Today we’re joined by our good friend and LA Phil principal cello, Robert deMaine. Bob tells us about his childhood, his musical family and an early teacher who gave him a complete musical education, including piano and composition.
He also unpacks how he fell out of love with the cello during his teen years and took an extended break from playing. Eventually he found his way back and went on a tear, pursuing a solo career and at the same time winning principal jobs in Hartford, Detroit, and finally Los Angeles.
Bob doesn’t hold back as he discusses anxiety, negative self-talk, and the long road toward mastery of an instrument.
Key Points From This Episode:
- Different orchestral seating arrangements
- Bob’s upbringing, important places and inspiration from his family
- Having and then losing the best music teacher in the world
- The difference between relative pitch and perfect pitch
- Disasters in ice cream shops and disasters on stage
- Bob’s early jobs in music and testing boundaries with senior musicians
- The Detroit Symphony and the strike that ended with Robert moving to LA
- Bob’s audition for the LA Phil and the hand problem he had leading up to it
- The steps toward improvement and how they widen as you grow as a musician
- Differences between teaching and coaching; bringing out the best in students
- Recreating sounds, learning accents and the power of cultivating the ear
- The event that precipitated Bob’s performance anxiety, and the way through it
- Upcoming projects for Bob, including his
“I grew up playing on my mother’s cello, and my sister played the cello that my mother played when she was a child, and it was a real beater.” — @robertdemaine [0:06:35]
“I don’t think I would have played as well as I did had it not been exactly that way. So much of it has to do with just timing.” — @robertdemaine [0:39:15]
“I’ve never really separated how one prepares for a symphony concert versus how one prepares for a concerto.” — @robertdemaine [0:39:51]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
- Robert deMaine on Twitter
- Robert deMaine
- Strings Magazine
- Mariano Rivera
- Leonard Rose
- Janos Starker
- Eastern Music Festival
- Central State University
- Good Will Hunting
- Days of Wine and Roses
- Irving Klein Competition
- Paul Paray
- George Szell
- Neeme Jarvi
- Joseph Silverstein
- Sliding Doors
- The Matrix
- Goofus and Gallant
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
- Guido Lamell
- Anthony Bourdain
- Now Hear This
- Joe Rogan
[00:00:00] NC: Hi and welcome back to Stand Partners for Life. I am thrilled to be here not only with Akiko.
[00:00:07] AT: Hello.
[00:00:07] NC: But our good friend and close colleague, Bob deMaine, principal cello here at the L.A. Phil, and actually we’re right here in Disney Hall, the bowels of the hall.
[00:00:16] BD: Our home away from home.
[00:00:18] NC: Yeah.
[00:00:32] BD: Thanks for having me on. I feel like I’m sort of your honorary stand partner, because I sit next to you in the orchestra.
[00:00:37] NC: Yeah. Actually – I mean, yeah, the usual. If everybody’s there, we’ve got Martin, and then I’m sitting second right next to him, and then on my other side is you. When I first came to the orchestra, they had the violas where you are instead. So principal viola was on my other side.
[00:00:53] BD: The viola was there?
[00:00:55] NC: They did.
[00:00:55] BD: That’s something I’ve never seen before.
[00:00:58] AT: Wrong seating number two.
[00:00:59] BD: That’s right. Isn’t that David Sanders, like his lingo from Chicago or something?
[00:01:04] AT: I think we’re currently in wrong seating number four.
[00:01:06] BD: I like right seating number one. I mean, cello is on the left.
[00:01:10] NC: The outside.
[00:01:10] BD: Yeah, the outside.
[00:01:12] AT: Everybody wants the outside.
[00:01:13] BD: So much more room over there. I don’t care how it sounds. It’s just so much more convenient.
[00:01:18] NC: Yeah, that’s the best reason to sit concertmaster, right? You get all the room you need.
[00:01:23] BD: Yeah. As long as it’s your good side.
[00:01:24] NC: That’s right. Well, thank you for chatting with us today. Your name has come up in several of the episodes.
[00:01:32] BD: Oh no!
[00:01:33] NC: Only in the best way. When we started this show, I knew that I eventually wanted to have colleagues from the symphony. And we’re 30 episodes in an actually you’re the first guest from the L.A. Phil.
[00:01:47] BD: Oh! Nice. I’m honored.
[00:01:48] NC: To be on the show.
[00:01:49] BD: That’s great. 30 episodes, that’s –
[00:01:52] NC: You haven’t listened to them all?
[00:01:53] BD: I have listened to all of them. I’m going to catch up tonight.
[00:01:56] AT: They just flew by, because he was enjoying them so much.
[00:02:00] NC: No. But this is going to be fun. Got a lot of topics we could get into. I know you didn’t want to plan it out, which is perfect, but I figured we could start for those who don’t know you already kind of briefly how you got here. I mean, you grew up not on one of the coasts. You have that in common with me.
[00:02:16] BD: I grew up in flyover country. Probably the reddest of the red states, Oklahoma. My dad was in the U.S. Army. He was captain in the U.S. Army and everywhere my dad was stationed, my parents, they had a kid. So two of my sisters were born in Watertown, New York, Fort Drum. One of my sisters was born in Wichita near Fort Leavenworth, where the big prison is, and near Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. I actually was born in Oklahoma City. So that’s where we ended up. I’m the lone Okie in the family.
[00:02:43] NC: I mean, everybody always asks us like, “When did you know you want to be a violinist?” Yeah, I’m still kind of figuring that out. How intense was the childhood? Did you end up going to conservatory, that sort of thing?
[00:02:56] BD: Well, it’s interesting, because my mom’s family was – she’s a daughter of Russian immigrants to Chicago, and they all played an instrument. All six siblings played piano and another instrument. My mom was a cellist. She was actually quite a fine cellist. She ended up going to DePaul University and studying there. Then she quit inexplicably. But we’d get into that another time.
My dad used to talk about his dad playing, my grandpa playing squeezebox. So we put the accordion. It was very rustic. From my dad’s side, we had the sort of barn dance, sort of square dance type of music, the reels and the French-Canadian music from his side. My mom’s side was the more buttoned up and cultured side.
[00:03:38] NC: My great-grandfather was the barn fiddler in Western Pennsylvania.
[00:03:43] BD: Oh wow! Yeah, there’s always one in every family.
[00:03:47] AT: Not mine. Yeah.
[00:03:50] NC: They didn’t have way, way back in –
[00:03:50] AT: No. maybe like a barn koto player or something.
[00:03:55] BD: So music was kind of a thing in my family for a lot of generations. My older sister, Mary, she was a very fine cellist and I wanted to be just like her. I just worshiped my sister. I still do.
So I used to sneak in her practice area and she would let me try to play her cello when I pretty little, and I remember the very first piece I played on the cello was a piece called The Fart Song. Am I allowed to say that? It was actually a section – later I found the music in my sister stack of music. It’s from the Bloch Prayer.
[00:04:29] NC: Wait. So it was a written piece of –
[00:04:32] BD: It was a piece of music. The central section has this passage on the C string. It’s really low, and she used to sing these made-up words, these made-up lyrics to this stuff on the C string and I just thought that was the best. So she not only cultivated my higher sense for music, but also my sense of humor.
[00:04:52] NC: I think that Mozart and his sister wrote letters like that too.
[00:04:56] BD: Well, nobody is going to be writing about me and my sister, Mary, and The Fart Song. But anyway, that’s another story. Mary, she was really my first inspiration to play the cello. So I kind of learned from her and I was more interested in playing baseball.
