Celebrating with Robert Mann

Monday, June 3, 2013
At 92 years of age, Robert Mann has been a driving force in the world of music for more than seventy years. As founder and first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet, and as a soloist, composer, teacher, and conductor, Mr. Mann has brought a refreshing sense of adventure and discovery to chamber music performances, master classes, and orchestral performances worldwide. This summer Yellow Barn honors Robert Mann with a performance on July 19, 2013, his 93rd birthday.

Cellist Bonnie Hampton offers this tribute:

Photo by Ansel Adams

For Robert Mann
Who was able to dream of achieving the Mountain and then step by step,
finding the way to get there. We Honor You!

Robert Mann has had an enormous impact on American Chamber Music, blazing the trail for hundreds of musicians to find a life in the exploration and realization of some of the greatest music to be written for that medium. He is a complete musician in every sense of the word; a superb violinist and Quartet leader, a composer, teacher, conductor and mentor to so many musicians and just dearly loved by a vast audience all over the world. Much has been written about his achievements and those of the Juilliard String Quartet, but it is perhaps through their recordings and those of Robert himself that we are able to experience for ourselves the depth of his Legacy. He is indeed a true American National Treasure.

Violinist Mark Steinberg adds:

It was not a particularly auspicious beginning. As I took a breath, nervously preparing to play the d minor Bach Allemande in my very first lesson with Robert Mann, he yelled “Hold on!” I was unknowingly about to use my bow to do battle with the chandelier I had placed myself underneath. Somewhat rattled, I stepped to the side, managed to muster some semblance of concentration, and played the movement. I had long been awaiting the following moment, eager to have the chance to learn from an artist of Mr. Mann’s stature. I gazed at him expectantly. “Sit down,” he told me. I did. “The first thing you need to know is I didn’t like that at all.”

I might have been devastated, I suppose, but I wasn’t. From the next moments and through the next few years I was initiated into a world of deep engagement with the very elements of the music at hand. I’m not sure I even recognized music as being made up of such elements before. It was intoxicating, and dizzying, and thrilling. I had some very long lessons that first fall, and Mr. Mann’s razor-sharp listening and penetrating intelligence went to work on my playing. When he went on a European tour with the quartet in the late fall I missed my lessons. But I was also grateful for the chance to sort out all the information and all the challenges that had been thrown at me. It was a time for self-preservation, a time to stop and make sure my head wouldn’t explode.

I looked forward eagerly to the adventure of each lesson, each opportunity to be guided through an encounter with the score at hand. There was a visceral, hands-in-the-dirt quality to the work. The exuberant messiness of the process was its own reward. The challenge posed by the multiplicity of possibilities inherent in each composer’s notation was an invitation to extract something eloquent and true. I learned to listen to connections between notes and events with clarity and intensity, to begin to know what the precise shaping of a note, of a group of notes, of a phrase did to the message I was offering. I learned the verb to bowdlerize, and how to begin to realize when I was guilty of such a sin. Not to be forgotten, in a lesson: “That was a great performance...(long pause, begin self-congratulations)... to eat dinner to.” Robert Mann could be master of the witty put-down, but always it seemed a sort of epigraph to an essential lesson about to unfold.

Read more about Robert Mann

Share a personal story or write a tribute to Robert Mann by emailing Catherine Stephan, Executive Director