MER’s Dennis Rooney interviews Joseph Roche, a member of Minnesota Orchestra, about the death and legacy of Pablo Casals. Roche shares experience of being a part of Casal’s festival.
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(00:00:00) Joseph Road, she was a member of the Minnesota Orchestra has been for the past five seasons a member of the casals festival Orchestra in San Juan Puerto Rico and with the death of Pablo casals yesterday at the age of 96. Today is a good time for thoughts and Reflections about the impact of this great musician on the lives of other musicians and the general public as well. Joe what did it mean to a professional musician to be invited to play in the casals festival? Well, (00:00:38) the very first thing is the tremendous honor bestowed on you. You've got to be invited to this thing. And when you get out there you suddenly realize you're in the company of some of the greatest musicians from all over the world. Not just to not just as soloists or conductors (00:00:53) or visiting (00:00:54) artists, but a lot of these people even play in the (00:00:56) orchestra you're associated with all kinds of great players, (00:01:02) but the whole festival is definitely a monument to T2 this (00:01:05) man. He's like the pope when he comes out there and there's almost no one (00:01:11) who's had that kind of (00:01:12) contact. He was playing chamber music as everybody knows when you know people who play with Brahms were there so (00:01:19) but they came as a tribute to be (00:01:22) linked or known to be with this man and because for my part, I was tremendously flattered I couldn't it was way beyond anything. I imagined I'd ever get to one sense. Then this tremendous historical continuity the casals enjoy. Oh, yeah. I asked in the present. An awful lot to do with it. I mean it while you had (00:01:40) great musical experiences and he had a lot to say in spite of his age did contribute to all of this quite a bit it still (00:01:50) it was far surpassed by the (00:01:52) historical (00:01:53) background of this man. And the (00:01:54) reason everybody want to be associated with them. Not that every time he got up that was such a fantastic experience really was for us but more because of our respect for what had gone on (00:02:04) before well this fantastic experience of having Cassell's conducting and rehearsing. How would you break it down Beyond merely characterizing it as fantastic. What particular qualities do you think that he brought to his analysis of musical interpretation? Well, it was a (00:02:24) tremendous involvement in music. I mean there was nothing analytical about his approach to music really he was really felt things like I mean most conductors have very set ways of how they're going to go about (00:02:35) rehearsals. They prepare themselves in a different. Way they analyzed the (00:02:38) score because all is it was not so much that like he wants told us. He says I go inside the music and I really felt that I mean every time he was up there. He was not out to impress us. There was nothing phony about him or his (00:02:52) approach to music making I suppose when you get to be that age (00:02:55) you could take that attitude, but people tell me that whenever they work with them. There are guys in that outfit who had played with him in the prods festival or the rest was before that. They all said that he had always had that kind of approach. First of all, he looked at you as a colleague. And no matter how where you are sitting in the orchestra, you are not unimportant. You would Embrace I often Stand Back Then Embrace us and speak to us and above all it was just like we should make music together and he was able to inspire this to us somehow and this is a quality that not even most of even some of the great conductors don't have they sort of have a feeling that they are above music and musicians and sometimes they just have to hammer a way to make them sound good but in this particular Festival, I had the feeling that he had the confidence that he was working with people who wanted to make music and he was out to do all he can to get the best sounds he possibly (00:03:50) can am I right in surmising then that this experience this orchestral experience partook of more of the qualities in some ways of a chamber music experience because of this close contact (00:04:02) exactly. I think it was the same kind of involvement. I mean we're even though you're playing in Orchestra part you often they used to refer to that don't Like an ox to player, you know play your cards play everything like you would play in a Solo or and as it turned out like that ox2 is made up of soloists and achieving music players. A lot of people who had sworn never to play in an orchestra before. All right since but it's it really had a very I mean the big thing is he somehow the other managed to let us all know. We were colleagues and it's a very very unique gift from you know, not too many conductors have that. (00:04:38) Well, of course casals had tremendous respect within the profession music. What was it that brought all of these players from different orchestras different parts of the country different countries in the world together. What was it about casals that just attracted into San Juan like a magnet even many. I'm sure that probably we're not under his spill all the time or at least away from the festival. (00:05:03) Well, as I said, I think it has a lot to do to go. I mean to do with the historical background of this man and also There's almost no Festival that has that kind of an attitude anymore. You know, I mean people rely on a lot of gimmicks to get crowds, you know, it was and one is not all that beautiful really to go to a festival and it's the worst time of the year. It's very hot. Very humid. It's very commercials very expensive. So if you go there it's only for the fact that you're there for music and to be near casals. And what is amazing is that you know, none of us got very much money for it as my fact we got way less than we would but everyone got the same amount of money. Our checks were handed out in the open was kind of nice to sit there and no I was making just as much as I hate to name drop, but I could mention some of the greatest players in the country, you know people from The Berkshire quartet or with members of Faculty at Indiana people who had quit orchestras many years ago and they are all constant Masters and we were making exactly the same money and so that we were really there to make music and also the condition sometimes you worked under where the worst But still it was it was just a fabulous atmosphere to make music. (00:06:18) How did the first of all interact with the musical life of Puerto Rico (00:06:23) itself? Well, I must say in this particular aspect. There was an awful (00:06:28) lot of misunderstandings towards the end (00:06:30) when I think of the first Festival I attended which was five years ago and the whole attitude then it had changed a lot with the