In third grade, I was 7? 8? I think I was 8. There was a wonderful school music program. You could choose a string instrument or you could choose a band instrument, and I actually chose both. I chose the cello, of course, because I already sort of knew how to play, and played trumpet as well, very badly. I also played piano, because we all took piano lessons and all that, just like my mom’s people.
So the instructor noticed that I had some talent and he got me hooked up with the teacher to whom I owe everything, absolutely everything to. Her name is Jane Smith. One of the finest string teachers in the world as far as I’m concerned. I’m actually in the middle of writing an article and I’m hoping the pitch it to Strings or [inaudible 00:05:59] Magazine in praise of the starters, because it’s always the closers that get a lot of the credit, most of the credit, at least in our business. To use kind of a baseball analogy, it’s like the Mariano Rivera gets a lot –
[00:06:15] NC: He won the game.
[00:06:15] BD: He gets the win, yeah. You see studied with Leonard Rose, Janos Starker —. You see all these designer names, but you don’t see the ones who started you out. Recently, I went to visit her and I brought her cello home with me and she used to loan me that instrument.
[00:06:33] NC: You asked her first.
[00:06:34] BD: Well, yeah. Well, I grew up playing on my mother’s cello, and my sister played the cello that my mother played when she was a child, and it was a real beater. I mean, this thing was awful. I grew up playing on that, and despite that, I did well in like music competitions and stuff like that. My teacher saw to it that I had a good instrument for the more important things like auditions, and it played a pretty big debut concert when I was really young with the Oklahoma City Symphony.
She always let me use her cello, which is a modern Italian instrument. At that point, I was probably 11, 12 years old, I was at her house almost every day getting piano lessons, getting cello lessons. It was just like a game.
[00:07:22] NC: She taught you piano as well.
[00:07:22] BD: She taught me everything. I had no idea that the thorough musical education that I was receiving at the time, but I really looked at her as a second mother.
[00:07:34] NC: Just to say too, even today, I mean, you can sit down and play piano. You compose as well, which we may get into.
[00:07:41] BD: Well, I mean I’m an amateur at both of those things, but we never pretend to –
[00:07:46] AT: Yeah, we don’t do those things.
[00:07:49] NC: I mean, you probably could.
[00:07:52] BD: If you turned over that stone –
[00:07:54] NC: There’s a lot of things I could do.
[00:07:55] BD: Yeah. I mean, who has the time, right? I like to do more.
[00:07:58] AT: I almost failed piano. So pretty sure I can’t.
[00:08:02] BD: I remember when I decided piano is when it started to get hard. Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, the Last Movement. I can’t play that. Are you kidding? Anyway –
[00:08:12] AT: Yeah, that’s – I think it got hard for me when I have to like play two things at the same time. [inaudible 00:08:19].
[00:08:20] BD: Can’t be a slave of two masters. I can only read one line. When I was 12-years-old, I got to play for it Leonard Rose for the first time, and he was my hero, I was at Eastern Music Festival.
[00:08:33] NC: Where was he teaching at that time?
[00:08:34] BD: He was at Juilliard. I think before that, he was a Curtis, but many years before. He wanted me to come study with him at Juilliard or to study a Curtis and then take the train into New York and take lessons with him at Juilliard. Basically, it was arranged that I had gotten accepted into both schools.
[00:08:57] AT: When you were 12. So you were going to –
[00:08:57] BD: When I was 12.
[00:08:58] AT: Okay.
[00:08:59] BD: And it didn’t materialize, because my parents were of very modest means. At that point in their lives and in reflecting on — my father was the first person in his entire family to go to college, to even graduate from high school, and then he joined the military. I think my father really wanted me to follow in his footsteps and he wanted me to do honorable work. The arts, that wasn’t honorable. That wasn’t honest work, if you know what I mean.
So my teacher back in Oklahoma, Jane Smith, she was a member of the Oklahoma City Symphony and also a professor at Central State University. She dropped me as a student. It was like losing a parent, because she was so fed up with my parents that they, A, wouldn’t buy me better cello, and B, we’re so myopic. I don’t know if that’s the right word. Everything works out.
[00:09:49] NC: I mean, did you understand at that point what was happening and why or did you just think she didn’t like you anymore?
[00:09:54] BD: No, I understood. She had two kids of her own and I was a burden. I ended up taking lessons with this wonderful cello teacher in Tulsa named Kari Caldwell. She’s the principal of the Tulsa Philharmonic who had kind of thought that maybe you could go to Eastman. There’s a great cello. Shortly after studying with her, I pretty much quit the cello.
Not because of Kari, but because I was fed up with my parents. I was fed up that sort of my dream was squashed. My other dream was being a catcher for a major league baseball team, but I know I don’t have enough talent as an athlete. So I stopped playing the cello. I hung out with my friends, I did rotten things. I was a terrible kid. Terrible kid, acted out.
[00:10:40] AT: How long did this go on?
[00:10:42] BD: A few years, but I managed to do well in school. I somehow graduated top of my class and all that. But my good friend who is now a cop in Oklahoma City, named Brian, he said to me, “If you don’t go to music school, I’m going to kill you.” I said, “I just want to go to Oklahoma University with you guys.”
[00:11:00] AT: This is so Good Will Hunting.
[00:11:02] BD: I know. It sounds like it’s right out of the script.
[00:11:03] AT: Are you sure this happened? I think it’s actually the end of the Goodwill Hunting.
[00:11:06] BD: This does sound a little –
[00:11:09] AT: Not. That’s great – That’s sweet.
[00:11:11] BD: I entered one of these regional like multi-state music competitions that was pretty well- known in the area in Wichita. It was Wichita State University, and I hadn’t played my cello in several years. Like at least 2-1/2, 3 three years. Practice like mad. I won the competition. I won like 5 grand, and one of the judges of the competition was a voice teacher at Eastman, Thomas Paul, and he was really pitching Eastman. I remember Kari had studied with Ron Leonard, my predecessor here the phil. He was a professor at Eastman for many years before coming out here.
So that name just sort of stuck with me and I decided to only apply to Eastman, and I went to Dallas for the regional audition. I couldn’t even afford a plane ticket to go. At that point, my parents were ill. My father was dying of cancer. My mom had had a stroke. So it was a difficult situation. I went to Eastman expecting like to be put in remedial this and remedial that, but like I tested out of like all the things that –
[00:12:15] NC: Well, sure. I mean, theory and piano.
[00:12:17] BD: Yeah. Most of us in the orchestra, we probably – I would guess like 90% of us have perfect pitch. I’m imagining, right? You guys do.
[00:12:25] NC: We should do a poll. Yeah.
[00:12:28] AT: Next podcast. Next podcast, we just go around to members of the orchestra and ask them to sing A.
[00:12:31] NC: I think some people are proud not to have perfect pitch, kind of like you don’t need perfect pitch to play in tune, which is true.
[00:12:40] BD: I mean, the two disciplines – I mean, relative pitch and perfect pitch are two completely different disciplines, I think. I mean, relative pitch is the ability to – I would say be flexible. You can have a very well-developed sense of perfect pitch and zero relative pitch. I know plenty of crumby musicians have perfect pitch. Anyway, it’s the musicians that have perfect pulse that I’m jealous of. I can’t pick a pulse [inaudible 00:13:04].
[00:13:04] NC: That would be nice.
[00:13:06] AT: Oh, I know. You should see me start sweating bullets when I have to set the tempo on anything. It’s just awful.
[00:13:11] BD: I’m always thinking Washington Post March. I go back or forward from the metronome
[00:13:19] NC: I think that’s about 120.
[00:13:20] BD: 120, right.
[00:13:20] NC: Of course, they’ve got too much coffee.
[00:13:20] AT: Wait, what’s the other – Oh!
[00:13:22] NC: Oh! Star Spangled Banner. Oh, no.
