Boston Symphony cellist, 82, is back after cancer

Jules Eskin took time out earlier this year to deal with a bout of cancer.

But after 50 years he is not giving up his seat in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He’s back playing at Tanglewood, breaking in a new music director. Full story here.

jules eskin

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    • I came across this whilst reading articles about maestro Eskin’s death. This is an old thread and I hope not to dredge up any old arguments, but I must say this- Jules Eskin was no ordinary musician; he was a work of art. One shouldn’t bash him for anything until they hear the recordings of him playing Don Quixote or Dvorak or Brahms. Eskin’s tone was something that was not and will never be replicated- the regal and elegant qualities, the emotions and musicality backed up by a wall of solid and sterling technique, which all came from a period of time where the level technique on average was much lower for cellists. The Boston Symphony is a business, and just like any other business in this or any other field, they have the right to grant leaves of absence based on above-average working output (or any other qualification they’d like). And, like I said before, Jules Eskin was no ordinary musician, he was a work of art; and bringing in a young hotshot who will most likely have a higher level of technical brilliance and more stamina could make sense on papers, yes, but the BSO waited for him because he was worth the wait. Eskin loved music and people loved when he played.

  • In no way is this “shameless”….and “give someone else a chance” is not how this business works. I’m very happy for this cellist, returning to work is a triumph. And calling it anything else has a sentiment of ageism.

    • It is selfish and self-important. He intends to place himself in history books as he deprives a younger woman or man of a good job in a business with precious few slots. I am astonished that the Boston Symphony Orchestra and his fellow players permit this. He is 20 years past a reasonable retiring age. How much is 20 x $100,000? Step aside already!

      • This musician no different than any other musician, regardless of age, in that he is held to the same artistic standards and expectations outline in the collective bargaining agreement and the music director. Imposing any universal standard otherwise, is ageism.

        • Non-discrimination regarding age means treating a musician of 60 the same way you treat one of 30.

          We are talking here about something else: a man who has not had the decency to relinquish his position at a reasonable age to create an opening for someone younger, and who instead has gone on and on and on like the Energizer Bunny in some kind of dare with himself and his colleagues and family, and the business, to hog a slot until something forces him out. There is no virtue in that. He deserves a kick in the ass, and not just figuratively.

          • sdReader says:
            “He deserves a kick in the ass, and not just figuratively.”

            So do you, for your pointless and gutless anonymous comments here. To quote you, “there is no virtue in that”.

          • sdReader says:
            August 28, 2014 at 6:24 am

            “My comments have a point, Michael.”

            Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. The more important point here is that this is none of your business.

            However, since this subject is so important to you, what we now need to know from you is

            – Your full and real name
            – Your age
            – Your occupation, professional background and current employment
            – How many years you have occupied your current position

            so that we can then publicly discuss whether or not you are qualified to hold that position, and if you are “blocking” younger, more qualified professionals.

      • Are you saying any of this with knowledge of the man, his abilities, or his motivations?

        Step aside, let someone else comment for a while.

        • No. I assume he still plays well. That is not the point.

          We have some 20 major orchestras in the U.S., providing maybe 2,000 jobs.

          Having one of those is a privilege in a country with hundreds of thousands of classical musicians, and more graduating each year.

          What I want to know is, where is this cellist’s sense of responsibility to those younger colleagues?

          Or is that a concept without resonance in an age of greed, ego, and yes, “inequality”?

          Has Jules Eskin ever heard the phrase “it has been a privilege to serve”?

          By all means, let him play on. But at a conservatory, in a local orchestra, as an advocate, relinquishing a salary and post that someone else now needs far more than he does.

          This would be a matter of selfishness at age 72. At 82 it is grotesque.

          • I can’t imagine what mentality leads you to that conclusion.

            And it’s not a “privilege” to serve in a US orchestra. It’s a right of a person who won the audition and held the position for decades.

