Bernard Greenhouse: A Master And His Cello



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Master cellist Bernard Greenhouse, 92, and his 300-year-old Stradivarius cello have been constant companions for the last half century.

Greenhouse was a founding member of the legendary Beaux Arts Trio, which plays its final U.S. concert at the Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts.

This story was produced by Joe Richman of Radio Diaries.

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This story is about one man and his cello. Bernard Greenhouse was one of the founders of the acclaimed Beaux Arts Trio. Greenhouse and pianist Menahem Pressler and violinist Daniel Guillet gave the Trio's first performance in 1955 at Tanglewood in Massachusetts. Tonight, their successors give the Trio's final performance there. And Greenhouse will be in the audience. He's 92 now. He performed with the Trio for 32 years before pursuing a solo career.

Greenhouse continues to perform and teach, and his cello has been a constant companion. It is a 300-year-old Stradivarius. Independent producer Joe Richman has this portrait of the musician and his instrument.

Mr. BERNARD GREENHOUSE (Musician): We're coming into my studio. My name is Bernard Greenhouse. This is where I do most of my practice. It's away from the rest of the house so that I have peace and quiet here. I just have a small breakfast and then I go right to the instrument. I have my Stradivarius over here. Now, this is one of the few great Stradivarius cellos that count as Stanlein. Many of the great cellos have names. It was made in 1707, 300 years of existence - that's pretty good for a piece of wood. I've owned it since 1958. And it's been a constant companion, sits in the seat next to me on airplanes. And it's not only very beautiful to look at, but it's beautiful to hear.

(Soundbite of cello music)

Mr. GREENHOUSE: It has its own sound, a sound equal to the sound which turns to velvet in the auditorium. To the listeners, it's a smooth, very beautiful quality, which is peculiar to the Stradivarius work. No other instrument has quite that sound.

(Soundbite of cello music)

Mr. GREENHOUSE: This cello, it's my voice.

(Soundbite of cello music)

Mr. GREENHOUSE: There are thousands of people playing the cello today all over the world. But there's a technique for communicating with music emotionally, which very few people have. It's a special talent, which draws the listeners close to the performer. This bond, great bond, between performer and listener. If you feel it on your skin, you know that they're going to feel it the same way. I can't tell you why…

(Soundbite of cello music)

…that is different from…

(Soundbite of cello music)

…from that. But you hear a difference, don't you? Listen again. The opening, it can be played…

(Soundbite of cello music)

Mr. GREENHOUSE: That's one way of playing it. But here…

(Soundbite of cello music)

Mr. GREENHOUSE: I am considered the old man of the cello right now. I don't know of any cellists over the age of 90 who is still performing. A lot of cellists are pretty surprised that I still can play the instrument, and I'm very pleased that I'm able to keep the quality of sound which I had as a younger person. I don't play the "Flight of the Bumblebee." I don't look for progress. I look for containing from year to year. That's why I practice every day. I fight against the closure of my ability. And I'm not going to let it happen.

(Soundbite of cello music)

SIEGEL: Cellist Bernard Greenhouse. He is 92 years old. Our story was produced by Joe Richman of Radio Diaries with help from Deborah George.

Tonight at Tanglewood, Greenhouse will attend the farewell concert of the Beaux Arts Trio, which he co-founded in 1955. You can listen to tonight's concert live from Tanglewood at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.