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The Most Erogenous Region of the Cello — by Stefanie Buller

Tue, 2017-04-18 23:28

Search for resistance—enjoy the friction!

I have been considering the topic “sounding point” (contact point, in German) for a long time now. Where bow hair and string meet is where everything we have to offer—regarding material, technique, power and ease—is channeled. This is the origin of the sound! This is where the action is!

Isn’t the sounding point therefore the most erogenous region of the cello?

But at first a little anecdote:

After the Christmas mass the priest stood at the exit, shaking the hands of the parishioners and wishing them a Merry Christmas. What a nice gesture! So I took his hand in return. But it felt like a rubber glove filled with jelly. By intuition I tried to get a grip. (“There must be bones somewhere in this hand…”)

This is how our little encounter turned into an embarrassing moment.

Contact needs resistance.

Resistance is the force an object puts up against the attempt to be set into motion. We need this counterforce to get into contact. Although the hand of the Monsignore approached me, it didn’t put up any resistance against mine. My hand therefore missed its mark.

No contact without resistance. No sound without contact. What a pity.

This is why we use rosin—instead of oil—as a “friction agent.” We need the resistance, the substance. We need something that answers “No” before it consents to getting into friction and vibration. In Tango the dance becomes exciting when the Follower reacts with a minimum of delay. If this positive ductile elasticity succeeds it can become a “high voltage dance.”

Resistance does not equal conflict or fight.

It is just a force opposing mine and giving me resonance to my actions. Isn’t a successful handshake in which two persons meet a terrific thing? When two people truly meet each other—not flinching—not squeezing? Amazing intimacy and closeness is possible in these moments. What if we would appreciate resistance and friction, possibly asking for them instead of judging them as negative?

Anyway: friction at the right spot is a blissful thing, isn’t it?

What does this have to do with sound production?

Well—casually said: You’re “pleasing yourself” when you play the cello. You are responsible for both sides of the contact point.

You are responsible for both sides of the sounding point.

We are bothering about our bow technique in great detail—but how about the opposite side? Your bowing skills can unfold their true magic only if the strings offer a decent counter-contact. And this counter-contact is created by your whole body (especially legs and torso). This part is equally important and should be considered with the same accuracy and attention as the bowing technique.

Why? More than 80% of the cellists I have worked with (more than 300 by now) are flinching their cello away from the bow in the critical moment. Why? Because the combination of a backwards dropping pelvis with an extended bow arm preparing for the great attack leads to a slumping of the ribcage area. Unfortunately that’s where the cello is supported. And similar to what I did when I wanted to shake the hand of the Monsignore, the bow arm grips tighter in order to achieve the contact.

The consequences: A tired bow arm (searching for contact but missing the mark) and back pain (because intuitively we try to regain the stability).

Vice versa the majority of these cellists created a better, juicier, more controlled sound after achieving more stability from the perspective of the strings.

You want a sound that is red hot, exciting and interesting? Take care of the other side!


1. Observe!
Video yourself as you practice from a side perspective and observe the movement of your body with the cello. Especially when you play high notes or want to achieve a huge sound. Celebrate everything that you notice.

2. Explore!
Play some long notes on open strings. As you do this let your pelvis slowly rock backwards and forwards WITHOUT adjusting the bow. What happens to the sound? If you don’t notice a change, make a video.

ATTENTION: This is not a license to do weird things with your pelvis! It is an exercise to increase your awareness of how you can influence the quality of the sounding point through body movement.

3. Focus on “counter-contact”!
Put your hands on yourself! e.g. put your hand on your leg and sense the leg with your hand. Now change the perspective and sense the hand with your leg. Which one is easier? What happens if you intend to sense both sides equally at the same time?

Find infinite opportunities to play with this principle.

4. Change your perspective!

Notice how your cello contacts the bow, as if the cello were playing the bow—not vice versa. What is your intention for this “love affair”?  Do you want a nice handshake, a gentle teasing or hot sex? Remember: “It takes two to tango.”

Whatever you’re aiming for, as with a successful handshake suddenly an intense intimacy can occur when two partners really surrender to their touch.

We often wish for contact but if it’s there we flinch. Renewing contact ever again and staying with it sometimes needs more courage than we think. That is my experience. And what is yours?

I too am looking forward to resonance—e.g. by receiving your comment, a share or a newsletter sign-up! In return you’ll receive even more tips and ideas on how to achieve more sound with less tension. Friction and resistance is also welcome – but not obligatory!

And now: Have fun with your sensual practicing!

More details on sitting with the cello here.

Visit the author’s YouTube channel for more in-depth videos.

The German performance coach and Alexander Technique teacher Stefanie Buller fell in love with the cello at age five when she heard “The Swan” for the first time. She had to become 37 to eventually take up the cello herself in 2013 and started to learn to play it. At this time she had already finished her 4-year Alexander Technique Training and specialized in working with cellists, such as members of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

The center of her work is that the human being is a magnificently integrated overall system in which all aspects such as body, emotions, thoughts and environment constantly interact. To distinguish what we can train and control and what we should instead hand over to our inert self-organizing potential is key for efficiency and high-level performing. Trusting in the power of ease and the intelligence of our nervous system is a process. Stefanie understands how to set an empowering environment in which this trust can grow.

The main ingredients of Stefanie´s coaching/teaching are the discoveries of F.M. Alexander and how we approach our goals as human beings, a great knowledge of functional anatomy, and her versatile experiences in music and dance, injury and recovery, success and failure. Having been a high achiever herself as a Key Account Manager in Plant Engineering, she had to experience the painful consequences of a constant aim for perfection, extreme willpower, the neglect of self-care, ignoring all signs of exhaustion, and the necessity to ask for support.

The art and music teaching she had been exposed to in her childhood turned out to be her strongest and most resilient resource for recovering. Musicians and music teachers can have a huge impact to the life of people. So supporting them in finding their own individual voice and strategies to take care for themselves is more than “just another job” – sometimes it seems like a tiny contribution to world peace.

