very hard to play soft. It’s a bit like
between an etching and a drawing. Each is the other way around,
and it’s very interesting. When you
speak and you want to make somebody aware of something you also
have to go louder. So the basic thing is the soft, and if
you want to give some expression to something you make it louder.
So now, for instance, in a string quartet when they play softly
it’s incredibly expressive. If you want to be expressive you
have to be softer. It’s a very interesting, a very
psychologically interesting question.
stressed the authentic instruments, and you’ve striven to bring the
authentic sound. Is it right to have the authentic sound on
Yes. This is a very interesting
question. It’s not at all so hard to give a satisfactory answer,
and you will agree with me, too! In the Middle
Ages, major thirds — a piece in major or minor — didn’t exist. It
all in fifths and octaves, and it was very empty. But one given
somebody starts for the first time to do a major third. Now, if
you put on your radio, you hear a major third immediately because you
have them all the time. If you would play a piece and
don’t know about that piece, there must pieces that are very
early, where they just start to do that. You may be sure that
somebody there with you who doesn’t know anything about music but loves
music, and you play it for them and then the fellow will say, “Hey,
chord at the end is a very special chord. What happens
there?” So you say, “It’s a major third, my dear. It
is nothing special.” [Laughs] But in that context, all of a
sudden it sticks
out because music is a language. If you do this authentic thing
well, nobody hears anything special. They like
it. You hear the Beethoven symphonies all the time, but when you
hear them played by Frans Brüggen and his orchestra, it is not
that you say, “Oh, my
god! I don’t like it because it’s authentic.” No, it just
strikes you as something new and lively and
fresh, and nothing else. Of course, if you go at it in a kind of
scientific way, and you do everything just exactly like the old fellows
did, without listening what the effect of it is, in that case it
might be boring. It might sound authentic, but authentic style is
boring because that could not be. Bach was such a great
composer, so would he have been such a bad musician? [Both laugh]
BD: I don’t think
think that the authentic sound is boring...
sometimes it is. I’ve heard lots of boring
music also played in a modern way!
BD: Well, the
music, of course, could be boring but
not the talent.
AB: No, the
musician could be extremely boring.
There are quite a few of them here. I try not to be, but you know
how it is.
BD: I hope
that is not the case very often!
AB: I hope
BD: But I’m
trying to get to the idea of the
ears. Now, if we play music on instruments which are 200
years old, or reproductions of 200- to 300-year old instruments, we’re
still listening with ears that have gone through a couple of World Wars
and Depressions, and all of the excess noise of
the 1970s and eighties, and heading into the nineties.
BD: Can we be
expected to really understand the old
authentic sound as well as they did?
Yes. Our old
authentic sound is of course just us trying to do it. We are
not sure, and I’m happy we are not; we don’t know how to do
it. But if you come from the other side, if you imagine it would
possible to play a piece exactly like Bach would like it, then the
music would be dead
because from that time on, everybody would play it that way.
Authentic for 1980 is quite a different thing from authentic in
1970. It is the authentic feeling, the feeling of this
is the right way to do it as it strikes me. Of course we try, and
read books, but we always start by doing something that we like.
When I play this note, and then when I do this
a little louder, every musician does that to experiment. For
authentic old music and
modern music, we are always working that way. All of a
sudden you come to a point where you say, “Hey, this is the way to do
it.” Then you start reading books, and you may be sure that you
find somewhere in the books that they had done it this
way. It is the same when people read the Bible. What they
read there, they will find it there.
Bach for a minute. You’ve played the suites on baroque cello and
also on modern cello.
BD: What are
the differences between those two?
AB: I don’t
play them anymore on modern cello.
I haven’t done that for about ten years, but I teach on the modern
BD: Is it a
mistake to play the Bach on a modern
AB: No, of
course not. It’s never a mistake, no,
no. It is a mistake to play something in a way that you don’t
like. It’s also a mistake to play a piece of music in the way
your teacher told you to! If somebody loves to do the Bach suites
on the saxophone, it is his
thing to do it. And if he does it in a way that I love to listen
to it, I will listen to it. People
always like to spoil somebody else’s fun, and that is not what the
authentic way of playing should be. It should add to it.
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] Should music always be fun?
AB: Yes, in a
way. Fun with a
capital F or a small F — it depends on the
music. Yes, I think
music should be fun. It should be a pleasure.
BD: Is the
music that you play — the so-called
concert music — for everyone?
