Tribute to a Passionate Man

Beth Levin

[August 2007.]

Richard Talkowsky

Richard Talkowsky was a rare human being: a man of grace, warmth, humor, talent and the ability to make others blossom. When he died of a brain tumor in the early hours of August 5th in Reykjavik, Iceland his friends here and abroad lost a loving soul, a compassionate and unique artist.

I had the great fortune to meet Richard at Boston University’s School of Fine Arts when he was a cello student of the renowned George Neikrug and I was studying piano with another musical giant, Leonard Shure. The practice rooms were in the basement of the Fine Arts building and some of us barely came up for air.

I remember our rehearsals filled with self-deprecating humor. I knew that there may have been more note-perfect cellists, but with his warmth, passion, beauty of sound, vocal-like phrasing and natural instinct for communing with a musical partner, no one played like Richard. After college Richard joined the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. I was thrilled when he invited me to Spain to perform as in the old days. We took a rustic train ride to Vendrell, the birthplace of Pablo Casals, and gave a duo recital. I don’t remember my half but I’ll never forget the rich beauty of Richard’s interpretation of the Brahms E-minor Sonata and the Catalan lullaby, “Song of the Birds.”

In 1987 Richard moved to Iceland as first chair in the Icelandic Symphony. Soon after, I was invited to play trios with him and the superb clarinetist, Einar Johannesson. Listening to Einar at the funeral a few days ago delivering heartfelt words about our magnificent friend was as sad as it was moving.

Richard was invited every summer to teach at a music festival in Cervera, Spain. Our Trio Borealis played in the countryside for three of those summers and enjoyed the hospitality of the festival. It was there that I saw how deeply Richard was held in esteem by his colleagues and students. That quality, a genius really for appreciating others, made him so loved. I think he often hid his own complex nature, choosing to concentrate on the trials and triumphs of his friends. I also think that his kind of playing, coming from the core, never glib or easy, is increasingly rare.

I cherish the time I had as Richard’s friend and chamber music partner. I know that with him goes a part of myself.


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