Aaron Rosand interviewed by Robert J. Sullivan

Robert J. Sullivan graduated Stanford University with a BA in English (1988), and Brown University with a MFA in Creative Writing (1990).  During his college years, he spent a lot of time in the music libraries, listening to LPs, then CDs, and reading publications such as Gramophone and Fanfare. Following graduation, he became a contributor writer for High Performance Review (1991-2000), a hi-fi and music review quarterly. He specializes mainly in piano and violin repertoire, with side jaunts into counter-tenor and lieder singing.

Introduction

Acclaimed for his signature tone and impeccable musicianship, American violinist Aaron Rosand is one of the last standard-bearers of the school of romantic virtuosity. Besides performing the traditional repertoire, he made the premier recordings of concertos by Joachim, Hubay, Ernst, Arensky, and Godard. He has recorded extensively for the Vox, Audiofon, Biddulph, and Harmonia Mundi record labels. Professor of Violin at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, the peripatetic Rosand makes his home in London.

I spoke with Aaron Rosand on the eve of his performance of the Brahms Concerto with the San José Symphony, where he was replacing an indisposed Maxim Vengerov.

Interview Excerpt

Robert J. Sullivan: I’m concerned that you are one of the last of your breed. Who will carry on the Romantic tradition among today’s violinists?

Aaron Rosand: That is exactly why I am spending a lot of time teaching and handing down this tradition of playing. You can’t come to end. I think it’s the most important thing I can do now, keeping this thing alive. You might say that Leopold Auer started that at the turn of the century, introducing those marvelous violinists, Milstein, Heifetz, Zimbalist, Elman, Toscha Seidel, and others. I feel it’s a mission; I really have to continue to do that now. And Curtis Institute, in my opinion, is the greatest music school in the world today. You can’t buy your way into Curtis; there’s no tuition. It’s the only school like that. You really have to be good to get in there. The best of the crop in the world. The education you receive – you asked me when I studied at Curtis, for example – teachers, the influence they exert and how they love the young people. We had Piatigorsky there, who would take us out on Sundays for lox and bagels, or whatever; he just reveled in the young people and telling them funny stories. What an artist he was! What a gentleman he was. I studied chamber music with him. I would play in his home many times privately and he was a great influence on my playing and my early career. We had Carlos Salzedo, the great harpist, who was quite a character. Once again, we were surrounded with Efrem Zimbalist, Lea Luboschutz, Marcel Tabuteau, who was the greatest influence on all wind players, not just oboe. He was an outstanding musician. And he taught string classes and he taught us how to breathe with our bows. One doesn’t think about that. How to phrase. He had everything down to a science of numbers. Because the piece never began on “one.” “One” was “tonalité” he used to say. The first beat was tonality, establishing the key. The piece began on the second note. It’s easy when you think about it. He said, “When you play a group of four, it’s not 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4 – we are not marching band!” The man is right! It’s 1, 1 2 3, 1, 1 2 3, etc. It’s a concept in seeing in the music and then beginning to understand where the phrase ends; that the first note is the end of the last phrase. What an influence this man was! Kincaid, the fabulous flute player was there at that time. Sol Schoenbach, the incredible bassoonist. Torello, the great bass player. It was the Philadelphia Orchestra in its heydey. These men were marvelous, and this was the influence we had. How could you help not to come out a better musician? It’s the same today. We have a great faculty. The piano faculty alone, Gary Graffman, Leon Fleisher, Seymour Lipkin, Claude Frank. The great Jorge Bolet died a couple of years ago. He was a dear man. I knew him so well. Szymon Goldberg died recently, a marvelous teacher of violin. We have the Guarneri Quartet around all the time – those boys are good.

Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan.