Practice, Practice, and (ugh), More Practice

August 3, 2020

I hated practicing the violin as a kid. Not that I didn’t love the sound of the instrument or the music I played. It’s just that at that early age, I preferred to be out with my neighborhood friends playing ball or cops and robbers in the fields nearby.

When my parents threatened to cut off lessons and give away my violin if I didn’t practice, I pleaded with them not to. My earliest memories in our music loving family were of the violin’s sweet and silvery sound played on records and on the radio that seemed to be forever tuned to the classical music station. Hearing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto for the first time had inexplicably brought tears to my five-year-old eyes. Almost inevitably, I started the violin at age six, and by seven was able to play lovely melodies from a music book called “A Tune a Day” that my teacher, Mr. Moldrem, gave me.

Still, I rebelled against the fifteen minutes of daily practice Moldrem required. Shamelessly, I snuck comic books on my music stand, and even pushed the kitchen clock a few minutes ahead when mom wasn’t looking. Poof. By some kind of cosmic magic, it took only eleven minutes or so to practice fifteen.

There was a silver lining to this odious practice business that I concocted- an early example of wishful thinking, no doubt. My hope was that once the basics of playing the violin were dutifully mastered, I would hardly ever have to practice again. Melodies, show pieces, even the mighty Beethoven Violin Concerto that I loved so much would require no more than a minute or two of warm up to play flawlessly.

In no time at all, however, I came to realize something quite surprising. The more I practiced, the better I seemed to get. By the time my next teacher, Peter Meremblum, assigned me at age thirteen, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, a work at the very edge of my capabilities, I was practicing an hour before school and one or two after. My regard for practice itself had gradually evolved over time. It was a necessity for me to put in the hours if I were to have any chance of learning the Mendelssohn Concerto, but it had also become a joy to examine and exult in the miracle of this music- its sweetness, its tenderness, its giddy good cheer.

And so, month after month I practiced the Mendessohn Concerto. At about the same time, our next-door neighbors, the Zigmonds, put up their house for sale. After a while, my mother noticed that the For Sale sign was gone from the front lawn. When she ran into Mrs. Zigmond at the back fence one day, mom congratulated her on the house sale. “Oh no, Mrs. Steinhardt”, she said, “we decided not to sell the house now that Arnie has finally learned the Mendelssohn Concerto”.

At seventeen, I was accepted into the elite Curtis Institute of Music. Coming from Los Angeles as a large fish in a small pond, I had already thought of myself as quite the fancy fiddler. At Curtis, however, I was surrounded by all kinds of fancy fiddlers- my fellow violin students who were already impressively accomplished. The distinguished concert violinist Mischa Elman once said, “If I don’t practice, somebody else will”. And so, I practiced. Max, my roommate one year, would occasionally taunt me good naturedly as I practiced away in our rented apartment near school. “Those who practice, need it”, he would say, smugly, as he made his exit. That stung a little even in jest, but Max, unfortunately, was right. Practice was the only way to satisfy the exacting demands of my teacher, Ivan Galamian, who led me step by step both technically and musically through the vast and challenging violin repertoire.

Galamian had created years before I came on the scene an extraordinary summer camp for string players called Meadowmount. Situated in the lovely foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, young and gifted participants were up for breakfast at 7AM, practiced from 8-12, had lunch from 12-1, and then practiced a couple of hours more before having the luxury of a walk in the woods or a game of ping pong by late afternoon. Meadowmount was basically a gulag in heaven, a place situated in the most beautiful of surroundings but where I could without the usual distractions focus laser like on improving my craft. I would disappear after breakfast into my monk like room consisting of a bed, a table, a chair, and a music stand, and practice, quite oblivious to who might be in the monk like rooms on either side of me doing exactly the same thing. Half way through my first of three summers at Meadowmount, there was a mid-morning knock on my door. A student who I hardly knew residing in the adjacent cubicle was standing there. “Excuse me for bothering you”, he said, “but I took a quick break from practicing and couldn’t help hearing you through the wall. In my estimation, you are the third greatest violinist in the world”. This was, of course, music to my ears and proof that my hours of practice were producing surprisingly large dividends. “Who are numbers one and two”, I couldn’t help asking. “Jascha Heifetz is number one and everyone else is tied for second”, he said before disappearing into his room for the rest of the summer.

With each passing year, concentrated and lengthy hours of practice paid off. Paganini caprices that seemed impossibly difficult were now simply challenging. Unaccompanied Bach works, violin concertos, showpieces, and sonatas gradually acquired musical understanding and technical polish. Nonetheless, each of us, no matter how gifted, how well practiced, had to confront big, looming questions as graduation approached: Will I be a brilliant violinist? A sensitive artist? And what kind of possibilities will await me in the uncertain professional world of music? I could worry about that unknown future, or I could practice. And although, frankly, I did some of both, practice won out. I could not view slaving away for hours on the violin as a kind of insurance policy that would guarantee a brilliant career, but it had to improve the odds.

This was especially true when entering competitions that at least offered the possibility of opening doors to a successful musical future. Up went my practice hours once again in order to learn the extensive repertoire demands of each competition, and to hope to deliver each work masterfully. But at this point in my life, I would have had to pick a good-natured fight with the much younger me who had the simple idea that the more you practice, the better you get. Following that line of thinking, six hours of daily practice would be better than four, eight hours still better, and ten hours would make me one of the world’s greatest violinists. And those violin competitions I was planning to enter made me repurpose what the distinguished violinist Mischa Elman once said: If I don’t practice ten hours a day for, say, the Lower Slobovia International Violin Competition, somebody else will.

Perhaps there might have been young virtuoso wannabes all over the world practicing ten hours daily if not for another player in this equation- the human body. No, it said. If you insist on practicing that much, bad things may happen. And happen they did. Many of my young musician friends began to complain of a variety of ailments including muscle spasms, backaches, compressed nerve problems, carpel tunnel syndrome, bursitis, and tendonitis. In the worst of cases, a player could be sidelined for months recovering from what was often termed repetitive motion syndrome- for repetitive motion is exactly what we did in practicing passages over and over day in and day out.

Too much practicing wasn’t the only culprit, however. Do you hold your instrument in a natural way? Are the specific motions used in playing the healthiest possible, or is there undue tension in drawing the bow across the strings, in shifting positions, in vibrato, or in tone production? During my first years living in New York City, I often went to concerts with my friend Judith Stransky, an Alexander Technique teacher. Judith loved music but had never played an instrument herself. Nonetheless, she had an expert’s eye for the physical aspects of the players she saw on stage. “He is going to have problems”, she would occasionally say after a performance, pointing to a player she had never seen or heard before. “Just look at how awkward he looks“. And often, to my surprise and amazement, Judith’s so-called unprofessional opinions were born out.

Of course, I myself would never have such problems. Problems only happened to other people. The fact that I had grown an astonishing eleven inches between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one, should have given me pause. Suddenly, I was a very tall violinist in a world of violinists who with very few exceptions were of no more than modest height. That included such inspirational figures as Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Yehudi Menuhin, and David Oistrakh. When I watched these violinists perform in concert, the instrument seemed to be a natural outgrowth of their bodies.

One of my musical heroes and my very last teacher was the Hungarian violinist, Joseph Szigeti. Szigeti was an exception to the compact violinist rule. He was tall and with long arms that made him look awkward in performance. This didn’t prevent him from being one of the greatest virtuoso artists of his era, but people sometimes joked that he looked like he was playing in a telephone booth.

At six foot three, my arms were not necessarily a problem. It was my long neck that required me to scrunch down on the chin rest attached to the instrument. I was undoubtedly one of those fiddlers about whom Judith Stransky would have issued dire warnings. But I wouldn’t have necessarily listened. My young body was resilient, pliable, and forgiving enough for me to play any old way. That is, until I reached my thirty-second birthday. Almost as a wicked birthday present, I was besieged with painful neck and shoulder spasms.

