Bernard Manual Zaslav
April 7, 1926-Dec. 28, 2016
Renowned violist and educator Bernard Manual Zaslav passed away peacefully of natural causes on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, at his Stanford home. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 7, 1926, and lived a richly creative and rewarding life of 90 years.
He attended Samuel J. Tilden High School and was introduced to string quartet playing there by his Spanish teacher, Sam Levinson. Sam Levinson left teaching to become a celebrated humorist, and Zaslav went on to become one of the most important string quartet musicians of the 20th century, known throughout musical and intellectual circles as a man of great humanity and great humor.
In 1947, after graduating from the Juilliard School of Music, where he studied with Sascha Jacobsen and Mischa Mischakoff, Zaslav spent two years playing in the viola section of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. He returned to New York to work as a freelance musician, and performed and recorded a great deal of music as the violist of the Carnegie Quartet, the Kohon String Quartet and the Composers String Quartet. In 1968, he began his long tenure with the Fine Arts String Quartet, which was in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 1980, he joined the Vermeer String Quartet, and the Northern Illinois University faculty, and he finished his career as a member of the Stanford String Quartet and the Stanford University faculty. Throughout his long career as a string quartet violist, Bernard Zaslav and his wife, concert pianist and music educator Naomi, who made their Carnegie Hall debut in 1962, performed and recorded much of the viola and piano repertoire as the Zaslav Duo.
As an advocate for new music, Mr. Zaslav commissioned, premiered and recorded new works for string quartet and new works for viola and piano by Elliot Carter, Milton Babbitt, Gunther Schuller, Ralph Shapey, Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Roger Sessions, Ursula Mamlok, Henry Weinberg, Billy Jim Layton, Charles Wuorinen, Ben Johnston, Seymour Shifrin, Andrew Imbrie, Samuel Adler, John Downey, Karel Husa, Mark Neikrug, William Balcom and many others. Many of the 134 works of chamber music that he recorded for Vox, Turnabout, Laurel, Music & Arts, Nonesuch, Everest, Gasparo, CRI, Gallante and Orfeo, earned enthusiastic acclaim from critics. Some won international awards.
Aside from dear Naomi (Civkin) Zaslav, his wife of 69 years, his closest companion was a Guadagnini viola that was made in Turin in 1781. It is now part of the Dextra Musica collection in Norway, and will continue to be used by future generations of string quartet violists.
Mr. Zaslav put his heart, soul and hundreds of great stories of musical life in the second half of the 20th century into his memoir, "The Viola in My Life: An Alto Rhapsody," which was published in 2011, and comes with two CDs. It has become required reading (and listening) for viola students in colleges and conservatories throughout the country. Mr. Zaslav will be sorely missed by his loving family members, audiences who had the chance to witness his great talent and his students, whose lives were touched by his expressive voice and honest advice on how to best live a musical life.
Mr. Zaslav is survived by his loving wife Naomi Zaslav; his brother Blair Zaslav (Harriet) of Hollywood, Florida; his son Mark Zaslav (Susan) of Novato; his daughter Claudia Drosen (James) of Marquette, Michigan; and his grandchildren Madison Zaslav, of Novato; Sarah Drosen, of Shelby Township, Michigan and Alex Drosen, of Chicago, Illinois.
Memorial donations may be made to The American Viola Society at americanviolasociety.org.