For five years now she has been co-teaching a master course with Stephan Schrader, cellist of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. She offers group classes, individual lessons and online consultations. Her own workshop format CelloBliss for adult amateurs opens a non-judgemental space to experience the physical pleasures of cello playing as well as learning to practice in a joyful and stress-free way.

Her passion for supporting high-quality performers also led to her working with the Swiss Olympic rowing team (men’s quadruple sculls) and other high-potentials athletes in German rowing. (German and English)


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Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Forgotten Masterpiece — by Brinton Averil Smith

Wed, 2017-04-12 00:09

With over 200 film scores to his name, it’s more likely that you’ve heard Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music than his name. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born in Florence in 1895 into a family that had been in Italy for generations, since the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. His career as a composer began with conservatory study in Italy, and by the 1920s he was beginning to garner attention in greater Europe. In 1932 Mario began a lifelong friendship with the guitarist Andres Segovia, who inspired perhaps his most famous work, the Guitar Concerto No.1, and became an important champion of his music. It is largely due to Segovia’s influence that Mario wrote over 100 works for the guitar, which today form an important and frequently heard part of that instrument’s repertoire. At the same time Mario forged friendships with other notable musicians including Toscanini, Heifetz and Piatigorsky. With the rise of Mussolini and the racial laws, Mario sought shelter in America. In 1939,Toscanini sponsored his immigration, and Heifetz procured a contract for him at MGM, scoring films, as Korngold and Rozsa were also doing. Until his death in 1968, Castelnuovo worked prodigiously, scoring hundreds of movies (many uncredited) while simultaneously composing a surprisingly large number of classical compositions as well, including his second violin concerto, commissioned by Heifetz. Though Castelnuovo was not as famous as some other studio composers, perhaps his greatest Hollywood legacy will be as a teacher, with students that included Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, André Previn. Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams. Today, as we continue to re-evaluate the merit of works by once disdained composers like Korngold, Castelnuovo’s reputation as a classical composer is also on the rise. It is certainly true that something doesn’t have to sound beautiful to be great art, but finally we are also considering that having a melody doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t art, either!

Gregor Piatagorsky and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, August 1935

Castelnuovo-Tedesco met Piatigorsky in Florence in 1932, when Piatigorsky’s accompanist fell ill. Mario stepped in and they became fast friends. In his autobiography, Mario relates that Piatigorsky said to him “Castelnuovo, a great many cellists play your works as well as I do, but nobody loves them as much. Write a concerto for me!” and Mario obliged. In the Spring of 1933 Piatigorsky had the score as he boarded the SS Rex bound for Italy. His fellow passenger was Arturo Toscanini, and when Piatigorsky mentioned the concerto, Toscanini immediately demanded the score and disappeared for the evening. He re-appeared at seven the next morning with the score at his fingertips, full of enthusiasm to program the concerto’s debut with the New York Philharmonic. The premiere took place on Jan 31, 1935 (Piatigorsky relates that at the premiere, he and Toscanini shared a green room in Carnegie Hall. As Piatigorsky warmed up, Toscanini paced and cursed under his breath. Suddenly he stopped and exclaimed to Piatigorsky “You are no good. I am no good!” and resumed pacing. As they prepared to go onstage, Piatigorsky replied “We are no good. But the others are worse. Come on, caro, let’s go!”) 

Reviews of the premiere were mixed, with some praising the concerto’s tunefulness while others, like Olin Downes, dismissed it as “second rate music” for its traditional melodic values and tonal language. Piatigorsky performed the concerto a few more times in Europe, with critics continuing to split between praising and condemning it for its ‘old fashioned’ nature in a time of ascendant modernism (Korngold’s music was similarly dismissed, as was Rachmaninoff’s. History has offered a different judgment). Piatigorsky was active in commissioning for his instrument but unlike Heifetz, he rarely devoted great energies to promoting any of these commissions once they had been premiered, and quickly moved on to new projects. Castelnuovo-Tedesco insisted that Piatigorsky alone have the performing rights, and with the work never having been recorded and the music available only by rental, it quickly lapsed into obscurity. I first read about the concerto as a boy in Piatigorsky’s autobiography Cellist, and was already searching for information about it by the time I was a student at Juilliard. Finally, in the Fall of 2015, I connected with the proper rental agency and received a trial score. The only way to find out what it sounded like was to learn it and play it with the piano reduction! It was a new experience for me to learn a score with no recording to reference, no metronome marks, no ability to ask the composer, and only musical intuition and general markings to go by.

The piece quickly grew on me, and the dream of bringing it back into the public eye grew with it. I propositioned Aurelie Desmarais, the Houston Symphony’s Artistic Administrator, who was kind or perhaps foolish enough to not immediately hang up the phone, and joined my enthusiasm for the project, programming it for our subscription concerts on April 13th, 14th and 15th. After 80 years the concerto will once again have a chance to be heard from a professional orchestra. However, as Fritz Kreisler once quipped, “One should never play anything for the first time”, so my wife and I spent a great deal of time learning the piece with the piano reduction. Castelnuovo’s piano reduction unfortunately loses some of the best elements of his work—sweeping, powerful orchestrations, and creative use of orchestral colors. (In many cases he has written four melodies simultaneously on four staves but, like many pianists, my wife has only two hands…) Here are Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s own words on the concerto:

“…the first movement is quite regular in form with the character of a capacious and fanciful monologue, in tone somewhat Biblical. …the second movement, which would be, in most cases for the cello, a lyrical Adagio, is instead an Allegretto gentile. I believe myself to have been the first one to invent this “epithet”, and the music truly has an unusual grace and gentleness, in both the orchestration and in the agile counterpoint. It also has a brief, but curious cadenza accompanied by a celesta and timpani. …the last movement is impetuous and bright, typically romantic, but it is peculiar in that it begins (against all custom) with a long cadenza for the cello, which condenses the thematic material prior to the orchestra exposition.”

