From "The Way They Play" Volume 8

by Samuel Applebaum and Henry Roth

A Conversation with Daniil Shafran by Mark Silberkvit

Daniel Shafran's study, a relatively small room, is furnished in spartan simplicity. A portrait of Shostakovich hangs over the piano; to one side are pictures of Alexander Strimer, Shafran's teacher, and other musician colleagues. The piano top is littered with music scores, amidst which reposes a picture of Shafran's wife.

The mellow glow from the floor lamp accentuated Shafran's delicate, artistic features and his high forehead. He speaks in a low voice and his charming, barely perceptible smile immediately sets one at ease. As we talked I perceived a remarkable likeness between certain of Renoir's paintings and the physiognomy of Shafran, whose face fairly radiates warmth, humanness and a poetic nature. Thus, I could readily understand why so many of his close musician friends equated Shafran's cello artistry with these qualities.

Daniil Shafran with his wife Svetlana.

I asked the celebrated cellist about his first years.

"The sound of music, the sound of the cello, were with me from the cradle - even before," he recalled. "My parents were still students when I was due. It seems that while my mother was feeling the first pangs of labor, my father was busily working over passages from Haydn's D-major Concerto in preparation for a recital. 'Let's go to the hospital', my mother pleaded, as my father kept repeating a difficult technical passage. 'Yes, yes, we'll go as soon as I finish'. Finally my mother prevailed, thank goodness. Now, whenever I play this Haydn passage and I'm not satisfied with it, I console myself by saying, 'ah well - I was born with the passage unfinished'."

"How did you come to start the cello ?"

"As a small child I often asked my father to teach me, but he kept putting me off by saying it was too difficult. One day, when I was eight-and-a-half; my mother called me in from play. Unwillingly I slouched home. My father met me brandishing a small cello. 'I bought you a cello', he cried. 'Sit down and we'll start studying'.

"I was displeased at having my games interrupted. 'Let's start tomorrow', I said." NO", father insisted. 'It's now or never. Your playtime is over'. We began."

"Your father was certainly a serious musician !"

"That he was. He always impressed on me that every single lesson was important. 'Music', he would say, 'is first and foremost hard labor. An artist reaps his just reward only if he has sweat, effort and inspiration into his work'. That is my creed,too.

"At the same time my father was teaching me, he had a class of students, both young and adult. Soon I had advanced to Kreutzer first etude. I had heard it played innumerable times by father's pupils, and you can imagine how proud I was when it turned that I could play it better than some of the 'bearded men'.

"In my year-and-a-half with father, he taught me certain methodological principles from which I have profited all my life. For example, he always stressed that to overcome technical obstacles, essential to exceed the set tasks. When we worked on Poper's 'Elfentanz', my right arm would tire from the fast spiccato. would demand that I learn to play the piece through twice wit tiring. I found this 'over-quota' method to be most effective. taught me never to take it easy during exercises, and to be mercilessly strict with myself when practicing. Do you know that when I rehearse a concert, I always play in a jacket or tails to approximate concert conditions as closely as possible ?"

"Why did you not continue to study under your father's guidance ?"

"My father himself decided to bring me to Strimer when I was ten. Strimer, one of the founders of the Soviet school of cello playing, along with Simeon Kozolupov, had once been my father's teacher. But I must admit that during the more than ten years I was with Strimer, my father was always attentive to my work, and, at times, intervened resolutely in my studies, even though today I realize this was not altogether correct in terms of pedagogical ethics.

"Strimer was a striking personality and a remarkably broad-minded man, who had an excellent knowledge of law, literature and art-a pedagogue of intellectual attainments. But he never tried to intimidate his pupils with his encyclopedic knowledge, though he constantly discoursed on subtle points of art and prodded our imagination, forcing us to think for ourselves. And he treated each student as an individual. He taught music not narrowly, but as art in general. We became great friends, and even in later years after I moved to Moscow and started my professional career, I often visited Leningrad to show Strimer my new work. My years with him were invaluable to me as a cellist, an artist and a man. Of course, my subsequent years of concretizing have even further expanded my artistic horizons, during which I have confirmed many things, revised others and discarded some.

