Introducing Professor Steven Tenenbom!


What’s your name?

My name is Steven Tenenbom. In German, Tannenbaum means fir or pine tree. I have an ancestor who lived in Arkansas and owned a grocery store. About 125 years ago, he decided to have a large sign painted for the front of the store –

The sign painter either didn’t know how to spell or drank too much and ran out of space for the last few letters of the name and wrote BOM instead of BAUM. When my relative demanded that he correct his mistake, the painter said, “”Sure, but that’ll cost you $5 more.”” We kept the spelling……

Where are you from?

I’m from Phoenix, Arizona.  My father, Harold Tenenbom grew up in Davenport, IA.  After school and on weekends, he helped his father run his small grocery store.  He enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1942 and flew missions in Europe as a navigator.  In 1991, I interviewed him about his life.  His war stories are now available to watch as part of The Veterans History Project located in the Library of Congress.  Here is a link to the site – http://www.ccsu.edu/page.cfm?p=8879.  My mother’s family was also interesting.  My grandfather was named Gus Greenbaum.  Google him……

How did you come to the viola?

I started in the public school system in Phoenix.  There was a concert given by the young students of the district.  Those who were interested in taking up an instrument took home an application for their parents to sign.  I chose the viola because no one else paid much attention to it.  Right then I started my lifelong love of the instrument as well as the realization that the best things are often the least obvious.

Are you a Juilliard student?  Were you?  Or do you now work as part of the studio?

I am privileged to be a colleague of Heidi Castleman, Hsin-Yun Huang, Misha Amory as well as being constantly inspired by the creativity and positive energy of our studio.  While you may consider me a faculty member, I think of myself as another student.  I am learning more now than I ever have before.

Tell us about one of your favorite performances?

On September 25, 2001, the two week anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center organized a concert dedicated to the firefighters of the FDNY Engine 40 Ladder 35, located behind Lincoln Center on Amsterdam Avenue.  12 firefighters from that company perished at the World Trade Center on 9/11.  One of my groups, OPUS ONE performed the slow movement of the Brahms Piano Quartet, op.60 on the concert.  Just before we played, two firefighters representing the company came backstage to thank us.  There were only two attending because all the others were helping the families of the men who lost their lives.  The looks on the faces of these two young, handsome men was something I will never forget.  Needless to say, our already raw nerves were deeply affected by the sadness and shock of these two faces.  To say that each of us put our heart and soul into the performance would be trivializing what happened.  Here is a link to that performance – http://www.op1.org/audio/brahms.mp3

If you could perform any viola piece, what would it be?

You know, it’s not really any particular viola piece that would be at the top of my list.  However, I would love to time travel and play the Brahms sonatas with Brahms, play in the Schuppanzigh Quartet in a Beethoven premier or perhaps perform a Bach suite for the composer (and stay for dinner, of course!).

If you could play any non-viola piece, what would it be?

The Brahms Horn Trio.  Yes, I know.  But ON the French Horn!

Who made your viola and how did you get to be the one playing it?

My viola is made in Brescia by either Gasparo da Salo or Pellegrino di Zanetto di Micheli.  The year is around 1570.  I purchased it in 1982 (30 years ago!).  It has an amazing full, resonant sound without being too dark or muddy.  Like one’s own voice, I’m always surprised when I hear it on a recording.  It sounds more like a cello than a violin.  However, to get that sound, I have to negotiate an extremely ungainly body length of 18 1/4 (46.4 cm).  It’s worth all of the trouble.

Do you have any secret skills?

I’m not sure.  Perhaps I have a bit of an intuitive sense of direction.  I used to stare at road atlases when I was young.  I liked to look out of airplane windows when I’m flew across the country at night to see if I can identify the city that I was over by looking at the street patterns.  However, that skill was greatly diminished with the introduction of the GPS.  Nowadays, I just practice geography on the viola!

You are forced by the United States Government to not practice for a day.  What do you do with yourself?

I am always curious about how things work.  I might take apart a watch and try to put it back together.  I did that once when I was young.  Never did figure out where all those extra pieces went……

Do you have a website?



Comments RSS Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.