When Amit Peled was around 10 years old, his parents gave him a cassette recording of the great cellist Pablo Casals. Peled had been studying the cello, but was more interested in basketball than music (he grew to be six-foot-five)—until he listened to the recording. He considers the cellist “the grandfather of classical music of the 20th century.”Many nights he fell asleep to the tape playing on a boombox by his bed.
Today, more than 30 years later, Peled is not only a renowned concert cellist but he is playing the instrument that enchanted him as a kid. Since 2012, he has been entrusted with the 1733 Goffriller cello that Casals played the most. Casals died at age 96 in 1973, and his widow, Marta Casals Istomin (a onetime student of the cellist, she married him in 1957 when she was 20), lent the cello to Peled, who calls it “Pablo.”
Peled vividly remembers the first time he played it. “How can I, a simple man, son of farmers from a tiny kibbutz in Israel, hold now the instrument that helped Casals redefine cello history,” he writes in Opus magazine. “This cello made the journey with the Maestro from Spain into world fame. All the major recordings of Casals were created with this instrument, and so many musicians have grown up, and have been musically shaped listening to that sound. Simply no words!”
Since last year, Peled has been playing the Casals cello, which he had restored to bring out its full sound, in a program called “Homage to Pablo Casals.”The tour began last February at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where Peled is a professor. Including a Bach suite and Handel sonata, it’s the same program that Casals played in a concert at the school in 1915.
Peled recently released his first recording on the Casals cello, performing the Schumann Cello Concerto with the Washington Chamber Orchestra. —John Fleming