      • The BSO is ultimately in the entertainment business, just like baseball and Broadway. Audiences pay the prices, and they reserve the right not only to criticize but to pass judgment on the quarterbacks’, jugglers’, or singers’ public lives. The public has not only a right but an obligation to maintain the standards of public institutions. They had a right to demand that Mr Steinberg be replaced — just as the orchestra had a right to get rid of Mr Leinsdorf (and they were throwing spitballs at him, if I remember rightly). The idea that a performing artist has tenure regardless of public opinion is insulting to those who pay for the tickets and contribute to retirement and endowment. Boston’s great artistic institutions are, after all, businesses — a lot like a football team; they are, therefore, subject to public opinion. It’s the same in art as it is in politics, and the adage Keep ’em Movin’ applies.

    • I’m totally in agreement with you, Holly. If the man can play up to the level of his chair in the BSO, who cares how old he is?

      In the words of Duke Ellington: “If it sounds good, it is good.”

      It seems to me that one would cherish Jules’ wealth of musical and stylistic experience.

      Until the sad but inevitable day that you are physically no longer able to perform, you GO, Jules! Mazel tov! Hang in there, boychik!

      • Musicians who can’t get a good orchestra job care. Musicians of great skill, equal skill, who are feeding a family on $40,000 care. Five hundred applicants care.

      • Eskin the husband was a performing artist. Retiring to provide work the next generation is not a right; it’s an obligation. Only creative artists have a right to continuing working, and only a good one has the obligation. To be blunt, Eskin’s work with the BSO and other orchestras was the least bit beyond time to retire. If he’d done so earlier, he might have received accolades — rather than sighs of relief.

        • I was at Symphony Hall for the concert the evening of Jules Eskin’s death, and I can tell you there were no “sighs of relief” on stage or in the audience. Jules was a fantastic musician and cellist, and a beloved part of the Boston Symphony family. And he played as well in his last concerts with the orchestra as ever. (He had not been playing this season.)

          It’s hard for me to believe that there are such mean-spirited people in the music world, or even among music lovers, as to say what you did about Mr. Eskin.

  • So long as Jules feels that he is up to the job of principal cellist of a great orchestra and his colleagues agree, there is no reason for him to leave. He will know himself when it is time.

    People like Jules are the institutional memory of an orchestra preserving and passing on characteristics of sound unique to the orchestra.

    • He is principal cellist? You gotta be kidding.

      Yes, there is a “reason for him to leave” — to provide an opportunity for someone else. These are PRIVILEGED positions. It is not right for seniors to hang on past a reasonable age.

      Institutional memory is constantly being passed along and does not depend on one player.

          • I am much disturbed by this story, which took me by surprise. I do think it illustrates an immoral sense of entitlement, a failure to recognize the privilege conferred, and a shameful refusal to give back.

            The rules need to be changed, as they do for Congress.

          • This blog gets more and more unsavory disregarding three of the four rules postulated by Norman Lebrecht:

            “When posting on Slipped Disc, please observe the following simple rules:

            1 No abuse

            2 No defamation

            3 No personal attacks.”

            This should be taken more seriously.

  • A “reasonable” retirement age is 70-72. The average life expectancy for an American male in 2011 was 78 years. I hope Mr. Eskin defies the odds and lives to be 100 but it’s time for him to step aside; 82 is well past any reasonable retirement age for an orchestral musician.

  • I am totally shocked about the undignified ,tactless and tasteless comments of SDREADER.Apart from being age discriminating,it is about a great artist and human being who just battled and won over a life threatening disease.Having lost my sister and my sister in law(both talented musicians) to that horrible disease I know what I´m talking about.Anyone should be allowed to go on as long as he or she is up to the job.Mazel tov on your recovery,Mr.Eskin,and may you play on for many more years!

      • Dead wrong.You have missed the point.and your comments are shameless.There are always rules and exceptions from the rules.Everything else is inhuman,and,as long as the quality of playing is top class,unnecessary.And it´s always non musicians making such irrelevant comments,never those who are concerned…

        • Norman wrote the story about the man’s health. I took it off topic because I was shocked — your word — to learn that the Boston orchestra has an 82-year-old in its ranks, and a principal at that. In observing the American orchestra scene for nearly as long as Mr. Eskin has been on the job, and in fact *not* being focused on age, I naively assumed until yesterday (!) that players left their posts at 61, 64, 67, somewhere in there, as in other professions. Salaried people tend to have careers from their 20s to their 60s, during which time they are expected to earn enough and save for old age, right? With only 2,000 musician jobs in the majors in the whole country, employment opportunities are few indeed. Your cellist must be aware of this, yet he hangs on, effectively blocking others from one good wage in that 40-year period. That is selfish. It is high time he stepped down. If you wish to pursue your complaint against me, first go and answer the few questions I listed above.

