Lawrence Zoernig (1960 – 2017) had been principal ’cellist of many fine New York symphony and chamber orchestras including New York Chamber Orchestra, Bachanalia and Opera Manhattan. Mr. Zoernig premièred Lars-Erik Larsson’s Concertino for Cello and String Orchestra at Trinity Church with the New York Scandia Symphony, for which he was also principal ’cellist.
As a chamber musician, he had performed with Goliard Ensemble, Cosmopolitan Chamber Players, Bachanalia, the Harlem Chamber Players, and was a founding member of Vista Lirica. He had appeared with such noted artists as Nina Beilina, Sidney Harth, Mark Peskanov and Charles Neidich and dance ensembles including Paul Taylor Dance Company and the David Parsons Dance Company. He had appeared as soloist and chamber musician at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center, Steinway Hall in New York and the Phillips Collection and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In April 2005 he was invited to play for President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. As a concert artists on the international scene, Mr. Zoernig had also been presented at the Teatro Amazones in Manaus, Brazil and the World Expo in Seville, Spain and has also performed extensively on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II, Caronia, Vistafjord, Sagafjord and Royal Viking Sun throughout the world.
Meet the Composer Foundation recently provided Mr. Zoernig with a grant for his work as a composer of music for ’cello. Additionally, he maintained an active teaching schedule.
Lawrence Zoernig was born in 1960 in Sioux City, Iowa. He began studying ’cello at age eight in his home town. He received a Bachelor of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music where he studied with Alan Harris, and a Master of Music degree from the Juilliard School where he studied with Harvey Shapiro. At Juilliard, he also worked with Felix Galamir, Joel Krosnick, John Cage, Albert Fuller and Jaap Schröder.
If I were to write a book on our dear friend Lawrence Zoernig, it would have to be called something like Son of the Muses or maybe Orpheus’ Kindred Spirit, connected as he was to unseen worlds beyond the physical, with bow and ’cello as his most obvious conduits — he would wield them like a mythic man from a sweeter century.
As I write these words, I hear Bach’s Musical Offering in my mind. And why not? Lawrence was a natural musician and offered his music freely and joyously and generously — always. If there is a transition to be made from this life to the next, indeed, if there are scrutinizing gates, Lawrence certainly glided past them with the same ease he had shown through music; no interview process would be necessary, they would simply open on their own accord.
Was this connection limited to the ’cello? Hardly: I remember he spontaneously picked up a bass that was sitting (fully clothed if memory serves me well) in a corner of Eric’s apartment on W. 69th St. You would never know that he had never played the bass before; he played it wonderfully. But that is an obvious example:
For those of us who visited his apartment near Fairways, we were privy to a paradise created from odd bits of street findings, things collected from his worldwide travels, Tibetan singing bowls, rare books and etchings laid upon aisles by unknown artists who caught his eye – all beautifully configured through the same aesthetic sense which informed his music-making. In his space, one immediately forgot the broken narrow stairway leading to his apartment and the dubious structural integrity of the building itself or, for that matter, any hint of the outside world. I loved visiting the world of Lawrence Zoernig — it put me in touch with my better self.
Two summers ago, I met Lawrence outside of Fairways regularly. We would buy food for lunch in the store and make a picnic across the street in Riverside Park. One time we observed geo-engineering first hand, a/k/a chem trails, spewing out of planes into the already thick humid orange-grey sky above the Hudson. He was my sole musical colleague with whom I could discuss these ‘conspiracy theories’, and we both agreed that for the most part, they were not at all theoretical, but rather blights on the natural world.
At these lunches, as many other times, I also saw how he would interact with strangers, children, animals – he was and is someone easily adored.
Years before, he brought me a bottle of wine from a vineyard in Upstate New York where he had played chamber music concerts. He loved good wine and sought out ‘specialness’. I also remember how distraught he was when recounting roadkill he had witnessed too much on those trips to and from New York City.
The apartment at 143rd Street where I found his body on his last day was something quite different: It was not paradise; it looked rather like a personal rebellion against a world which would no longer provide him proper space to recreate a similar corner of the sublime. He sought the like through music, through friends and colleagues, and yet I’m troubled by thinking that perhaps he needed to seek space elsewhere.
Lawrence, were I given Orpheus’ lyre, and were it possible to send it to you as I would want to, I would merely need to toss it up aimlessly and it would no doubt find its way to your gifted hands.
Play on dear friend!