Bernie always liked lyrical music as it allowed him to address expressive details and what he called “the technique of making music.” He was challenging me to listen for nuances I had never considered and, try as I might, I was unable to satisfy his demands. He never said I had done something well, just encouraged me with “… it’s getting better.” At the end of the lesson he said, "I'd like to help you discover a way of working that will sustain you for the rest of your life." Throughout our time together, Bernie taught me to push my perceived boundaries of possibility, both technically and musically, revealing infinite ground for exploration and improvement. I left our first lesson feeling overwhelmed; knowing my life with music was changed forever. Over the following four years he was unconditionally generous, welcoming me into his home, sharing his friends, his stories, five o-clock martinis with oysters and of course, his deep understanding of music as a language.
Inspired by his relationship with Casals, Bernie believed in what he called the apprentice system and encouraged me to stay with him for days or weeks at a time. I would hop on a bus and make the long trip out to Cape Cod, happy for another opportunity to work with him and to escape the city for a calmer world. My favorite bed in his house was in the laundry room, so when I visited it became my bedroom. I would practice in that room for hours, knowing that Bernie probably had an ear turned to what I was doing, or NOT doing. He would peek in and offer some sage advice or demand that I take a break and join him for a drink.
His living room had a beautiful view of the harbor and big windows bathed the room in sunlight. Bernie would sit in the sun and listen to me play. I remember him stopping me to describe the shape of a phrase. He would light up with an expression of rapture, sit up straight, move his arms with ease and speak with strength and conviction. Teaching gave him so much positive energy that it undoubtedly prolonged his life. One day over dinner I asked him, "Bernie, what’s your secret, how have you managed to live such a long life?" He thought for a moment, raised his glass and said, "By living well, and surrounding myself with young people." Needless to say, Bernie knew a thing or two about living well. The idea of staying young at heart was one he had inherited from Casals.
Tucked away in the huge safe that housed Bernie's beloved Stradivarius was a folder containing all the correspondences he received from Casals. Holding paper touched by Casals and reading his handwriting was awe inspiring. I loved sitting with Bernie, reading aloud the letters and listening to him recall memories of their time together. As I learned more about their interaction, it became clear that Bernie was passing on not only his knowledge, but the experience he had sought with Casals. What an amazing offering, to mentor a younger generation. Bernie gave that gift to hundreds of cellists.
In addition to the letters, Bernie cherished a special photo of Casals. I have seen such photos, signed and dedicated to various musicians, but what he wrote to Bernie was uniquely personal, "A mon chere Bernard, Je suis fiere de toi. To my dear Bernard, I am proud of you." If only Casals had lived to see the all of the gifts Bernie gave to the world. I feel profoundly fortunate to have had the gift of time with Bernie during his final years. Every time I sit behind the cello, I remember his generosity and wisdom and I feel most humbly fortunate to participate in his legacy, and honor him as my teacher and my friend.