October 19, 2022
In the summer of 1965, one year after our Guarneri String Quartet had formed, we toured Europe for the first time. Boarding TWA flight 10 to Geneva at what was then known as New York City’s Idlewild Airport, I remember not only being elated that we’d actually survived as a quartet for an entire year, but that our immediate future was in place.
I’m a bit of a pack rat and have saved almost all of my yearly date books, so I can tell you exactly when and where we performed: June 11, Basel; June 21, Amsterdam; June 22, Cologne; June 24, Berlin. And then on June 25, our quartet stopped in the medieval city of Spoleto, Italy, to perform at the Festival of Two Worlds. I use the word “stopped” intentionally, for rather than the usual hit and run of daily performances, each in different cities and often even different countries, we stayed in Spoleto for an entire month.
Charles Wadsworth, the director of the Festival’s noon chamber music concerts, had invited us to participate along with several other mostly young musicians. We were to perform as the Guarneri String Quartet, but also in various combinations with the others. Since the concerts were at noon and fairly short, we almost always eagerly rushed off afterwards to one of the nearby restaurants, where heavenly Italian cuisine awaited us.
The chamber music festival had already run some of its course when Charlie excitedly announced that he had just invited a young cellist to join us for the concerts. Her name was Jacqueline du Pré, and all Charlie would say was, “Wait till you hear her!” A few days later, du Pré, looking to my mind more like a country milkmaid than a concert cellist, walked unassumingly on stage, smiled sweetly at the audience, and performed one of the Bach Cello Suites in a manner that gave me goosebumps. The music poured out of her without restraint or effort—lovingly, joyfully, as if a gift not just to herself but also for us, the listeners.
With such a treasure among us, Charlie quickly put Jacki, as we called her, to good use. For one, he scheduled Jacki and me to perform the Mendelssohn D minor Piano Trio, with Thomas Schippers playing the piano. I knew Schippers not as a pianist, but as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra when I made my solo debut with them years earlier.
At the first rehearsal, Schippers apologized in advance for all the mistakes he was about to make. He confessed that he hadn’t played the piano in ages. We indeed heard mistakes, and quite a lot of them, produced with great gusto by Schippers, but none from Jacki either during the rehearsals or the concert. Her playing was unerring and always filled with meaning. Not only that, Jacki was so good-natured, always smiling, and so comfortable to be with that the rehearsals glided by quickly and effortlessly. It was quite impossible not to be touched by her.
I assume, or at least hope, that Tommy, Jacki, and I gave a respectable performance of Mendelssohn’s Trio, but one specific moment will remain in my heart forever. The fourth and last movement is mostly in a somewhat turbulent D minor key, but at one point, an open-hearted melody in B-flat major, begun by the cello and immediately joined by the violin, cheerfully casts the minor aside. Jacki swayed with the music and unabashedly smiled as we now played together. But in the melody’s next appearance, the cello emerges much more boldly from the musical drama that precedes it, and the violin refrains from joining in—at least for the moment. Then Jacki lifted her eyes to me—printed notes be damned—as she played the next long, sustained notes, and when I finally joined her in the melody that had miraculously evolved into the exuberant key of D major, her face filled with utter, ecstatic joy—as if to proclaim that she had just experienced the true meaning of life.
Of course, how could Jacki, as well as Tommy, I, and all our listeners not be deeply affected by that rapturous moment created by Mendelssohn’s genius? But it was also the pure Jacki that I had already witnessed earlier in her Bach Suite performance, and that I would hear so many memorable times in the future. In her music making, but also in the way her body rocked with abandon and in her exuberant smile, what Jacki felt burst forth—she could not help herself.
As the Festival progressed and we musicians made friends with her, accompanied by delicious post-concert Italian cooking, modest Jacki never mentioned the spectacular success she was already having as a concert cellist, and that she was about to record the Elgar Cello Concerto with Sir John Barbirolli conducting the London Symphony Orchestra—a performance that to this day is revered by music lovers.
Our Guarneri String Quartet often came to perform in London, and, if I was lucky, in the following few years I would have lunch or dinner with Jacki. On stage she was flamboyant; in person charming, unpretentious, and often very funny. At one dinner with several of her friends, Jacki, sitting next to me, began talking about her father’s Drott, a machine I’d never heard of that levels and compacts soil. You’d think that a great cellist would talk about music, concerts, successes, but no, Jacki went on and on to great laughter about that Drott, what it could do, how her dad loved it, and her concern that he not become too emotionally involved with it.
In 1967 Jacki married the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. For those of you who have never heard Jacqueline du Pré, there are magical performances of the Elgar and Dvorak Cello Concertos with Daniel conducting that can be seen on the internet, as well as Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words with her mother Iris at the piano.
As the years went on, I saw little of Jacki, so I was excited to attend a concert in February, 1973- she and Pinchas Zukerman performing Brahms Double Concerto for Cello and Violin, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. But from the beginning of the opening cello solo, I knew something was wrong. Jacki was struggling with the notes, and Jacki never ever struggled with the notes. On the contrary, there had always been a sense of utter ease as she tackled the most ornery passages in the cello repertoire. Jacki managed to soldier through the concerto to its end, but I could not imagine what had just transpired. Was she sick? Depressed? Under some kind of medication that had affected her playing? As it turned out, that performance was the last Jacki would ever play in public. Later, she spoke about being unable to feel the weight of her bow, and about having lost sensation in her fingers so that she had to guide them only visually. In October of that year Jacki was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, and its course is unpredictable. For Jacki, she taught cello, worked among other things on her own edition of the Elgar Cello Concerto, and managed to enjoy her life as best she could while the disease progressed. In an interview some eleven years after Jacki stopped performing, she was still able to answer all questions with her usual directness, honesty, and disarming smile, now somewhat muted. That perpetual smile was undoubtedly the reason her nickname for family and close friends had always been Smiley.
I was able to visit Jacki, now in a wheelchair, one last time in 1986, the year before she died on this day, October 19. She was forty-two years old. What a tragedy for anyone to come down with multiple sclerosis, and in Jacki’s case to have her brilliant career cut short. But I also think of the deep pleasure her playing gave to all of us, and that glorious time long ago in Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio, when she looked up at me with utter joy as the music burst into D major.
At that moment, Smiley, I also experienced the true meaning of life.
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