Sure, a child prodigy that attended the Juilliard School, Columbia, and Harvard, befriended Pablo Casals, and performed on 17 grammy-award-winning tracks – that is a person that should be celebrated. From the professional musician perspective, there isn’t much that Yo-Yo Ma hasn’t done.
What I enjoy about his career is how he has worked to make classical music accessible to everyone. Bach becomes less intimidating if you look at it through visual arts. Collaborations within many musical nationalities have changed how we view the soundtrack of our lives.
To the cellist that has helped to make our instrument more accessible to the world, happy 61st birthday! See below for an eclectic playlist of his discography…
Per a conversation I found myself in the other day, I have realized that I am woefully behind in my life-long search to understand and play the cello to the best of my ability – particularly overdue in studying the history of the cello.
Sure, I’ve been to Florence and seen the old Stradivari and even been to the not-so-distant (but worthy) National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD to see the worlds oldest collection of musical instruments. But how well do I know the forefathers of this instrument and why they made the choices they did?
I think it is time to start investigating, and making it a journey that my students can ride along with me (kiddos, Breval was a real cellist – not just some composer.)
To start off I think we should just remember that this thing was invented and worked on over centuries – not just spontaneously made as it is today. For example, the end pin did not always exist. Cellist used to hold their instruments up with their calves! Imagine my daily workout that would be : )
For a bit of brief history on some 19th century French cellists from cello.org, stop by here to read about their accomplishments and old-style of bow holds!
image: Amedeo Modgiliani, Cello Player, before 1920
I would say that humans today don’t listen enough. In music students’ cases, even if I have a student that listens to their assigned work, they listen to the Suzuki recording and call it good.
When I was in college I had the privilege of being accompanied by Dr. David Breckbill, a leading expert on Wagner recordings. Not only was he brilliant to work and make my playing more historically meaningful, but the moment he saw my repertoire for the season he would also give me 3 recordings each of every single piece I was playing so I could make my own choices. Everything we do comes down to choice, so why shouldn’t we put thought into choosing to play like someone or not?
I want my own students to truly understand their cello heritage and I think we will focus on that this year. Each student should be able to list their 3 favorite cellists, here is the first step: I can list my favorites!
Below are the cellists that inspired my life, each for their own reason – some for technique, others for bowhold, and a few for pure gumption.
- Pablo Casals – one of the ultimates.
- Pierre Fournier – so crisp, and has a great edition for the Bach Suites.
- Raya Garbousova – I love how she didn’t just play the traditional rep.
- Zara Nelsova – student of Casals and a delightfully aggressive player
- Janos Starker – has lovely left hand technique
- Mstislav Rostropovich – a beautiful cello player/composer playing the works of another incredible cellist, Boccherini
- Jaqueline Du Pre – expressive player, and I love how this short clip gives you the view of what a cellist looks like from the back!
- Julian Lloyd Webber – this was an inspiration clip when I was a little one – Paganini to a 90’s rock orchestra? Yep.
- Yoyo Ma – enough said.
- Mike Block – current cellist that enjoys experimenting with anything from folk music to Indian tabla duets
Who has inspired you?
Our cellos are such an intimate part of our performance and creates a bond that defies logic. Here is a wonderful article in the Strad that explains how Amit Peled came to play Pablo Casal’s historic 1733 Goffriller cello.
Video of his experience HERE