At first, I attempted to ignore my body’s revolt. Our young Guarneri String Quartet had acquired a manager, a record contract, and was already performing close to one hundred concerts a year. With such musical fulfillment, I was willing to accept a little discomfort. But a little soon became a lot, and I finally began to cast about for remedies.

My friend and mentor, the violinist Sacha Schneider, recommended a Swedish masseuse who came to my apartment once a week. His basic philosophy was to pummel, squeeze, stretch, and maul my muscles as violently as possible in order to get them to behave. It would take me a couple of days to recover from the ordeal. When that didn’t work I tried muscle relaxants, when that didn’t work I tried acupuncture, and when that didn’t work I went to a surgeon who took neck x-rays and recommended surgery.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to avoid something as drastic as a very sharp knife cutting into my violinist’s neck. I started asking personal questions rather than to the experts. Was I bringing these problems on myself? And if so, what could I do about it? I began to think about the fact that violins and bows come in relatively set shapes and sizes, but violinists, unfortunately, do not. Eventually, it occurred to me that I didn’t necessarily have to turn my neck into a pretzel while playing. I asked a luthier to make me a chin rest of a height that exactly fit my long neck. Almost immediately, all my aches and pains subsided and eventually vanished.

Another thought: Why practice so much? Could it be that less might actually be more? My teacher, Szigeti, recommended memorizing solo works away from the violin as much as possible. Our Guarneri Quartet could study string quartet scores without instruments as well as in rehearsal. And what about economizing on practice time by using a more thoughtful approach rather than brute repetition? The less I began to practice, the less wear and tear on my body, and the less I practiced, the more my creative spirit seemed to thrive. And my body loved it.

The only missing part of the practice equation seemed to be where it took place; and here I had a distinct advantage over, say, pianists. The violin is so small and so light weight, that you can take it anywhere, and therefore practice, well, almost anywhere.

This was the case even in our New York City apartment. I would often start practicing in our bedroom until my wife Dorothea, unfortunately, wanted to do her daily exercises there. Exit to our son Alexej’s bedroom but, darn, he often needed to do homework. Another exit. How about the living room? “Dad, can’t you please practice elsewhere”, our daughter Natasha would often ask, “It’s time for my favorite TV program”. Then there was the dining room but somebody would inevitably wander in with a snack. And so the last room left to practice in was Dorothea’s small dark room used for her photographic work. “Fine with me. I can practice anywhere”, I said proudly to myself. One day, I got into our building elevator on the eleventh floor where we lived only to have it immediately stop at the tenth. Mr. Lowenthal who resided in the apartment directly below ours entered. We greeted one another and then he looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face. “You don’t have one particular place to practice, do you”, he asked

I’ve practiced in all kinds of places- in attics, in basements, by a mountain stream, in a train’s sleeping car, and even in an airport. Years ago, I had to change planes at Denver’s Stapleton Airport with an unusually long layover of several hours. Whether for a concerto performance, a recital, or something entirely different I cannot remember, but I desperately needed to practice. Was this not the perfect opportunity? All I needed was an empty out of the way space somewhere in the sprawling airport. I approached the information desk and described my wishes to a pleasantly smiling lady. The smile fell instantly from her face and she shook her head firmly. No, there was no place in the airport where I could practice. I asked a gentleman behind the American Airlines counter the same question, and the smile not only fell off his face, but he began to regard me with obvious concern. Who was this weirdo who wanted to practice his violin in our airport? Or was there something far more sinister up his sleeve? After receiving more or less the same reaction from several other airline employees, I realized I was getting nowhere. Time to take the situation into my own hands by exploring the airport on my own. After scouring the entire place with no luck, I finally wound up facing a long flight of stairs at the very back of the building. There was no indication of where it went, but with all other options having failed, I climbed the steps.

Mind you, this happened long before 9/11. Nowadays, with a fiddle case in my hand that potentially held an AK-47, I would have been arrested on the spot.

The steps lead to an unmarked door, and to my great surprise, it opened onto the airport roof. My heart skipped a beat. Was this not the perfect place to practice undisturbed? And so, I opened my violin case, took out my violin and bow, and for the next several hours, I practiced. Occasionally, an airport employee would stick his head out the roof door, shake his head, and close it. There was a fringe benefit to my good fortune that travelers would not necessarily have been aware of in the airport below me. The morning fog was lifting as I fiddled away, and suddenly the not so distant Rocky Mountains spread out in front of me in all their grandeur. Somehow, the music took on new relevance, as I played for my listeners, the mountain peaks- some still covered in snow. The sun slowly rose, the play of light and shadows constantly painted new patterns on the mountain surfaces, and I tried to imagine that I was a hundred piece orchestra rather than a lone violinist paying tribute to nature’s miraculous creation.

I wish you had been there.

Saul Steinberg


  1. From Francis Leeuwerck on August 3, 2020

    I enjoyed that beautiful story very much. Thank you for sharing your memories!

  2. From carol olicker on August 3, 2020

    I so enjoyed reading this..I had the good fortune of being at Harpur College when the
    Guarneri was in residence there, sometime in the late 60’s, and then at SUNY at Buffalo NY a year or two later when you were in residence there..I heard you do the entire Beethoven String Cycle in both places, and listening to the upcoming quartets on records with earphones while reading along with the score before each performance, and then hearing you in person was one of the peak experiences of my life..You have brought so much joy to so many people..all that practicing you did blessed us all. I enjoyed both of your books. I was very sad when I heard David Soyer had passed away,.and then Michael Tree. But they live on in my memory, beloved and even sacred for the phenomenal beauty of those performances,I still prefer the Guarneri Quartet’s renditions of the Beethoven String Quartets over any others.
    with gratitude and love
    Carol Olicker

  3. From Anna Meyer on August 3, 2020

    As I approach my 90th birthday, I remember with pleasure the many chamber music concerts I attended throughout my life. I was a subscriber (for decades) to the Los Angeles Music Guild series.
    Your quartet was one of the highlights of these concerts. I was a serious amateur quartet player (viola and violin), and those performances were always an inspiration.
    Thank you for this interesting series of reminiscences: I used to wonder what the life of a world-class quartet player might be like…

    Anna Meyer

  4. From Margo Davis on August 3, 2020

    I was sure you would recount the story you once told me: When you came home from school one day, you complained of feeling very sick. Your Mom told you to go and lie down BUT practice!! So, maybe that is where you learned the skill of practicing anywhere!

  5. From MaryJo Wagner on August 3, 2020

    I live in Denver. I was born here. I remember the old Stapleton Airport. You practicing on the roof while looking west to the mountains makes me smile! You are indeed a special violinist! Thank you for the music you have gifted to all of us.

  6. From Martha Potter Kim on August 3, 2020

    I wish I had, too!

    My practicing story is about Vieuxtemps IV. My room at Meadowmount was right over Gamamian’s studio (nightmare!) and he could hear my practicing. Therefore he knew it was almost all scales and Bach happening, no Concerto, which I detested on adolescent musical grounds. He stopped me at lunch and informed me the assignment would make it possible to play Beethoven’s late quartets. Right away the practicing became the Concerto and the next lesson was a success!

  7. From Kit Eakle on August 3, 2020

    Oh the trials of finding a decent place to practice! Still a trial at 73! But your story also reminds me of a story JosefGingold told at a Master Class I attended. While practicing and warming up i his room, his visiting grandson, who was just beginning violin, opened the door during Gingolds scale practice routine, asking, “Oh, Grandad, do they still make YOU do that too?!”

    PS. Love the Steinberg drawing!

  8. From Les Myers on August 3, 2020

    This is a wonderful essay. You found sonic gold at the end of the perseverance trail!

  9. From Euthemia Matsoukas on August 3, 2020

    Lovely, Arnold.