As we prepared for the April concerts, I asked our Chief Operations Officer, Vicky Dominguez, who was talking regularly with Klaus Heymann of Naxos, to ask him if he might be interested in the cello concerto. I knew they had the largest collection of Castelnuovo recordings and had heard that Klaus was personally a Castelnuovo fan. He wrote back in minutes, eager to find a way to record it and, thanks to the generosity of Vicky and all my colleagues in the Houston Symphony and staff, we are indeed going to try to record this live from concert in April. However unlike most ‘live’ recordings we will have no patch session to fix things after the concerts, so our success will be dependent on getting what we need in concert- hopefully not when someone is coughing! Since Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s original works for cello and piano have already been recorded several times, we agreed that the remainder of the CD would comprise mostly rare and mostly unrecorded transcriptions that MCT arranged for cello and piano.  Two pieces from Ravel’s solo piano suite Miroirs: La Vallée des Cloches (Valley of the Bells) and Alborada del Gracioso (Morning Music of the Buffoon) are fairly straightforward transcriptions, while the Serenade from Don Giovanni, and Two Cherubino Arias from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (the latter originally for violin) are more free fantasies. His arrangement of Rossini’s Figaro Variations is fairly well known to cellists and violinists. Mario had originally arranged his version of Figaro for cello, but Piatigorsky feared he would be laughed at playing a work that was neither wholly original music nor pure transcription. Heifetz saw the music and asked for an arrangement for violin. Mario made a considerably harder version for violin, which Heifetz then played to great success. Seeing this success, Piatigorsky also began performing his version, and this cello version is still frequently performed. However the version I play is largely a re-arrangement (‘de-rangement’) of the harder violin version, because I like it better and I can’t leave well enough alone, or as my mother says “we spend our lives trying to solve the problems we create for ourselves!” Finally Mario’s original composition Sea Murmurs, in the transcription of Heifetz, will close out the CD, which will be released in early 2018 if all goes well. Sea Murmurs was Heifetz’s only encore in his last public recital—the last notes he played on the professional stage, perhaps an indication of Heifetz’s high regard for Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Learning this concerto, and having the chance to advocate for it has been one of the most personally meaningful things I’ve done in music. When I was younger I sometimes tried to accomplish difficult or unusual things, like playing Tzigane or Paganini’s 24th caprice, at least in part because I was trying to do something that had rarely if ever been done. But the older I get, the more I realize that my greatest wish is not to be admired, but for people to look at what I’ve done and believe that “If he can do that, so can I!” Obviously I approach music from a very  ‘old-school’ point of view musically, but we all have to try to take the music beyond where we found it, and that means you must advocate for the music and performance styles you personally believe in, and push the boundaries of the instrument in the service of music. The videos I’ve posted to youtube are almost always unusual repertoire that I love, and hope others will play. Some of them are difficult pieces, but I assure you that I was no technical whiz when I was younger. I just like to push myself, and over time it builds, as it will for you too. I promise you there is nothing I’m doing that you couldn’t do too. I wish you all a happy life in music—know what you believe in, work for it and protect it. I assure you that the moments of fighting for what you believe in will be the happiest moments of your career.

Hailed by Newsday for “extraordinary musicianship…forceful, sophisticated and entirely in the spirit of the music,” cellist Brinton Averil Smith continues to win rave reviews for virtuosic performances with musical ideals rooted in the golden age of string playing. His debut recording of Miklós Rózsa’s Cello Concerto with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra won widespread international critical acclaim, with Gramophone praising Smith as a “hugely eloquent, impassioned soloist,” and his recording of chamber music of Fauré with Gil Shaham was chosen by numerous critics as one of the year’s best albums. As a chamber musician, he has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, Cho-Liang Lin, Lynn Harrell, Sarah Chang, Dawn Upshaw and members of the Beaux Arts Trio and the Guarneri, Emerson, Juilliard, Cleveland, and Berg quartets. Mr. Smith is the principal cellist of the Houston Symphony and a faculty member of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. He was previously a member of the New York Philharmonic and the principal cellist of the San Diego and Fort Worth symphonies. His performances have been broadcast throughout the world including, in the US, on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Performance Today and Symphonycast. At age 10, Mr. Smith was admitted part-time to Arizona State University, studying mathematics, music and German, and he completed a B.A. in mathematics at age 17. He received his masters and doctoral degrees from Juilliard, studying with renown cellist Zara Nelsova and writing on the playing of Emanuel Feuermann.

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100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 3: Stretches – Part One – by Robert Jesselson

Sat, 2017-03-11 08:00


I think that most people understand the importance of stretching before (and after) playing an instrument. I like to say that we are athletes: we are “small muscle” athletes involving the fingers, wrists, and arms. But actually playing the cello really involves the entire body. Whether it is a matter of producing sound from the lower back, or being physically expressive with our movements, we need to make sure that we are using our bodies in the best possible ways. Just as with any athletic use of the body, we need to make sure that our muscles are warmed up well before we start playing – and that we “cool-down” afterwards.  Warming-up helps by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the muscles, reducing the possibility of soft-tissue injury, and lubricating the joints. The cool-down after playing helps by removing lactic acid and other toxins from the muscles, and it will help to reduce muscle soreness.

Here are a few of my favorite stretches, starting with some of the larger muscles of the back and shoulders, and then moving to the wrist and fingers. I like to alternate among these stretches, spending a several minutes a day doing a few of them with repetitions.

Many people do stretches as a regular part of their day unrelated to playing an instrument. Here are a few standing stretches that I find useful:

Since tendonitis is so prevalent among string players, it is wise to address the potential for this kind of injury before it happens.  I am proud of the fact that because of our focus on healthy ways to use the body in playing the cello, virtually none of my students have experienced tendonitis.  If students start to have any issue with pain we address it immediately by analyzing the cause – whether it is poor body usage, “kinks” in the arm or wrist, tension, etc. The “anti-tendonitis” stretch helps to prevent injury since it deals specifically with the wrist and forearms by stretching and warming the muscles and tendons before playing:

In Part II, next week, I will present some stretches for the wrist and fingers.


