Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Remembering David Wells (1927-2012)
Every classical musician needs someone to take the raw materials and spin them into a finished product, or at least a more-finished product. A teacher who is not necessarily spanning the globe with world premieres and guest appearances, but who takes the bus to your town, week after week, puts in a 14 hour day and some the next day shepherding you and your classmates, then travels to another city to do the same. A mentor who, note by note, étude by étude, concerto by concerto, burns the bourgeois out of you by lighting a fire under your muse and converts you into a “practicer.” Just such a person in my life has recently passed, David Wells; a dedicated educator with many years of tenure at the Hartt and Manhattan Schools of Music, and New England Conservatory
Probably his most notable contribution to the musical world is the Yellow Barn Music Festival, which he founded with his wife Janet in 1969. NEC violin professor Eric Rosenblith soon joined forces with the Wellses, and chamber music training comparable with Meadowmount, Chamber Music West and Kneisel Hall has happened every summer since. Over the years several KSO members, most recently Gordon Tsai, can attest to the high intensity and quality of growth occurring there.
My favorite lessons with him had “yoga cello”as a focal point. Avoiding repetitive motion ailments and the like was a major focus in masterclasses, and yoga was a tool of his trade. On the other hand, his boisterous coaching style was as dynamic a musical experience as you could ever hope to receive. Mr. Wells could call upon such sundry sources of inspiration as Segovia or Shakespeare, Maria Callas or Björn Borg to guide the way to interpretation of a phrase or technical triumph. Through him I learned that there was more to beautiful artistry than just playing in tune.
You won’t likely find a YouTube video nor buy cds of David Wells playing the cello, but you will hear his influence in a great many chamber, orchestral and solo musicians. (Actually, the Yellow Barn Music Festival has released a recording of a Wells Duo recital from 1976, a couple of tracks from which can be heard here). I channel his love of music and his teachings every time I rosin up my bow or greet a student.