AB: There are
people now that want to make people love everything. We make a
lot of advertisements and propaganda for everything, but if you
come to it — and I am sure you will agree with me
— not every art is equally important for
everybody, even if you are an artist. I
love to read books, but it is very rare that I read poetry. I
do it, but very rarely do I go to ballet. I worked with a
ballet and I love it. I like theater and I like
film, but music is my thing. I like painting very
much, and I could live without painting, but I could not live
without music. So I think everybody has one art form that’s his
thing. Maybe you don’t know it, but someday you will find it
out. So there will be many people
that don’t think music is a big thing to them. Maybe authentic
music is not at all a big thing for them. Maybe
they like Dixieland jazz. I hate Dixieland, the loose-lipped kind
of counterpoint, but that may be the thing for somebody
BD: So there
should be room for all kinds of things?
should be room, and you should never give anybody a feeling of lacking
something when he doesn’t
like something. It’s not his thing. In Europe we have this
much. You have to learn at school, and you have to
behave, and do as if you think all these things are great. It
makes for dishonesty.
made a lot of recordings. Do you play differently in the
than you do in the concert hall?
AB: Yes, you
do. When you play a recording or when you play for a
microphone, all together you play for one person. You play for
one friend or maybe an image of yourself. I will play like we sit
here and I play for you. When I
play in a concert hall I play for the last rows. I might ask
them, “Can you hear me there? No? Oh, I’ll play a little
slower then.” Of course it is impossible to do the two
at the same time, but often you give a concert which is broadcast, and
somehow it works. Then I don’t play for the microphone. I
forget the microphone. I don’t trust a man that hangs it, that he
will make it come right.
BD: Do they
usually capture what you think you are
putting on the tape?
AB: You put a
word in, but also it’s very much
a matter of trust. It’s like being on television. You must
be many times on television, so do you pull your face on
television? No. Do you think that when I look at the left
will like my face better than when I look at the right? No.
trust the fellow with the camera. You just think what you want to
say and what it is about, and you do it as good as you can. You
trust the fellow that he will make it look appetizing, and if he can’t
do it, you don’t come back there. [Laughs]
BD: Do you
feel that many of
the recordings you’ve made have captured your
AB: Yes, but
a live concert and
playing it live is better than recordings. You always hear your
recordings years later. When
it’s about Christmas time, people like to buy
classical music, so then the record comes out and you get a copy.
But by that time you have played the piece many times again, or have
changed your ideas about it. So it’s not always fun to hear your
own records. Then after a couple
years more, you have forgotten what you thought about it, and then you
them better. I made quite a few records last year that have not
out yet, and I must say I’m really curious.
BD: Are these
with the trio, or solo or concerto?
AB: Not with
the trio, no, no. I am not anymore
in this group. I left it twenty years ago. I made my first
cello record of music from the seventeenth century. I also made
a record on a children’s instrument, a small cello, because
the children’s instrument was made along the lines of an adult
It was called cello piccolo.
three-quarter sized instrument?
AB: This is
more like a half size and a
fifth higher, so it has the same tuning as a violin. It sounds
fantastic. I couldn’t
keep myself from doing the A Minor
Sonata for Violin Solo and the E Major
BD: You were
able to squash your fingers together
is still much wider than the violin, and it sounds so
good because the cello has that tone which keeps going, keeps ringing a
little bit longer than the violin. That brings the
counterpoint out wonderfully. I wonder what will happen, and I
must giggle by the idea that in a couple years, when kids in the
concert area are asked what are the instruments in the violin family,
they will say, “Violin, viola, cello piccolo, cello, double
bass.” [Both laugh] Then I will have made my point. I
also made a wonderful
record on the Stradivari in the Smithsonian, a big instrument which has
been in the hands of the famous cellist in the nineteenth century whose
name was François Servais (1807-1866).
That’s such a great
instrument, and the music is so nice. It’s always wonderful
when you pick a couple of music books out of the cupboard which
haven’t been touched for a long, long time, and then you play them, and
shows that they’re still alive. They comes alive. Not
everything comes alive, but sometimes it happens. It happened
here very much, yes.
advice do you have for young cellists who
are coming along? Should they study old instruments as well as
new instruments? Should they try for a concert career or a solo
should not try for a career because a career
does not exist. Everybody else’s career exists, but never your
own career! You are always busy with the next date... [Mumbling
to himself] “Oh dear,
next Thursday I have a concert with a concerto of Hayden, and I haven’t
played it for a year, and I better do it slowly. I wonder what
will come out? And then on Sunday, I have to play these
Beethovens.” That’s yourself. But
then in the paper you
read about somebody else, and it’s somebody you know, and say, “Well,
makes quite a career. She played last week the Haydn concerto,
and now she plays the Beethoven.” So a career is one of those
things that does not
exist for yourself. You are just working and worrying about your
next engagement. But you see the names of other people often, or
not so often, and when you see them often they make a career. But
for them it’s also chores. But young cellists, what should they
do? They should in the first place never do what a teacher tells
them to do.