[00:13:26] NC: Stars and Stripes, yeah?
[00:13:26] AT: Oh, yeah. Star and Stripes, of course.
[00:13:29] NC: I don’t know what the tempo marking is for Star Spangled Banner.
[00:13:31] BD: Praise to the Attorney of Jesus from the quartet for the end of time. It’s 44 something to the 16th note. I got a great story about that.
[00:13:41] NC: Just go up from there.
[00:13:41] AT: Oh no.
[00:13:42] BD: Okay. I worked at a veteran clinic around the same time. Being paid under the table to clean cages. It was awful. It was an execrable experience. The worst! One of the worst experiences I had other than growing up Catholic. I have always had a job, like [inaudible 00:14:04]. But I worked at an ice cream store, and it’s called Braum’s.
[00:14:13] AT: I worked at an ice cream store too.
[00:14:13] BD: Did you? I’m sure that you didn’t have the same experience I did.
[00:14:19] AT: Yeah, I was only there for two weeks.
[00:14:20] NC: They still made you clean out animal cages at the ice cream store.
[00:14:24] BD: They did didn’t put me on latrine duty. Yeah, I was pretty far down the food chain there. In Oklahoma, it’s like 110° like every day in the summertime, and the line – the line was just zigzagged out the door. It’s like standing at TSA. Yeah, there’s no TSA pre for ice cream lines.
So everybody had to wear a white button-down shirt, short sleeve shirt. [inaudible 00:14:54] starched, brown apron. The new the new employees wore this big green pin that said, “Hi! I’m a new crew-member of Braum’s ice cream.” Translated, “Hi! I’m going to F-up your order. So please be patient with me.” Most people got to take their pins off after about a week.
[00:15:14] AT: They made you keep it on.
[00:15:16] BD: Yeah. I was absolutely inept. Absolutely inept, because I get nervous –
[00:15:23] AT: Yeah, I know. You want to do it exactly right, and it’s hard. Yeah.
[00:15:27] BD: I know. It’s like the standards that –
[00:15:30] AT: Well, I told you about I got yelled at because I confused. I didn’t know it side-by-side was. So this is [inaudible 00:15:37] and they had – one woman came in and said, “I want chocolate and vanilla side-by-side in a cup.” I said, “Sure,” and I just did the twist and I gave it her. She said, “This is a twist. I asked for side-by-side.” There is a difference in case anyone’s wondering.
[00:15:52] BD: Yeah. Are you allowed to say the word biznatch on here? Wow! That’s heavy. Forgive me for steamrolling over your story with this.
[00:16:03] AT: No. I’m steamrolling you.
[00:16:04] BD: I’m dying to tell you. Okay. There are some orders. I’m next in line. Nice lady, she said, “I’d like a cherry soda.” I’m like, “Okay. All right, cherry soda.” Grabbed the thing, grabbed the cup. Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, Sprite, or 7-Up. I can’t remember. Cherry soda, some other stuff. Then I stick it on those old-fashioned shake machines. [inaudible 00:16:26]. I hadn’t put it in the metal cup. I put it directly in the plastic cup and put the plastic cup on. I got fired on the spot. It was the worst and best day of my life.
[00:16:40] AT: Did it go everywhere?
[00:16:42] BD: It went everywhere. It went all over all the ice cream. Has the sneeze cover for the employees. Went all over that. It went all over grill and it went all over the people. I mean, it was a typhoon. It was like a Dexter kill room. There was that.
[00:17:00] NC: I’m trying to imagine what [inaudible 00:17:01] equivalent of that would be like [inaudible 00:17:05] slow movement of a symphony or something and you just start like [inaudible 00:17:10].
[00:17:13] BD: My first principal gig at Hartford, [inaudible 00:17:15] came to conduct us and it was Beethoven 4, and you know how the Middle Movement. So this bom-bom-bom bom-bom. the timpanist got like a half bar ahead and the orchestra, it sounded like, “Okay, Beethoven. Beethoven.”
All of a sudden it was just – then [inaudible 00:17:36] just stuck his hand — he put his hands [inaudible 00:17:38] and this God awful chord that was like from like Satan’s blow hole. I mean, it was horrible and it ended the Movement. The audience was silent. It was like totally caught with your pants down. It was possibly the worst moment on stage yeah in an orchestra that I’ve ever had. I mean, have witnessed some pretty awful things happening.
[00:18:07] AT: I’m fascinated about this hiatus you took though, I think because I sort of feel like I had a similar –
[00:18:12] BD: I didn’t know what I was going to do. I took up a guitar and bass guitar and I was writing some songs. Actually at that point I thought I might become a priest. I mean, I was like really drifting.
[00:18:23] NC: [inaudible 00:18:25].
[00:18:26] AT: Nathan. You really never –
[00:18:29] BD: That sounds really creepy. Sorry. Sorry.
[00:18:32] AT: Nathan, you were kind of the opposite, I think, I think me also, didn’t think I would become a musician anymore.
[00:18:37] NC: We were kind of saying that earlier today in a bad way, because we were talking to someone else who was talking about a kid and saying, “Wow! That kid can be anything he wants to be.” I was thinking, “Well.” Not that anyone ever came out and said it, but I think the understanding was, “Wow! There’s one thing you can be.”
[00:18:55] AT: Yeah, but that’s in a good way too. You never lost – also, you had a reason for this. For me it was just like I just didn’t like doing it anymore. I just kind of got burnt out. I mean, obviously there’s a like a family reason for you to just look for something else to do.
[00:19:09] BD: Yeah, I kind of like the one thing that I thought gave my life a little bit more meaning.
[00:19:16] AT: The cello. You mean, yeah.
[00:19:16] BD: Yeah, and I felt more connected. Just music in general. I mean, I never really left music at all. You could be, “It never left me,” of whatever. I was a really, really good kid growing up until I reached about that age and I just got rebellious and school counselors were calling my parents, “Smell marijuana, and your son –” Actually, am I allowed to say that in your podcast? That’s terrible.
[00:19:40] NC: Marijuana? I don’t think there’s any –
[00:19:41] BD: Oh, it’s legal.
[00:19:45] AT: They can’t go back and prosecute you because —
[00:19:48] BD: “Order in the court.” It’s funny how I just kind of made my way back, but I ended up going to Eastman. Then after Eastman, I went to Yale. That was about a girl more than it was about the teacher actually, because I might have gone to study with Starker at Indiana, but I decided to go to Paraiso. It ended up being a good decision anyway.
I went to Yale, and then I was just done with school. I was sick of being in school. Then in the meantime I had gotten into Marlboro, which I had sort of reconnected with David Sawyer at that point, and that was a – Breathing in that atmosphere there, getting to play with Galimir and Schneider. My God! Those people – Galimir played Ravel String Quartet for Ravel. I mean, that’s playing Berg Opus 3 with him. He knew every note by heart.
[00:20:43] NC: Well, he had too. I don’t think he could see very well at that point.
[00:20:47] BD: Yeah, I remember joking with him once. I mean, he didn’t joke around with me. He was actually quite –
[00:20:52] NC: I didn’t joke with him either.
[00:20:53] BD: He was quite stern, quite mean with me.
[00:20:56] AT: [inaudible 00:20:56].
[00:20:57] BD: I came in, I was the first person to arrive at rehearsal in Happy Valley I think it was, whatever they call it, the dorm. Those beautiful non-aircon [inaudible 00:21:06]. Sorry. I hope you guys aren’t listening.
[00:21:09] AT: This is all new to me.
[00:21:10] BD: Maybe it’s air-conditioned now. I don’t know, Meadowmount is all different. Do you guys ever go to Meadowmount?