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Travels with Ima – by Robert Jesselson

Thu, 2017-03-09 19:04

This year my cello is celebrating its 300 th birthday. Made in 1716 by Jacques Boquay, I call her Ima, as in “I’m A Cello” because whenever I fly with her I book the ticket as Ima Cello. That way I collect the frequent flyer miles and get a free meal! When I was younger it was a lot easier to travel with a cello – in fact when I lived in Germany I used to fly with Swiss Air and they usually just let me take Ima on the plane without paying for a seat. Later I bought a big Kolstein travel case – it is huge and bulky, but it has an inflatable “balloon” that surrounds the cello inside the case and is made out of Kevlar so you can shoot a gun at it and it won’t pierce the case. Ima traveled with me all over the world – to Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and New Zealand – but it always came out of the case in perfect condition. Sometimes I felt like it came out more in tune than when I put it in!

Jacques Boquay was the first important violin and cello maker in France. He lived from 1680-1730, and worked in Paris on the Rue d’Argenteuil, which still exists close to the Opéra Comique. The family lived in two rooms above the shop. His wife was Suzanne, and he had a daughter and a half-brother, Louis Guersan, who was also a luthier, as well as an assistant, Antoine Véron, and a worker, Treuillot. After he died, at age 50, his wife married his assistant Veron, and continued the shop. Boquay is better known for his cellos than his violins or violas.

I have had the cello for about 40 years. I was beginning my professional life, having already served as principal cellist of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, Spain. But I needed a better instrument than the Ettore Soffritti cello I
was playing. I searched violin dealers in NY, Chicago, and visited Moennig’s in Philadelphia several times. But I never found the right cello for me. Finally on one visit to Moennig’s they showed me a few cellos but again nothing clicked. I was about to
leave, and asked if they didn’t have any other cellos I could try. I was told that there was one more – a small-sized instrument. They brought it out, and I fell in love! The Boquay had the warm, round sound I was looking for, and since my hand is not huge it seemed to fit me perfectly. I have been playing it ever since.

Some years after I had become a professor of cello at the University of South Carolina, I was told by a local cellist that he had heard there was another Boquay in South Carolina at, of all places, Bob Jones University in Greenville. I made an appointment to go there, and found that BJU had been given their Boquay in the 1940’s as a bequest. It had
been sitting in a locker for most of those years, and was not in good condition. Their cello was made in 1712, so four years earlier than mine, but it was clearly made from the same wood and had very similar proportions. It was really the long-lost brother of
my cello. I told the Dean at BJU what he had, and about how much it might be worth. A few weeks later I got a call from the Dean asking if I would be interested in buying it –which I did, for a great bargain price. Of course it was not in playable condition and needed renovation. I eventually had it restored, and used it as a Baroque cello for many

As I mentioned, I have travelled all over the world with Ima. In 1983 I spent six months in China, touring and teaching. I was one of the first cellists to go to China since the Cultural Revolution, and I had the opportunity to travel all over the country playing recitals and working with orchestras. (For a full description of that experience, go to an
article I wrote in the American Music Teacher journal, “Cellist in China”: ) In February I flew from the cold and dry northern city of Taiyuan to the very hot and humid city of Guangzhou. Days before the concert, I had shown my Boquay to Xu Fu, an up-and- coming violin maker in Guangzhou. They had never seen an 18 th century cello in person before. He and his associates studied Ima and took pictures. On the day of the concert, the cell suddenly cracked – and it continued opening a 6-inch gash on the top of the instrument during the concert. It was perhaps the worst experience in my professional life. As I was playing, the crack opened more, and the beautiful sound was lost. After the concert I had to decide whether to just leave China, or to let Xu Fu do the repairs. I decided o the latter – and I went across the border to Hong Kong for a week. When I came back the work was finished, and he had done an excellent job in repairing Ima. When I came back to the States I took it to Moennig’s and they said the crack was perfectly repaired – they only needed to do some cosmetic work on the top. Thirty years later I was in China
again with Ima in 2015, with a residency and recitals in Lanzhou, Baiyin and Beijing. It is unbelievable how much the country has changed during that time.

On another trip, in 2001, I led a delegation of string players and teachers to Cuba as the past-president of ASTA. On that trip I almost caused an international incident. I gave a cello master class at the Conservatory in Havana. A student played Bach’s Saraband from the G-major cello suite, but he played it in duple meter by holding notes too long. I asked the student if he knew anything about the history of the sarabande dance. He didn’t, so I told him that the sarabande is in triple meter, with the accent on the second beat, and how it originated right there in Havana before being brought back to Spain. As I explained that it was considered to be a lascivious dance because men and women actually touched, I could see the front row of professors talking agitatedly with each other. After the class one of the professors came up to me and asked why I was giving such false information. I was shocked that they did not have this basic knowledge, and that night I called my wife and asked her to fax us a few pages about sarabandes from the Grove’s dictionary. Apparently because of the embargo, musicians in Cuba had not
had access to basic musicological information and research since 1959, and they had no idea about the history of the sarabande.

Ima and I have had many other adventures together – including losing her soundpost on a bumpy dirt road in Brazil while going to a festival near Porto Alegre, and playing the Tchaikovsky while on the Trans-Siberian railroad as we journeyed for five days across the Steppes of Russia. In fact, Ima has circumnavigated the world! We also lived through an earthquake and a sandstorm together, as well as spending several weeks in residencies in Taiwan, Korea, and England. Ima and I have played much of the cello-piano literature, including complete Beethoven cycles and all the Bach Suites. We have also enjoyed the company of other musicians in chamber music and concerto performances.

Ima and I have had a good partnership over the years. She has had a facelift or two, and maybe a tummy-tuck, but overall she is in great shape. However, a few years ago I felt that it was time to give Ima a complete overhaul. I asked luthier Damir Horvat to do the work. Damir is a violin maker and restorer, originally from Serbia, who lives in Columbia, SC. I asked him to write something about the restoration of the Boquay cello for this article:

It was a delight to be able to preserve the work of art which was crafted in Paris around the same time that famous Italian counterparts lived and worked in Cremona. This extensive restoration took about two months to complete.