  10. From Peter Hoenisch on August 4, 2020

    Lieber Arnold,
    die Geschicte Deines Beginns des Violin-Unterrichts kenne ich aus Deinem wunderbaren Buch, das ich auch schon verschenkt habe. Ich hoffe, dass es Euch in Corona-Zeiten gut geht. Und die Frage: Bist Du wieder einmal in Berlin? Ganz herzliche Grüße (momentan aus Italien). Dein Peter

  11. From Laurie Wolfe on August 4, 2020

    As a cellist, I envy a violinist’s mobility in seeking practice locations! Of course, we all have lots of time to practice now, if little to practice for. Thank you for sharing these vignettes from your musical life.

  12. From Kit Eakle on August 4, 2020

    I’m STILL looking for a suitable place to practice without disturbing others. This makes my think it’s time to redouble my efforts to find a place in this apartment complex to hide away and play!
    Meanwhile a story comes to mind told by Josef Gingold in a Master Class I once attended. He described playing in his practice room, warming up on scales when his visiting grandson who was just beginning violin lessons stuck his head in. “Oh Grandpa,” he said in his most sympathetic voice, “Do they stillmake you do that too?!”

  13. From Amos on August 5, 2020

    Mr. Steinhardt,

    If I recall correctly you were still a member of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1963 when Leon Fleisher recorded the Brahms B flat major concerto with the Orchestra. Would you consider devoting one of your posts to performing with him specifically and the orchestra in general?



  14. From Tod Brody on August 5, 2020

    Beautiful piece — great memories and great storytelling. Thank you!

  15. From Hava Beller on August 6, 2020

    Dear Arnold, This is hilarious! I broke out laughing all the way to the mountains! The sale/not sale of your neighbors’ house. The “Gulag in Haven”! The “Third Greatest violinist in the World”!!! others.
    The ending is exquisite! I could almost hear you playing.
    So good to read you again.
    Love, Hava.

  16. From robert moore on August 10, 2020

    That’s great for you having gotten rewards for your hard labor. Yes, yes, you deserve them and I love your work. I think the hardest practice is that in which there are no rewards, no concerts, no one listening except yourself for your own benefit of being a true musician of classical music in a wicked world.

  17. From Bid on August 10, 2020

    Love and miss you, Arnold.

  18. From soo bae on January 4, 2021

    Beautiful. o how I wish I’d been there at that airport!!! The greatest storytelling ever! Thank you!


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June 10, 2021

Tempo, Friend or Foe

What are the most basic things that must be accomplished in order to master a work of music? I think even contentious Democrats and Republicans can agree that the first order of business regarding everything from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to “Tea for Two” is, plain and simple, just learn the notes. Next come the rhythms [...]

May 5, 2021

Ach, you made a mess of it

Have you ever regretted something you’ve done or said? I certainly have. Out of the clear blue, an unpleasant or embarrassing or foolish moment from the past will pop into my brain. How could I have done or said that, I’d think, shaking my head sorrowfully. Since whatever had happened, unfortunately, couldn’t ever be erased [...]

April 1, 2021

Sale! Sale! Sale!

Dr. Arnie’s Fiddle-4-Fun Emporium announces: SALE ON STRADIVARIUS VIOLINS! TODAY ONLY! Think of it. You’ve always wanted a Stradivarius but could never afford one. Today, and today only, these remarkable violins are now on sale at   the unbelievably low price of $29.95. You heard that right, folks, only $29.95. Unlike 17th and 18th century Stradivarius [...]
Colorado Symphony

March 10, 2021

A Chance Encounter

It wasn’t even Halloween, but the strange creature coming toward me had a grayish ball for a head and funny little reddish things sticking out all over. Uninvited, it abruptly sat down across the table from me and began to speak. “Well, I’ve just infected another one, so I thought I’d relax for a while [...]

February 8, 2021


Shortly after my first teacher taught me, age six, the basic positions of the violin, he placed a page on my music stand with what appeared before my innocent eyes to be groups of lines with indecipherable black dots scattered willy-nilly over them. He then explained that these groups of five lines were called staves, [...]

January 5, 2021

Erica Morini

Today, January 5th, is the birthday of violinist Erica Morini. Born in Vienna in 1904, she first studied the violin with her father, Oscar Morini, and later at the Vienna Conservatory with Otakar Šev?ík. Morini made her debut at age eleven with the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Berlin Phiharmonic orchestras under Arthur Nikisch. She was immediately [...]

December 14, 2020

Music in the Time of Biden and Harris

On January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Kamala Harris will assume the offices of president and vice president of the United States. There will be new faces, new ideas, new policies, and undoubtedly a different personal style of governing. And there will inevitably be different music at the White House. I have not the [...]

October 31, 2020

Halloween Special

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. The worms play pinochle on your snout. Your stomach turns to an icy green and pus shoots out like white whipped cream. You wipe it up with a slice of bread, and that’s what you eat when you are dead. So, folks, have I gotten you into [...]

October 29, 2020

All Hands On Deck

Dear Readers, Following up on my last post, Music in the Time of Trump: With the election 5 days away, this feels like an all-hands-on-deck moment. So I’ve just signed up to help get out the vote by working a phone bank. I’ll be doing this through Swing Left starting tomorrow. Can I invite, inspire, coax, cajole, [...]

October 1, 2020

Music in the Time of Trump

The night that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, I couldn’t sleep. That Republicans nominated him as a candidate was shocking enough, but the fact that so many Americans had voted for a man deeply unfit for the presidency was incomprehensible. Since then, no matter how incompetent, ignorant, racist, unethical, mean spirited, [...]

September 2, 2020

Practice? MMMaybe Not

If I don’t practice for one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it. —Jascha Heifetz; But Mr. Heifetz, what about four days, or four weeks, or, gasp, even longer? During a busy performing schedule, I would sometimes take a day off here and there; and in [...]

August 3, 2020

Practice, Practice, and (ugh), More Practice

I hated practicing the violin as a kid. Not that I didn’t love the sound of the instrument or the music I played. It’s just that at that early age, I preferred to be out with my neighborhood friends playing ball or cops and robbers in the fields nearby. When my parents threatened to cut [...]

July 1, 2020


At a very early age, my grandson, Julian began to ask me questions. “Nunu”, he asked (my grandkids call me Nunu), “how old are you”? That was soon followed by, “Nunu, how old will you be when you die”? As Julian got older, he often asked other types of questions I could not answer and [...]

June 1, 2020

Serial Numbers

All kinds of things have serial numbers. I imagine that dozens of objects in my own home have them- my toaster must have one, and my TV set, washing machine, microwave, electric tooth brush, telephone, and on and on. Thinking about it, however, I have to ask the obvious: what are serial numbers good for? [...]
Kreutzer Sonata, painting by René François Xavier Prinet

May 1, 2020

The Kreutzer Sonata

On May 24th, 1803, one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s most renowned and revered works, the Kreutzer Sonata, Opus 47, for Violin and Piano, was performed for the first time. The Sonata’s three movements run the gamut from ardent lyricism to high-wire virtuosity. During that first performance, George Bridgetower, the brilliant Afro-European violinist for whom it [...]
Swami Arnie in deep meditation.

April 1, 2020

Zen and the Art of String Quartet Maintenance

String quartets- good, bad, or worse- a hearty welcome to our twelve step program from me, Swami Arnie. Without a doubt, you will want to participate in this remarkable, one of a kind workshop that takes place today, and only today. Objective: To make each of you better instrumentalists, better musicians, better string quartet players, [...]

February 28, 2020


Amir, a salesman from a local blind and shade store, came up to our house some time ago in order to advise my wife, Dorothea, and me about some kind of window covering.  Well into our discussion, Amir somehow learned that I was a violinist.  With that, all talk about blinds and shades abruptly came [...]