[00:21:16] AT: No.
[00:21:17] NC: No. I never did. I didn’t do that or Encore. No practice camps.
[00:21:21] BD: Yeah. [inaudible 00:21:21] about twice. That was a good one. I don’t know why I went, because all I did was want to break the rules and sneak into the girl’s dorm. That was it.
[00:21:30] NC: I think you had to do that for five hours a day there, right?
[00:21:34] BD: Yeah. Put a cassette tape on of you’re practicing, [inaudible 00:21:37]. Wait. Are those silent? I can’t remember. Yeah, that was really rustic up there when I was there. I mean, it was super – I didn’t even have a blanket. I wrapped myself in my towel at night.
[00:21:51] NC: They didn’t give you a blanket?
[00:21:52] BD: No. I’m a weirdo. I don’t do anything right. Now you have to bring your own – at that time you had to bring your own gear from home. I was like, “Ah! I’ll be fine.”
[00:22:04] AT: So sad.
[00:22:05] BD: No, it’s not sad. I’m just an idiot. So, yeah. God! I’m talking. I’m a chatter box. I’m so sorry.
[00:22:12] AT: It’s a podcast. If you sat here silently, we’d be screwed. Please keep chattering.
[00:22:15] BD: This can be like 19-hour long podcast.
[00:22:21] AT: It can be a multi-parter.
[00:22:24] BD: Because I’m worth it.
[00:22:27] AT: Hey, we’ve been talking about ourselves for 30 episodes. This is a refreshing change for everybody.
[00:22:31] BD: Oh God! This is like Days of Wine and Roses. Where was I? Before Meadowmount, I’m talking about like –
[00:22:37] NC: Well, you were talking about going to Marlboro and reconnecting with David Sawyer.
[00:22:40] BD: Yeah! Oh! The Galimir story. I walk in [inaudible 00:22:42] diamonds and, hill-style pegs, instead they have the wooden pips on the end. They were like one-karat diamonds at least. I said, “Mr. Galimir. Do you go to Cartier to get your violin adjusted?” He just looks at me like – I think he’s tried to set me on fire just by looking at me.
Yeah, I mean –
[00:23:06] NC: He probably heard something else.
[00:23:10] BD: I also think that I’m a cocky kid, okay? I was really uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say. So I think with a lot of the old timers from that generation, there was an invisible wall that you really ought not cross, unless invited to do so. Even after that –
[00:23:29] NC: Familiarity.
[00:23:30] BD: Yeah.
[00:23:32] NC: Sometimes that makes it worse. It’s like when that’s the situation you almost blurt out inappropriate things even more, because you don’t know what to say. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and then you just end up.
[00:23:44] BD: Spontaneous Tourette syndrome. Yeah.
[00:23:47] AT: So you went to Marlboro several summers.
[00:23:49] BD: I was just there two summers, and I did a brief tour. I did this thing to New York and DC.
[00:23:56] NC: At this point, did you have a job?
[00:23:58] BD: Yes. It was right before I got the Hartford Symphony job, and I had a small management in New York. Took interest me, and so I signed with them and I thought that that was going to be it. I was actually looking after my mom at the same time I brought her to Connecticut with me to live. We all know somebody who’s done something like that. It’s hard. It’s hard to move back home in a way. Yeah, my mom couldn’t walk anymore. I was looking after her, and it was really hard.
It was either like get a job as a bartender or something, because the phone wasn’t ringing off the hook for me to play concerts. I mean, I had won a big international music competition a few years before. I won the Irving Klein Competition. My friends always called it the Calvin Klein competition. But that competition kind of got me going.
But I don’t like – I don’t think anybody likes competition. Nobody likes auditions, but I really, really have a tremendous amount of the anxiety around that. In my mind I was just, “Well. Been there, done that. Bought the t-shirt. I don’t need to do that again. Won a big one. That’s fine. That’s good enough for me.” I probably should have kept going, but out of must have, should’ve, you can never know.
[00:25:12] NC: I mean, were you hoping to play solo concerts?
[00:25:14] BD: Yeah, that was my – I grew up wanting to be –
[00:25:17] NC: A soloist.
[00:25:18] BD: Yeah. I mean, a lot of us are sort of trained that way, anyway. But it’s funny, right around that time I started adapting a different attitude that, “Well, maybe opportunity will knock in other places.” So when I got the job in Hartford, something’s happened. I got a few more solo concerts, but it was really when I won my position in Detroit that doors started opening and –
[00:25:40] NC: These are principal positions that we’re talking about.
[00:25:42] BD: Yeah, I only went after principal positions specifically, because in Hartford I realized, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this.” The challenges that are sort of inherent in that position are – they came pretty easily to me, like leading a cello section and dealing with people. I think for the most part when I’m of sound mind, comes very naturally to me.
So I wouldn’t say it’s easy money or anything, but I liked it and I was good at it and I enjoyed it. Plus, that time spent in Hartford, I got to learn all the big solos, all the big pieces and may not have been the Berlin Philharmonic, but it was a job and it got me a lot of experience. So I was in that position for about 9 years during which time I met Betsy, and she was in the Coast Guard band. She’s a French horn player. She was in the U.S. Coast Guard band and in the Hartford Symphony. So she was working quite a bit.
So shortly after I met her, I won the Detroit Symphony principal cello position, and I was there for 10 years, and I never thought I’d leave, because we loved it there. We got married there. Our kids were born there. I mean, Detroit, a lot of people talk a lot of smack about Detroit. But I’ll tell you this, it really gets under your skin in a good way. Detroit is a very special place, and we’ve talked about moving back at times. But we know that we’ll be here for the long haul. We love L.A. too.
Yeah, so that orchestra, when I joined it in 2002, it was during what they were referring to as like a second golden period. They talk about the Paul Paray years as like the big golden period. He was like sort of the George Szell of Detroit, and he created this magnificent orchestra, and the Detroit Symphony has been like beset by so many problems over the years, and it’s by [inaudible 00:27:32] of the musicians wanting the quality to stay high that, I mean, they fought for everything they had.
I knew at some point that there’s going to be a work stoppage. Lo and behold, there was one back – was it 2011? 2010, 2011. I hadn’t considered auditioning anywhere else, because I really loved my job. I loved that orchestra. We loved our house. It was a special place. Betsy and I are kind of dyed in the wool of Midwesterners.
Maybe Oklahoma is a stretch for Midwest. I think that’s considered Southwest. But my mom is from Chicago, and then I lived in the Midwest quite a bit. Anyway, I’m rambling. I um way too much too. Somebody pointed that out to me. I need to really try not –
[00:28:15] NC: Everybody says um.
[00:28:16] BD: I’ve used my quota of ums. God damn it! I know this is sort of scream of consciousness. But before coming out to L.A., Leonard Slatkin had become our music director after Neeme Jarvi. Those years with Jarvi were just the best. I mean, of course I’m biased because Jarvi hired me, and very, very special. He gave me a lot of opportunities. I played a concertos with him. Then when Slatkin took over, he was also very generous to me.
I was assigned to learn the John Williams Cello Concerto and was going to be recorded for Naxos. That was to happen during the season where we went on strike.
[00:28:56] NC: Oh! I was going to ask you about this. Anyway, so I’m glad you –
[00:28:59] BD: So that happened. During the strike, I was able to sort of spread my wings a little bit and I was kind of a mercenary principal cellist. I played principal in St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. I played principal in Bergen, in Norway, where we did some recordings and stuff like that. I was a finalist in the [inaudible 00:29:17] principal audition, and that didn’t work out.
[00:29:21] AT: How long was the strike?