Boquay is a very characteristic maker in his own merit. He does not use any particular well-established pattern. The overall size is very small for being a full-size instrument, the choice of maple for the ribs, back and the scroll is rather ordinary instead of carefully selected curly flame, the top plate has a very evenly grained spruce. The varnish is oil based, with rather dark brown tones. Boquay did not shy away from leaving a few minor visible tool marks.

Dr. Jesselson’s cello had structural problems that needed to be addressed. The arching and the bass bar had become deformed significantly due to forces of the bridge and strings. A couple of internal reinforcements and cracks have come unglued. The edge of the top has been weakened by numerous openings so that the edge needed to be reconstructed in the process called doubling. The internal restoration of the top plate utilized numerous advanced techniques including special arching, de-warping, installation of numerous patches, re-installing cleat supports, crack repair, and the newly properly positioned bass bar.

To our surprise, the most interesting part of the restoration was the discovery of the so-called “through patch” in the bridge area. As the warm sand bags were applied to the arching correction process, the heat from the sand had warmed the patch so it came unglued. The “through patch” refers to a new piece of wood inserted and disguised into the middle bridge area which has had a total sound-post or bridge protrusion through the top plate. The “through patch” was so well-hidden, but after the heating it was very visibly obvious. I ended up installing a new “body patch” to reinforce an entire bridge and sound-post area, followed by extensive varnish work to make everything look as if no “through patch” was ever there.

Attached to this article are some pictures from the renovation. I was delighted with the results, and happy to be reunited with Ima. Mr. Horvat can be reached at

A few weeks ago I celebrated Ima’s 300 th birthday by playing a recital with pieces from 1716, 1816, 1916 and we commissioned a piece from this year, 2016. The composer of this piece, Mandy Fang (Fang Man), listened to me play Ima and then wrote a work inspired by a lullaby that my grandmother, Oma, had sung to me when I was a baby.  Oma had made up a different lullaby for each of her grandchildren, and I still remember it more than 65 years later.

The piece from 1716, the year of Ima’s birth, was by Jakob Klein. I had never heard of Klein, but in researching the music for the recital I came across his sonatas. They are very charming and should be played more. They are among the earliest sonatas for
cello (and are a few years earlier than the Bach solo Suites), sounding a bit like Vivaldi or Marcello (although they were written earlier than those pieces also). They have never been published since the original 1716 publication, so I used that first edition, and we played it with harpsichord and bassoon continuo. Interestingly, these sonatas are written scordatura, so the cello is tuned to B-E- A-D in order to sound more brilliant than he standard tuning of today.

I have been privileged to have had a forty-year association with Ima, and hope to have many more adventures before I pass her on to the next cellist who will enjoy her company!

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Spring 2017 CelloChats on CelloBello

Mon, 2017-03-06 12:57

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Lluís Claret of New England Conservatory and Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu
in Barcelona, live on CelloBello via Facebook Live!

Lluís Claret

Monday, May 1st at 8 pm ET:

Join the interactive conversation on CelloChat with our incredible hosts, on Sundays this spring!

All Chats take place at 8 PM ET unless otherwise noted.

All Chats are broadcast via Facebook Live on the CelloBello Facebook page:

March 12
University of South Carolina

April 2

Cleveland Orchestra

April 9
The Shepherd School of Music, Rice University

April 16
Borromeo String Quartet, New England Conservatory

April 23
Los Angeles Philharmonic

May 1
New England Conservatory 

May 14
Mannes College at The New School

May 21
Eastman School of Music

May 28
Amerigo Trio



January 29
“Bowings in Bach – A Topic That Never Goes Away!”
New England Conservatory

February 5
“Decision Making in Bach, What’s Important?”
Stony Brook University, St. John’s College Oxford

February 12
“If It Ain’t Baroque, Don’t Break It?”
Amerigo Trio

February 19
“The Bach Suites as You Have Never SEEN Them Before”
University of California, Los Angeles

March 5
Parker Quartet

The post Spring 2017 CelloChats on CelloBello appeared first on CelloBello.

The Bach Suites as you Have Never Seen Them Before – By Antonio Lysy

Thu, 2017-02-16 20:38

Hundreds of scholars have studied and written about the Bach Suites, yet we can only speculate about how or when they were first performed. The original manuscript is lost, leaving us with various facsimiles to decipher, and there are no written accounts by Bach’s contemporaries. The one advantage of this predicament is the wide spectrum of artistic decisions on which a cellist is compelled to ruminate, in order to make them “their own”.

Apparently the suites were not intended to be performed as a cycle, although this approach has become increasingly common in the last couple of decades. My current perspective, developed over many years of performing and teaching the suites, is that each of the six tells a distinctive story. And, like a series of books or films, each component is woven into a broader narrative. Presenting these works in chronological order highlights this overall structure as well as Bach’s astoundingly fluent compositional style. He begins, in the first suite, with youthful simplicity, and after choreographing an array of preludes and dances with heavenly sophistication, ends with the glorious, life-affirming sixth suite. It is as if the cycle is an etched outline of life itself, in one continuous brush stroke.

Embarking on this project to perform the Bach Suites cycle at The Broad Stage a year ago, allowed me to further explore the possibilities of presenting traditional classical music in a fresh light, while making every attempt to preserve its pure, aural integrity.

The performance’s visual component, a combination of projected photography, video, and lighting, stemmed from my experience producing the multimedia show Te Amo, Argentina. The projected backdrops became stimuli for reflection on an imagined narrative, and offered an inspired ornament to the setting, transporting the public to fantastical concert venues. Mark Swed of the LA Times eloquently described a similar concert experience: “to transform the space in which the music is performed through projections that alter one’s perception of space, place, and just maybe, sound.”

The virtual venues chosen by me and my production assistant Chloe Knudsen were: For the first Suite, an Antelope Valley cave, illuminating the stunning strata within, and the genesis of time; for the second, the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, in all its glory, allowing the audience to quietly and slowly survey some of its most celebrated frescoes; the third, the magnified lit-up interior of a cello, with light pouring in from the F holes – a glimpse into its soul; the fourth, a series of colorful and intricately decorated cupolas from Muslim temples (a tribute to tolerance of diversity in our country, right after the shooting in San Bernardino); the fifth, grand rooms of abandoned buildings, conveying the message of the futility of war, via the dark and dramatic qualities of this C minor Suite; and finally the sixth, celebrating the natural wonders of our earth, depicting fjords, salt deserts, the Giant’s Causeway, and in the final Gigue, a time-lapse explosion of the magical, dancing Northern Lights.