February 3, 2020

Ludwig van Beethoven: Space Traveler, Human Heart Explorer

Dear “In the Key of Strawberry” readers, After having written a monthly blog about music for some ten years, I’ve taken the last year and a half off in order to do other things- namely, to move from New York City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, from sea level to high desert at 7,200 feet [...]

August 8, 2018


In all the forty-five years that our Guarneri String Quartet performed in public, and during the nine years since we retired, I don’t believe I’ve dreamt of the quartet more than a handful of times. This might seem odd to string quartet aficionados who know how much must go into a performance: practice and more [...]

June 20, 2018

Symphonies, Guns, and Beer?

I often feel anxious for young musicians, even the most gifted of them, as their graduation from music school approaches. In the months before, so many still don’t know what their future holds. Will a top prize in a competition garner the beginnings of a solo career? Or might a successful audition lead to a [...]
Arthur Rubinstein(a),1971

May 8, 2018

An Arthurian Tale

As a teenager growing up in Los Angeles, some fifteen years before our Guarneri String Quartet would perform and record with the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, I had a brief preview of Rubinstein’s personality. My violin teacher, Peter Meremblum, had founded and led a very well-known young people’s orchestra in which I played. The Southern California [...]
Arthur Rubinstein in 1971. Photo © Dorothea von Haeften

April 1, 2018

Arthur and Sergei

Today, April 1st, is the pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birthday. Which reminds me of a story. “Which reminds me of a story,” said the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, turning to us, the Guarneri String Quartet, while remaining seated at the piano. We four happily put down our instruments, having just been bathed in Rubinstein’s ravishing [...]

March 6, 2018


How well can you really know a musician as a person based solely on his or her performance? You might walk away from such an occasion with some sense of the musician’s intelligence, emotional depth, taste and style. But could you honestly say, despite the innermost thoughts and feelings communicated during the concert, that you [...]

February 1, 2018

What’s In a Name

My mother, who attended one of our Guarneri String Quartet concerts some time ago, told me afterwards of a conversation she overheard in the ladies room during intermission. “Are any of the Guarneri members Jewish?” one woman asked another. “No,” responded her friend. “Arnold Steinhardt is of German origin, John Dalley, English, Michael Tree, Scottish, [...]
Mel Torme

December 24, 2017

The Christmas Song

Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier. Already before Thanksgiving had arrived this year, the holiday lights were strung and the usual Yuletide songs had invaded every conceivable public space. Perhaps because I’m a musician, a shudder runs through me when I once again have to hear after a blissful year’s absence, the inane Winter [...]

December 4, 2017


A fellow goes up to the airline counter and asks to be booked to Buenos Aires, Caracas, Singapore, and then Honolulu. “I’m sorry, sir,” the agent says, “We don’t fly to any of those places.” “Funny,” responds the traveler, “you sent my luggage to all those places the last time I flew with you.” For [...]

October 31, 2017

Halloween Special

Hello People. Dr. Arnie here, once again. Today is Halloween, and a perfect time for me to spread the word about my latest, favorite subject—Cryogenics. You all know what I’m talking about: the study of things at very low temperatures. Actually, it’s not exactly things that I had in mind. Recently, I read about the [...]
Andrew Carnegie

October 4, 2017

Andrew Carnegie

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? I know. I know. Practice. Or take the subway. Or hail a cab. Or if the year is 1891, take the trolley from 14th Street, the center of town, to the end of the line and walk two blocks north to 57th Street and 7th Avenue. You’ll find [...]
Jules Eskin

September 6, 2017


My dear friend Jules Eskin passed away last November at the age of eighty-five. I first met Jules when he became principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1961. I had already been in the orchestra as assistant concertmaster for two years. At twenty-two years old, I was the youngest member of the orchestra, and [...]

August 8, 2017

Cécile Chaminade

Today, August 8th, is Cécile Chaminade’s birthday. What? You’ve never heard of Cécile Chaminade? But how is that possible? Chaminade was one of the most successful pianists and composers of the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth century. Born in Paris, France, in 1857, Chaminade composed more than 350 works, including two piano trios, a choral symphony, [...]
Uncle Sacha vants you.

July 7, 2017

The Bartók Project

When I was still a teenager, a friend coaxed me into a record store with the sole purpose of having me listen to something he considered of utmost importance. In those days, every record on sale had a sample that one could hear in a private booth. My friend refused to divulge anything as he [...]

June 2, 2017

I Love You

Over the past few years, I’ve begun to depend more and more on my smart phone. At first it was just for telephoning, emails, and for taking photos. But more recently, I’ve begun using it for all kinds of useful things: weather reports, the news, messages, driving directions, as a metronome, playing scrabble, and even [...]
Floating violinist surrounded by floating people.

May 3, 2017

Ultimate Goals

Violin auditions were once again held this winter at the Curtis Institute of Music. Over a period of three days, the faculty listened to violinists from all over the world play the required music by Bach, Mozart, Paganini, and a concerto of their choice. Many of these young musicians performed with great sensitivity and technical [...]

April 1, 2017

Four Play

A message from Dr. Arnie about string quartets: Dear Friends, I know, I know. String quartets are a troublesome business. Take Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet in which a poor young girl has to die despite desperately pleading for her life. Just terrible if you ask me, and by the way, my condolences [...]

March 6, 2017

Speak, Piano

Many years ago, my wife, Dorothea, and I visited her friend, Gottliebe von Lehndorff, in Peterskirchen, a town not far from Munich, Germany. A single, shattering event had originally brought the two women’s lives together. Both Dorothea’s father, Hans Bernd von Haeften, and Gottliebe’s husband, Heinrich von Lehndorff, had been involved in the failed July [...]

February 2, 2017

Separation Anxiety

Several months ago, Soovin Kim, the artistic director of the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, asked me to participate in the Beethoven Project, a series of concerts each featuring a late Beethoven string quartet and preceded by a talk about the work.  Soovin had invited the Parker String Quartet to perform one of those five [...]

December 24, 2016

Santa Claus

I recently learned some unexpected things about Santa Claus. First of all, he played the violin. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. Lots of famous people have played the violin. Albert Einstein, Casanova, Paul Klee, Thomas Jefferson, and Benito Mussolini all played the violin, so why not Santa Claus. I also learned that Santa didn’t [...]
John Koutroubas at the counter.

December 7, 2016

Little Pete’s

They say that nothing lasts forever. But some things do last longer than others. And once in a while, something manages to last a very long time. I’m thinking of Little Pete’s diner on the corner of 17th and Chancellor Streets in downtown Philadelphia. I first discovered the place in the fall of 1954 when, [...]

November 8, 2016

Music From Marlboro, the Fiftieth Anniversary

If anyone were to ask me what the single most significant musical influence of my life was, the answer would be unequivocal: The Marlboro Music School. In the many summers I spent there as a young adult, I was able to study, perform, and listen to the great chamber music repertoire shoulder to shoulder with [...]

October 5, 2016


Just a few years ago, at two different schools, I coached students who had banded together in the hope of becoming professional string quartets. Each quartet consisted of strong players and gifted musicians, and they not only played well together but, most importantly, each quartet had something personal and meaningful to express in their music-making [...]

September 9, 2016

A Visitor

As in so many years past, I was once again a participant at Marlboro Music this summer. Marlboro has achieved a reputation of such stellar quality that music lovers from the earth’s four corners flock to this festival nestled in the hills of Southern Vermont. Even luminaries known the world over occasionally appear at Marlboro [...]
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

August 3, 2016

Where are the Dancers?

A friend, who was a professional ballet dancer for many years, was taken as a child by his mother to a symphony orchestra concert. Up to then, his musical experience had been largely limited to the piano accompaniment provided during his dance classes and the ballet performances he occasionally attended. He sat patiently for a [...]
Scott Peacock

July 6, 2016

The Chocolate Cake (A Second Helping)

I very much enjoy writing my monthly blogs, which are more or less on the subject of music. And I’m always gratified and encouraged to continue by the many reader comments. An unexpected and delightful surprise—a fringe benefit, you might say—are the stories that come back to me in response. For example, when I wrote [...]

