What a wonderful cello festival! It has been a couple of weeks since I returned, and I still catch myself daydreaming about my experience. And how could I not, when such a galaxy of cello stars were present: Steven Isserlis, Janos Starker, Miklos Perenyi, Natalia Gutman, Ralph Kirshbaum, Arto Noras, Boris Pergamenschikow, Siegfried Palm, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, and many more. To hear but one of these musicians in an evening would sustain me, but to hear them all...!

As will be apparent in this report, I mainly went to enjoy the music and to celebrate the cello, not as a critic. Of course, there were performances that were eyebrow raising, but only a few. So please bear with me as I mostly enthuse about my experience, like the closet rabid fan that I am.

The festival opened Wednesday night with a monumental cello and orchestra concert, which was broadcast live on BBC radio: Haydn D Major Concerto performed by Miklos Perenyi, a new work, "Cello Dreaming" by Peter Sculthorpe, performed by Steven Isserlis, Shostakovich 2nd Concerto performed by Natalia Gutman, Lutoslawski Concerto performed by Boris Pergamenschikow, and Saint-Saens Concerto performed by Arto Noras, all with conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, son of you know who. Tormented by intense jet-lag, I had to leave after the Shostakovich, but what an inspiring concert!

Perenyi played beautifully, of course, throwing in a cadenza in the last movement of the Haydn too. I was struck by his shy, head-down demeanor as he played. He is a master, and yet he projects a persona of gentle shyness. I wish I had found a chance to speak with him.

"Cello Dreaming" is a piece for amplified cello and orchestra, which I actually found to be a little repetitive, though others described it as "evocative." Unfortunately, as the music intensified near the end of the piece, the amplifier started squealing with feedback. The volume was quickly turned down, but this ruined the emotional impact of the climactic ending. After making a crack about BBC not having a decent amplifier, on live radio that is, Isserlis opted to play the last few minutes of the piece again, which I'm sure the composer, who was present, greatly appreciated.

Natalia Gutman has made the Shostakovich concerti her own, which should come as no surprise. She played with great power, intensity, and depth. It was also wonderful to see a woman who has reached "master" status, which I don't think we've seen since Jacqueline du Pré.

Siegfried Palm, honored at the festival for his lifetime of championing contemporary music, performed in recital the next evening. There are many pieces in his repertoire that few can play even today, since the general knowledge of contemporary technique is still very limited. His program included Zimmerman Solo Sonata, Penderecki Capriccio, and Hindemith Kammermusik No. 3, op. 36 No. 2.

Particularly striking was the Penderecki, which calls for some quite remarkable sounds from the cello. He tapped his fingers on the body of the cello, and plucked or hammered the strings with his left hand --relatively common effects. But I learned some new ones, like bowing on the strings below the bridge at an EXTREME angle, which produces a rather piercing and grating squeal, much more jarring than when one plays with a straight bow. A pleasantly dull sound was produced by bowing on the cello's tail piece, which appeared to be pre-rosined. With so many extreme sound effects, the audience could not help but enjoy this piece.

Cellists Wendy Warner and Jian Wang played in a short recital. Wendy Warner played Boellmann Variations Symphoniques, op. 23, and Martinu Variations on a Slovak Theme with pianist Silke Avenhaus. Jian Wang played Schumann Fantasy Pieces, and Faure Apres un Reve and Papillon with pianist Gretel Dowdeswell. Wendy Warner played with much energy and with that trademark Slava-esk "big sound," though her interpretations felt "young," which she is, of course. Jian Wang played with much passion, though his vibrato lacked variety, employing a ubiquitous fast and warbly vibrato.

There was a gala recital on Friday evening that featured cellists Christophe Coin, Miklos Perenyi, Steven Isserlis, Philippe Muller, Natalia Gutman, Boris Pergamenschikow, Alban Gerhardt, and Arto Noras. With so many works, the recital lasted 5 hours (7pm-12am), with a dinner break at 10pm. Only the hearty stayed for the entire concert. I wasn't hearty, "only" staying for three hours.

Miklos Perenyi performed an exceedingly difficult work for solo cello, Dutilleux's "Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher." Demonstrating how amazing his performance was, the audience called him back four or five times to show its appreciation, which is a remarkable response for a contemporary work. It was wonderful be part of such a knowledgeable and supportive crowd.

Natalia Gutman performed the Debussy Sonata with pianist, Pascal Devoyon. Her interpretation was very soloistic, which required tremendous flexibility from Devoyon. She played in a heavy-handed manner, and occasionally played the sextuplets with a very virtuosic up-bow staccato, not a style one often hears in the Debussy Sonata, which is often played with much delicacy and sensitivity. She then opted to play the last movement again for an encore.

