Paying homage to a man and his instrument

In the pantheon of cello gods, a place is surely reserved for the late, great Pablo Casals — not least for rescuing from obscurity the six magnificent suites for solo cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. So it was fascinating to hear an unusual tribute to Casals at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Sunday, when — courtesy of Washington Performing Arts — the Israeli-born cellist Amit Peled re-created a concert Casals gave at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1915 — and performed it on Casals’s own cello.

Casals was nothing if not expressive — to a fault, at times. Some of his recordings can sound like a hot mess to modern ears, with their luxurious rubatos and approximate intonations and not-exactly-subtle phrasing. But Peled (with Noreen Polera at the piano) blended Casals-like passion with rigorous discipline, turning in a detailed, intensely focused program that featured lighter works — Beethoven’s variations on a theme from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” three lyrical pieces by Gabriel Fauré and an early Handel sonata — and the centerpiece of the afternoon, Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 in C, BWV 1009.

The Pablo

The contrasts are quite startling. Pablo Casals died in 1973, Amit Peled was born that year. Casals was a diminutive 5-feet-4, Peled is a towering 6-feet-5. Casals was bald, Peled has a lion’s mane of long black hair.

One thing unites these two cellists from opposite ends of the Mediterranean: a 1733 Goffriller.

Peled, a virtuoso performer who was born on an Israeli kibbutz and studied with Bernard Greenhouse, one of Casals’ most famous students, is the latest cellist to be granted use of the magnificent instrument Casals acquired in 1913 for a reported 18,000 francs.

The instrument recently underwent a year-long refurbishment.

Casals called it “my best friend.”

Peled calls it his “Pablo.”

Two men, one cello, a century apart

Amit Peled looks around as if he can't believe his ears. The Peabody Institute cellist is sitting in the Bank of America lounge on the second floor of the Mount Vernon campus's Leakin Hall for a photo shoot, and the photographer has asked him to play. He draws his bow across the cello's strings and bathes the sunny lounge in rich, gorgeous music. Almost immediately Peled looks up and remarks on how great the room sounds. He turns to a student sitting nearby and asks, "Do we ever have concerts in here?"

The lounge would likely not be big enough to accommodate the audience interested in Peled's Feb. 12 performance, which is part of the Sylvia Adalman Chamber Series. On that day Peled performs the same solo cello recital that celebrated Spanish cellist Pablo Casals performed at Peabody a century earlier. In the Feb. 7, 1915, edition of The Sun, critic John Oldmixon Lambdin wrote that "an event of the greatest magnitude will take place at the Peabody Conservatory when Pablo Casals, who is called 'the world's greatest cellist,' will be heard in recital."

Amit Peled to re-create Casal's 1915 recital at Peabody

Time machines aren't always confined to science fiction. On Thursday at the Peabody Institute, the clock will be turned back 100 years for the re-creation of a recital given there by famed cellist Pablo Casals — played on the same cello that Casals used for that Feb. 12, 1915, program.

The performer this week will be Amit Peled, the dynamic Israeli-born cellist and Peabody faculty member. A couple of years ago, the Casals Foundation offered Peled the loan of the instrument, purchased by Casals two years before that Peabody appearance.

Peled has been on a high ever since. He practically glows when talking about the cello, crafted in Venice by Matteo Goffriller in 1733. It features a lush, reddish veneer and, on the back, the clear indication of where Casals' left leg rubbed against it for decades as he played.

Musicians are known to anthropomorphize instruments.

What it means to play Pablo Casals’s Cello

When Amit Peled was 10, his parents gave him a gift: a cassette of music by cello master Pablo Casals. Peled had no classical background; his parents were not musicians. He says his own budding interest in the cello was a scam, a way of getting close to a girl in his town who happened to play the instrument. And yet, every night, he would fall asleep with the tape playing from a boombox beside his bed. The music made an impression.

"I would call him the grandfather of classical music of the 20th century — not just for cellists," Peled says. "He really shaped what we know today of how to make a phrase, and was a bridge from the old times, from romantic music, to our day. He played theBrahms Sonata for Brahms. I mean, that link is something that you can't stop thinking about."

Peled's obsession became devotion; today he's an acclaimed cellist himself. Now, he's found another way to follow in his idol's footsteps.

Pablo Casals’s Cello Gets a New Life


BALTIMORE—Amit Peled heard his first cello recording at age 10 while living on an Israeli kibbutz, not long after he took up the instrument to impress a girl. One day, he popped a tape he’d been given into his boom box and listened in wonder to Pablo Casals.

Now a 40-year-old cellist, Mr. Peled is practicing and performing on the very instrument that dazzled him in late 1983—an unlikely circumstance that has made him believe in destiny.

That cello, which Mr. Casals played more than any other, recently had its first thorough restoration in decades at the urging of Mr. Peled. On Nov. 7, he will take it on a Midwest tour, performing 19 cello-and-piano recitals. On Dec. 17 he plays at Rockefeller University in New York.

For Mr. Peled, the tour offers audiences the chance to hear his playing as well as the rejuvenated sound of the Casals cello, which he calls “Pablo.” But it is also an opportunity to burnish the legacy of Mr. Casals, who was admired as much for his verve as his virtuosity.

El violonchelo de Casals vuelve a la vida en Estados Unidos

Todo comenzó hace dos años. El violonchelista Amit Peled cogía su instrumento en Washington para tocar ante Marta Casals, la viuda del maestro. Tras interpretar una serie de pasajes, ella le invitó a una copa de vino y le dijo que era un gran chico. Meses después, el israelí recibía una noticia que nunca hubiera soñado cuando era niño y se enamoró del chelo escuchando una cinta de Casals: el instrumento del músico catalán iba a estar en sus manos para devolverle la vida, para llevarlo a pequeñas ciudades de Estados Unidos en una gira que arranca mañana viernes. En enero se podrá escuchar en España, en recitales en Pontevedra, Gijón, Oviedo y Lugo.

Peled viajará en coche, y dice que en el automóvil irán también el pianista y Pablo. Así es como llama al instrumento de Matteo Gofriller que tocaba Casals y que está datado en torno 1700. "Vamos a conducir por 15 Estados, ensayaremos en la sala, luego el concierto, dormir en el hotel y de nuevo al coche por la mañana hasta el siguiente destino. Algo muy parecido a lo que hizo Casals cuando era joven e hizo una gira por EE UU. Fueron tres meses pero se movió por el país en tren, y allí donde se hacía una parada, daba un concierto y se marchaba. Por muchos de los lugares donde voy a tocar pasó Casals con este mismo chelo hace décadas", dice. Lejos de las grandes ciudades, porque Casals pensaba que había que llevar la música al mundo, y el mundo a la música.