June 3, 2016

The Chocolate Cake

My wife, Dorothea: So, how was the concert tour?” Her husband, Arnold: “Great. After the concert in Rome, I had a plate of gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce that was to die from. And in Vienna, you wouldn’t believe how sensational the Salzburger Nockerl was.” Dorothea: “I’m glad. But what about the concerts? How did they [...]

May 4, 2016

The Homecoming

Kirk Browning, an American television director and producer with hundreds of productions to his credit had decided to move into smaller quarters. Our mutual friend, Virginia, was there to assist as Kirk regretfully disposed of many of the awards, trophies, and memorabilia that he had amassed over a lifetime of professional work. At one point, [...]

April 1, 2016

Dr. Arnie Returns

By overwhelming popular demand, the distinguished musicologist Dr. Arnie has once again agreed to answer your most pressing questions about music, musicians, and maybe even the meaning of life:   Dear Dr. Arnie, Do you have to speak French to play the French horn well? Dear Concerned, Of course not. How do these preposterous rumors [...]

March 3, 2016


Our dog, Tessa, died in the middle of a blizzard in New York City this January. Almost twelve years old and certainly slowing down with age, Tessa no longer frolicked joyfully in the park as she once had, and lately climbing steps of any kind had become painfully difficult for her. Still, her death was [...]
Final curtain

February 4, 2016


No one ever dies in chamber music. The thought occurred to me while I was on the way to the opera. People die right and left in opera. Madame Butterfly, Tosca, Carmen, Romeo and Juliet—they all die. I’ve played in a professional string quartet most of my life, but nobody dies there. Yes, there are [...]

January 7, 2016

A Heavenly Length

Franz Schubert’s sublime Two Cello Quintet in C major is probably on every chamber music lover’s short list of most beloved works. Certainly, it is on mine. Recently, I had the memorable experience of hearing the Quintet performed glowingly not once but twice within hardly more than a week. The first performance, by the Dover [...]

December 4, 2015

String Quartet Fever

Here’s a riddle that made the rounds a few years ago: What is one Russian? An anarchist. What are two Russians? A chess game. What are three Russians? A revolution. What are four Russians? The Budapest String Quartet. If the first three parts of this playful riddle attributed to the violinist Jascha Heifetz are open [...]

November 1, 2015

More Than a Music Festival

Late last summer, I traveled to Poland for a chamber music festival that took place in a small town called Krzizowa, or Kreisau as it was known as part of Germany until the Second World War ended. Knowing beforehand something of its background and the people involved, I eagerly looked forward to the festival. It [...]

October 2, 2015

Mozart’s Baby

There is an often repeated and certainly justified belief that only a truly experienced professional string quartet can do justice to the masterpieces of the quartet repertoire. After all, its four members would have had the time to know each other’s musical personality intimately; to learn how to work well together; to spend the many [...]
Floating violinist surrounded by floating people.

September 4, 2015


Last March, the Curtis Institute of Music violin faculty, of which I am a member, listened to over one hundred violinists from all over the world audition to become students at the school.  There were only two or three openings for the next school year and many of the young violinists played remarkably well, which [...]

August 1, 2015


Will Hagen, an impressively gifted young violinist, has just won third prize in the 2015 Queen Elisabeth Competition for classical violinists. Named after Queen Elisabeth of Belgium and established in memory of her good friend concert violinist Eugene Ysaÿe, the Queen Elisabeth Competition is considered one of the most challenging and prestigious in the world. [...]

July 1, 2015

Speak, Living Room

A few months ago, just after finishing a recording project, Lorraine Feather, jazz singer, and lyricist, and Dave Grusin, pianist and composer, went out to dinner with Dave’s wife, Nan Newton. Nan, who had never met Lorraine before, soon learned that the singer had spent the earliest years of her childhood on Manhattan’s Upper West [...]

June 1, 2015

The World of the String Quartet

Last year, the Curtis Institute of Music, where I was once a student and where I now teach, asked me to participate in an internet course about the string quartet. Curtis, partnering with the online educational platform Coursera, has already had impressive success with two previous online courses: a survey of classical music co-hosted by [...]

May 1, 2015

Bob Simon

Bob Simon and I unknowingly walked off with each other’s nearly identical coats several months ago. Once the error was discovered, we met days later in my apartment for the great coat exchange and had a good laugh about the situation. That done, Bob and I sat down at my dining room table and talked [...]

April 1, 2015

Arnie’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables are known throughout the world. Aesop is said to have been a Phrygian slave who lived in ancient Greece and whose fables have endured because of the great wisdom embedded in them. Legend has it that Aesop’s life ended when he either jumped or was thrown from a cliff. Sadly, another set of [...]

March 1, 2015

John Cage and His String Quartet in Four Parts

John Cage once said, “I have nothing to say, and I’m saying it.” I burst out laughing when I first read this. Just imagine Ludwig van Beethoven announcing to the world, “I have nothing to say,” in which case he might have put down his pen and paper and taken a walk in the woods, [...]

February 3, 2015


I have never studied or performed Bach’s Sonata in C Minor for Violin and Keyboard, but I thought it would make a lovely opening number for a planned recital this spring. So in the next few days, I began by reading the first movement through, making some preliminary phrasing decisions and then figuring out possible [...]

January 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Coats

It’s January. It’s cold out there. It’s time for a coat story. Friends of ours recently invited my wife, Dorothea, and me to dinner at their New York City apartment. We hung our coats along with many others on one of several racks in the lobby, and after a lovely evening of fine food and [...]

December 1, 2014

Fifteen Seconds of Fame

The American poet, Galway Kinnell, died last October. I had the pleasure of knowing him and seeing him occasionally during the years he lived in New York City. One evening, Galway and his wife to be, Barbara, invited me and several other friends to dinner. Introductions were made all around and a superb meal along [...]

November 1, 2014


November is hunting season in upstate New York where my wife, Dorothea, and I have a home. And if it’s hunting season, then it’s time for our hunters to show up. Several decades ago, three men—let’s call them Andrew, Bob, and Charlie—knocked on our door and politely introduced themselves. They told us that they worked [...]

October 1, 2014

The Silent Note

Do you remember the phrase in that old Coca Cola commercial, “The pause that refreshes?” It did nothing for me at the time because I don’t even like the drink. Still, the commercial initiated something quite unintended. Rather than coaxing me to go around the corner and buy a bottle of Coke, the single word [...]

September 1, 2014


Ninety-seven young violinists showed up at the Curtis Institute of Music’s annual violin auditions last spring with the hopes of becoming students at the school next fall. Thirteen made the semifinal round and of those, five were chosen by us, the violin faculty. Some who auditioned were still diamonds in the rough. Others already played [...]

August 1, 2014


It’s that time of year again.  I’ve worked hard for it, I deserve it, and nothing’s going to stop me from it.  Yes, I’m packing up my violin and bow, putting them in the closet, and then I’m not going to practice for a while. Just for a few days. Well, maybe a week. Mmm, [...]

June 2, 2014

Kissing Cousins?

Story #1 My old Ford Mustang convertible needed a paint job several years ago so I took it to the local body shop in upstate New York where I live. Once all the details had been discussed with the shop owner (let’s call him Norm), I remembered something that had always bothered me. The first [...]

May 1, 2014

In the Ear of the Beholder

“Here’s a challenge for you,” a friend posed over dinner some time ago.  “Name the four great child prodigy classical music composers.”  He leaned back, smiling smugly in the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t be able to guess them all.  Two were obvious: “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, of course, and Felix Mendelssohn,” I blurted out.  My [...]