"I recall many years later, in 1960, I played an arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" by Osip Strimer, my teacher's brother, who lived in the United States. The concert was at Carnegie Hall. After the performance people came to greet me in the dressing room. Suddenly I couldn't believe my eyes-I saw Alexander Strimer coming toward me. It turned out to be his brother, Osip."

"Who was your second teacher ?"

"No one person-my own experiences and my association with my musician colleagues were all a 'second teacher' to me".

"I must, however, mention Nina Musinian, my first wife and loyal helper over many years. She was not only my excellent partner as a pianist in concerts, but a sensitive friend who helped me overcome various difficulties. After I completed my schooling in Leningrad and moved to Moscow, I went through a sort of artistic crisis. Away from my teacher I began to experiment.

"My wife insisted that I forget my years as a prodigy and find my own way as a mature artist. I needed this support very much. It helped me to avoid the tragedy that befalls numerous prodigies who never manage to grow out of their short pants.

"Another vital influence at that time was my association with the venerable Henrich Neuhaus and the then young Sviatoslav Richter. But probably the most important was the concert stage itself- the most exacting pedagogue, where all means are tested and all flaws are exposed.

" Did your career as a mature artist develop easily ?"

"No. During the early part of my concert career, which started after 1943, I had both successes and failures. Actually, it began rather hard for me. I made blunders, but this is only natural."

"Has your repertoire changed significantly over the years ?"

"Definitely ! I no longer publicly perform works by Popper, or even so spectacular a piece as Klengel's 'Scherzo'. These are still useful for practice purposes, but now I concentrate only on 'Major' music. However, I do highly recommend these old bravura works for those who aspire to attain the heights of cello technique."

"Do you really consider that audience tastes have undergone a change ?"

"Absolutely. The past two or three decades have seen audiences develop predilection for large canvasses, sonatas, suites, and so on. Whereas I once programmed many pieces of pure entertainment, I now concentrate on the masterworks of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and others of this stature. In my opinion, no one today is intimidated by three, or even four sonatas in a concert. But I don't think the modern performer should altogether ignore virtuoso or light items. The audience always expects a few of these as a sort of 'reward'. I recall David Oistrakh's advice to me-'Danny-always include a virtuoso piece in your daily dozen'-and I always do !"

"Would you name a few of these ?"

"Yes. Works of Popper and Klengel, Kreisler's 'Sicilienne et Rigaudon' and 'Praeludium and Allegro', and Paganini's 'Perpetuum Mobile'. A cellist must always be at his best as a virtuoso."

"Did you work on many etudes in your early studies ?"

"Very few, but they were all exceptionally difficult ones by Piatti and Duport. My technical foundations were laid mainly in daily work on current repertoire. I feel that this sort of approach leaves less opportunity for practicing mechanically than working on etudes. Incidentally, when I did work on etudes, Strimer always encouraged me to plumb the musical essence, to make a concert piece of it. This entire question, of course, must be evaluated according to the pupil's talent, natural virtuosity, hand and finger structure and other factors. In general, the pupil's time should be spent economically, and he should not be burdened with etudes, merely for the sake of mastering etudes."

"Do you play any music you do not really like ?"

"I can scarcely recall a single work I did not like or played unwillingly -or at least, perhaps no more than one percent of all I ever played. I do detest and avoid music which is patently inferior or 'cheap'. When I encounter a work that does not immediately enthuse me, I always seek to discover something that may be hidden in its pages. If the work seems to lack profundity or expressiveness, I strive to compensate for this by instilling it with my own enthusiasm and imagination, and seek out the work's dramaturgic accents based on the general character of the music. I feel that this ability comes naturally to me."

"Could you make a comparison between the Leningrad and Moscow schools of cello playing at the time you studied with Strimer ?"

"I feel that the Moscow school, under Simeon Kozolupov, concentrated more on establishing a purely technical base, whereas Strimer, in Leningrad, though attaching great importance to technical matters, gave more attention to interpretation, revealing the stylistic diversity of works, and developing the artistic propensities of the pupil."

"Did you have any opportunities to hear foreign artists in your youth ?"

