Laila Storch and Arthur Grossman interviewed by Terry Ewell


Terry B. Ewell is bassoon, music theory, and online professor at the Department of Music at Towson University. A professional musician for almost 40 years, he has received recognition as a performer, teacher, scholar, and administrator. For seven years he served as principal bassoon of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, principal in the Wheeling Symphony, and acting principal bassoon of the West Virginia Symphony. He has performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. He performed as orchestra soloist and chamber musician with major ensembles both here and abroad. Terry has recorded for Musical Heritage Society, Hong Kong Records, Pickwick Records, Cambria Records and Naxos. In 2018 he traveled to Spain to give a presentation at the International Double Reed Society Conference. Dr. Ewell served four years as President of the International Double Reed Society, Executive Committee Officer of the National Association of Schools of Music, and serves as an accreditation evaluator for the National Association of Schools of Music.

Interview Excerpts

TE (Terry Ewell): It is my pleasure to be interviewing two of my teachers who both are esteemed members of the IDRS: Laila Storch and Arthur Grossman. I want to start out by asking about your experiences with Marcel Tabuteau and his chamber music classes at the Curtis Institute of Music.

LS (Laila Storch) That is a really interesting question. Certainly those classes left an indelible impression on anyone who attended them. It was a privilege to be there but also a terrifying experience. What I do remember is that he started out with basics in the class.

AG (Arthur Grossman): I remember two factors that were of great importance for anyone who was going to go on in the profession: the absolute high standard you had to achieve in the class and the control. You had to make your reeds in such a way that you could play at a very low dynamic level. Another very important factor was that it was so terrifying. He was so insistent and rigid about his demands that anyone having been in the class would no longer be frightened of the demands of a conductor. This prepared you for all sorts of situations in orchestras. Conductors could terrify other people but would no longer terrify you because it was not nearly as frightening as playing in a class with Tabuteau.

LS: That is absolutely true, but Art told me just the other day about his later visit with Tabuteau.

AG: I visited him in France when he had retired. I was in the Army and I took a leave of vacation to see him. I told him how terribly frightening it had been in that class. He said, “No! You were not frightened of me! No, not really?” You knew then that the whole thing was calculated. He was acting a role. Some of that role was in conscious imitation of his own teacher. This even included the breed of dog he owned. Tabuteau had two German shepherd dogs because Georges Gillet had two German shepherds. As students we didn’t know about this role-playing. The image we saw at the time was terrifying.

LS: You mentioned the very high level of expectation. He instilled an ideal of absolute dedication to what you were doing. The most important thing was to reach this high level of artistry. He would talk about how you must be distinguished to play the oboe. That was the center of everything. It was never just that we were in the class for two hours and then you go away and think about something else. When he would talk about his numbers, for instance, sometimes he would take a stick and beat on the table to the numbers: 3 1 2 3 1 2 3; 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4; 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 (bold indicates beat). This would indicate division of time with the phrase ending on the downbeat. He would say that if you couldn’t do this you should practice it while walking down the street. There was constant thought about these things and also about the wind.

TE: What about the wind?

AG: Well, you did everything “on the wind” or “with the wind,” but never what he called “winding the note.” Winding the note meant starting the note and then the wind came later—much like messa di voce. That was absolutely forbidden. Every note had to start at the level you intended the note to sound. Then, of course, you could make a diminuendo or a crescendo.

LS: If there was a big upward interval you had to prepare to get to the level of intensity for the upper note already on the lower note. His interest was playing between the notes, not just note to note.

AG: I used to say to John de Lancie, who was, of course, one of his most famous students, that I couldn’t always tell from just one note who was the oboist, but from two notes I could discern that it was de Lancie.

TE: You both mentioned that the influence of Tabuteau impacted the Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet.

AG: All except one of us had been at Curtis. Most of us also had been at Marlboro together. There were certain personnel changes through the years, but we had a similar approach to how one constructed a phrase, how one balanced a chord, and how one approached an intonation issue. There was a kind of homogeneity in the way that we played, that many quintets don’t have because they went to different schools. An analogy would be the Philadelphia Orchestra. Almost everyone in the string section had studied at Curtis. They had a unanimity of playing that you just don’t hear anymore and I hadn’t heard anything like that until a couple of years ago with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. They obviously had all studied at the same school. It wasn’t the same kind of playing as Philadelphia, but you could hear the unanimity of approach from the entire string section. That is the kind of unity that the Philadelphia Orchestra had. We felt we had it in the quintet also because of the similar background and the similar way of approaching music.

TE: I think you both worked at Marlboro and performed with Casals. Is that correct?

AG: Well, I played with Casals more in Puerto Rico. Laila, did you perform with him in Marlboro?

LD: One year, I think. The first year I went to Marlboro he was not there yet. My major association with Casals was in France because I had the marvelous opportunity to play with him in the first festival he directed, which was in Prades in the Pyrenees. It was organized for the 200th anniversary of Bach’s death in 1950. Everywhere they asked Casals to come out and perform, but he didn’t agree. At the time, he was living in exile so to speak. They brought a Bach Festival to him with musicians from the United States and Europe. The two major wind players who were invited were John Wummer from the New York Philharmonic and Marcel Tabuteau from the Philadelphia Orchestra. They asked Tabuteau for two other oboists who were his students. I was planning to be in Europe anyway and although I wasn’t a student at the time, you were always a student in relation to Tabuteau. John Mack, who had not yet graduated from Curtis, was the other one invited and so we were the three oboists for the First Brandenburg Concerto. That is when I first played with Casals. That experience remains very vivid in my memory. The things that happen to you in an early period in your life when you are especially striving to learn, remain so fresh in your mind. It seems like yesterday to me. It is surprising that it was half a century ago.

T E: One last question for you. You both have been involved with the IDRS for many, many years. How has the IDRS changed over the years?

L S: That is an interesting question. I remember my first connection with the IDRS. Someone asked me to write an article about Tabuteau. They had first asked John de Lancie and then John Mack. John Mack said to ask Laila Storch. I was very hesitant; that was in the early l970s. I stated in the beginning of my article that I felt it was impossible to write about Tabuteau. I still find it hard even though I am trying! I saw Madame Tabuteau in Paris and asked her opinion, if I should doit. She was very ill at the time and could hardly get a word out but she said, “Yes.” So, l decided to go ahead. I put some pictures with it.

T E: Was this the article about the fisherman?

L S: No, that came much later: “Marcel Tabuteau From a Different Angle.” That was the one about fishing. The earlier article was in a three or four-page publication. Someone referred to that publication this morning; it was like a little folder. I have saved all of my journals, from the folders to our present thick magazine. The journal size is one amazing thing, of course, that has changed.

A G: I believe that one thing that might tie this whole interview together would be to go back to the first thing we talked about: Tabuteau and his influence on wind playing and now the IDRS. Something started when Tabuteau trained so many wind players on all instruments, especially the double reeds. Now the IDRS and the level of wind playing is so much higher today than when we started. I think this is amazing. It is a tribute to Tabuteau and his teaching. It is a tribute to the IDRS and the work it has done and to all of us who have been teaching at universities and trying to raise the standards.