[Laughing] That’s going to put a lot of men and women out of
business, I’m afraid.
AB: Oh, no,
no, no, because the way you get a much
better understanding is with your teacher. In the main, people
nowadays are much too docile. They do
exactly what their teacher tells them and nothing else. But if
you work it out for yourself, totally
forgetting what your teacher tells you, then you will meet him in
a much better way. There are some times you will have found out
do it a special way, the best way to make it sound. Then you
think, “Hey, that old bloke said the
same thing last week!” Then you have such a wonderful
with your teacher, and you learn so much more. All instruments
and all these things have always been done while people were
living in the country and they didn’t have a teacher
at all. So they were all inventing it themselves. Nowadays
we have these great big music schools and these great big
teachers, and I don’t like them. I just gave up my teaching
position. I was a teacher and professor in The Hague in
Amsterdam, but nowadays there are so many teachers that
have a blue pencil. They know everything. They
tell you exactly what fingering to use, and what bowing, and how loud,
and where to take your breaths, and where to start vibrating
— mostly too
much! — and everybody sounds the same.
That’s not the way to make a
BD: So each
individual musician must arrive at the truth for themselves?
their own one way, and if you don’t,
then you should find yourself another profession.
BD: Go and
sell insurance or something?
AB: Well, do
something you have a talent for.
advice do you have for people who want to
AB: That is a
very wonderful question.
What can they do but write? Maybe in all
art, but music is what I know, the best starting point for a musician
composer or a painter, also, is to have a father that says, (if you are
a cellist) “If
I catch you another time with that instrument between your legs, I’ll
break both your legs!” If you then still do
it, that is the best starting point. You know exactly that you
want to do it. But parents that say, “Oh, you’re wonderful!
Oh, you will be a great artist,” that’s dangerous. When my kids
do something well, my heart
beats and my chest swells, but only up to a point.
BD: Do you
play much modern music?
AB: Oh, yes,
BD: Do you
like the directions that music is going
AB: There are
many directions. It’s surprising that some types of music that
were the most
modern things ten years ago are already old fashioned. It is the
extremely serial music where there’s nothing else that is this empty
kind of music. There’s some kinds of music I don’t like. I
BD: You don’t
like to go round and round and round?
The best piece of minimal music
has been written a long time ago in the Sixth Symphony of Beethoven.
[Both sing melody and laugh a bit]
BD: I often think
that some of the
Bruckner symphonies are like early minimalism.
AB: A little
BD: [Sings a
tune and laughs] It comes around, but then it just stops, and
being an organist, he changes registration.
yes. Oh I love Bruckner
symphonies. I was in the Concertgebouw, which was a great
orchestra for Bruckner.
BD: How long
did you play there?
AB: Six years.
years. You were solo cello?
BD: Did you
play Don Quixote?
AB: Oh, I
never played Don Quixote
because there was
another soloist, yes, and he played it very, very well. But I
played the Rococo Variations
of Tchaikovsky, and it was a
pleasure. We had a very good group. The cello group of
the conservatory orchestra is a wonderful group. It always has
been. It was a very good group when my teacher was first cellist,
and it is a very good group now, because if you have a good group and
you need a new fellow, you
try to get the best one, and it’s a self-propelling thing. In La Mer of Debussy, there is
that wonderful part where the
cello section is divided in four groups. [Portion of this score is shown at right.]
It is fantastic! Or
for that matter, there are wonderful tunes in the Brahms
symphonies. Great, great, great, yes.
BD: Have you
had any thought of conducting?
AB: No, I
don’t want to do that.
not? It seems like everybody wants to
Yes. No, I don’t want to do it, no. I don’t want to tell
anybody else what to do. When you play chamber music, as I do,
I have a big mouth. I always tell them how I want it, and
they tell me how they want it, and we come to some conclusion.
But a big orchestra where everybody is the same, every day the same 100
people with some that are not so good, and you are not so
good, either. I don’t like it. Imagine when you say to your
second clarinet, “Sir, haven’t you heard the F sharp is too low three
times now?” He may have great difficulties, because at home he
have difficulties with his wife or children, and there you are,
just teaching a grown up man what to do. He might have heard it
himself. No, I don’t want to be in that position. Except
for the excellent
ones, conductors are an overrated crowd. [At this point I followed up by asking
about some of those he had worked with, and he mentioned a few who were
good and a few who were not good. Those comments have been
played all over the world. How are
audiences different from country to country, or city to city?