"Many. Leningrad had a very intense concert life in the 1930's. I recall how I was tremendously impressed by Otto Klemperer conducting an all Beethoven evening. I had to sneak into the hall because it was against the rules for children to attend evening concerts. I also vividly remember Marian Anderson, and the richness and purity of her inimitable voice. In 1934 Heifetz came to Leningrad. During intermission I was introduced to him. I was wearing my Young Pioneer uniform, with a red tie and a badge that bore the words, 'Be ready'. The great maestro smiled and asked, 'Does that mean to be ready to play the cello ?' I was to play for him the following day, but became ill and regretfully had to cancel.

"I recall a droll incident when Efrem Zimbalist, a boyhood chum of Strimmer, visited our city. It seems that Strimer decided to show me off. Among other pieces, I was to perform Schubert's A-minor Sonata. My mother was at the piano, and undoubtedly very nervous. She started in A-major. Strimer exchanged glances with Zimbalist, smiled, and good-naturedly said, 'And now please start in A-minor'. Many years later when I met Zimbalist at the Second Tchaikovsky Competition, we both recalled the episode."

"Which other artists particularly inspired you ?"

"One was the legendary Galina Ulanova. When she danced Prokoflev's 'Romeo and Juliet', I realized as never before - yes, actually 'heard,' what 'legato' truly means. The morning after this 'revelation', I felt an entirely new quality within me. Also, Sviatislav Richter and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau made considerable impact on me.

"As a boy I was captivated by the Italian cellist, Enrico Mainardi, and he became my ideal, especially in his rendering of shorter pieces. Raya Garbousova also impressed me immensely. And when I was touring in Rumania in 1946, I first heard Casals' recording of the Bach Solo Suites, which I found most exciting.

"I never had the opportunity of hearing Feuermann, who was a friend of Strimer, but from his recordings and the innumerable superlatives about him from my father and colleagues, he must have been magnificent. When certain American critics compared me to Feuermann in my Carnegie Hall debut, I was indeed highly flattered."

"Since you already won an important competition at the callow age of 14, were you ever in danger of becoming one of those prodigies who win early triumphs and then vanish from the concert scene ?"

"No-thanks to the good sense and careful supervision of Strimer and my father. As I said before, I encountered certain problems in the metamorphosis from precocious student to adult artist, but I was well protected in my youth."

"At what point do you begin rehearsals with your pianist ?"

"Only after I have analyzed the highlights of the composition and mastered the main technical difficulties. I try to do this as soon as possible so that I can evolve my performance getting musically acquainted may be useful, but both cellist and pianist must be eminently familiar attitude toward the work, together with my pianist. Playing with a pianist merely for the sake of with the material before any creative process can develop. Though I never waste time in preparing myself for the pianist, I digest the score thoroughly, and determine my fingerings, bowings and dynamic hues with great care, and never hurry for the sake of haste itself. By that time I have a clear idea of how the piano should sound, and what I shall require of myself and the pianist."

"You say 'require'. To what extent do you generally intervene in the pianist's part ?"

"From first note to last. I cannot permit my partner's playing to sabotage my intentions. Therefore, during our initial rehearsal period we strive for maximum fusion of ideas and perfect ensemble."

"For a genuine fusion of ideas, do you strive for Daniel Shafran to play both the cello and, vicariously, the piano through the hands of his accompanist, Felix Gotlieb ?"

"You have hit the nail squarely on the head ! In this sense I must say I am extremely authoritarian and demanding. This does not mean that if my pianist suggests a convincing idea clashing with my own, I will not accept it. But if it is in the least unconvincing, I categorically demand that the pianist follow my ideas."

"Are you and Gotlieb working on anything special at this time ?"

"Yes-the Rachmaninoff Sonata. I played it for one season with the late celebrated pianist, Yakov Flier, about 30 years ago, and have never played it since. Today, because these 30 years have been so rich in events, joys and sorrows, I perceive this fine sonata through entirely different ears, mind and heart. My experience and maturity have grown immeasurably. Gotlieb is an excellent pianist and a very sensitive partner, but he has never played this sonata. Thus, it is only natural that I directly influence the pianist's share of the interpretation."

"Since you have both participated in, and served as a juror in numerous music competitions, do you feel they are helpful or harmful ?"