April 1, 2014

News Bulletin

In The Key of Strawberry is pleased to post “Dear Dr. Arnie,” the syndicated musician’s advice column hosted by the legendary Dr. Arnie. Examples of his advice, featured below, will undoubtedly be of invaluable help to musicians of every persuasion. Dear Dr. Arnie, I have an orchestra audition coming up next month and worrying about [...]

February 24, 2014


Last summer I was once again a participant in the Marlboro Music Festival.  As always, the school generously provided my wife, Dorothea, and me with a house off campus.    This time we were given the former home of David Soyer, the cellist of our Guarneri String Quartet for thirty-seven of its forty-five-year existence.   Dave passed [...]

February 1, 2014

Violin Collection

I own three violins. I have a Lorenzo Storioni made in Cremona, Italy around 1785.  This violin’s sound is dark and husky.  Its varnish is lustrous, and the swirling patterns of its wood grain are remarkably beautiful. I also have a violin made for me in 2006 by Samuel Zygmuntowicz, a distinguished American string instrument [...]

January 1, 2014

Me and my Violin

Marc Lifschey, one of the greatest oboists of his era, once told me that after retiring as a performer and teacher, he had sold his oboe. On the face of it, giving up an instrument you no longer use seems perfectly reasonable, but nevertheless I was taken aback.  Marc was not merely an excellent oboist; he [...]

December 1, 2013

But the Melody Lingers On

About to walk across New York City’s Central Park on a sunny winter day, I suddenly heard the strains of Santa Claus is Coming to Town wafting out of a nearby workman’s truck radio.  What a silly melody, I thought to myself absentmindedly.  Twenty minutes later, I had crossed the park but to my consternation, [...]

November 1, 2013

And What Then?

I have a hard time getting my brain around abstractions.  So when I read with alarm about the latest debt limit crisis in the United States Congress and the possibility that Uncle Sam might actually close our government’s doors, I tried to imagine the situation in terms of my own profession—music—and, even more specifically, in [...]

October 1, 2013

Calling Planet Earth

Dear Key of Strawberry, Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Brzjk and I live on planet Ulfz located many light years from you.  We have been aware for some time that life exists on your planet—I believe you call it Earth.  Nevertheless, we Ulfzians have been reluctant to make contact with you.  Quite [...]

September 1, 2013


One year into a 23-month mission, NASA‘s Mars rover Curiosity has assured its place in the history of planetary exploration as the most ambitious and one of the most successful attempts to date to explore the surface of another planet. Curiosity’s data allowed the mission’s science team to establish that Mars once had an environment [...]
Tom Heimberg

August 1, 2013


I met Tom Heimberg during junior high school recess when we were both twelve years old. The popular sport during recess was something we unofficially called Chinese handball—a game played with a rubber ball against an upright surface. Tom and I became quite professional at discussing topspin, slices, drop shots, and fake outs, but as [...]

July 8, 2013

Drunk as a Skunk

I know of no one among all my musician friends and colleagues who will drink anything alcoholic before performing. Even those who enjoy an occasional glass of wine, beer, or an enticing margarita are very, very careful to imbibe only after rather than before a concert. Simply put, it’s hard enough to play well while [...]

June 1, 2013


We were enjoying an after-concert snack at the hotel restaurant when David Soyer, our cellist in the Guarneri String Quartet, took a sip of his beer, leaned back expansively, and announced in a mock Eastern European accent, “I rub stick against rope.  Make many zlotys.” No, we weren’t somewhere in Poland where people deal in [...]

May 1, 2013


Little Suzy was in the midst of working on a piece with her piano teacher when she suddenly stopped playing, crossed out Johann Sebastian Bach’s name at the top of the page, and wrote her own name above it. “Why did you do that, Suzy?” her surprised teacher asked. “He’s not playing the piece. I [...]
Thou Shalt Not Steal

April 1, 2013

A Bible Story

I once stole a bible. It was wrong, I shouldn’t have done it, and part of me would like to forget that it ever happened. But this day, April Fools’ Day, seems as good a time as any to tell the story of my shameful deed. The theft took place when I was a young [...]

March 4, 2013


Rudolf Kolisch’s name came up while I was at the Marlboro Music Festival this summer. The distinguished violinist had been a Marlboro participant late in life. Along with his other remarkable accomplishments, Kolisch was the rare violinist who played the instrument “left-handed.” Because of a childhood injury to the middle finger of his left hand, [...]

February 2, 2013

Fritz Kreisler

“Did you ever get to perform the Fritz Kreisler String Quartet?”  I’ve been asked this question again and again over the years, undoubtedly in response to a scene in “High Fidelity,” the 1987 documentary about our Guarneri String Quartet. In that scene, I bring the Kreisler String Quartet in A Minor, a work I dearly [...]

December 28, 2012

The Interview

Giving interviews is something musicians have to do surprisingly often—we usually do them to stir up a little interest and sell a few tickets to our concerts. On one occasion last summer my radio interviewer had done his homework well. He knew a great deal about me, and the music I was going to perform [...]

November 22, 2012

An Open Letter to Sammy Rhodes

You think quitting smoking is hard? Try quitting a string quartet. My four-step program might help violist Samuel Rhodes, who just announced his retirement from the Juilliard String Quartet at the end of the season. The following is my letter to him. Dear Sammy, I read the news of your retirement from the Juilliard String [...]

September 7, 2012

A Night to Remember

Have you ever heard a performance that you will never forget no matter how long you live? I have. And have you ever gone out on a blind date with someone who is known to thousands, perhaps even millions of people—just about everyone except you? I have. Not only that, but both events happened on [...]
Arnold Giving Colbourn Commencement Speech

May 7, 2012

Colburn School Commencement Address

By Arnold Steinhardt Good morning. I’m honored to be speaking to you at this 2012 Colburn School commencement and equally honored to teach at the school. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and it pleases me immensely to know that Colburn, with its faculty of distinguished musicians, is now the pride of the [...]
The Steinhardt String Quartet, Press Poster

April 1, 2012

The Steinhardt String Quartet

Hartz-4-Artz your internet culture source April 1, 2012 From the Music Desk: Arnold Steinhardt To Form New String Quartet Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet that retired in 2009, has announced plans to form a new string quartet. Mr. Steinhardt recently told Hartz-4-Artz reporter N. Nam Trebor that he deeply misses the [...]
Arnold Steinhardt Sixth Grade Class Photo

March 1, 2012

Teach Me!

What makes a good teacher? For that matter, what makes a bad one? Some teachers merely pass on information. Others excite a student’s interest through their own love for the subject. Some teachers employ fear and intimidation. A very few manage to teach you how to become your own teacher. The craft (or is it [...]
Jascha Heifetz

February 2, 2012


Mr. Jascha Heifetz (born 1901, died 1987) Violin Virtuoso Section Heaven February 2, 2012 Dear Mr. Heifetz, Today, February 2nd, is your birthday. Happy birthday, sir, and my deepest thanks for the miracle of your artistry. I have listened to you play the violin throughout my entire life—actually my entire life plus nine months to [...]
The Arnold Steinhardt Metronome

January 5, 2012

You’re On Your Own

My daughter, Natasha, once came home from her weekly piano lesson and asked to use my metronome—a request from her teacher. I told Natasha that I didn’t own a metronome. At the next lesson, her teacher insisted I go out and buy one. The clerk at my local music store looked at me oddly as [...]
Meryl Streep as Roberta Guaspari

December 4, 2011


I began to study the violin with a series of teachers who taught music and the instrument, but who as time went by also saw fit to teach me the elusive craft of performance. Toscha Seidel, an early teacher, challenged me to break out of my shell and show the music’s emotional character. My next [...]
Rock Concert T-shirt