      • You have missed the Point! As the son of Jules Eskin, I must feel obligated to correct anyone that feels he should have “Stepped Down”! Look, whatever business any commenter here is in, that is solely what needs to be addressed. My father was in a specific job that was union protected and his musical abilities were always tested and critiqued. No REAL critic from an established organization like the Boston Globe, or NY Times, forget any unknown web critic, that ever said his playing was ever in doubt. To the contrary!! I can provide many up until 2015..

        My job is union protected, but governmentally regulated, I must stop by 65 or whenever I cannot maintain the medical requirements. My father was so strong and vibrant and was not the normal 84 year old, but to have anyone say he should have stepped down to make way is just stupid, insensitive, and not in tradition of this profession.

        Please refrain from this nonsense talk..

        • Excuse me Alex. And I am very sorry for your loss. Your father may have been exceptional in his old age, but I will not back down from a post I made on Mr. Lebrecht’s slipped disc from August 2014 concerning this very issue. The feeling is even more ACUTE over 2 years later and I’m still playing in the National Symphony Orchestra:

          August 2014
          Even though Mr. Eskin may be capable of delivering an exquisite cello recital at his advanced age, I doubt he has the stamina to play the demands of the symphonic repertoire week in and week out. Let’s take a brief look at our history – Frank Miller died at 73, Paul Tortelier 76, Pierre Fournier 79, Leonard Rose 66, Gregor Piatigorsky 73, Mstislav Rostropovch 80, Daniil Shafran 74, Samuel Mayes retired at 67, Lorne Munroe at 72, John Martin 71, Ron Leonard well before 70… This list can go on and on with thorough research. I believe this is an indication that at 82, Mr. Eskin, well past his prime, should have already relinquished his position. I am a player in an orchestra and I simply don’t understand how management allows their musicians to stay past 70. Especially someone in a section who under achieves. Yet there they are. Perhaps there can be exceptions made for principals to 75 but beyond this age there is always a noticeable drop off in quality. It can’t be helped. Age catches up to everyone, no matter how fabulous one once played. – See more at: https://slippedisc.com/2014/08/boston-symphony-cellist-82-is-back-after-cancer/#comments

          • Hey Steven, Are you a Principal there? Do you get optional weeks depending on the symphony performance requirements, not to mention all of Pops off, or Chamber Player requirements? My father went on the last BSO Tour all over Europe in 2014 in his 80’s and we were hiking all over Paris and Cologne together and eating well. Don’t make yourself sound like an idiot for all to read. You may still be playing, and wishing for one of the most sought after positons with a great symphony that pays very well, but that is a right of passage. Just as it is in my profession, it’s called “Seniority”!! Not to mention great opportunity to claim the position.. Go have a martini and get off your soap box!

          • I see the audition for Eskin’s position is in January. Are you going to play in that audition, Steven? Now is your chance!

        • Alex: This is a somewhat more personal reply. As you can tell from my last name, I am also an Eskin.( More on that below). I never had the pleasure of meeting your father personally, but did have the pleasure of listening to his work with the BSO, where my wife and I have been patrons for about 30 years. Speaking from the point of view of the listening audience, thank god those like HSReader (?) have not won the day, as classical music in particular, is a field where many talents do much of their best work at an advanced age. I know I’ve particularly enjoyed the conducting of Bernard Haitink as conductor emeritus, and just this November, about a week after your Dad’s passing, we had the opportunity to hear Menahem Pressler play Mozart’s Piano Concerto #27. He is in his 90’s and had to be assisted to the piano, yet his performance of the concerto (and an encore!) was a delight! He also continues to teach at Indiana U. (My apologies to all of you in the music world who already know all this).