"There is no 'pat' answer for this debatable subject. But I do feel that despite their indubitable shortcomings, competitions do more good than harm. The most positive aspect is that they help to discover genuine talents and provide an opportunity to become known. On the negative side is the fact that throughout the long period of preparation for a competition, the contestant's musical horizons and contact with the full gamut of music are restricted, since they are necessarily confined to the required competition repertoire. Actually, in the same amount of time they might have been able to achieve much more in the area of expanding their musical perspectives and perfection of their musicianship. And let us remember that some young musicians of superior talent are simply not suited to competitions. We all know of many musicians who failed in competitions who subsequently became outstanding artists, and vice-versa."

Daniil Shafran and Anton Ginsburg relax with Yoritoyo Inoue, Japanese cellist and Japanese hosts.

"What are your feelings about making judgments as a juror ?"

"Evaluating musicians is dreadfully difficult and extremely subjective in comparison with, say, sport, which has such objective indicators as seconds, feet, inches, and so forth. The most terrible feature of all is that jurors must make judgments on the player's performance of the moment, rather than on the basis of his or her instrumental and artistic potential. The one bright feature in this complex syndrome is the knowledge that in the final analysis, life itself will determine a performer's true merits, either confirming or refuting the decisions of competition juries, just as in those instances when a gifted young musician is 'discovered' without the benefit of a competition victory."

"Are you presently teaching ?"

"I do not teach and have never officially taught at any school. But I have often met with young musicians, listened to them and gladly offered them any advice I could. I derive great pleasure and satisfaction from such meetings."

"If this is the case, why do you not teach ?"

"The life of a concert artist is exceedingly demanding and exhausting. Frankly, I am accustomed to devoting all my efforts and energies to performing-that is, to myself. All too often I see colleagues of mine try to divide themselves between concertizing and teaching, with the result that their hours at the conservatory are pitifully few. Who suffers most from this arrangement ? The pupils, of course. I prefer to continue my 'unofficial' meetings with young cellists, and do all I can to pass on to them certain principles and ideas on performance that have evolved and ripened during the long years of my concertizing experience - ideas which I deem to be objective truths that can be of significant value to young performers."

"Do you appear at seminars to discuss your theories collectively with young players ?"

"Yes I do. They have been most stimulating to me when the performers were relatively mature. It is really gratifying to deal with young musicians who are capable of gaining knowledge from a single idea or word. But I think such students should be separated in the seminars from those still in need of elemental pedagogical assistance."

"Do you have any cellistic advice you can give to young cellists collectively ?"

"I do not recognize universal truths given to anonymous students, including advice regarding technical development. Only after I see an individual pupil with his concrete faults can I give valid, knowledgeable advice. For example - if I see a cellist with a poor spiccato or staccato, I can suggest etudes that will help him out. But it is always best to prescribe specific things after I have made an overall evaluation of a student: his musicality, hand structure, temperament and other personal qualities."

"But you must have certain etudes that can benefit a variety of problems."

"True. Piatti has a number of such etudes that deal with diversified items, such as the first, third and twelfth etudes. Every student should master them. And Duport has a series of etudes which help develop the right arm."

"Is it a fact that etudes are included in the cellists' compulsory program at the Tchaikovsky Competition ?"

"Yes. At the sixth competition, the most recent, we included one of the more difficult etudes by Bukinic in the first round program. In the fifth, we demanded one of Popper's finger twisting etudes. I recall that for the third competition, we selected a very difficult cantilena etude in double-stops by Duport. Significantly, many of the contestants concentrated strictly on the notes, to the detriment of any musical values. realized, when preparing it, that the etude contained positive

"I had to play it myself for the 1950 Budapest Competition and musical qualities. I concentrated on these qualities, in addition to matters such as intonation and smoothness of delivery; my performance was a major success.

"There is a long list of etudes that are useful and desirable for student technical development, along with such concertos as those of Romberg, Popper and Davidov. But there can be no uniform progressive repertoire to be followed by all students - as in manner of certain well-known teachers in past years. One pupil should advance very gradually-another can skip over things and advance more rapidly to higher artistic goals. Over-exposing a pupil to instructive literature can actually be harmful. When a pupil is extremely talented, it is unforgivable to waste a moment of his precious time."