[00:29:22] BD: Strike was six months. Six months to the day. So during that point, Chamber Music Festival [inaudible 00:29:29] would call me up to play and I’d say, “Yeah, I’m free. I’m available.” But it looked like we were moving towards a settlement. At that point I was doing okay financially, and Betsy bless her, she’s the money person in the house. She’s so much better – I mean, that goes without saying.
She’s just the numbers person. Money burns a whole in my pocket, so she grabs it before I can do anything with it. She managed to save a bundle before the strike happened and, I mean, over a period of like 6, 7 years, she saved like a year’s salary of my salary. Something like that. She would probably tell you otherwise. She downplays her brilliancy in that area. She’s very, very good with money.
[00:30:14] NC: She was able to buy you a blanket.
[00:30:18] BD: She bought me a pillow too and a teddy bear. Every time we would come close to like the orchestra settling, Betsy and I would say, “Do I go back or do I just like try to launch myself as a chamber of musician and a solo player?” Because I was getting concerto dates. All these things were happening. Then the orchestra settled. Of course, I went back at the beginning of the next season, because I was all booked up for the rest of the season where they settled.
The Williams Concerto was put on the next season. I then saw the ad for the L.A. Philharmonic principal cello position and I thought, “I don’t know. I’ll just send my application.” People listening out there, if you think that it’s nothing but politics and who you know or whatever, getting a job. I hate to disappoint you, but it’s far more routine and mundane and not mysterious. You send in your application like everybody else. You get invited to an audition and then it’s all done fair and square.
When I got my invitation letter, I collected all my music. It seems like it was like 2-1/2 hours’ worth of music. [inaudible 00:31:24] complete, “Oh! Really? You’re just going to drop the needle. I mean, come on. You got to do the whole thing?” I always say to students, if you can play [inaudible 00:31:32] from beginning to end [inaudible 00:31:34], you can play anything. I mean, it’s hard. So I had the Williams to learn and I had the –
[00:31:40] AT: Because you’re now doing the recording the project now that you’re back at work.
[00:31:44] BD: Well, I mean that was a still a ways off. But I’m a famous crammer. I will paint myself into a corner and after do everything at the 11th hour. Bernsteiner said like to produce something worthwhile, you need a plan and not quite enough time. Yeah, I was like not – Yeah, not even close to enough time.
So we got to the Williams Concerto, and I had been working on it, but then I really started the heavy duty work. Got through the concerts, the recording was made out of the live stuff, the live broadcast, and then I –
[00:32:17] AT: It’s a lot of pressure.
[00:32:19] BD: A couple of days to go through the philharmonic list. It was all stuff that I knew, except for maybe the John Adams. I was in really good shape at the time. So you know when you’re on fire. When you’re in fighting shape, you’re in like Olympic audition condition, which is like the guys that make it to the top of Everest.
It’s one thing to make it to base camp. But to like to get to the summit, it’s another thing. I mean, you know what it takes to win an audition. You can’t maintain that. You can’t maintain it. I remember after the whole Williams thing was done, I was just spent and I was kind of dejected. After a performance like that, sometimes you get like kind of down.
[00:33:02] NC: Yeah, there’s a big letdown.
[00:33:03] BD: Well, I was practicing, pulling an all-nighter before I came to L.A. for the audition, and Betsy came to check on me in the middle of the night. It was like 3:30 in the morning and I said, “Betsy, should I even bother getting on the plane?” My flight was in like 7 hours. She said, “Robert –” Betsy, if you’re listening, I want you to hear this. She said, “Robert, while you’re playing I was –” it’s hard for me not to get emotional about this, because it really had a huge effect on me, which is she said, “I was mentally preparing the garage sale.”
It was like her saying that, like getting our house ready to move. Her saying I sounded that good, and that gave me so much confidence to hear her say that, because she’s got high standards. I knew I was doing something right. I got to the audition here and stayed at a hotel far away, because I don’t like bumping into anybody. I’m just like, “No, I can’t.” Got to the hall, I remember [inaudible 00:34:01] brought me to my room. I couldn’t move my hand. My hand was completely F-ed.
I mean, it was gone. I couldn’t even – like it was frozen. Sometimes if I’m over playing and under-practicing. I don’t know if that makes sense. This will cave in and it’s like is muscle spasm and I can’t move it. I went to Jeff and I said, “Jeff, I can’t play.” I mean, I didn’t know his name at that point. I’m like, “Hey, tall guy.”
[00:34:28] NC: You like you’re in charge.
[00:34:29] BD: [inaudible 00:34:29] man. Yeah. He said, “Well, we do have an opening –” There was a cancellation for the next day. He said, “If you can come back – The committee would be upset if you’ve had left and they learned that you couldn’t play or whatever. Just think about it. If you don’t show up –” So I was really happy that they had done that for me, and I panicked. I was like, “Oh, Jesus! This isn’t worth it.”
It’s like, “I don’t have a shot anyway.” That’ show I felt going into auditions. This is valuable, because every audition that I’ve won, every audition I’ve done well in, I’ve had that attitude that I don’t have anything to lose. I’m not going to win this, [inaudible 00:35:05], Hartford, Detroit and L.A. I went in there and I just played as though I was playing a concert. I had the right mindset.
[00:35:16] NC: The next day.
[00:35:16] BD: Yeah. So, get this. I slept like 15 hours without getting up for as much as a pee break.
[00:35:24] AT: Sounds awesome.
[00:35:26] BD: Yeah, I know! That hasn’t happened since. Maybe that’s the best audition strategy. Just wear yourself out. Basically, chop your hand off with a cleaver. Let it grow back overnight.
[00:35:36] NC: Sleep for 15 hours.
[00:35:37] BD: I had two-day beard and I didn’t even take a shower. I just put my dress clothes on. Got my cello out and just very gingerly like, “Okay. All right. All right.” Show up at the hall at like 10 or whatever. Played three rounds that day. It was a long day.
[00:35:55] NC: I was on this committee, by the way.
[00:35:56] BD: Yeah, I know. Our friend Julie was other finalist who was selected and she’s now principal St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and I was like – There was a big gap between the time that we auditioned. Then our trial weeks were like several months away.
[00:36:14] NC: Right. Because it has to be a time when the music director is conducting.
[00:36:18] BD: Yeah. Okay. So I bump into you at NOI. We were teaching at NOI together. It was just a little bit like – CJ was there. It was a little awkward. We went out for fudge. Do you remember this? We had lunch together. Then I was with Julie at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, and Julie is like super awesome. She’s super friendly and social and I’m sitting there like in the corner getting more and more uptight with like every bite of food I’m taking.
This festival is wonderful in Seattle where we take our meals together. It’s great. Unless you’re me and you’re anti-social and you sit in the corner. Oh God! You guys, you don’t know what you’re getting into [inaudible 00:37:02]. Then there was another festival in Maine where I was flying with Marten, and Joey Silverstein, it was his thing. The first year all-stars thing. I was invited to that way before the L.A thing happened. I was invited as the principal of Detroit. So we got to play all these chamber pieces with Joey Silverstein, another one of my heroes. It was a little awkward.
[00:37:28] NC: Yeah. You’re running into committee member, principals and competitors.
[00:37:32] BD: Yeah, my competitor. I’m like, “Oh! She’s awesome. Oh! Damn it!” Anyway, look, we’ve all taken auditions. It’s worked out. Sometimes it’s our day. Sometimes it’s not. Bottom line is like there are a lot of qualified people for any position.
[00:37:49] NC: Just to say too that from my perspective, being on the committee, we had no idea and no real interest in any of these circumstances that had led up – It’s interesting to me now. But at the time, all we were doing was, “Okay they bring out the next person.” They play.
