The Viola in My Life
An Alto Rhapsody
During the 1950s and the early 1960s Bernard Zaslav played viola in Broadway shows like Fiddler on the Roof, Once Upon a Mattress, and the Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess, while commissioning and per- forming works written by the most innovative composers of the time, like Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen, and Ben Johnston for string quartet and the viola/piano Zaslav Duo with Naomi Zaslav. He made the first recordings of Charles Ives Quartets and many of the Dvorak String Quartets before joining the world-famous Fine Arts String Quartet, and touring with them all around the world. His life as a string quartet violist reached a zenith when he joined the Vermeer Quartet, and became one of the world's most celebrated string quartet musicians.
Bernard Zaslav tells the story of his musical life and his travels from the perspective of a musician on the inside-literally, one of the inner voices of a string quartet. From the earliest days of his career he came into close musical and personal contact with iconic musicians, and he describes them and the musical world of the later 20th century with candid honesty, humility, and humor.
This book is a document not only about the life of a string quartet musician, but a document about the professional, social, and artistic musical life that flourished in America during the pre-digital age. It was a time when a string quartet in residence was a university's crowning glory, a time when the audience for classical music was at its most sophisticated and its most demanding, and a time when the creation and performance of a new piece of music was something to be celebrated. Included with the book are two CDs of excerpts from his many recordings.
"The violist Bernard Zaslav seems to have played in just about every string quartet in the U.S. at one time or another."
- Tully Potter, The Strad
About Bernard Zaslav...
Bernard Zaslav, who was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926, spent the first two years of his career in the viola section of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, and the rest of the 20th century as the violist of the Kohon String Quartet, the Composers String Quartet, the Fine Arts String Quartet, the Vermeer String Quartet, the Stanford String Quartet, and the Zaslav Duo. He shared responsibility in these ensembles for commissioning, premiering, and recording new works by Elliot Carter, Milton Babbitt, Gunther Schuller, Ralph Shapey, Ruth Crawford- Seeger, Roger Sessions, Ursula Mamlok, Henry Weinberg, Billy Jim Layton, Charles Wuorinen, Ben Johnston, Seymour Shifrin, Andrew Imbrie, Samuel Adler, John Downey, Karel Husa, Mark Neikrug, William Balcom, and many others. Many of the 134 works of chamber music that he recorded for Vox, Turnabout, Laurel, Music & Arts, Nonesuch, Everest, Gasparo, CRI, Gallante, and Orfeo earned enthusiastic acclaim from critics and some won international awards.
He served on the faculties of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Northern Illinois University, and Stanford University, where he was able to influence hundreds of his students to continue the practice of commissioning, premiering, and recording music by living composers, and treating music by dead composers with equal reverence.