          And now to the more personal reason I’m on this site. My father Len was brought up in the Olney section of Philadelphia, one neighborhood over from West Oak Lane, where I understand your father lived. Per my uncle Sol (who died at 102 a couple years ago), the two families were acquainted, and your dad was considered to be a 3rd cousin. Unfortunately, that was a bit too distant for us to place you folks on our family tree, which heretofore has contained direct descendants of my great grandfather and his two brothers from Kiev, and other than the brothers themselves mainly contains relatives identified here in the USA. I suspect there is a good chance your family traces back to a first cousin of the brothers. My son Michael has been working with Ancestry and taking advantage of the increased info made available by various European governments to try to trace our tree (not just the Eskins) back a bit further in Europe. I am hoping he can apply that technique to the Eskin tree with your help. I am hoping that, if ok with you, the keepers of this site might be able to facilitate a private exchange of email addresses between us. Regardless, let me use this opportunity to express our condolences, both for you and your family, and for the music world at large, for your father’s passing. Hope to get a chance to communicate further. Your moderately distant cousin, Bob Eskin.

          • Hi Bob,

            Thanks for reaching out, I’m honored to know some more relatives from Philly! As much as I like to defend my father on this site, I’d prefer to leave it so not to have to hear the jealous ones complain they too couldn’t have the highest seat in the land! Lol..

            Please contact me directly off the site Hawaii744@yahoo.com.

            Cheers,
            Sacha

  • Pablo Casals played until his mid-nineties. Should he have retired at age 65 to give younger cellists a chance?

    • He was a wonder!

      And I’ve been listening to my 1986 Fauré Élégie recording with Jules Eskin today. Most eloquent.

      • Jules Eskin had the opportunity to study with Leonard Rose, ever so briefly, when Rose was in his performing prime. It was a short period but it never left Jules Eskin’s manner with the cello. He wanted his sound large, beautiful, impeccably in tune, like his teacher, Leonard Rose. I know because I studied with Rose for five years until his sudden death and that was the great Rose style. And with Mr. Eskin’s death, we lost one more former Rose pupil. One day there will be none of us left. Which will be shame.

  • You see, I don’t think orchestra players are just replaceable parts. Particularly not principal players. Anyone who has played in an orchestra knows this. A principal cellist affects the sound of his whole section — of the whole orchestra. He deserves to express himself as long as he can play, and we deserve to hear him. Is there nothing to be said for experience? I would rather listen to a great 80-year-old cellist who has lived in the music his whole life than a 20-something prodigy, no matter how gifted. Mr. Eskin is a unique artist, no less than Casals. There are lots of cellists who could fill his chair, but can they fill his shoes?

    • Oh yes, in America there are dozens who could fill his shoes and hundreds who could fill his chair. But the vacancy has to materialize first, doesn’t it?

  • We got that point. Your opinion is noted. No further argument necessary. I’m glad Mr. Eskin is back to playing in the BSO, and wish him many more years.

  • The Boston Symphony—in whose chorus I have sung for 45 years, and many of whose members I know and admire—has very high standards. They have one section cello position being auditioned for now and another later in the season, so it’s not as if cellists don’t have an opportunity to win a chair in the orchestra. But there have been several occasions in recent years when no winner has emerged from a series of auditions for a string-section post, so I doubt if the complainers here who believe that there are hundreds of qualified musicians at the BSO’s level are actually correct. There are surely many fine young instrumentalists, but they’re not necessarily ready to step into the BSO.

  • Even though Mr. Eskin may be capable of delivering an exquisite cello recital at his advanced age, I doubt he has the stamina to play the demands of the symphonic repertoire week in and week out. Let’s take a brief look at our history – Frank Miller died at 73, Paul Tortelier 76, Pierre Fournier 79, Leonard Rose 66, Gregor Piatigorsky 73, Mstislav Rostropovch 80, Daniil Shafran 74, Samuel Mayes retired at 67, Lorne Munroe at 72, John Martin 71, Ron Leonard well before 70… This list can go on and on with thorough research. I believe this is an indication that at 82, Mr. Eskin, well past his prime, should have already relinquished his position. I am a player in an orchestra and I simply don’t understand how management allows their musicians to stay past 70. Especially someone in a section who under achieves. Yet there they are. Perhaps there can be exceptions made for principals to 75 but beyond this age there is always a noticeable drop off in quality. It can’t be helped. Age catches up to everyone, no matter how fabulous one once played.