"It is interesting to note that in spite of substantial differences in their creative approach, such great Soviet pedagogues as Yampolsky, David Oistrakh, Strimer, Yankelevich and Kozolupov, shared in common a rare ability for providing the ideal repertoire for a given pupil at the proper point in his training."

"How do you think a teacher should begin work on a new piece with a pupil ?"

"First he should ask the pupil to try to analyze the piece - get him or her to think about it in overall musical terms before setting specific performing tasks. The essence of pedagogy is to encourage the pupil to think for himself, or herself, to foster his initiative and independence. A situation in which the pupil expects the professor to mark all fingerings and arbitrarily limit all assignments must be prevented at all costs. Of course, a certain degree of patronage is inevitable. The pupil, after all, is not the teacher. But his patronage should never hamstring the pupil's self-reliance."

"Do you think a student should listen to recordings of a specific Work by a prominent artist before beginning study of that work ?"

"Definitely not ! It is very helpful to listen to other performers in Concerts and recordings, but first the student should analyze a specific work, form his or her own opinions, and only later compare the interpretation with that of another musician. Otherwise it is only natural that the pupil either deliberately or subconsciously, will tend to imitate the established artist. And if the work happens to be one with orchestral accompaniment, the pupil should have a good idea of what goes on in the orchestra, as well as in the cello part."

"In your own study, do you devote a particularly large amount of time to the selection of fingerings ?"

"Indeed I do. Fingers must be used to the greatest possible advantage; they are one of the prime keys for developing expressiveness in playing. I recall, as a student, a single remark by Strimer that revolutionized my approach to fingering. I was working on a Chopin Etude transcribed for cello by Glazunov. In the final section, my teacher suggested a fingering that seemed utterly weird to me. But when I tried it, the entire phrase immediately acquired a new and far better sound. It was then that I first understood Strimer's basic fingering principles which later became my own. This principle is simply-'everything is permissible if it sounds beautiful, if it is justified artistically.' This fingering principle proclaims that there should be no rigid, dogmatic fingerings ! All fingerings must be subordinated to bringing out the content and expressiveness of a work - never because they are more comfortable or convenient. Many cellists, if they saw the fingerings in my personal working copy, would be surprised. But if they would hear them at my concert, the more perspicacious among them would realize that these fingerings were justified, artistically."

"Sitting as a juror at international competitions, I often see many young cellists who are unable to really open up because they are prisoners of misconceptions regarding fingering traditions. Again and again I see young players floundering with faulty glissandos, uneven melodic line and a ruffled legato - all caused by clumsy, unintelligent fingering. With certain reservations, it can be said that fingering makes the music. "Audacious" fingerings are an asset. but unusual, 'revolutionary' fingering is possible only if every finger is well-trained and obedient. And I might mention that my cello arrangement of Shostakovich's posthumous Viola Sonata, on of the finest string works of recent years, was possible only because of my fingering principles."

"How can students know that they are using the best possible fingerings ?"

"This is not easy. We generally have a choice of many fingering combinations, and our selection must be geared to our own personal hand structure, stretch, finger length, flexibility, etc., and the instrument, too, must be taken into account. In my own case, I have been playing on one instrument since 1937, which is slightly smaller than standard size. This enables me to manipulate fingers with boldness and daring. I am able to employ unusually large stretches with my Amati. And I make much use of the thumb -'my holy of holies'."

"Does that mean that your fingerings are applicable only to your instrument ?"

"Not at all. Any cellist with a normal stretch can use my fingerings on a standard sized cello, though they would, of course, be more difficult for a cellist with a small finger stretch."

"What are Some of the lyric pieces you play that demand unusual fingerings ?"

"One is a 'Largo' from a Veracini Violin Sonata, in which I play in the high Positions and must use unorthodox, occasionally paradoxical fingerings. Another is the 'Adagio' from Haydn's C-Major Violin Concerto, which I took up after hearing it played exquisitely by Isaac Stern during his visit to the Soviet Union. This, too, requires unusual fingerings if it is to be played with true expressiveness. This 'Adagio' has become my daily 'prayer'."

"Do you use your fourth finger a great deal ?"