November 1, 2011


I had just settled down with my ice cream cone in front of Ralph’s Pretty Good Café when a garbage truck rumbled to a stop directly in front of me. To my consternation, the driver got out with the motor still running and noisily began to empty garbage cans into the truck. No, I said [...]
Manuscript of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge

October 3, 2011

Opus 130

Not long before I graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1959, John Dalley, a fellow violin student, asked me whether I’d like to work on Beethoven’s late String Quartet in B Flat, Opus 130. The Paganini String Quartet had recently performed at the school, ending their program with another late Beethoven Quartet, Opus [...]
Arnold Steinhardt's Violin Case

September 9, 2011

My Violin Case

What’s a violin case for? Well, a violin for one. And bows to go along with it, of course. What else? Extra strings, rosin, and a mute. Also, a tuning fork and chin rest fastener. Oh, I almost forgot—music stored in the case cover pouch. That’s about it, right? Wrong. At least, forgive the pun, [...]
Rudolf Serkin, pianist, and Arnold Steinhardt, violinist, 1980

August 2, 2011

Marlboro at Sixty

The following article appeared in a booklet, “60th Anniversary Reflections on Marlboro Music”, that celebrated the event with a weekend gathering at Marlboro on July 9 and 10 of hundreds of participants past and present from all corners of the globe. In August, 1957, Jaime Laredo and I, two young violinists hoping for a career [...]
Stage F-F-Fright

July 1, 2011

Stage F-F-Fright

I must have been only seven or eight years old when I first performed in public. My teacher, Mr. Moldrem, had me play two melodies, one from the Beethoven Violin Concerto and the other from Brahms First Symphony. Moldrem, well known for his ability to teach youngsters, presented his students regularly in concerts. Before the [...]
Del Gesu Beare, Scrolls

June 6, 2011

An Old Friend

Sam, a widower in the autumn of his life, lost thirty pounds, had a face lift, dyed his hair, took elocution lessons, bought a smart new wardrobe, withdrew all the money from his bank, and flew to Miami for a brand new life. Soon after, Sam met a lovely woman at his hotel’s casino and [...]
Practice, Practice

May 3, 2011

Practice, Practice

After the Second World War, my parents were able to rent out a room attached to the back of our garage due to a severe housing shortage. The rumpus room, as they called it, was sparsely furnished, but that was enough for a succession of people to perch there for the time they needed to [...]
The Duo

April 1, 2011

The Duo

After forty-five years making music together, the Guarneri String Quartet played its very last concert on October 27, 2009. People often ask me whether I miss playing quartets. Of course I do. I miss not only the concerts, but also the camaraderie, the rehearsals, the traveling, the exotic food, and the interesting people along the [...]

March 1, 2011

A Meditation on the Meditation

In the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, the courtesan, Thaïs, reflects on her past life of worldly pleasure. Looking into the mirror, she worries that her beauty will soon fade. The monk, Athanaël, arrives at her palace, admonishing Thaïs that there is one kind of love she does not yet know. He exhorts her to [...]
Forty Year Story

February 3, 2011

Forty Year Story

In the spring of 1970, Judith Serkin, a cello student at the Curtis Institute of Music, told me that she and four other students at school, cellist Peter Wiley, violist Geraldine Lamboley, and violinists Lucy Chapman and Jill Levy, hoped to study Schubert’s Two Cello Quintet during the next semester. Judith asked whether I would [...]
Perfect Pitch Tablets from Tone Deaf Comics

January 3, 2011

Perfect What?

My daughter, Natasha, told me recently about a gifted young boy she knows who has learned to read at an early age and already plays the piano with astonishing originality. As if to offer a final and irrefutable proof of the boy’s extraordinary musical talent, Natasha added one more thing. “You know, he’s got perfect [...]
David Soyer

December 6, 2010


David Soyer, cellist and founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away on February 24, 2010—one day after his 86th birthday. Michael Tree, violist, and John Dalley and I, violinists, the other founding members, played in the quartet with Dave for almost forty years and we knew him for close to fifty. Peter Wiley, [...]
Paganini's Birthday

October 27, 2010

Paganini’s Birthday

Today, October 27th, is Niccolo Paganini’s birthday. Below is a reprint of an article I wrote on this occasion which appeared in the October issue of The Strad magazine. Next, as an attachment, is Caprice #24.25, my arrangement of Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Finally, I include a letter that to my great astonishment Paganini just wrote [...]
Photo from Opus

October 4, 2010


I saw Opus a while ago, a play by Michael Hollinger that deals with the inner workings of a string quartet. Since I have been a violinist in the Guarneri String Quartet for many decades, you can imagine that I awaited the opening curtain with some anticipation. The subject of my profession is not exactly [...]
Hermes/Mercury, God of Travel

September 6, 2010


I hear a lot of griping from my friends these days about travel. Trains are much more luxurious and dependable in Europe. Japanese taxi drivers wear white gloves and decorate their cars with curtains while in New York City, taxis are, well, let’s not even talk about it. And the deluxe plane travel of years [...]

August 2, 2010

In a Sentimental Mood

I recently heard an all-Stravinsky concert performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. A few days later, a review of the evening by Anthony Tommasini appeared in the April 23, 2010 edition of the New York Times. A comment he made about the orchestra’s rendition of The Firebird Suite caught my eye: “The Firebird’s Lullaby, [...]
Dinner Music

July 1, 2010

Dinner Music

Uncharacteristically early for an appointment, I slowed my pace up Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue. Better early than late, I thought, but what on earth was I to do with myself for the next 30 minutes. As I approached 86th St., the answer appeared almost by magic in the form of Papaya King, a hot dog stand [...]
Disney Hall

June 2, 2010

Something New, Something Old

I happened to be performing in Los Angeles just as the city’s new and glittering Disney Hall opened several years ago. A week earlier, I called my mother who was living in Southern California to tell her of my arrival. “Oh, wonderful,” she said. “You can take me to Disney Hall.” That was fine with [...]
Joe Vita

May 4, 2010

Joe Vita

I left the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University last year after having taught a graduate violin class there for over two decades. Among other things, I miss the lively conversations I often had with colleagues at student recitals, oral exams, juries, or over a pizza at the local Italian restaurant. Topic [...]
Twelve Note Story

April 23, 2010

Twelve Note Story

Take a deep breath and try to settle down. I know, I know. The task is daunting, but you’ve worked hard. Just be relaxed. Be focused. And now get practical. For starters, think of a good tempo. Not so easy based on the first two or three notes that are slow and deeply personal. Better [...]
News Alert

March 30, 2010

News Alert

The United States Bureau of Weights and Measures has just announced at a national news conference that chamber music may cause global warming. The issue first came to the bureau’s attention when directors of several distinguished music conservatories notified it of alarming and unexplained rises in temperature at odd times of the school day. Government [...]
Sophisticated Traveler

February 28, 2010

Sophisticated Traveler

I planned to take the 2 PM Eastern Airlines shuttle from New York City. That would have gotten me into Boston by three with plenty of time to grab a bite, take a taxi to Jordan Hall, change, practice some, and relax a bit before the Guarneri String Quartet concert at 8 PM. But an [...]
Grammy Award

January 18, 2010

Grammy Awards

The Guarneri String Quartet was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Chamber Music Performance this year for our Hungarian Album on RCA Red Seal. The CD consists of Ern? Dohnányi’s Quartets Nos. 2 and 3, and Zoltán Kodály’s Quartet No. 2, three works of striking beauty. The Grammy Awards (originally called [...]
Shall We Dance?

January 4, 2010

Shall We Dance?

