American cellist David Soyer has died. He was 87.
Soyer co-founded the Guarneri String Quartet in 1964 along with the violinists Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley and the violist Michael Tree. The group became one of chamber music's most acclaimed ensembles -- especially in an era when American string quartets were relatively uncommon and Europeans dominated the scene. Soyer had an impressive 37-year run with the ensemble, becoming the first founding member to retire from the group, in 2001.
Soyer was born in Philadelphia, PA on February 24, 1923. He studied piano at the age of nine, and cello at age 11. His teachers included Emmet Sargent, Joseph Emonts, Diran Alexanian, Emanuel Feuermann, and Pablo Casals. Before joining the Guarneri he played euphonium with the Army Band during World War II and later cello with the NBC Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. He debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1942, performing Bloch's Schelomo, with Eugene Ormandy conducting.
While the Guarneri Quartet got its start at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, it quickly made its home in New York City. In 1965 the group launched a recital series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that continued until last year. In addition, the Guarneri presented a "Guarneri and Friends" conert series at Lincoln Center (1973-1997), recorded for the Philips and Arabesque labels, and toured constantly.
Other string quartets have had longer life spans (the Juilliard Quartet was founded in 1946 and continues to this day) and others were perhaps more glamorous, but the Guarneri held the record for longevity with original personnel intact. In its heyday, critics praised the ensemble's combination of extraordinary warmth and supercharged urgency.
In 2001, Soyer was succeeded by Peter Wiley, who remained with the Guarneri until the group disbanded. Besides his work with the Guarneri, Soyer appeared in recital with Rudolf Serkin, Peter Serkin, and Andras Schiff and was a soloist with the major orchestras of the world.
Soyer was an active teacher throughout his career, balancing jobs at several schools including the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, the Manhattan School of Music in New York, the University of Maryland and Boston University.
Listen to a selection of Soyer's performances.
Audio at the top of the page is from an interview on WNYC’s The Next Big Thing in Nov. 2000.