"My fourth finger is a most important ally, along with my thumb, and I use it unsparingly. When I feel my fourth finger needs special attention for strengthening, I practice Schubert's 'Ava Maria', since I like to play octaves not only with my third finger and thumb, but with the first and fourth fingers. In this piece, I alternate these fingerings in the octaves, when feasible. I also like to practice Popper's 'Spinning Song' in octaves.

"Do you require constant practice to keep in top form, or are you able to play up to your best if you have a hiatus, say, for a few days ?"

"A small minority of string players can get by without constant practice, but I admit that I am not one. I must work and persevere without pause. And if there comes a time when I feel Some element of my instrumental control is slipping, I immediately start exercises to rectify the situation. For the left hand, one of the things I do is execute great leaps over the fingerboard with all fingers, striving for exactness of intonation and purity of sound."

"What about the right arm ?"

"I work not only on sustained legato tones for bow control, on such strokes as martele, marcato, marcatissimo and spiccato.

One of the pieces I like to practice for bowing is the Pugnani-Kreisler "Praeludium and Allegro." In general, one must be constantly on the alert and act as his own teacher, coach and critic."

"How do you advise a student to develop a penchant for developing a beautiful sound ?"

"Aside from the technical factors involved in tone production, it is important that the student be exposed to hearing beautiful sound daily, or as often as possible, so that his ear develops reflexes for tonal beauty. And on this subject, I always recall my father's admonition - 'If you want to achieve a beautiful tone', he would say, 'play more cantilena pieces'."

"We know that imitation plays a certain role in teaching, but does not imitation have its pitfalls ?" "Decidely. I know an eminent teacher who is also a brilliant violinist. But most of his students play with the same timbre of sound as their teacher. That is why a teacher must take extraordinary care in teaching methods of sound production."

"Would you please make some comments about vibrato ?"

"Vibrato, naturally, should have many gradations. Sound coloring is to a great degree a result of good vibrato control. I would suggest the following exercise. Take a piece of moderate difficulty, like Rachmaninoff's 'Vocalise'. It is conventionally played on the A-string. But try it day after day on the C-string. What happens ? It requires much more finger pressure, which develops great muscular action. When you go back to the A-string the effect is remarkable, and the vibrato, strengthened."

"You have previously mentioned the importance of a cellist's finger structure."

"Yes. You see, people who have 'full-cushioned' fingertips are better endowed by nature to play with rich, beautiful sound. It is very difficult for people with thin, bony fingers to obtain beautiful tone. Such finger structure tends to produce a flat, prickly tone."

"What advice would you give to young soloists aspiring to concert careers ?"

"Assuming a young cellist possesses the special gifts necessary to become a potential concertizing artist, first I would encourage him, then I would warn him to be prepared for painful failures, as well as successes. He should know that a solo career involves hard, grueling work; that it is sometimes far less glamorous than it seems. Physical fitness, stamina, muscle and brawn are most important in dealing with the vast distances to be traveled, along with jet lag, climate changes and constant fatigue. He must have iron control over his nerves, and be able to maintain psychological stability. "In my own case I have evolved a certain 'way of life'. I never go to bed late; I get up early and do special physical exercises every day. I also walk a lot, and relax by playing tennis and chess. I don't like to play many concerts in succession, and I prefer a rest period between concerts of at least 24 hours. But often, when I am soloist with a symphony orchestra, I must play three days in a row. There are musicians capable of playing equally well every day. This is enviable, but I don't belong in that category.

"Have you had any humorous experiences while concertizing ?"

Shafran smiled. "Yes. One of the funniest was during an Australian tour. As you may know, it is necessary to book a separate airplane ticket for the cello. I was waiting in the terminal and heard the radio flight announcer repeating over and over again something that sounded like 'Mr. Cello'. This continued with five minute intervals. At last a lady approached me and asked in Russian, 'Excuse me, are you from Russia ? 'Yes', I answered. 'What's the matter' ? She said, 'there is a name next to yours in the passenger list of a Mr. Cello. Is he by any chance in your party ? His fare is booked like everyone else's, but he hasn't registered.' The missing 'Mr. Cello' was, of course, my cello.

"Another amusing and somewhat embarrassing incident took place at a concert with Dmitri Kabalevsky when I was performing one of his two cello concertos in a Russian city. There was no proper dais for me, so one was hastily constructed of two segments. No sooner did I start to play when the pressure of the end pin forced the segments apart.

