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Stephen Kates, like so many other figures in this book, came from a musical family. His maternal grandfather was a Hungarian cellist who studied at the Liszt Academy; his father was a violist in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for forty-three years; his great-uncle and maternal uncle were both cellists. Kates studied with former Casals pupil Marie Roemaet-Rosanoff in Budapest for ten years; after this came a period of study at the Juilliard School with Leonard Rose (a colleague of his father in the New York Philharmonic). Kates also studied chamber music with violinist Josef Gingold and took further cello lessons with Laszlo Varga and Piatigorsky at the University of Southern California, where he also met Primrose and Heifetz. He returned to the Juilliard School to study with Claus Adam, who changed his bow hold so that his thumb was opposed by his first and second fingers, instead of the third; Kates felt that this gave him more control over tonal variation. It is often said that Kates was influenced in his early career by Casals (via Rosanoff) and that he also admired Feuermann’s seamless tone, whilst later he became interested in Rostropovich’s ideals of avoiding portamento and using the left hand to dictate musical ideas. Indeed, Kates’ playing can be seen as thee pi tome of modern cello technique: he avoids any audible shifting (unless absolutely required by the music), quite unlike earlier cellists on record for whom portamento was still a major expressive device.

The recordings selected here display Kates’ performance philosophy well: there is an almost ascetic approach to the modernist works, with a relatively objective delivery—that is, without overtly emotional gestures. This works well in Robert Hall Lewis’s initially rather forbidding soundscape (1978) and Martin’s dramatic, and in some ways quite disturbing, Cello Concerto (1973); the latter is played with aplomb and absolute conviction, using a tonal approach that has now become very familiar. Kates’s ethereal accompanying of the soprano Elaine Bonazzi in a Ravel chanson (1985) shows his sensitivity as a chamber musician, and these the recordings testify to his discriminating stance as a thoughtful artist.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title  Catalogue No  Work Category 
MARTIN: Violin Concerto / Cello Concerto First Edition

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