Zara Nelsova | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Zara Nelsova

Zara (b Sarah) Nelsova (b Nelson or Katznelson). Cellist, teacher, b Winnipeg 23 Dec 1918, naturalized US 1953, d New York 10 Oct 2002; honorary LLD (Winnipeg) 1985; honorary ARCT 1986; honorary D MUS (Smith College) 1992.

Nelsova, Zara

Zara (b Sarah) Nelsova (b Nelson or Katznelson). Cellist, teacher, b Winnipeg 23 Dec 1918, naturalized US 1953, d New York 10 Oct 2002; honorary LLD (Winnipeg) 1985; honorary ARCT 1986; honorary D MUS (Smith College) 1992. She received her earliest musical training from her father, a flutist and graduate of the Petrograd Conservatory. She also studied 1924-8 with Dezsö Mahalek, 1929-35 with Herbert Walenn, and during the 1940s with Pablo Casals, Emanuel Feuermann, and Gregor Piatigorsky. She first played in Winnipeg as a child of five. She and her sisters Anne, a pianist, and Ida, a violinist, performed together at Manitoba Music Competition Festivals (Winnipeg Music Competition Festival). Shortly after the family moved to England in 1928, the sisters became known as the Canadian Trio (1929-39). The trio appeared at Wigmore Hall during the 1928-9 season and continued to perform under that name until 1939. Nelsova made her recital debut in London ca 1930 and her concert debut in the Lalo Concerto one year later with the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent. With the trio she toured Australia, Northern Africa, and South Africa ca 1934-6.

In 1939 Nelsova returned to Canada where she was principal cello 1940-3 with the TSO and a member 1941-4 of a second Canadian Trio, this time with Kathleen Parlow and Sir Ernest MacMillan. During the early 1940s she taught at the TCM. She made her New York debut at Town Hall in 1942. In 1949 Ernest Bloch invited her to play Schelomo at a festival of his works in London; she later recorded the work under Bloch's baton. In 1954 she spent two months performing in Israel and made a 27-day tour of Alaska and the Canadian Northwest Territories. In 1966 she became the first North American cellist to tour the Soviet Union.

Nelsova performed extensively in concert and recital throughout North and South America and in Europe and appeared at several music festivals (including Aspen, Bergen, Casals, Prague, Tanglewood, Vancouver International, and Expo 67). She appeared as soloist with more than 30 orchestras including the BBC Orchestra, the Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra, the MSO, the NACO, the TSO, the Boston, London, Vancouver, and Winnipeg symphony orchestras, the Berlin, London, and New York philharmonic orchestras, and the Orchestre de la Suisse romande. Until at least 1990 she maintained her schedule of up to 80 performances a year, then largely gave up performing in 1997 to concentrate on teaching.

With the BBC Orchestra Nelsova gave the first European performance (1950) of Barber's Cello Concerto and later recorded the work with the composer and the New Symphony Orchestra. She premiered Hindemith's A Frog He Went A-Courting in London in 1947, Alexander Brott's Arabesque (version for cello and orchestra) in Montreal in 1958, Alexei Haieff's Cello Sonata in 1963, and Hugh Wood's Cello Concerto (at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Colin Davis) in 1969. The Haieff sonata was commissioned by Nelsova with a grant from the Ford Foundation. In 1972 she gave the US premiere of Robert Casadesus' Sonata. In 1955 in London (Wigmore Hall) and New York (Town Hall) she gave series of recitals of works for cello alone, the programs ranging from Bach to Kodály, Prokofiev, and Reger. She also played for President Richard Nixon at the US White House.

Nelsova appeared on CBC TV and was heard over CBC radio many times: in the five Beethoven sonatas with Lubka Kolessa and Ross Pratt 1942-3 and in various programs for 'Distinguished Artists' 1945-6, 'L'Heure du concert' ca 1954-5, 'Recital' 1959-62, 'University Celebrity Recital' (October 1964), 'Centenary Concerts' (July 1967), and 'Music' (July 1968). She was the soloist for the London concert by the NACO during its 1973 European tour, and in 1987 was one of the 'stars' of the RCMT centennial celebration concert in Roy Thomson Hall.

The US pianist Grant Johannesen (her husband 1963-73) was her partner in many recitals. During the 1970-1 season the couple appeared at Town Hall in Toronto as part of James Norcop's Canadian Platform series. In May 1976 they toured Canada as soloists with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and premiered, as dedicatees, Robert Turner'sCapriccio concertante.

Writing in the Toronto Telegram (23 Mar 1966) after a performance of Bloch's Schelomo by Nelsova and the TS, Kenneth Winters described Nelsova as 'a player of magnificent presence, grand verve, consummate skill and unflagging strength ... Of (Schelomo's) longueurs she made a rhapsody; of its bombast, she made drama; of its sentiment she made warm, quiet lyricism.'

Nelsova taught at the Juilliard School 1962-2002, and also at Rutgers University. Her pupils included Lotte Brott and Denis Brott, and many other cellists who in turn became teachers. She also gave many master classes (eg, at the RCMT in 1986, the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Arts in 1990, the Piatigorsky Seminar in 1995, the World Cello Congress in 2000, and regularly at London's RAM).

Among the instruments Nelsova played were a 1726 Stradivarius and a 1735 Pietro Guarnerius. She received the Centennial Medal and the Jubilee Medal from her homeland.

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