by Jerome Kessler
Leonard Rose knew me “when.” Actually, he knew me long before “when.” In 1938, he was Principal Cellist of the Cleveland Symphony. My mother was a native Clevelander. When my father visited from New York City, before my parents married, they would double date with Rose and his wife, Minnie, and Rose and my father would play golf together.
During the ‘50’s, my family lived in Yonkers, just north of New York City. Ater I had been studying cello with Lillian Rehberg Goodman for about seven years, my father took me out to Long Island to visit Rose at his home, a cozy English Tudor house in Great Neck. I played for him, and he invited me to join his class at the Preparatory Division of Juilliard. (By that time Rose had already left his position as Principal Cellist of the New York Philharmonic. When he wasn’t on the road concertizing, he taught at Curtis and Juilliard.)
In September of 1957, I commenced studies with Rose. Juilliartd’s “Prep” Division was for high school students and even some younger players. Every Saturday they would come to Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan for classes. While they took theory, composition, ensemble and private lessons, their mothers would sit in the lounge, reading, knitting, worrying or bragging. The stage mothers were well represented there.
Because Rose was so often on tour, most of his students met in his absence for lessons with Channing Robbins. As I was still studying with Lillian Goodman, I declined this arrangement, and came down to Juilliard only when Rose, himself, was there. No offense to Mr. Robbins, but I had two teachers as it was, so why complicate matters further with three?
Lessons were held in a large studio room which contained an ebony Steinway grand, a few stands and chairs and a club chair in which Rose sat when he wasn’t demonstrating from a straight chair facing mine. During the course of the lesson, he moved around a lot, from the club chair to his cello, to my music stand (where he would mark a fingering or bowing), to me, and back again.
He smoked incessantly during the lessons. I would watch with amazement/horror as the ash on the end of his cigarette would grow ever longer, dangling out over the top of his beautiful Amati cello, then finally fall, brushing harmlessly down the length of the instrument to the carpet below.
There were constants in my lessons with Rose: sound production, fluidity of bow stroke, relaxation of the right shoulder. He provided detailed bowings, which he would write into my music or which I was invited to obtain from another student’s part. When my sound was tight, he would put his hand on my right shoulder and press down, exhorting me to relax.
He had a three-octave daily scale regimen which included different rhythms and bowings. He advocated the practice any difficult technical passage using alternate rhythms and bowings: dotted rhythms (dotted eighth and sixteenth notes, then sixteenth and dotted eighths) accent on an offbeat note, different bowings (starting a passage with the opposite of the marked bowing, two notes tied and two separate, the reverse, three tied and one separate, then the reverse). After all that, playing the passage as written would be easy.
Etude work was a part of each lesson, and was required by the school cirrculum. Rose favored Franchomme and the Popper High School of Cello Playing. He taught his own favored repertoire of the day. Sonatas included Boccherini A major (Adagio and Allegro), Beethoven A major, Brahms e minor (and, for the more advanced among us, F major). Concerti featured St.-Saens, Lalo and Dvorak.
Rose often displayed a somewhat stern demeanor, as compared with that of his colleague, Isaac Stern, whose disposition was more rosy.
Mine was usually he last lesson of the day. As Rose would be headed east toward Long Island, he often drove me to the 125th Street station, where I would catch the New York, New Haven and Hartford train to Yonkers. During the short drive, we could discuss subjects for which there was not time during an hour’s lesson: the convenience of his smaller Simca sedan after the comfort of his old Chrysler, the burdens of concertizing. One day, for example, he was complaining about the travails of his concert career, the wear and tear of travel, of dealing with the boards of directors, and the cocktail parties (which he evidently did not enjoy). Finally I said, “In spite of all the hassles of concertizing, considering how you play, how satisfying that must be for you, if you had it to do all over again, you’d still be a cellist, wouldn’t you?" Without missing a beat, Rose quietly but firmly replied, “No, I’d be a doctor.”
One of Rose’s close friends was Dr. Jerome Gross. An eminent Cleveland surgeon, Dr. Gross was a fine violinist. He has worked his way through medical school playing violin. He practiced at night in the morgue, because it was cool there. In later years he owned a Stradivarius and played it well enough to solo with the Cleveland Symphony. He was so impressed with David Oistrakh that he taught himself Russian so that he could talk with him. (They became good friends.) On New Year’s Eves and when schedules otherwise permitted, Rose, Gross and friends would get together and play string quartets -- not for any audience, but for their own enjoyment.
Chamber music, especially the private kind, was a special joy to Rose. I was privileged to attend one such encounter in the early ‘60’s: Rose played quartets one night with Dr. Gross, his son, David, a urologist and pianist, and Oscar Shumsky, at the latter’s home in Westchester. There were two Strads, an Amati and a Steinway in use. The doctors held their own: you couldn’t tell by the sound who had the MD’s. Even though Rose was in discomfort --as the result of a minor posterior surgery which Dr. Gross had performed that day and which necessitated Rose sitting on an inflated rubber doughnut-shaped swimming tube-- he threw himself into the music with intense abandon. There was great Brahms in the air, that night!