The most conspicuous feature of that afternoon’s performance, however, was my cello. The audience did not see the golden varnish of my three hundred year old Italian cello (a CarloTononi), but rather a gleaming, modern, Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello, made in Boston in 2014. This cello is light and quick to respond, which among other benefits, facilitates surprising physical freedom. That relative release of effort allows for remarkable surprises in tackling the Suites, from choices of fingerings, articulations of the bow, sound concepts, and a general psychological sense of liberty that encourages an improvisatory quality.

Performing the cycle on this cello taught me a great deal, and pushed me further to research the boundaries of interpretation, juxtaposing the contemporary and the ancient, and to strive to make a compelling case for interpreting Bach’s Suites on what preconceived notions would consider hardly a cello. It was risky, as for many it verged on the sacrilegious! No rotten tomatoes were thrown at me however, and by all appearances it was a success – the sold-out theater saw the audience on their feet after the closing bars, apparently not for a mad rush to the exit. I am now very curious about how such an instrument will change in time, and affect the evolution of performance practice in classical music!

To hear more from Antonio Lysy, click HERE

The post The Bach Suites as you Have Never Seen Them Before – By Antonio Lysy appeared first on CelloBello.

If it ain’t Baroque, don’t Break it? Thoughts about Playing Bach Today…. – By Inbal Segev

Sun, 2017-02-12 20:59

When I decided to record the Bach cello suites a couple of years ago, I started not by
playing but by reading. I read Bach’s biography, and then a few Baroque practice books
(extremely dense and quite boring) and then I became inspired to change almost
everything about the way I played Bach. I eventually came back to doing things the way
that had been a part of my DNA after years of playing Bach the “modern” way (but
improved), and I’d like to share some of my experiments with you.

I never played from a manuscript copy before. The notes are difficult to decipher and so
the work is slow and cumbersome. Worth it! Playing from copies of the surviving
manuscripts by Anna Magdalena and Kellner taught me so much.

There is really no way of knowing if a particular bowing works unless you actually
practice it. Not only calculate it in your head, and not only read it a couple of times, but
REALLY practice it. And tha’s what I found I had to do. I focused on Anna Magdalena’s
copy because making a hybrid of Kellner and A.M. didn’t make sense to me. Her copy
was just too different from his and I felt I gravitated towards hers.

Experimenting: I tuned my cello to 332=A, then 334, 335, 336 and 338=A. Having
absolute pitch, this was mildly painful, but one can get used to anything over time. I
found, though, that my sound quality deteriorated. The colors and sonority that I thought
would change for the better, did not. It turned out that you can’t go half way on this. A
whole different set up is required, and gut strings sounded awful on my 1673 Ruggieri.
Why? The instrument was set up for modern playing. In order to change the setup I
would have to give up playing the Shostakovich concerto on this cello and I was not
willing to do so. I could possibly have played on a different cello, but there is a bigger
issue: the whole concept of Baroque sound and the stylistic changes that I tried to
emulate required permanent changes in my playing technique. Not something you can
snap in and out of, but rather a commitment for life.

And so, I started thinking back to my childhood and how the great Paul Tortellier
recordings where so fantastically beautiful that I would dance to each suite in our living
room and the orange and brown swirls of our old carpet are still etched in my memory.

Tortelier was not a Baroque cellist but he nevertheless brought Bach to life; he
understood Bach’s language. I wanted to understand it too.

What I suggest for anyone who is studying the suites:

— Harmonic analyzation of each movement. If you can’t do it yourself, here’s a book
that you need to read: Allen Winold’s Bach’s cello suites.

— Compare all the different Allemandes, different Courantes, different Sarabandes, etc.

to try to understand the differences and bring them out

To be continued…

Other reading suggestions (warning: may lead to severe drowsiness and eventual


The History of violin playing from origins to 1761 by David D. Boyden

Extra points:

Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach by Meredith Little

The post If it ain’t Baroque, don’t Break it? Thoughts about Playing Bach Today…. – By Inbal Segev appeared first on CelloBello.

17 (Not so) Random Tips for Practicing the Bach Cello Suites – by Inbal Segev

Thu, 2017-02-09 13:49

1. First play the bass line. Then add the top voice.

2. Think about voicing.

3. Sequences.

4. Find circles of fifths and enjoy them!

5. Gestures on slurs; the Baroque bow is heavier at the frog and lighter at the tip and sometimes it’s beautiful to show the tapering of sound towards the tip.

6. Show where codas happen.

7. Interrupted cadence?

8. Sigh figures.

9. Be aware of the underlying harmony.

10. Echo effects (not too much!).

11. Vary bow pressure — Baroque bow is heavier on the down bow, lighter on the up bow. This can shape a passage of descending eight notes for example. They are not all equal in length and strength.

12. Gigue — breathe more. Feel like you are about to skip before the start.

13. When playing triplets — when two notes are slurred, the third note is still part of the group.

14. Gigue or Giga? French, Italian or a mix of both? Italian Gigue is brilliant, bright and simpler harmonically than the French, which has dotted rhythms and is contrapuntal.

15. Play with figuration. In other words, notice repetitive patterns and show that they repeat; change their expression as you repeat them.

16. Different registers have different colors.

17. Gut strings take a while to speak, especially thick C strings. Even if you play on modern strings — give them time. Also, when playing large intervals, take some extra time.

The post 17 (Not so) Random Tips for Practicing the Bach Cello Suites – by Inbal Segev appeared first on CelloBello.

B A C H S U I T E S – by Colin Carr

Thu, 2017-02-02 15:17

Bowings, beats, bass, bowings and fingerings fit together, bow distribution, bible?
Articulation and Anna Magdelena
Chords, cadences. common themes within each suite, comfort?
Harmony, harmonics?

