David Soyer was born in Philadelphia and studied with Diran Alexanian, Emanuel Feuermann, and Pablo Casals. He received Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the University of South Florida and the State University of New York. A founding member of the Guarneri Quartet (with which he played for 36 years, until 2002), Soyer was also a member of the Marlboro Trio. He has appeared in recital with Rudolf Serkin, Peter Serkin, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and András Schiff, and has been soloist with the orchestras of Philadelphia, Dallas, Utah, and Denver. Soyer, who joined the Juilliard faculty in 2003, is also on the faculties of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.
When did you first know you wanted to be a musician and how did you come to know it?
I was taken to a Philadelphia Orchestra concert and was struck by the sound of the cello—and you could play it sitting down! My choice was made! The wonderful, chocolaty quality of sound plus a clear edge made the cello a definite choice.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you when you were growing up and what did you learn from that person?
Diran Alexanian, who taught me cello technique and how to study music. When I was grown, Pablo Casals emphasized using the cello as the voice of much great music and presenting it expressively and sincerely to an audience.
What was the first recording that you remember hearing or buying? What was its significance to you?
A Beethoven sonata recorded by Casals. I was about 11 years old at the time, and was struck by the cello sound and the expressive power of his playing. It reinforced my decision to be a cellist.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had as a performer?
Taking bows at the end of a concert and having my suspenders give way. Grabbing cello, bow, pants, and suspenders—some very fancy footwork!
What are your non-music related interests or hobbies? What would people be surprised to know about you?
I was, when younger, a passionate sailor; I had a 24-foot boat that I loved. I also love jazz and mystery stories. I also constantly reread The Journal of Eugene Delacroix.
If your students could only remember one thing from your teaching, what would you want it to be? How has your teaching changed over the years?
To make music expressive through your cello. The true technique is the ability to play sincerely and honestly and with human warmth. I was taught very sternly, and when I began to teach, I thought that was the way it’s done. Alexanian was quite abusive, Feuermann also, Casals less so, but tough. My students cried a lot, but didn’t learn; they just cried. So I lightened up and we were all happier.
If you could have your students visit any place in the world, where would it be, and why?
Europe in general. So much of our music has European roots—waltzes, menuets, gavottes, all related to folk dances and folk music of Europe.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
Its energy and the availability of anything at all—music, theater, movies, food, ballet, etc. It’s truly the cultural center of the world.
What book are you reading right now, or what CD are you listening to?
A collection of poetry by various poets; Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between, a book about his trek across Afghanistan. And yesterday, I listened to the Schumann Cello Concerto, the recording Casals made at the age of 72—a flawless, once-through performance.
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a tugboat captain.