AB: They are
very different, yes. In general, we say that when you go south,
applause becomes longer. You may be in Chicago, for instance,
which I call up north, more or less, and people will applaud you and
you one little bit of applause. You might think they don’t like
it, and they love it! If you would have that applause in
Italy, for instance, oh, that would not be very good, and in
Austria you can have enormous applause, and they still don’t like
[Amazed] Are they just being polite?
AB: No, they
like the idea of being in a concert
BD: Music as
a participatory art?
sure. Yes, yes. Generalizations are hard to make, but there
quite a difference between the length of applause. In Holland
they rise; people stand up after you play, but it doesn’t mean a
thing. They want to get back home or something.
BD: Is it
now, with all the standing ovations for even a mediocre concert?
AB: Sometimes it
is, yes. Sometimes it’s also
that it becomes a tradition. And it’s also nice to stretch your
legs after you’ve sat through a symphony of Mahler.
[Laughs] Sometimes it is hard for us to
tell because acoustics plays such a part. When a
hall is very dry, also the applause sounds very dry and short.
That plays also very much a part. When I play suites of Bach,
I’ve done many, many times, it’s hard to see how it sounds there
because we are only half of it. I play, and you have your
imagination. When I play like a demigod and you have no
imagination, you still have a nice evening. When I play very
mediocrely and you have a lot of imagination, you still can hear a
wonderful work by Bach, or a nice cello, or whatever
instrument where the fellow doesn’t play well but you still have a
wonderful evening. Mostly we meet somewhere half way —
audience not having so much imagination and me not playing so
well. But still, it’s hard to know. Also, some halls
sound wonderfully well on stage, but are very dry in the hall.
the opposite can happen — they sound very dry on the stage, and people
worry! It sounds very good here.” It is hard working there
because you don’t know exactly how to cope with that.
BD: Do you
Yes. Now I’ll tell you a little secret which I have never done
before. When I play a suite of Bach, mostly the attention is very
intense because these works by Bach are so abstract. He’s taken
out everything that he could get rid of, but in such a way
that the imagination of the listener makes up the whole picture.
the suite of dance forms. I play a couple
notes, but they’re made in such a genius way that you can
exactly hear what I do not play and fill it out without actually
realizing it. Now when I play a suite of Bach,
it’s very silent. They may be asleep, but then all of a
sudden I hear a program slide on the floor! That means the
fellow sitting there was so taken with the music and didn’t watch his
knees. The sound is like, [makes the sound like a booklet sliding
off and falling on the floor] zupp! It’s rather
noiseful, because it disturbs everybody, but I know that I’m on the
right track, so I just keep going. [Laughs]
BD: I hope
you don’t specifically listen for those things
[Laughs] No, no, no, no. I don’t listen for them,
but it happens.
BD: So you
know they’re concentrating.
BD: One last
question. Is playing
AB: For me,
for a time it wasn’t. When you’re in high school, and your
friends become medical doctors and
lawyers and professors and all kinds of things later on, they ask,
“What are you doing?” and you reply, “Well, I’m a cellist.” I
didn’t like to say it. I hated it. As I said earlier, I
had this thing when I was 25 that I didn’t want to play at all.
The only one way that’s being rebellious is when you don’t do what
everybody tells you to do. Do something else. So I have
been concentrating on strange repertories — things
I loved but
nobody wanted to hear. I couldn’t play them often, but
that way you are not doing what your teacher tells you. I played
funny jobs. One of the nicest things I did
was play with a ballet the Sixth
Suite of Bach. I was sitting on stage with
eight dancers around me — four girls, four boys
— and I learned so
much. It’s very interesting and very hard to put your finger
on the relationship between gestures and music. A
conductor couldn’t live without that, but to make it fit was not the
best way to play a Bach suite, of
course, because they are good enough by themselves. But I learned
so much from that. It was great. That was a great pleasure
to do. Nowadays I do only the things I love, and I’m too busy
BD: I’m glad
you can select and do just what
you want. Thank you for coming and bringing your music. It
was nice to
talk to you. I’m glad we had this opportunity.
here. Same here. Yes.
© 1989 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Evanston, IL, on April 18,
1989. Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following
and again in 1994 and 1999.
This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this
at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.