The Voice of the Casals Cello

The stories that swirl around Pablo Casals's cello — now almost 300-years-old — ring with strange coincidence, doubletake cameos, and breathtaking music. 

During the Spanish Civil War, Casals and his cello evaded Hitler's warplanes to record the Dvorak cello concerto. Today, the instrument is having a revival in the hands of Amit Peled — a cellist born 100 years after Casals. 

Long before Pete Seeger or Bono, Pablo Casals used the power of music and celebrity to advocate for freedom and peace. But in 1961, John F. Kennedy issued a request that made the 84-year-old Casals reconsider his decades-long vow never to perform in any country that recognized the dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Casals' widow, 60 years younger than he, recounts tales of that historic White House concert as if it had happened yesterday.

This is an evergreen special with a soft-peg of Nov. 13, 2016 — the 55th anniversary of Casals's White House concert. Eighty-six at the time, Casals played remarkably that evening. Yet his most compelling recordings came decades earlier, as he re-introduced the Bach Cello Suites to the world, and made a legendary early recording of the signature Dvorak Cello Concerto. 

“The Voice of the Casals Cello” is a music-rich special, with musical selections woven around personal storytelling. We hear vivid memories from Marta Casals Istomin (named a "living legend" by the Library of Congress for her work at The Kennedy Center and at the Manhattan School of Music) and from Amit Peled, who has his own remarkable connections to Casals. Interviewed in his studio at the Peabody Conservatory, Peled punctuates his storytelling with demonstrations played on the Casals Cello. And we hear selections from a special concert Peled gave at Peabody, which replicated a program Casals had given there exactly a century earlier.

This special is ideal for any station that airs classical music, or a hybrid of music and talk programming. It is also ideal for listeners who may have election-coverage fatigue — yet “The Voice of the Casals Cello” has deeper resonance in a season of political change, reconnecting us to a time of optimism once embodied by the Kennedy White House.

Produced and hosted by David Schulman, the Third Coast and PRX award-winning creator of NPR's long-running "Musicians in their own words" series and of last year's "TALOA" series, distributed by the WFMT Radio Network.