News Home
Quick Bites
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
On AirNewsClassical
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Don Drumm Studios

Greater Akron Chamber

Hennes Paynter Communications

For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )

Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Arts and Entertainment

Cleveland Orchestra cellist honors his teacher
Brian Thornton's new CD is a tribute to holocaust survivor Lev Aronson

Vivian Goodman
Brian Thornton joined the Cleveland Orchestra cello section 18 years ago at the age of 24. He was 14 when he began studying with Lev Aronson in Dallas.
Courtesy of Vivian Goodman
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:
Cleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton this week released a new CD in tribute to his late high-school cello teacher, Lev Aronson. Thornton includes music never before performed that Aronson wrote after escaping from a Nazi concentration camp.
Click to listen

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (7:34)

Lev Aronson survived four years in the Stutthof concentration camp. During that time he never touched a cello.  

Cleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton says his high school cello teacher didn’t tell him much about his ordeal, but one story sticks with him.

"He was told with three other people to load the back of a truck full of rocks. And then he had to take all the rocks out of the truck. But if they didn’t get it done in an hour they would be killed. So one had to time out an hour in a very precise way.

"So Lev had three cello concertos that he had memorized in his head. He said it was a a Tartini Concerto, a Saint-Saens concerto, and Haydn’s C-Major and as he was singing the concertos, he was timing the loading and unloading of the truck. So he said in that way music saved his life.”

Life and music after Stutthof
After escaping from Stutthof, Aronson wrote and arranged music that Thornton includes on his new CD, along with pieces he studied with his teacher when Thornton was a teenager and Aronson was principal cellist of the Dallas Symphony.

After the war, Aronson earned worldwide renown as a cello teacher. The Cleveland Orchestra’s former principal cellists Lynn Harrell  and Ralph Kirshbaum studied with him, too, but Aronson never became as famous as his Dallas Symphony stand partner, the late Janos Starker.  

"They were good friends until the end of Lev’s life. In a way they were the same type of character: a bit angry but just musically involved in a way that I think really affected all of their students.”  

Thornton’s parents at first hesitated to let their 14-year-old prodigy study with the tempestuous cellist. But Thornton says he never minded when Aronson shouted at him.  

"I think it takes an amazing mentor or a teacher to really push you over the edge. Lev was absolutely that for me.”   

Learning much of the story much later
Aronson died in Dallas 25 years ago. It wasn’t until recently that Thornton learned much more of his mentor’s story.

"I found out from his daughter that he had composed music that had never before been performed or recorded.” 

Aronson adapted many pieces for cello including Ernest Bloch’s “Prayer." Bloch composed it in his last days as the first director of the Cleveland Institute of Music. 

"I wanted to include many aspects of Cleveland on the CD, of course, because that’s where I’ve basically grown up musically. And the Cleveland Institute of Music, that atmosphere there was a big part of my growing into my orchestra position.” 

A solo career cut short
Before the war, Aronson had begun touring in what might have been a promising career as a soloist. In the summer of 1941, the Nazis occupied Finland and took everything from him: his freedom, his family, and his instruments.

"He played a Stradivarius for 10 years ... that was taken away from him suddenly. His Amati and his Torte bow were taken away by the Nazis in Riga.”

Aronson lost 25 family members in the holocaust.

 “The last memory of his sister (was) peering through a chain-link fence and that was the last time he saw her. He spoke about that many, many times.”    

Visual art as well as music
Thornton plays several Aronson compositions on the CD as well as a cello sonata by Patrick Zimmerli commissioned for the recording.

Thornton’s accompanist on "Kol Nidre and Beyond:Lev's Story " is Spencer Myer, a laureate of the Cleveland International Piano Competition.

And there’s a visual element, too, with original art and photography for the CD booklet by Cleveland artists Giancarlo Calicchia and Jose Infante.

Thornton has started a scholarship program at Southern Methodist University in Lev Aronson’s name and thanks in part to a campaign, the Lev Aronson Legacy Project will include the CD, released this week on CD Baby and ITunes, a concert tour, and a music festival June 10th through the 15th in Dallas.

(Click image for larger view.)

Listener Comments:

Interesting, heartbreaking, wonderful and inspiring!

Posted by: Judy Wearden (Kent, OH) on June 5, 2013 2:06AM
The CD "Kol Nidre and Beyond: Lev's Story" is available now on CD Baby and ITunes as well as the Severance Hall gift shop.

Posted by: Anonymous on June 1, 2013 10:06AM
Where can I purchase this CD? I really, really enjoyed hearing this heartwrenching and also wonderful story. What an outstanding tribute to a great man.

Posted by: susan schoeni (beloit, oh.) on June 1, 2013 9:06AM
Add Your Comment


E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook

Stories with Recent Comments

Local club works to bring back the once-prevalent American elm
I would love to help! Where would I get some of the new Strain so I could plant them?

Ohio Rep. John Boccieri sworn into office and hopes to look for 'middle ground' with colleagues
Welcome back to the Statehouse, John. You are a terrific representative in the truest sense always representing the people's voice in teh district you serve. ...

Lawmakers call for indefinite freeze on Green Energy standards
It's a shame the Hudson Rep. Chooses to mimic the words of the extreme right senator on his way out to join ALEC when we know the Pope was just here because of...

Youngstown Schools file suit against the Ohio Department of Education to stop the implementation of an academic distress commission
Voters should ask WHY this plan was rushed into law under the cover of darkness. What clues point to the beneficiaries of this plan? Both Patrick O'Donnell of...

Great Lakes conference considers a range of threats
Your article states "Studies discovered over half of all PAHs found in the Great Lakes region come from a single source: Coal tar sealants.". I'm curious to whi...

ODOT awards Kent-based Davey Research Group nearly $50,000 to improve highway landscapes
This is an outrageous waste of taxpayer's money. Good for only Davey Tree and their cronies in the State government. It takes $50k to figure out the way to save...

Canton: another Northeast Ohio city is planning its comeback
Historic Ridgewood and the Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority have no seats at the table. Very flawed right out of the gate. Ridgewood pays a huge percentage...

Property owners oppose a wind farm in Northern Ohio
Here is a link, exposing the connivance of the fossil fuel industry, in trying to prevent us from moving away from their outdated, filthy, and expensive forms o...

A new industry in Ohio aims to repurpose river sediment
and where do those PCB's end up??the story never says

A safe space: How Northeast Ohio colleges try to fight sexual assault
Very good and thorough job on a very sensitive topic!

Copyright © 2015 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University