Guest Blogger Steven Honigberg: ‘America’s Greatest Cellist’

We have a special guest today!  Steven Honigberg, author of the biography, Leonard Rose: America’s Golden Age and Its First Cellist (Beckham Publications Group), is here to talk about Leonard Rose, America’s greatest cellist!


by Steven Honigberg

After several weeks, nearly forgetting what I had requested, a package arrived at my front door. Carefully opening the large envelope the memoir of the 20th century’s greatest American cellist, Leonard Rose, resembling a brick of gold, stared me down.

In the ensuing months, I organized the cellist’s rambling thoughts and stories into categories. Leonard Rose performed with and taught some of the most important musicians in musical history: Toscanini, Van Cliburn, Bernstein, Walter, Stokowski, Szell, Ormandy, Maazel, Mitropoulos, Rodzinski, Stravinsky, Bartok, Mennin, Schuman, Casals, Salmond, Rostropovich, Piatigorsky, Feuermann, Fournier, Miller, Ma, Harrell, Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Casadesus, Kapell, Arrau, Schnabel, Levant, Graffman, Fleisher, Serkin, Myra Hess, Istomin, Ax, Heifetz, Szigeti, Morini, Galamian, Corigliano, Fuchs, Milstein, Thibaud, Francescatti, Huberman, Menuhin, Neveu, Stern, Perlman, Zukerman, Laredo, Shumsky… With his stories in combination with dozens of emails from former students I felt ready to write.

Write? I’m not a writer I am a cellist. After rising as a prodigy, I studied with the master teacher at Juilliard for five years; recorded more than 20 CDs and presently am in my 27th season as a member of the National Symphony Orchestra. In fact, I don’t recall writing anything of significance as a youngster about anyone. It didn’t matter. Leonard Rose needed to be remembered otherwise he might fade into oblivion.

Fear is sometimes a great motivator. I was going to teach myself how to do it. I tore through books – biography after biography – about other cellists, pianists, composers, actors, and presidents. I jotted down rules and then for a format that looked appealing. I wanted a certain page size, font and photos. Not just in the middle of the book on fancy shiny paper – I wanted them throughout the book – in each chapter.

In my possession I had a file of marvelous photos from a cache lent to me by his son. Along with the photos I had accumulated from the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute (where he attended as a student and then taught), Lincoln Center’s Performing Arts Library, and Library of Congress, I had shots from his childhood, adolescence, professional photos, a New York Times photo (with Bernstein at his historic debut), from the Stratford Festival with all kinds of shots with the eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, and from the walls of Marta Casals Istomin which included a snapshot of Rose with President Kennedy at the White House, a mere 18 months before the president was assassinated.

Leonard Rose was a handsome man at 5’ 8” with slicked back black hair, prominent nose and a serious, no nonsense look. His eyes were the feature that captured my attention as a youth. Staring out from record jackets (My favorite is on the cover of the book), his look beckoned me to join his world, a world in which his suffering translated into the most exquisite cello playing I have ever heard.

As author and professional cellist, Steven Honigberg, complements his biography’s subject with a musician’s ear for language and the highest technical expertise. He currently plays on a 1732 Stradivarius (the “Stuart”), holds degrees from The Juilliard School, and combined with experience writing about legendary cellists, has produced a comprehensive first biography of America’s “first cellist.”

In 1984, the author was handpicked by cellist-conductor Msistlav Rostropovich to join the National Symphony Orchestra, a position he holds to this day. Within months, he graduated from college, presented his New York recital debut, appeared as soloist in Alice Tully Hall, and accepted the Washington job. And Leonard Rose died.

The author’s writing career began shortly after he settled in Washington, D.C. Most of his published work has focused on short biographies of renowned cellists. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, for a professional music trade publication, he wrote a series of columns under the heading “Remembering the Legends.” A few subjects were Leonard Rose, Pierre Fournier, and Frank Miller (who was Rose’s cousin and during Rose’s teenage years, a mentor).

His latest book is Leonard Rose: America’s Golden Age and Its  First Cellist.

You can visit his author page at


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