Whereas to you, it was like there were so many ups and downs, but that’s worth remember too, that if you do have strange circumstances around an audition, sometimes there’s an assumption that, “Oh! Somehow that’s going to show to the committee, somehow that I don’t feel ready or this doesn’t quite feel right. The committee is not going to know or care.”
[00:38:26] BD: Well, when I had talked to Jeff, I said, “I’m just going to fly home.” I didn’t ask for another time. I just said, “I’m going to go.” He said, “Wait. I think we have this cancellation,” and that’s when they decided to go too. If it weren’t for that cancellation, I just would have left and I likely still be in Detroit.
[00:38:43] NC: We’d be flying there to interview you.
[00:38:47] BD: Yeah, that’s happened before. Hasn’t it?
[00:38:49] AT: It’s like a Sliding Doors moment.
[00:38:51] BD: I know.
[00:38:51] AT: There’s another you living in Detroit.
[00:38:54] BD: He’s Asian and he has hair and he’s very tall and plays basketball, and they like him a lot better than they like me. Anyway, the confluence of events that kind of led up to me doing well in the L.A. Phil audition, I don’t think I would have played as well as I did had it not been exactly that way. I don’t’ know.
So much of it has to do with just timing. I thought, “Oh! I didn’t prepare well enough for this.” It’s like, “Nonsense. I’ve played this stuff so many times.” When you’re in really good shape, you can pretty much play it all, right? I think.
[00:39:33] NC: Yeah. I mean, those have been rare times feeling at the top of the game like that.
[00:39:39] AT: I don’t think I’ve ever taken an audition where I felt like just like I could just go for it and I felt awesome. I think they were all terrible experiences.
[00:39:50] BD: I don’t know. It’s funny. In my mind, I’ve never really separated how one prepares for a symphony concert versus how one prepares for a concerto. My whole life has been sort of governed by, “Oh shit! I don’t have enough time,” because I’m a procrastinator, and it’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because I think I have whatever equivalent there is as a musician of writer’s block.
I mean, it’s an anxiety that for many years, I couldn’t get the cello out of the case unless I had a suit on. That was a running joke of mine. It’s like, “I don’t get my cello out of my case unless I have a suit.” People are like, “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Well, it’s true. It was true, because I had this phobia of sort of facing myself and knowing that my standards were so high and that there’s no possibility of even approaching that.
[00:40:40] NC: You had to feel like you were right up against it even to –
[00:40:43] BD: I think so. I still pull that stuff. It’s funny, I shouldn’t be saying this out loud. I mean, I get my best work done at the 11th hour. I always. I get very angry at myself for that reason. But I go through these bursts of intense work and intensive work, where I might not feel the real benefit of it right away, but months down the road, I might get the cello out when I don’t have a suit on and sit down and play and I’ll be like, “I’m better.”
[00:41:18] NC: It’s like The Matrix or something.
[00:41:21] BD: Yeah, totally. I mean, you remember when you were a kid, like take your lesson and you go home and you’re practicing. You wake up the next day and it’s like, “Wow! I’m better than I was yesterday.” Those steps were very visible. I call it like a little spiral staircase. But eventually the steps start to widen. They get longer and longer and they turn into plateaus.
[00:41:43] AT: It’s a really good visual. Yeah.
[00:41:45] BD: For me, those intense bursts of activity, provided I’m really paying attention to what I’m doing, those serve as the impetus for improvement, like visual improvement. Like, “Hey, I’m better than I was a few months ago.” I just learned the Barber Concerto early this year and performed it with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and a few months later I was having so much more fun playing the cello, and that’s what it is for me.
Just the tactile enjoyment of doing what I’m doing connected me to that sort of uncomplicated time when I was a kid and I was just discovering it. I love that, and I want to recreate that as much as I can in my own practicing. Does that make sense?
[00:42:31] NC: Oh, yeah.
[00:42:32] BD: I try to talk to students about that, because I know my approach to teaching is a little out there, a little different.
[00:42:39] NC: How do you bring that out of the students you work with, that sense of discovery?
[00:42:43] BD: Well, every student requires a different method. I always talk about this one teacher, Theodore Leschetizky was a Polish German piano professor. Everybody studied with him. All the big names studied with him. He was interviewed by somebody on saying, “Maestro, what is your method?” He said, “What method? My method is — it’s a bespoke sort of thing for the student.”
Yeah, I don’t agree with the sort of cookie cutter mentality. I mean, I know you can achieve a certain degree of success that way, but you run the risk of having too many students sounding the same. I find that to be – while I think it serves a purpose. I think it’s a bit lazy and it’s not how I would teach. But I’m not saying it doesn’t have any merit.
[00:43:28] NC: Well, I mean that kind of approach can work for players that really need a lot of fundamental help, right? If there is a method that can get someone from kind of ground zero to having things work at least.
[00:43:41] BD: Right, if it’s a teardown and rebuild. It’s one of those. Yeah.
[00:43:44] AT: You need some walls [inaudible 00:43:45].
[00:43:49] BD: Be careful with your language there.
[00:43:50] AT: I’m not a good teacher. So it’s interesting to hear –
[00:43:53] BD: I doubt that.
[00:43:54] AT: I’m a really bad teacher. So it’s funny to – because I had a moment where I was listening to somebody a few months ago and I thought, “I don’t know how to help this person specifically.” That’s what makes me so inept.
[00:44:04] NC: I mean, in terms of craft, like mechanics.
[00:44:06] AT: Just like this person, I think I was like making it worse because it was like I was trying to get them to sound a certain way. Whereas what they really need, it was somebody who could take what they had and make it the best it could be. It’s stupid to think everybody should sound the same. That’s just like –
[00:44:23] BD: Yeah. That’s interesting. Yeah. I like to try to find out what makes that person tick. What could potentially light a fire under them? I mean, that largely has to come from within the person they have to want, really want that.
But you were talking about – yeah! What you were saying, Akiko, really made me think about the difference between coaching and teaching. I mean, a lot of teachers don’t make the distinction. I think what you’re talking about is more of a – You might say believe that you’re a better coach than a teacher.
[00:44:56] AT: Yeah. I mean, I’m mostly been more comfortable doing like excerpt stuff because it’s like this is what it should sound like, and that works with excerpts to like a certain extent. As a teacher, that doesn’t work. You’re not helping them with their playing.
[00:45:08] BD: I agree. Bridging the gap between like why you do something versus how you do something and tying those things together.
[00:45:14] AT: Yeah, it’s a little bit, like it’s a backwards thing. It’s like here’s how it should sound. Then you go from there. I think a good teacher takes what’s happening, addresses the mechanics.
[00:45:22] BD: Yeah. To answer your question a little further, Nate, I try to approach it from two different viewpoints. You could call it Florestan and Eusebius, or Apollo and Dionysus, or –
[00:45:34] NC: Cheech & Chong.
[00:45:35] BD: Do you remember highlights in magazine? Cheech & Chong. Well, they’re more on the one side. That’s true.
[00:45:39] NC: Goofus and Gallant.
[00:45:40] BD: Goofus and Gallant. You know Goofus and Gallant.
[00:45:42] NC: Of did we talk about [inaudible 00:45:42]?
[00:45:44] BD: I used to get Highlights Magazine. I was definitely – I was Gallant until I was about 12, and then I was totally Goofus. I’m still Goofus. If you ask Betsy, I’m Goofus. Ask my kids, definitely.
Yeah, approaching something from the – let’s say, from an Apollonian point of view. It’s like the craft, the almost antiseptic nature of putting something together versus setting that aside and then approaching it from the Dionysian point of view where it’s like you’re the party animal. All of a sudden, you’re having fun with it. I find that when those two approaches meet in the middle, that’s where you’ve got real artistry of the person.
