Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Berl Senofsky Remembered

Shortly after Berl Senofsky died in 2002 I conducted some interviews with some of his former violin students as material for a magazine article. It was very hard to find, at that time, a "home" for these interviews, so I am posting them here.

Here is an interview with Sandra Goldberg, who is the Assistant Concertmaster in the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. She studied with Berl from 1971-1975 at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

1. What was your first impression of Berl Senofsky?

He was large, intimidating, and important, a fantastic violinist with an incredible sound.

2. What are the three most valuable things you learned from Berl?

Always play with imagination and good taste, always project to the back of the hall.

3. What is your most poignant memory?

I have a lot of memories of Berl. When preparing for my recital, he taught me up to the last minute, together with Ellen Mack, until they were both arguing about if I should do a repeat the same way as the first time I had played it, or do it a different way. I don't remember what they decided, but I think I ended up playing it differently.

One day during a summer in Woodstock Connecticut, where he taught our violin class, he and Ellen took us on an excursion to Boston. We went to a Chinese restaurant where dish after dish was brought out until we were so stuffed we could no longer move. He had Incredible generosity and a love of the fine things in life.

I remember his master classes in the concert hall. He was always standing in the back of the hall listening, a cigar in his fingers. Years later my violin still smelled of his cigar.

I remember Hearing him demonstrate a passage and feeling as if I could never come close to that genius in his playing in a million years. It was both inspiring and depressing at the same time. His playing was always so beautiful and convincing.

4. What did Berl teach you about bow technique?

"Sustain, sustain, sustain," controlling bow changes, articulation, and colle.

5. What did he teach you about left hand technique?

Putting the fingers down so slowly that you could adjust the note before it
was played. He talked about vibrato with "tensil" strength, and had me do vibrato exercises and shifting exercises. He taught me how to make a
beautiful Heifetz shift by coordinating the bow change with the glissando.

6. What did he teach you about phrasing?

He taught me to sing, to "color" the sound, and to time a phrase so that the audience is in the palm of your hand. "Make the audience cry," he would say.

7. What did he teach you about sound production?

He would talk about feeling the resistance of the bow pulling in towards the bridge, sustaining the sound, and projecting to the back of the hall.
The first few weeks of lessons consisted of feeling the arm weight on open
strings, changing the bow at the frog slowly so that the sound was very
dirty. The result came later in a projecting sound, but during those few
weeks I felt sorry for my neighbors in the dormitory listening to my
scratching sound!

8. What did he teach you about musicianship?

"There is no such thing as a bad accompanist. You must learn to lead better
and to listen." He taught me to be a good chamber music player.


Anonymous said...

zkmvcuvBerl Senofsky was one of the vinyl heroes of my youth. I endlessly listened to his recording of the Brahms concerto, fascinated by the sheer beauty and extraordinary intensity of his playing. I still regularly check if there is no reissue of the old Phillips record on CD, and I cherish the Brahms violin sonatas recorded live at the Library of Congress and issued a few years ago. I fully understand his decision to devote his life to his students rather than to become a soloist spending half his life in hotel rooms, but he had decided otherwise we'd have a legacy of dozens of superb recordings.
My thanks to Elaine Fine for the short interview, the man and artist comes across beautifully.
Peter Halter

G. Lemco said...

Mr. Halter,

There is a transfer of the Rudolf Moralt collaboration with Senofsky on the Brahms Concerto. Go to Historic Classics UK and see the newer listings. I already have my own transfer and plan to broadcast it on my radio show "The Music Treasury" on KZSU-FM at Stanford University. Go to on Tuesday nights 7-9 PM (PST)
--G. Lemco (

David Sherr said...

I met Berl in 1964 and spent some time with him in Santa Barbara, where he taught at the Music Academy of the West. I heard him rehearsing a Mozart sonata with Ellen Mack. At one point, he played a turn and Ellen said, "He (meaning Heifetz) plays a trill there."

"'He' can only play a trill; I can play a turn," Berl said.

Another time he called me and asked if I would like to go to Disneyland with "me and some of the boys." I said I didn't want to go to Disneyland and asked who "the boys" were.

"Jack Benny and Jascha Heifetz," he said. I changed my mind and he said he would call me with the details but he never called back and I never found out if it was for real.

He had a Stradivarius at that time that some foundation had loaned him after the previous borrower had been thought to be careless with it. He kept it in the trunk of his several-years-old Ford convertible. I don't think I ever saw him again after that summer.