Many years ago, I had occasion to play a Bach Partita for the pianist and scholar, Arthur Loesser. When I finished, Loesser asked me whether I knew how to dance the partita’s five movements. I vaguely knew that the movements were based on old dance forms, but I had assumed that the dance steps themselves [...]
Looking for Work

December 1, 2009

Looking for Work

The Guarneri String Quartet retired, yet Arnold Steinhardt continues to perform in public. Photo by Dorothea von Haeften. Violinist in Recently Retired String Quartet Looking for Work * Skills Proficient in chamber music. Works best with people willing to overlook occasional lapses in intonation, phrasing, and tone. Performs virtuoso solo works, but no higher than [...]
Birth Pains

November 4, 2009

Birth Pains

Mozart’s String Quartet, K. 421 in D Minor, occupies a special place in the hearts of the Guarneri String Quartet. It was the very first music we read through after deciding to form as a group. Why that work? Hard to remember after all these years, but I would guess that its emotion charged and [...]
The Guarneri Quartet

October 6, 2009

For the Very Last Time

On June 12, 2007, the Guarneri String Quartet sent out the following announcement: Dear Friends, We, the Guarneri String Quartet, have decided to retire at the end of the 2008-9 season, our forty-fifth year before the public. This has not only been a long journey, but a deeply satisfying one as well. What could be [...]
Gray's Papaya

September 1, 2009

Gray’s Papaya

“We’ll drive you home,” said Frank Salomon, an old friend and long-time presenter of the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts at Washington Irving High School. The Guarneri String Quartet had just finished a performance there, the last ever on the series before our retirement. Moments later, Frank behind the wheel, his wife Martha, my wife Dorothea, and [...]
Second Concert

August 3, 2009

Second Concert

The following is a slightly extended version of Second Concert, that appeared in the June publication of the new magazine Listen: Life with Classical Music. Our string quartet played a concert at Emory University in March of this year. Whenever I’m in Atlanta, I stay with my friends, Murphy Davis and Ed Loring, ministers who [...]
Arthur Rubinstein

July 7, 2009


A member of the audience, somebody I’d seen backstage more than once before, came up to me recently after a concert I had just played. He smiled broadly, shook my hand enthusiastically, and said, “Great concert… really.” In the midst of thanking him, that last word, “really,” finally registered. Really? Excuse me sir, but what [...]
Life, Death, Music

June 13, 2009

Life, Death, Music

Last summer, Emily Hsiao, a teenager whom I’d never met, e-mailed me. She asked whether the Guarneri Quartet would have time to listen to music students in her high school when we played in Ann Arbor, Michigan that winter. Only hours after my visit to the school, a brutal attack on one of those students [...]
Almost on the Riviera

May 11, 2009

Almost on the Riviera

Did you always believe what your parents told you when you were young? I certainly did. I may not have always had the good sense to obey them or heed their advice but their wisdom was unquestionable. Take education, for example. My parents believed mightily in the importance of formal knowledge and therefore the need [...]
The Abode

April 1, 2009

The Abode

Alter Bock, a dedicated amateur string quartet player, has just announced plans for the creation of a home for retired chamber musicians. “I’m concerned that these wonderful musicians I’ve heard and admired most of my life have a nice place to spend their golden years.” He spoke to me from the music room in his [...]
Yehudi Menuhin

March 5, 2009

Genie in a Bottle

I ran into the violinist, Jennifer Koh, not long ago. Jenny is a highly gifted young musician who happens to have a keen interest in string players of old. At some point, our conversation turned to Yehudi Menuhin, one of the great violinists of the twentieth century. We talked about Menuhin’s instantly recognizable style, the [...]
A Brush with Fame

February 8, 2009

The Brush With Fame

Ah, Los Angeles! So-called city of angels, a place where the sun shines almost always, where palm trees flourish, a place that knows no winter-in short the city where I was born and raised. But in my adolescence, Los Angeles was much more than a hedonist’s playground. Thanks to the movie industry, the balmy weather, [...]
New Years Thoughts

January 1, 2009

New Year’s Thoughts

A drawing in the New Yorker magazine several years ago depicted a tawdry back alley with a few empty cans and bottles strewn about. The caption above read: Life without Mozart. Its message apparently affected many of us. I saw the drawing on peoples’ desks, walls, and refrigerator doors for years afterward. As a member [...]
The Swan

December 1, 2008

The Swan

When I was eleven years old, my violin teacher assigned me The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. I had no idea that The Swan was a famous cello solo or that it was part of a much larger work, The Carnival of the Animals. I had never even heard of its composer, Saint-Saëns, or seen his [...]
Mr. Oliver

November 10, 2008

Mr. Oliver

I enrolled in a music appreciation class when I was a high school student. Near the beginning of the semester, the teacher of the class took ill and a substitute, Mr. Oliver, replaced him. Mr. Oliver knew his subject well. He played us everything on the school record player from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony to Peruvian [...]
Tooth Talk

October 8, 2008

Tooth Talk

I was having my teeth cleaned by the dental hygienist the other day when she offhandedly asked whether my children were also in the music industry. Fortunately, with my mouth wide open and filled with dental gear, I was only capable of answering with a few rather inarticulate and muffled noises. Otherwise, I might have [...]
What Good is Music

September 11, 2008

What Good is Music?

[Originally written and published in September 2002]. I lost no loved ones on 11 September 2001, nor was my home destroyed or my work affected in any palpable way by the tragic attack on our nation; and yet, the events of that morning have prodded me to look inward and take personal inventory. As a [...]
A Tale of Three Violinists

August 10, 2008

A Tale of Three Violinists

I stood in the artist’s dressing room, warming up nervously before my sole rehearsal with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. For a twenty-two-year-old violinist just starting a career, performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with this distinguished group of musicians was an important engagement. My palms were sweating, my heart beat rapidly, and I began to pace back [...]
Last Words to a Son

July 11, 2008

Last Words to a Son

Andrea, the head nurse at the assisted living home where my mother has lived for many years, called last month to tell me that mother had stopped eating, that she was drifting in and out of consciousness, and that she was failing rapidly. The next day, my son Alexej and I flew to Southern California [...]
A Dog's Tale

June 12, 2008

A Dog’s Tale

I’m a wonderful teacher. I know, you don’t have to tell me. It’s not nice to brag. But truth above all, I always say. Here. Let me show you why I’m so good. We have a dog named Tessa. As far as I can tell, Tessa doesn’t have much feeling for music one way or [...]
Remembering Izzy

May 10, 2008

Remembering Izzy

Photo by Allen Cohen Every one of us has to die. We know that. We also know that sooner or later all of us will be forgotten. Even Einstein. Even Beethoven. Nevertheless, we humans doggedly strive for meaning in our lives and harbor the secret (or not so secret) wish to accomplish something of sufficient [...]
A Noteworthy Day

March 2, 2008

A Noteworthy Day

I heard a great deal of music yesterday. Let me rephrase that. Yesterday, I heard a multitude of sounds—some longer, some shorter, higher or lower, louder or softer—as I made my way through my waking hours. The sounds appeared sometimes as individual tones and sometimes in groups of two and three. They often repeated themselves [...]
Solo Bow

February 2, 2008

Solo Bow

The Guarneri String Quartet played a concert in Wisconsin several years ago. Why do I remember that this particular concert was in Wisconsin? Probably because Wisconsin is a cheese-making state and a delicious selection of cheese was set out at the after-concert party. It’s funny what details remain vibrant in one’s mind, especially in light [...]
In the Key of Strawberry

January 1, 2008

In the Key of Strawberry

An unexpected thought interrupted the sentence I was reading in the morning newspaper, followed by several other thoughts in quick succession. I had just remembered last night’s dream: My wife, Dorothea, and I were riding on a bus in a foreign country. Through the window we espied an open-air flea market with an array of [...]
Hiroshi Iizuka

December 1, 2007

Cousin Sam

“How much time you giving me today, maestro?” This was more or less the way Sam began most of our phone conversations. Sam Schloss was my cousin, more specifically: my mother’s mother’s sister’s son. I would usually call him during a break in one of the open rehearsals the Guarneri String Quartet held during its [...]