This is just a theory of mine, and I’ve used myself as a guinea pig in this department. In my own practicing, as haphazard as my practice can be, I do definitely make a distinction between mechanics and then artistry, and at some point I cut myself up and then I say, “Robert, you’re going to play now. You’re just going to play and you’re not going to stop. You’re not going to stop for every little thing that goes wrong.” Make myself do that, and that has actually helped me considerably.
The condemnation that that voice and the constant critic is not quite as active, and you get better at taming that sort of juvenile side of yourself versus the adult side of yourself, which is – You can always say the adult juvenile in the mix as well. Does that make any sense at all?
[00:47:14] NC: Definitely. I feel like, Akiko, you’re too hard on yourself as far – I mean, you are always worried that you’re not telling people how. But I mean often what they need is just to be inspired or frustrated to know where it is that they have to go and they figure it out themselves.
[00:47:29] AT: I never really had a teacher who was great at breaking things down into logical blocks. I think I was taught much in that vein, like, “Do this.” Maybe that’s why I got better at imitating things and learning that way, but it also gives me a feeling that sometimes I don’t really understand how something works or that certainly how I’m doing it.
I think that’s sort of barrier that’s hard for me to overcome in teaching. But it’s fascinating to hear how you practice, because that’s something maybe I should try. It’s like just playing and not letting that – because it’s easy to practice using the little critical voice going, “Oh no! You need to do that again. That shift wasn’t clean.”
[00:48:12] BD: That’s exactly what prevented me from even just opening the cello case.
[00:48:17] AT: But it’s great. I kind of want to like go home and try it, because it’s –
[00:48:22] BD: This goes back to like winning an audition or doing well in a competition or even playing to your own satisfaction in a concert. For me, it’s about creating the right emotional landscape in your mind.
I mean, you’ve got a lot of keys to that door, where you’re going to get work done. It could be a miserable room like the one we’re in or it can be just a palace. It could be a – I’m picturing the billiards room in the game Clue. I always wanted a room like that. I don’t know. Corinthian leather.
[00:48:58] NC: Corinthian leather.
[00:48:59] BD: Corinthian leather. I’m not a New Yorker.
[00:49:02] NC: [inaudible 00:49:02].
[00:49:03] BD: Yeah, that’s right. I’m sitting in this town car, practicing my cello. I actually played the viola in a Ford Escort, driving about 100 miles an hour down the road.
[00:49:16] NC: Were you driving?
[00:49:17] BD: No. I was the passenger.
[00:49:20] AT: [inaudible 00:49:20].
[00:49:22] BD: That’s a little bit of a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas sort of style story.
[00:49:28] NC: I didn’t know that, yeah, the Ford Escorts could go hundred.
[00:49:30] BD: Oh, yeah.
[00:49:34] NC: Well, you mentioned Corinthian leather.
[00:49:36] AT: Playing in a town car.
[00:49:37] BD: This was not Corinthian leather. It was Corinthian terry cloth or whatever.
[00:49:45] AT: [inaudible 00:49:45] vinyl.
[00:49:48] BD: I love the word itself.
[00:49:51] AT: Faux classy. It’s not velvet. It’s –
[00:49:53] BD: Counterfeit luxury.
[00:49:57] NC: [inaudible 00:49:57] to be.
[00:50:00] BD: Okay. You guys brought up something. Actually, Akiko, you brought up about imitation, and I’ve heard you both. You’re great at imitating courses. This is one thing. When I was a kid, I played – I think this definitely plays into getting good at an instrument and also mastering languages.
I mean, I grew up listening to various accents, like my parents both had different accents. My grandmother from the old country and all that. But when I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma City, I was featured on a midday program. It was a program called Danny Stance. Like a big deal. This is like sort of a Johnny Carson-like, and then I play my little sad songs concerto or whatever it was and go over and talk. I saw the videotape later. I was in sixth grade. So I was 12. I heard myself talk like this, and I had no idea I sounded like that. I was horrified.
[00:51:02] NC: How old were you?
[00:51:03] BD: 12. Either 11 or 12, right around there.
[00:51:08] NC: Yeah, similar time for me.
[00:51:09] BD: So I made it my mission to get rid of my accent, because I didn’t – my mom was from Chicago and she’s like, “Oh! These damn Okies.” She’s always, always saying – criticizing everybody. I loved everybody I grew up. But I think I wish I still had that accent. Actually, it’s probably the one authentic thing about me.
[00:51:31] AT: I wish Nathan still had his accent.
[00:51:33] BD: Well, he could probably turn it on. When I go visit, it comes back a little bit. Especially when I say the number five. I don’t know what it is about that number. Five.
[00:51:41] NC: For me it’s like changing the oh.
[00:51:43] BD: The oh, or you might want to fix your heat pump. But that exercise, insecurity and you wanting to become somebody else.
[00:51:51] AT: Self-loathing.
[00:51:52] BD: Exactly. [inaudible 00:51:55] family is a mess. But learning to do that and emulating newscasters and getting rid of whatever – I cultivated this accent, whatever it is. Nobody can guess where I’m from. Yeah.
[00:52:10] NC: That process. I mean, you’re not expecting it to be perfect right away. I mean, you record yourself. You listen back. You make a change. Record again. Listen back, and it’s an iterative —
[00:52:22] BD: But it cultivates your ear a lot. I think having heard you –
[00:52:27] AT: Maybe that’s the problem in my playing. I never did those. It’s funny, as a person whose heritage is really not really in any kind of question. I obviously came from one place.
[00:52:36] BD: It’s interesting. I mean, everybody’s got a story. I always loved hearing people’s –
[00:52:39] AT: Do you want to do a little bit of a plug for your concerto [inaudible 00:52:43]?
[00:52:45] BD: Do I have a concerto [inaudible 00:52:45]?
[00:52:46] AT: You know [inaudible 00:52:46].
[00:52:47] BD: Oh! The thing with –
[00:52:49] NC: What’s the date for that?
[00:52:51] BD: That’s next Sunday.
[00:52:52] AT: Oh, it is.
[00:52:53] NC: We’ll have the episode out by then.
[00:52:53] BD: It’s like painting yourself into a corner. Oh my God!
[00:52:56] AT: Hey, I heard you practicing today.
[00:52:58] BD: You did not.
[00:52:59] AT: You’re practicing.
[00:53:00] NC: All right. [inaudible 00:53:01].
[00:53:03] BD: I listen to a podcast, so I can kind of hear myself.
[00:53:06] AT: Interesting.
[00:53:07] BD: This might be interesting. I always practice with some kind of distraction. It has to be like a ballgame or like a season of Dexter or something. I find I concentrate much better, much, much better.
[00:53:22] AT: What about at the concert. Are you like sort of visualizing?
[00:53:26] BD: No, at that point, I’m hoping that Florestan has entered the room, or Dionysus or Goofus or whoever you are. The juvenile part of me that likes to have fun.
[00:53:38] AT: [inaudible 00:53:38] like an alter ego [inaudible 00:53:39].
[00:53:41] BD: I’m getting better at it, but it’s like always a struggle. I have struggled my entire life with stage nerves, and it all came from one event. I had memory slip in the last movement of Boccherini B flat major cello concerto. Had a memory slip in the same spot, the exposition and the development of the last movement, and [inaudible 00:54:02] thing. It’s spooked me.
I’ve been grappling with that for 36 years. It’s funny, because for so many years, I tried to go around it various methods. But for the past few years, I’ve been going through it and it’s working out much better. So we can get into that in another podcast.
