Cellist Bernard Greenhouse Dies

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Renowned cellist Bernard Greenhouse died last week at 95. Greenhouse spent almost his entire life playing and teaching the cello. He was perhaps best known as a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio.


Cellist Bernard Greenhouse died last Friday. He was 95 years old. Greenhouse was best known as a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio, considered by many to be the most important piano trio in the world. He performed with the group for 32 years before leaving to pursue a solo career.

Some listeners may also remember Greenhouse from a 2008 portrait on this program. Radio Diaries' producer Joe Richman brought us that story, and he has this remembrance.

(Soundbite of cello music)

JOE RICHMAN (Producer, Radio Diaries): There are not many people who have done one thing exceptionally well for almost nine decades. Bernard Greenhouse said he knew as a little boy he was meant to play the cello. He started at the age of eight and attended Juilliard Music School as a teenager.

After World War II, Greenhouse sought out and studied with cellist Pablo Casals. Over the next four decades, Greenhouse went on to record hundreds of albums with the Beaux Arts Trio and as a soloist.

One thing that's sometimes overlooked in his bio is that Greenhouse was a uniquely dedicated teacher. He taught master classes to generations of cello students all over the world, and he hosted many of them at his home in Cape Cod. Teaching was in his DNA.

Greenhouse had a small mustache and a big sense of humor. When I interviewed him a few years ago, he told me he didn't teach students to play the cello. He taught them how to make 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 listener 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)

Mr. GREENHOUSE: That is different from...

(Soundbite of cello music)

Mr. GREENHOUSE: 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)

RICHMAN: Over the past few years, Bernard Greenhouse continued to teach and even occasionally perform. His eyesight was failing, so he couldn't read music. He had to rely on his memory. But Greenhouse never considered retiring.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: I am considered the old man of the cello right now. I don't know of any cellist 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.

RICHMAN: Three weeks ago, at the age of 95, Greenhouse stopped playing his cello. After a lifetime of practicing every day, he just could no longer physically make a sound on the instrument.

Bernard Greenhouse leaves behind two children, three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and his constant musical companion: The Countess of Stanlein, a 300 year-old Stradivarius cello. That cello, he said, was his voice.

(Soundbite of cello music)

RICHMAN: For NPR, I'm Joe Richman.

(Soundbite of cello music)


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