Daniil Shafran and Dmitri Kabalevsky.

"I groped feverishly with my feet to pull the segments back together. Somehow, I managed to get through the first movement, after which I contrived to set my end pin in a safer place."

We both laughed at his genial recollections. I asked who were his favorite cellists.

"I have a high regard for all my colleagues and listen to them with much interest. In every master of every generation I try to find something attractive. Of course, I have my favorites, especially among those whose talent and spirit are most mine. I adore Casals, Piatigorsky and Feuermann, and I listen to Navarre, Fournier, Rose and many others with the greatest admiration. Of the younger cellists, I would name in particular Nathaniel Rosen, who won top award at the 1978 Tchaikovsky Competition.

"Do you include much contemporary music in your repertoire ?"

"I play virtually all Soviet classical compositions for cello: works by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Kabalevsky, Weinberg and Boris Tchaikovsky, among others. And I enjoy music by Benjamin Britten, who did so much to popularize our instrument, Samuel Barber and other composers. I do not play ultramodern music, though I occasionally listen to it with interest, such as the finger-twisting music performed by the West German cellist, Sigfried Palm. He plays it extremely well, but this music is not suited to my tastes and temperament. Among Soviet composers in this metier, I would name as outstanding, Alfred Shnitke, whose 'Dialogues for Cello and 14 Instruments' is very interesting and provocative. But I do not include it in my repertoire."

"What is your practice schedule at home ?"

"As far as possible, I have a stable regimen. I start sharp at 8 A.M. and work five or six hours. I prefer morning hours, when I am still fresh, and never practice in the evening. This may seem estrange, since evening hours can be conducive to inspiration. My explanation is this: when I perform in the evening, I like to come onstage in a special, festive mood, and I have come to think and toward evening hours in terms of concert performance, as op to the morning, which is, for me, 'practice time'. During periods of intensive preparation for a concert, I rehearse in the afternoon without the instrument. I lie back with eyes closed and concentrate. Often, intriguing new fingerings and nuances occur to occasionally, even an important musical revelation, during e periods. As for practice itself, I always start with a slow cantilena piece about 15 minutes. My technical routine probably differs little m the 'daily dozen' of most performers. But I must emphasize at no matter how mechanical the exercise, I never play dispassionately in terms of creative fervor and inspiration."

"But inspiration can be fickle," I pointed out to Shafran. "How n an artist always feel inspiration ?"

"On this point I like to quote the great Tchaikovsky-'Inspiraion is a visitor who does not like to call on lazy people'. I strongly believe that inspiration can and should be fostered. To induce and eel inspiration, one must have felt inspiration many, many times. For such people, inspiration is not so difficult to evoke."

"Do you think nervousness can be controlled ?"

"I do. One can learn to overcome it. I deal with the problem by readying myself long before the concert, concentrating intently on the opening of the program, visualizing in my mind the moment I will walk onstage and begin to play."

"What is your practice schedule at home ?"

"As far as possible, I have a stable regimen. I start sharp at 8 A.M. and work five or six hours. I prefer morning hours, when I am still fresh, and never practice in the evening. This may seem strange, since evening hours can be conducive to inspiration. My explanation is this: when I perform in the evening, I like to come onstage in a special, festive mood, and I have come to think and feel toward evening hours in terms of concert performance, as opposed to the morning, which is, for me, 'practice time'. During periods of intensive preparation for a concert, I rehearse in the afternoon without the instrument. I lie back with eyes closed and concentrate. Often, intriguing new fingerings and nuances occur to me - occasionally, even an important musical revelation, during these periods."

"As for practice itself, I always start with a slow cantilena piece for about 15 minutes. My technical routine probably differs little from the 'daily dozen' of most performers. But I must emphasize that no matter how mechanical the exercise, I never play dispassionately in terms of creative fervor and inspiration."

"But inspiration can be fickle," I pointed out to Shafran. "How can an artist always feel inspiration ?"

"On this point I like to quote the great Tchaikovsky - 'Inspiration is a visitor who does not like to call on lazy people'. I strongly believe that inspiration can and should be fostered. To induce and feel inspiration, one must have felt inspiration many, many times. For such people, inspiration is not so difficult to evoke."