[00:54:26] AT: I know, because that’s something I’m sort of looking down the barrel. I don’t know how it feels like. I’m going to have to finally just reckon with it.
[00:54:32] BD: You have to know that like you’re not alone, by any stretch. I mean, some people have said to me, it’s like, “Oh! You project an early confident outward [inaudible 00:54:40].”
[00:54:40] AT: Definitely. Yeah, we can attest to that.
[00:54:42] BD: I’m a mess on the inside. I mean, absolute mess. I have been. I’m much more put together now I think mentally in terms of sort of believing in what I can do, but it’s a struggle. It’s like it’s never been a struggle for me to play the cello. It’s never been a struggle for me to memorize music or play in tune or do any of the things that often people do struggle with. But what has been a struggle for me is the anxiety, is coping with that.
[00:55:12] AT: What is it specifically then if it’s not the technique, not the – What the anxiety about? Do you know?
[00:55:19] BD: I think at its core is probably – I would say it’s a very strong source of affect of like feeling useless or not good enough or never be good enough.
[00:55:31] AT: You mentioned having this like standards that you know are unachievable, because they are so impossibly hard.
[00:55:37] BD: Yeah. Growing up in the situation I grew up in, my mom was not well mentally, and my father was an alcoholic. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and my mother used to say things. I mean, my mother was an insanely jealous person even if I do well in a concert. I remember winning a competition when I was young and she’d say to me, “Oh, you’ll never be anything but a two bit cellist.” That is the one phase that like that critic in my mind repeats on infinite loop. It’s never going to stop. It’s learning. I think it’s learning how to coexist with things like that and say, “Okay, you’re there.”
[00:56:16] NC: To acknowledge it.
[00:56:17] BD: I get it. I’m never going to vanquish that. It’s there. It’s painful. But I’m crushing it, despite you. It’s those things that I think make us interesting and better and I think deepen our expression. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
[00:56:33] AT: I does. I think there’s that – like in your playing, I’m sure there’s the dealing with like demons and the tortured stuff that makes it that much better.
[00:56:41] BD: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of darkness there and anybody who’s dated me can tell you.
[00:56:47] AT: I achieved that. I got out of bed today.
[00:56:48] BD: You guys are crushing it, seriously. I mean, power couple. You guys are amazing. I admire you so much a lot.
[00:56:55] NC: We’ve got a podcast, at least. Tell us what’s going on soon, because you’ve got a big concerto here in town.
[00:57:04] BD: Yeah. I’ve got a few irons on the fire outside of the Phil. I’m playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the Santa Monica Symphony with our beloved Guido Lamell conducting.
[00:57:16] NC: He’s a fellow violinist in the L.A. Phil.
[00:57:18] BD: He is. He’s been for many years, and he’s also fellow Okie.
[00:57:22] NC: Oh! I forgot.
[00:57:22] AT: Weird.
[00:57:24] NC: What’s the date for that concert.
[00:57:26] BD: That is October 20th right after our run out to Orange County. Danny Rothmiller is going to drive me to Santa Monica and I’ll play the second half of that concert. Yeah, it’s crazy. I’ve done crazier things than that. But this is still pretty crazy.
[00:57:40] NC: Well, you guys get there. Will they have a chance to meet you and say hi?
[00:57:45] BD: Of course. Yeah. Maybe after, because I may be a little crazed beforehand.
[00:57:53] NC: You’ll be watching Dexter.
[00:57:57] BD: Yeah, making my own kill room in my mind.
[00:58:00] NC: What else?
[00:58:01] BD: Kill room out of the [inaudible 00:58:02].
[00:58:03] AT: That should be the title of this episode, the kill room in my mind.
[00:58:06] BD: Yeah, that’s the cherry soda.
[00:58:08] AT: Cherry soda.
[00:58:10] BD: Yeah, it was like multiple homicide. That was just, “Ah!” And there are like maraschino cherry bits.
[00:58:18] NC: That really will kill you.
[00:58:20] BD: Yikes! I’ve got a few – Oh Gosh! A TV show that I’m involved in. My good friend Scott Yoo, he’s a music director of the Mexico City Philharmonic.
[00:58:29] AT: My mom was just telling me how she’s enjoying watching.
[00:58:32] BD: Yeah. So Scott is doing this show. It’s sort of an Anthony Bourdain style show about music and it’s a show called Now Hear This. It’s a four episodes on great performances on PBS, and I’m the fourth episode.
[00:58:47] NC: Oh! I had no idea.
[00:58:48] BD: It’s about Handel in Italy and it’s fun. It’s really fun.
[00:58:53] AT: Oh, did you shoot at the summer while you were there? Okay.
[00:58:56] BD: Yeah. I was there for a week and it’s a kind of a bummer. Some of the best part of the filming didn’t make it into the episode. We were at the Ferrari manufacturer in Maranello and we got to drive Ferraris. We’re at Tuscany and play strads. Did that happen? It was crazy, but it didn’t make it into the final cut, even though it was played for the test audiences and they were like, “This is the best part.”
It didn’t make it in for whatever reason, but there’s plenty of other really amazing footage. Scott, he’s like a Leonard Bernstein type. I mean, he’s really, really good at this.
[00:59:32] NC: Now, can everybody watch that episode already?
[00:59:34] BD: Yeah, all episodes are up on whatever PBS is, pbs.org, I think.
[00:59:39] NC: We’ll link to it.
[00:59:40] BD: Yeah, you can find it if you just type in ‘Now Hear This’, episodes 1 through 4. Yeah, I’m in there. I can’t watch it. I’d cringe. I was thinking about having a little watch party at my house next Wednesday. Anybody want to come, please come.
[00:59:57] AT: This is the invitation.
[00:59:58] BD: It would be the 23rd. It’s going to be like Italian cheese and wine and all sorts of goodies. Of course, you two are invited.
[01:00:09] NC: Well now it’s public. So everyone’s – no. I don’t think this episode will be out by then.
[01:00:12] BD: There’s limited parking. You can park anywhere on Huntington. But I’m not going to give you my address yet, though. Betsy will be very mad.
[01:00:23] NC: Well, thank you so much for being here with us. We had so much fun. I could go for hours. Maybe we will after we turn this off.
[01:00:30] BD: I’m flapping my gums. I’m so sorry. I never make any sense. I feel like I don’t many any sense.
[01:00:36] AT: No. You make complete sense.
[01:00:37] BD: That wasn’t a very good goodbye, wasn’t it? I’m sorry, audience. Actually, I’m not sorry. Very proud of myself. I opened up to the world.
[01:00:49] NC: Hey, if anybody is still listening at this point, that means they thought you made tremendous sense, right? Because otherwise they would have clicked over to Joe Rogan.
[01:01:00] BD: Joe Rogan. Hey, Jordan Peterson is going to be on Joe Rogan tonight again!
[01:01:06] NC: Well, thank you again, Bob.
[01:01:08] BD: No. Thank you, guys. Thanks for putting up with me.
[01:01:11] NC: This has been a great pleasure. Why don’t you ask everyone to come back next time on Stand Partners for Life?
[01:01:18] BD: Everybody, don’t let the best in life pass you by. Go to Stand Partners for Life and watch all 30 –
[01:01:28] NC: Well, they can’t really watch, but they can listen at least.
[01:01:29] BD: Well, you can watch too, but there’s not much happening on the screen. Sorry! Yeah, I’m late to the podcast game. I keep thinking, “Oh, wait. Isn’t there a picture?”
[01:01:39] NC: [inaudible 01:01:39].
[01:01:43] BD: Yeah. Honey? Can you get up and change the channel? That’s where I am still. I’m still in like – my parents gave me the black and white TV and I still watch Mash and Taxi.