Slurs, scales, sequences, spontaneity
Understanding direction of phrases. Up bow or down bow?
Tension from dissonance. tempo choices, trills

I was asked to choose a Bach related topic for this live Facebook chat, but I couldn’t think of justone. Instead I thought I would try to cover as many issues as I can think of, using this (gimmicky) chart as a starting point. I will talk about each of the sub-headings, and in doing so hope to answer a lot of questions before they have been asked!

I have been playing and teaching the suites all my life. There have been countless performances, single suites in recitals, three suites in a concert, and often all six in one day. So it may come as a surprise that, whilst loving this music and feeling intimately connected, I will offer the provocative and (for a cellist) heretical premise that the Bach Suites are not the deepest, most profound music that the great man wrote. Sure the 5th and 6th are more complex and substantial, but the “cello bible” notion doesn’t ring true for me. It is in fact the simplest of music that requires easy listening from its audience and easy playing from its performer. The catch is that there is a tremendous amount of hard work that must go into the easy playing. One thing is for sure: the music doesn’t play itself. It is in constant need of the imagination and vision of its player, now more than ever, without which it struggles to come to life.

Anna Magdalena Bach helps us on our way in this respect. My infatuation with AMB began long ago when I realized I was bored by my Bach playing. With AMB there is never a dull moment, she challenges us to think beyond the notes, to extend our right hand expertise, and to live in a spirit of improvisation. I will explore this more in the chat when discussing use of the bow and many of the other topics, but I will say here that the issue of bowings is not limited to decisions of whether to play up bow or down bow, or how many notes to slur. It is much more complicated: varying the amount of bow to feel the direction of a phrase, varying the contact point as a reaction to different chords, particularly with reference to dissonance, tension and resolution, deciding in which part of the bow to play, defining the meaning of a slur (more than just the number of notes in a bow), and above all, takings risks!

Comfort is another important issue. Comfort is both friend and foe. We don’t play well unless we are comfortable, but we make too many artistic sacrifices in the name of comfort. To give just one small example, the need to have every main beat begin on a down bow is very limiting. That’s the beauty of the first bar of the first prelude in AMB’s hand where the middle of the bar falls on an up bow. And from there it never ends!

Many of the topics are related and ideas about one will answer questions about another. I hope you enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed thinking about it.

The post B A C H S U I T E S – by Colin Carr appeared first on CelloBello.

CelloBello Launches an All-New Website

Mon, 2017-01-23 13:18

Welcome to the All-New CelloBello! 

We are thrilled to finally unveil this classy new website; more beautiful, more versatile, and more flexible than we ever imagined possible. Seven years of growth necessitated a move from CelloBello’s original digs to a roomier and more updated new home. We are certain that you will enjoy the dazzling graphics, mobile friendly layout, and all of the many new lessons, master classes, interviews, and substantive new content of this site.

Please take a self-guided tour through all sections, and familiarize yourself with the layout and navigation. The website is now mobile friendly, and will conform to your smart phone or tablet screen, making it easier than ever to take it into a practice room and keep it next to you as an educational resource as you work. And we have a new global, site-wide search function that will pull related material together for you. Try entering “Bach” in the search box, for example, and you will be shown literally dozens of recordings, lessons, master classes, interviews, and blogs, accumulated over the past several years.

To celebrate this opening, we have released 11 new videos full of wonderful advice and information from Robert deMaine, Paul Katz, Yo-Yo Ma, Marcy Rosen, and Alisa Weilerstein. And we have much more on its way! We will give you a few days to digest these lessons, master classes, and interviews, and then begin sharing additional material!

You can read about our Bach Celebration in CelloNews. We began last week with a livestream of Pieter Wispelwey performing all six Bach Suites live from Amsterdam, and a CelloChat on Bach with Paul Katz. This week we have a live-streamed class on Thursday, and a CelloChat on Sunday on the Bach cello suites with Laurence Lesser. The Bach Celebration will continue in future weeks with Colin Carr, Antonio Lysy, and Inbal Segev. And be sure to read their articles on Bach in CelloBlogs as well!

CelloBello has a huge amount of content to integrate and so we expect some inevitable bugs that we will need to work out over the next couple of weeks. We would appreciate a quick email from you if you experience problems or notice something that is not working. Please help us by writing to

I am immensely grateful for the Team CelloBello staff – Jussi, Clare, Danny, Elana, and Michelle. We are also fortunate to have found the brilliant Paul Boivin and Blink-Tech, who have given us devoted web design and computer expertise for this educational project at bargain prices. Above all, this new website is thanks to my amazing web-master, Jussi. Jussi’s technical and organizational skills, tasteful and sensitive sense of aesthetics, and iron-willed work ethic, have guided this entire project over the course of many months.

My thanks to all the amazing artists and pedagogues who volunteer their time to contribute their knowledge and artistic perceptions, and to the many thousands of cellists and cello-lovers who frequent CelloBello; it is your enthusiasm, loyalty, and support that make this all possible.

In a world so fraught with division, it is immensely satisfying to be able to foster something of beauty and collaboration on an international scale. I like to think that CelloBello serves as a tiny example of what can be accomplished by people who value cooperation, have an interest in and tolerance for a broad range of differing ideas, and the desire to openly share their knowledge and expertise. This adventure continues to enrich my life, and I thank you all!


Paul Katz

The post CelloBello Launches an All-New Website appeared first on CelloBello.

CelloBello’s Celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Cello Suites of J.S. Bach

Mon, 2017-01-23 12:56

The six solo suites of J.S. Bach (composed 1717–1723) are so central to the life of every cellist, young and old, amateur and professional, that we don’t really need an anniversary year to celebrate them. Yet, while historians are unable to tell us in precisely which years they were written, many feel it’s possible that Bach began composing them exactly 300 years ago, in the year 1717.

The wildest science fiction of Bach’s day could never have predicted the Internet, that the music of this modest composer in the little German town of Cöthen would be revered and celebrated worldwide with livestreamed concerts, CelloChats, master classes and blogs.

