Leslie Parnas, famous cellist and music diplomat, dies aged 90
Leslie Parnas, a renowned cellist and teacher who won second prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War that helped propel him forward in his career, died on 1st May. 2 at a rehabilitation facility in Venice, Fla. is 90.
The cause was heart failure, his eldest son, Marcel, said.
Parnas, who comes from a family of musicians in St. Louis, was 30 years old when he won the silver medal at the second Tchaikovsky competition in 1962, the first time it was able to eliminate the cello. His success in Moscow, where he performed for Nikita S. Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, earned him global fame and gave him a platform as a musical messenger.
He was the only American cellist to win the top prize that year – the other winners were Russian – and his success comes just 4 years after pianist Van Cliburn stranded gold medal at the first Tchaikovsky competition, seen as an American victory.
Mr. Parnas, known for his lyrical play, returned frequently to the Soviet Union in the 1960s and ’70s to give concerts in front of large crowds. He studied Russian, gave advice to those wishing to perform there, and lobbied Soviet officials to send musicians to America to study. He later served as a juror for the Tchaikovsky contest.
“When I play music,” he told The New York Times in 1978 during a visit to Leningrad, “it’s not just an example of emotional freedom, it’s also a message of peace and the individual’s right to self-expression.”
Leslie Parnas was born on 11 November 1931, the son of Eli Parnas, who worked in a paper box factory and played the clarinet, and Etta (Engel) Parnas, a piano teacher.
He began taking cello lessons at an early age and made his first appearance at the age of 14 with the St. Louis, playing Édouard Lalo’s cello concerto at a children’s concert. Two years later, he enrolled at the Curtis Academy of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied with renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. He graduated in 1951.
After a stint in the United States Naval Band, he returned to Missouri to serve as principal cellist in the St. Louis, a position he held from 1954 to 1962. From the very beginning, his talent was evident. When a soloist was late for a performance of Brahms’ double concerto for violin and cello, Mr. Parnas stepped in at the last minute, stunning the audience.
He also attracted the attention of the famous cellist and conductor Pablo Casals, who presented him with the prize at the international cello competition in Paris in 1957.
It was the beginning of a long friendship. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Casals have collaborated at many locations, including Marlboro . Music School and Festival in Vermont and Mr. Casals’ festival in Puerto Rico.
Mr. Casals, one of the most revered musicians of the 20th century, can be an intimidating figure. But he has a relationship with Mr. Parnas. During a class in 1961, Mr. Casals punished Mr. Parnas for playing with too many vibratos. Without missing a beat, Mr. Parnas offered to sell him some.
“None of us ever dared say something like that,” said Jaime Laredo, a violinist and conductor who often plays with Mr. Parnas. “Leslie can get away with things like that. They respected each other. “
When Mr. Casals died in 1973, Mr. Parnas was a mourner at his funeral.
Mr. Parnas honed his soaring sound in repertoire spanning from Brahms to Shostakovich. He won critical acclaim for his 1964 recording of Beethoven’s three-piece ensemble, featuring Mr. Laredo and pianist Rudolf Serkin.
He can be stubborn, changing the tempo to his liking and guiding his co-workers gently during his solos.
“He is a very instinctive player,” Mr. Laredo said. “He’s not particularly about chasing scores to the nth level. He just plays naturally.”
He made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1965, playing Schumann’s cello concerto. In his reviewTimes music critic Howard Klein called him a “fiery and romantic cellist.”
“Mr. Parnas didn’t play too much when he sang the piece,” wrote Mr. Klein. “The way he dared to dig into those high-pitched passages added to the gambler’s excitement. “
Mr. Parnas became a fixture on the chamber music scene, including at Marlboro, where he performed for many years. He joined the Chamber Music Association of Lincoln Center in 1969 as a founding member, helping cement its reputation as a magnet for attracting top artists. From 1975 to 1984, he was artistic director of Kneisel Hall, a school and chamber music festival in Blue Hill, Maine.
Ida Kavafian, a violinist and violinist who played with Mr. Parnas in the early days of the Chamber Music Association, says his expressive abilities are impressive.
“It’s the kind of sound that wraps you around, wraps you around, and you feel it all around you,” she says. “It was an experience.”
As his performing career waned, Mr. Parnas concentrated on teaching, including at Boston University, where he served as an assistant professor of music from 1963 to 2013.
Agnes Kim, a cellist who studied with him from 2004 to 2008, says he often talks about the importance of not letting technique interfere with musical expression.
“He was a legendary teacher, but to me he was never that far-fetched, mystical person,” she said. “He is very friendly, very humble. He always had a bright smile on his face every time I went to class. ”
Along with his son Marcel, Parnas is survived by another son, Jean-Pierre, and four grandchildren, two of whom are professional musicians. He married Ingeburg Rathmann in 1961; She died of breast cancer in 2009.
Marcel Parnas says that his father continued to play his Matteo Goffriller 1698 cello almost every day for the rest of his life, and that he was particularly fond of Bach’s cello sets.
“For him, music is everything,” he said. “That’s how he lives: playing the cello.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/17/arts/music/leslie-parnas-dead.html Leslie Parnas, famous cellist and music diplomat, dies aged 90