political makeup of the city or the what is it State now is Puerto Rico State and Commonwealth? I guess. Yeah, who did everybody's confused there about that whole thing and and that political type feeling seemed to take have some influence on the on the festival itself, especially the very last one. I felt there were a lot of (00:06:58) unpleasantness because people (00:07:00) started not really relating this idea. That Puerto Rico should be for the Puerto Ricans started taking a predominant step and they thought of casals while he was still staying (00:07:12) Being Spanish nobleman who is being (00:07:16) pampered by the government and I think there were an awful lot of misunderstandings. I don't know the details. I don't know just how much this Festival cost and what harm it might have done to what might be happening musically in Puerto Rico all year round. All I can say is when I go there and see a very significant Conservatory music all brought about because of Pablo casals tremendous like they mean I use in to win a half weeks. You see more guest conductors and soloist then most major orchestras can get I mean you are able to get my first season we had conductors like so John barbirolli William Steinberg include a and of course, it's not say anything about castles but Daniel barenboim the robot 501 meter there were about five conductors and most of these people, you know Moustakas to sell a whole 24 subscription concerts on 101 names that one such name. So so, you know, I don't know how much of this was right or wrong. Of course. I'm not a Puerto Rican. I've never lived there and a few musicians. I know do seem a little bitter about it because most this Festival Orchestra is really was made up of invited people from all over the world and it's like Zubin Mehta said, it's whoo-hoo from the musical world all over (00:08:32) and if it meant that it (00:08:35) was depriving some local people I suppose they could they did did they have a right but there was not a very pleasant feeling the last Festival (00:08:41) well in addition to the changes in what seemed to be the climate of interaction between the festival and the Puerto Rican community. What did You observe much change in casals himself in those five years. Did he seem to become less and less active toward the end. (00:09:01) Well, the first Festival he played the cello the first Festival I was there. He actually played in a fabulous book called The Bronx quintet with people like you who D minimum playing his violin and then I guess I forget who the others were but he actually took part playing after that he cut out almost all of that, but it was very difficult to say anything about because he seemed to know when to quit if he was tired. He wouldn't conduct if he wouldn't be there if he you know, and like I could not the last Festival but the year before that we recorded his cantata l+ abre and there was one time and we had three recording sessions in one day because the next day we were leaving for Venezuela for Caracas and we thought sure this man couldn't you know sit through it he either conducted or he sat in that booth for nine hours. So it's very hard. And then we felt he seemed a little tired when he was in Venezuela and he didn't conduct the concert you were supposed to but yet he came back this season and did one of the this last season and did one of the greatest performance of the Beethoven's First Symphony with the finger Escape, but then he canceled out of the last concert. But he was present at a lot of concerts and then because we came to New York and at that time we thought he was going to you know, we we didn't know whether he was coming at all. But and when he did come to New Yorker, he didn't perform. He just sat in the audience. So it was very very difficult to say he was he seemed to know when to quit but I wouldn't say he cut down his activities because I knew some of my colleagues at had taken a coaching lesson from him and he said he played a whole box wheat for them. So he just felt he didn't want to play the cello in public anymore and as (00:10:40) festivals well something up in addition to the tremendous concentration of talent and The Supercharged festival at a festival such as the casals festival had. Do you after five years of association with it have any particular thing that you have drawn from it, especially with respect to contact with Pablo casals? (00:11:03) Yes. The biggest thing I think is this idea that you've got to live music and do it for music sake I can't always sit down and I mean I it could have meant a lot to me to have a certain recognition for everything I did but now I've because from playing at that Festival I found out the most important thing is being actively involved and becoming closer to certain types of music. I mean now I don't care if I don't play a great performance of a billion quartet or a shoe but I feel I've got to know these and I want to be more involved. I don't want to be just a musician who sat around and you know just played in The Orchestra played a couple of cheap music concerts. I just hope that I will take time off to really get to know a lot of things and really become actually won't be very very proud of the fact. That I am a musician and feel very important being a musician. This is something that he instilled in us about how lucky we were to be musicians how lucky we part of that's great heritage and until then I was perfectly satisfied just you know, playing taking part in a feeble voice, but now I feel like I miss out of life every time I hear some great piece of music and I've never even played it or heard it sometimes and this could be a very obscure piece of chamber music sometimes (00:12:18) was there any one thing about casals personally that you will remember for the rest of your (00:12:24) life? Yes, I think his dislike for contemporary music it was he was very strong in this old-fashioned ways, but he had a beautiful way of saying if you get up and get very very excited about it phrasing something and then he'd get so upset about some of the music that is being written up to you days. And you turn around and says you yell at us say you are musicians. You should defend your eye. At and the way, you know you made us think because maybe part of our problem is we all feel you got to behave a certain way. We wear a white tie and Tails and everybody excited expects her to you know, live up to her lily-white image perhaps, you know, I think that if you're going to make sounds and you're going to work at it, it's all right to be wrong perhaps, you know, we should say whether we like a piece of not it doesn't have to be the final truth. But the fact that he wanted us to get involved in every way was a tremendous insight into music making and the in the partaking of music. I (00:13:23) think those of roach member of the Minnesota Orchestra and for five years of member of the casals festival Orchestra reminiscing about Pablo casals who died yesterday at the age of 96, this is Dennis, Rooney.