"Can this not have the opposite effect, and intensify one's nervousness ?"

I don't think so. The player who is most plagued by nervousness is the one who starts off 'cold' and 'warms up' as he continues playing. I realize my method may be debatable, but this type of mental preparation cures my nervousness, which I always feel to a greater or lesser extent. Once I sit down, close my eyes and begin to play, the nervousness instantly vanishes, thanks to my preparation. And I am able to start off at full communicative capacity, without a 'warm-up' period. I strive to capture the listener instantaneously, not gradually. What worries me most - God forbid - is ceasing to be nervous. In our profession, indifference and utter calm are catastrophic !"

"Do you ever look at the audience while playing ?"

"I prefer to play with my eyes closed. But I always feel the audience's presence, its response, its breathing, its desire to submit to my will. The audience plays a tremendous role in my creative act. I sense it with my skin through a kind of current emanating back and forth between the audience and myself. Incidentally, playing from a score distracts me because when my eyes are open I can find my concentration broken if; out of the corner of my eye, I notice some-one in the front row rocking his foot out of rhythm."

"Is the size of a concert hall important to you ?"

"Let me answer this by recalling a difference of opinion I once had with Strimer. After leaving him and moving to Moscow, I prepared a new work, Rakov's 'Poem', and on a visit to Leningrad went to play it for him. I played with great passion and exaltation.

Strimer suggested I play it more simply, more modestly. But I stuck to my guns. In this piece, I insisted, a hero has died, and I want to rush out to the town square and shout the news to the people. To me, the opening bars demanded an emotional explosion-only then, a description of the events in detail."

"I was convinced of my position not only musically, but objectively, based on a potential performance in a large concert hall, before a large audience. An artist must think of such matters as dynamics and overall projection in terms of the concert hall, not the practice room ! Young performers frequently underestimate this factor, and they tend to become pale and uninteresting when confronted with a concert in a large hall."

"Do you go to practice in the hall prior to the concert ?"

"This is of vital import. Each hall has its own personality, as well as acoustics. I always get to test the hall and try to learn its 'secrets'. One of the most thrilling of my experiences in this regard was then, gold laureate of the first time I went to practice in New York's Carnegie Hall - one of the most sensitive concert auditoriums in the world."

"Do you play much chamber music ?"

"Unfortunately not. I am simply too busy. However, I have played with outstanding colleagues on occasion, and am very sorry that I cannot play more, since I consider that chamber music playing can be tremendously beneficial to a performer."

"Do you advocate cellists playing compositions originally written for other instruments ?"

"Why not ? Are not such works as the Franck Sonata and Schubert's 'Arpeggione' marvelous adjuncts to the cello repertoire ? And I firmly believe that my own setting for cello of Shostakovich's posthumous viola sonata will eventually become part of the standard cello repertoire."

"Do you use a tape recorder in your practice ?"

"Rarely. I prefer to wait until shortly before I am ready for public performance. It is at that point that the tape recorder is most helpful. I hold that a performer must develop a sort of personal 'radar' system of self control. A tape recorder can be a substitute that can paralyze such qualities, retard development and foster a lack of self-reliance. One must learn to hear oneself, correct oneself, and do it as quickly as possible."

"Which type of music appeals most to you ?"

"I would say music that is intensely dramatic, impassioned, even tragic, or, more broadly speaking, music in which I can express myself comprehensively."

"Does intuition play a great part in your interpretations, or do you play according to a preconceived plan ?"

"Both elements are equally important. I trust and heed intuition, once my basic interpretation has been formulated. Without this preparation, intuition, or inspiration can well induce hesitations or vacillations in the performance."

"What is your regime on the day of a concert ?"

"I practice little, though realistically, this probably amounts to three hours. But only in the morning. Then I rest in a horizontal position and try to sleep. I find a nap beneficial to the muscles and hands. Food should be nutritious, but light. I prefer to be slightly hungry. After a concert I am exhausted and terribly thirsty. And I want to be alone as quickly as possible !"

At this junction, both Shafran and I were exhausted and terribly thirsty. We quickly remedied the latter, and made our amicable goodbyes."

Copyright 1986 in Paganiniana Publications