But that is exactly what we are doing on CelloBello!  Nothing could be more central to a website devoted to the cello, than the celebration and substantive discussion of these enduring masterpieces.

Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 4 pm
on Facebook Live

Lesser has devoted much of his artistic life to the study, teaching, performing and recording of Bach. He approaches performance with reverence, intelligence, life-long inquiry, and an innate musical talent. You don’t want to miss his streamed master class and CelloChat sessions this week.

A few of his thoughts on Bach:

“When anyone approaches the Bach Cello Suites, it’s natural to begin thinking about a “correct” way to play them. My teacher, Gregor Piatigorsky, used to say: “Never play for the cellists in the audience – they always have a different idea.”  Start that instead with “Never play Bach for . . .” and life gets even harder! Like every young cellist of my generation, I was very influenced by the recordings of Pablo Casals.  How could I not be?  He was considered the “greatest” cellist of his day.  And how could one deny the performances of an artist who always convinced you, at least as long as his sounds were in your ears.  I was lucky enough to play the d minor suite for him in 1961 and his ideas made a big impression on me. But as I became a professional musician, there was a wonderful new and fresh voice speaking through his playing about the Suites – Anner Bylsma.  I am very lucky to have become his friend – and his ideas continue to stimulate me immeasurably.  The Suites haunt me and are astonishingly deep and wonderful messages from a great master.”


Each of our Chat Hosts – Laurence Lesser, Colin Carr, Antonio Lysy and Inbal Segev – are also contributing in the week of their chat,  companion articles on Bach – be sure to read them in CelloBlog!


Sundays, 8pm ET

January 29
“Bowings in Bach – A Topic That Never Goes Away!”
New England Conservatory

February 5
“Decision Making in Bach, What’s Important?”
Stony Brook University, St. John’s College Oxford

February 12
“If It Ain’t Baroque, Don’t Break It”
Amerigo Trio

February 19
“The Bach Suites as You Have Never SEEN Them Before”
University of California, Los Angeles

The post CelloBello’s Celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Cello Suites of J.S. Bach appeared first on CelloBello.

Happy 60th Birthday Marcy Rosen!

Mon, 2017-01-23 11:07

CelloBello pays tribute to the extraordinary American cellist Marcy Rosen on the occasion of her 60th birthday!

Check out her interviews Learning from Your Students, Left Hand Positions and Vibrato, and her wonderful master class on the Dvorak Concerto.

And there’s more of Marcy coming soon! Watch for her masterclass on the Mendelssohn D Major Sonata,
and two additional interviews:

  • The Bow Makes Expression
  • Bow Arm Fundamentals

For more about Marcy, read this terrific interview.

The post Happy 60th Birthday Marcy Rosen! appeared first on CelloBello.

The Bach Suites Dilemma – by Laurence Lesser

Sun, 2017-01-22 12:41

For longer than any of us may care to remember, we know that violinists are blessed with a beautiful manuscript of Bach’s 6 solo works they have, carefully written out by the composer; but sometime after he wrote the 6 suites for solo cello (finished by 1721) his manuscript disappeared, probably after his death, and has to date never been found.  We are very lucky to have 2 sources, each important in different ways, that have saved these works from oblivion: copies by his wife, Anna Magdalena and by his Leipzig fellow musician, Johann Peter Kellner.  While each has its share of problems, we have more than enough from them to be able to perform these great works.  But still, no MS from the composer . . .  In this context, the existence of JS’s contemporaneous transcription for lute of the fifth suite, with a manuscript in the composer’s hand, is of greatest interest and value. (This MS and both copies have all been dated by musicologists as ca. 1728-9.)

I first became aware of this manuscript in 1965, as I was preparing for the Tchaikovsky Competition of the following year with my teacher, Gregor Piatigorsky.  He had an old-fashioned copy of it on heavy photo paper.  The original is in the Royal Library in Brussels and can now be seen on IMSLP.  While the lute version is in g minor, it is really the same piece as the c minor cello suite, but the differences are truly revelatory:  filled out counterpoint in the fuga and other movements as well as a bass line in Gavotte II; unexpected harmonies in double stops throughout, while in the cello version there are mostly only solo notes; and written out ornaments.  I needed only the suite’s prelude for the competition and focused on that.  My performance of it in Moscow was widely commented on, but then life went on and I didn’t pay more attention to it.

In 1983 I was named President of NEC and, while I never stopped performing and teaching, I also didn’t have enough time to learn new repertoire let alone return to what I had started with the suite.  As that big administrative role was winding down, I was determined to do my best to catch up and one of the most obvious things to do was to make a full transcription from the lute manuscript back to cello.  I completed that transcription late spring of 1995 and made a test recording of it that June at the Banff Center for the Arts in Canada.

Over the years since, I returned to the transcription often, tweaking it to make it more realistically playable (there is no way a cello can play all the added notes for the lute).  I learned that most important was to add only enough notes to highlight the differences and I settled on a version in which the Prelude is done based on the lute version and all the dance movements are first played in the cello version and the lute version in the repeats.  And I can also add that perhaps with a few extra ornaments, every note in my version is written by the composer (not even filled out chords across 3 strings).

Why is this version important?  Simply because it gives us so many insights into Bach’s thinking about harmony and clear examples of his ideas about ornaments – not simply where to add them, but equally where not to.  I think of the comparison in the dance movements as “black and white” vs “color” – each version wonderful but the differences truly fascinating.  Even if cellists choose not to play this version, my hope is that an awareness of his added ideas will be heard internally and influence the performance.  Maybe the most telling movement is the Sarabande, almost identical in both versions, but with some startling deeply felt harmonizations of not more than about a dozen notes.

So, there it is!  You can hear it in my complete suites recording released in 2015 and available through my website, where you will find more written about my approach to the suites – and other things, hopefully also of interest.  I am now exploring a way to publish the transcription and share that result on the website when that’s done.

The post The Bach Suites Dilemma – by Laurence Lesser appeared first on CelloBello.