Manchester was treated to another cello and orchestra concert Saturday evening with the BBC Orchestra, conducted again by Yan Pascal Tortelier: Haydn C Major Concerto with David Geringas, Don Quixote with Janos Starker, and the Brahms Double with Pinchas Zukerman and Ralph Kirshbaum. David Geringas played the Haydn unbelievably fast, and snuck in the second half of Bach's C Major Prelude in the first movement's cadenza. All one could say was, "Hey, why not?" Starker played the Strauss in his signature stoic manner, not "getting excited," just the way he likes it. The Brahms was fantastic, especially for me, since I've never heard this piece performed live with professional soloists. What a great concert!

There were some wonderful master classes as well. The frustrating part of the festival was that two master classes were held at once, which often forced me to choose between two great cellists, though many would leave one half-way through in order to hear the other. But how could I leave in the middle of a Starker master class, for instance? See my master class reports for specific ideas that were discussed.

Particularly memorable master classes were the ones conducted by Janos Starker, Steven Isserlis, and Siegfried Palm. Starker was awe-inspiring in his ability to pin-point very subtle technical problems in the students. He was in great humor as well, at one point sliding his feet around and rapidly raising his eyebrows, when ribbing a student for being a little too demonstrative in his "passion." This is when he once more pulled out his quote from Gyorgy Sebok, "Create excitement. Don't get excited."

There was an interesting performance of the Bach C minor Prelude in this class. The cellist was a student of Ralph Kirshbaum, which reminded me of my interview with Kirshbaum last year, when he said that he doesn't use less bow in Bach, he just strives for a "different dimension to the sound production." This student definitely played with a scaled-down "dimension," in a "let the music play itself" style, which was much to Starker's liking, and I assume approximates Kirshbaum's own approach. I must confess that I found myself yearning for a larger "dimension," a little more life, a little more involvement, and a little less dainty approach. I hope that this style of Bach doesn't come into vogue, especially in a piece in a powerful key like C minor. Or perhaps I just need to put on my "Baroque hat."

As I listened to Starker's master class, I couldn't help but marvel at the inspiring contribution Starker has made to the cello, and fear the huge void that will be created when he no longer teaches. There is only one Janos Starker.

Of course, there is only one Steven Isserlis, too. He really seems to be on an entirely different plane from the rest of us mere mortals. I often caught myself thinking that he channels directly from the composers. He truly is a musical genius. And, as with many geniuses, he is very eccentric, and occasionally lacked a certain grace when listening to the students. At one point, when a student did something a bit unusual in the Arpeggione Sonata, he very visibly jerked his head back, as if he was thinking, "What the heck was that?" He is a most fascinating character to watch. But when he demonstrated on the cello, he gazed up as if he was plugging into Schubert, and the most gorgeous music came out.

Siegfried Palm's master class was inspiring because he showed a true love of people and music. He immediately won me over with his Santa-like figure and his deep but gentle laugh. At one point, when a student indicated that she didn't understand his suggestion, he said, "I'm very sorry. It is my fault. Let me try to explain it more clearly." What a refreshing humility from someone of his stature.

His was the contemporary music master class. Though few if any of the audience members had ever heard of the works performed, Siegfried Palm's enthusiasm more than carried the class. He was very excited to hear young cellists play contemporary music with such care and enthusiasm. He truly enjoys contemporary music, and shared little anecdotes about the pieces that were played, since often the works were dedicated to him.

The festival ended with another mega-recital featuring cellists Karine Georgian, Lluis Claret, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, Frans Helmerson, and Alexander Baillie. Particularly striking was Tsutsumi's performance of the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata and the Popper Spinning Song, with pianist Pascal Devoyon. What struck me was the marked contrast between his style and his fellow colleague and former teacher at Indiana University, Janos Starker. Unlike Starker, who prefers to show off the piece, not himself, Tsutsumi was quite the showman, all smiles with the audience. Though at times a little distracted by his stage presence, I couldn't help but be swept up in the unanimous enjoyment of his spirited and virtuosic performance. He demonstrated that, if the audience likes you as a person, and you act like you are having the time of your life, you are on the road to a thunderous applause at the end, which he definitely earned, regardless of his "antics."

The festival ended with a classic balloon drop after the final piece was played, and a line-up formed on stage with the many cello stars who were present. Though relieved that I wouldn't hear another cello recital for quite some time, I was also saddened that, like all things in life, even this wonderful festival had to end, and that my extended cello family would soon disperse.


Direct correspondence to the appropriate ICS Staff
Webmaster: webmaster
Director: John Michel
Copyright © 1995- Internet Cello Society