Leslie Parnas, Celebrated Cellist and Musical Diplomat, Dies at 90

Leslie Parnas, Celebrated Cellist and Musical Diplomat, Dies at 90

Leslie Parnas, a famend cellist and instructor whose second-place award on the Worldwide Tchaikovsky Competitors in Moscow on the top of the Chilly Battle helped propel him to a storied profession, died on Feb. 1 at a rehabilitation facility in Venice, Fla. He was 90.

The trigger was coronary heart failure, his eldest son, Marcel, mentioned.

Mr. Parnas, who hailed from a household of musicians in St. Louis, was 30 when he gained the silver medal on the second Tchaikovsky competitors in 1962, the primary time it included a cello class. His success in Moscow, the place he carried out for Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet chief, earned him international renown and gave him a platform as a musical emissary.

He was the one American cellist to win a prime award that 12 months — the opposite winners had been Russian — and his success got here solely 4 years after the pianist Van Cliburn clinched the gold medal on the first Tchaikovsky competitors, which was seen as an American triumph.

Mr. Parnas, identified for his lyrical taking part in, returned repeatedly to the Soviet Union within the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s for concert events earlier than massive crowds. He studied Russian, supplied recommendation to aspiring performers there and lobbied Soviet officers to ship musicians to review in the USA. He later served as a juror for the Tchaikovsky competitors.

“Once I play music,” he told The New York Instances in 1978 throughout a go to to Leningrad, “it’s not solely an instance of emotional freedom, however additionally it is a message for peace and for the fitting of every particular person to precise himself.”

Leslie Parnas was born on Nov. 11, 1931, the son of Eli Parnas, who labored at a paper field manufacturing unit and performed the clarinet, and Etta (Engel) Parnas, a piano instructor.

He started learning cello at a younger age and made his debut at 14 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, taking part in Édouard Lalo’s cello concerto at a kids’s live performance. Two years later he enrolled on the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, the place he studied with the famend cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. He graduated in 1951.

After a stint within the U.S. Navy Band, he returned to Missouri to function principal cellist within the St. Louis Symphony, a place he held from 1954 to 1962. From the outset, his skills had been on show. When a soloist was late for a efficiency of the Brahms double concerto for violin and cello, Mr. Parnas stepped in on the final minute, dazzling the viewers.

He additionally caught the eye of the eminent cellist and conductor Pablo Casals, who offered him an award at a global cello competitors in Paris in 1957.

It was the start of an extended friendship. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Casals collaborated in a wide range of venues, together with the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Vermont and Mr. Casals’s pageant in Puerto Rico.

Mr. Casals, some of the revered musicians of the twentieth century, might be an intimidating determine. However he had a rapport with Mr. Parnas. Throughout a category in 1961, Mr. Casals chastised Mr. Parnas for taking part in with an excessive amount of vibrato. With out lacking a beat, Mr. Parnas supplied to promote him some.

“None of us would ever have dared say one thing like that,” mentioned Jaime Laredo, a violinist and conductor who typically performed with Mr. Parnas. “Leslie might get away with issues like that. They’d a mutual respect.”

When Mr. Casals died in 1973, Mr. Parnas was a pallbearer at his funeral.

Mr. Parnas honed a hovering sound in repertoire that ranged from Brahms to Shostakovich. He gained reward for a 1964 recording of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, with Mr. Laredo and the pianist Rudolf Serkin.

He might be headstrong, altering tempos on a whim and instructing colleagues to play quietly throughout his solos.

“He was a really instinctive participant,” Mr. Laredo mentioned. “He wasn’t that specific about following the rating to the nth diploma. He simply performed naturally.”

He made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1965, taking part in Schumann’s cello concerto. In his review, the Instances music critic Howard Klein known as him a “fiery and romantic cellist.”

“Mr. Parnas didn’t play a lot as he sang the work,” Mr. Klein wrote. “The daring approach he dug into these excessive place passages added a gambler’s pleasure.”

Mr. Parnas grew to become a fixture on the chamber music scene, together with at Marlboro, the place he carried out for a few years. He joined the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Heart in 1969 as a founding member, serving to cement its popularity as a magnet for prime artists. From 1975 to 1984 he was creative director of Kneisel Corridor, a chamber music pageant and college in Blue Hill, Maine.

Ida Kavafian, a violinist and violist who performed alongside Mr. Parnas within the early days of the Chamber Music Society, mentioned his expressiveness was placing.

“It was the sort of sound that will simply wrap you up, envelop you, and also you felt it was throughout you,” she mentioned. “It was an expertise.”

As his efficiency profession waned, Mr. Parnas centered on instructing, together with at Boston College, the place he served as an adjunct affiliate professor of music from 1963 to 2013.

Agnes Kim, a cellist who studied with him from 2004 to 2008, mentioned he spoke typically in regards to the significance of not letting approach intervene with musical expression.

“He was a legendary instructor, however to me he was by no means that faraway, mystical particular person,” she mentioned. “He was simply so pleasant, so humble. He all the time had his playful grin each time I went to the classroom.”

Alongside along with his son Marcel, Mr. Parnas is survived by one other son, Jean-Pierre, and 4 grandchildren, two of whom are skilled musicians. He married Ingeburg Rathmann in 1961; she died of breast most cancers in 2009.

Marcel Parnas mentioned that his father continued taking part in his 1698 Matteo Goffriller cello virtually daily till late in life, and that he was particularly keen on Bach’s cello suites.

“For him, music was all the pieces,” he mentioned. “That was the way in which he lived: to play the cello.”

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