  • sdReader says:
    August 29, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    I’m three decades behind the cellist, so it is not an issue.

    So you tell us anonymously, but we can’t verify that until you have submitted the required information.
    Since this is obviously a very urgent subject for you – you have contributed around 20 comments about this, some of them rather explicit -, we should now turn to discussing your age and your qualification in the same public manner that you found appropriate to discuss Mr Eskin’s age and qualification.

    Also, I noticed you told us earlier In observing the American orchestra scene for nearly as long as Mr. Eskin has been on the job, and in fact *not* being focused on age, I naively assumed… – so you are three decades behind him, that means you are in your early 50s, and he has been on the job since 1964, that’s 50 years, so you have been “observing the American orchestra scene” since you have been a toddler. Impressive! That probably explains why you know so much about it.

      • You are now a public figure, since you chose to discuss this, someone else’s job qualification and age, in a very public manner. In case you haven’t noticed, we are on the internet here.

        But it doesn’t really matter. You can be a non-public figure and still block younger, more qualified people from moving up into a position they may deserve more than you do. Let’s apply the same standards to you that you apply to others.

        So you followed the US orchestra scene for 40 years but until yesterday, you didn’t know that some players can and do stay past their mid-60s? That in itself is quite remarkable.

        • No, it was the day before yesterday.

          But I discovered many months ago that Michael Schaffer is obsessive and argumentative to a fault, and I remember that Norman told him to back down when he was manically arguing with several commenters all at once.

          • That’s a very silly thing to say in a thread in which you posted about 20 comments repeating the same thing over and over, don’t you think? Even after several people explained to you why you are just seeing that wrong, and that it isn’t any of your business in the first place – you just keep repeating the same nonsensical “arguments” over and over again – that’s what I would call “obsessive”.

            I am actually not that “argumentative” at all. I just follow a very simple principle: apply the same standards to people and what they say that they apply to others and what they say about others.
            And there is nothing “maniacal” about that. I think it’s a very basic and sound principle.
            It’s just very interesting to see how quickly those people then often fall apart completely, and how childish they then get – just like you here now.

            But I have called you on your nonsense several times before. You like to dish out and make dramatic statements, like this conductor doesn’t know anything about counterpoint or that pianist isn’t “mozartean” enough – but then when questioned, you don’t have anything to back up these statements with. You like to belittle accomplished artists from behind the veil of your anonymity, but when your statements are questioned, you resort to this kind of childish riposte. That makes you look very small yourself. You really shouldn’t behave like that when you are in your 50s.

            Remember, I didn’t dig the hole you are now sitting in, once again. You did that yourself, once again.

          • Sinopoli had no command of counterpoint.

            Grimaud is no Mozartean, and she behaved stupidly and arrogantly with Claudio Abbado at a time in his life when he was frail, losing the respect of many people, including mine.

            I suppose those views are what you are still fretting about.

            This story concerning Jules Eskin has bothered me enough to answer every comment made here in support of his staying on the job, which, as I said at the top, deprives someone else of a chance.

            Are we straight now?

  • I can understand the sentiment behind Mr. Eskin’s excellent playing and I am sorry if I offended anyone. I certainly would have liked, first hand, to have heard Mr. Eskin’s playing into his 80s as a bar I can shoot for if I live that long. But I will leave this quote from one of Mr. Eskin’s esteemed teachers who did not live as long as Mr. Eskin:

    “The moment, however, he started playing anything more complicated, the vibrato was already slow, the intensity of the playing was not there. This cannot be helped. This is natural.”

    Leonard Rose, who died at 66 in 1984, upon hearing 81-year-old Pablo Casals in 1957

    • Probably true in general, but shouldn’t that be looked at and decided in each individual case?
      Anyway, since Eskin’s position is now finally vacant and you were among the ones who complained that it wasn’t before, are you going to audition for it next month?

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