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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On Guarneri cellos and firing pupils,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear all,

I recently found it fascinating to read -- in The Economist -- about Jamie Walton's financing of his 1712 Guarneri (filius Andreae, $1.7million, if you really want to know). Now Jamie Walton was actually the last protégé of my last ex-teacher, William Pleeth -- plus, I'm also intrigued having heard him play a deeply soulful Elgar concerto. However, with regard to this story, I first found Jamie's new instrument a bargain, considering the insane numbers of millions normally parted from for major instruments; and was also intrigued to discover that, as an incipient mega-soloist, one is obliged to 'cobble together a syndicate of investors who will own shares in the instrument' (most of whom, according to The Economist, do very nicely, thank you, out of such investments).

I suppose I subconsciously expected to find, as did Jacqueline Du Pré, that such an instrument would fall into one's lap if one was outstandingly gifted. (Du Pré was given not one but TWO Strads -- a late 20th-century example of complete overkill.) Alternatively, the less romantic, more logical, part of me tended to agree with Ruggiero Ricci's acknowledgement (also in The Economist) that, for most people, there was precious little difference between his Guarneri (sold for $3m seven years ago) and many, beautifully-crafted, modern instruments.

In other words, in my own experience, it's the player and not the instrument that matters -- assuming that the instrument, whatever age and pedigree it might possess, actually works -- and I feel tempted to espouse Ariane Todes' verdict that it's really the need to distinguish themselves from the baying pack of would-be soloists at their heels that provides motivation for such talents as Jamie Walton to sign up investors on the dotted line. (Not that he's not gifted, mind: I thought his Elgar marvellous. It's just that so many people produce marvellous Elgars these days ...)

In fact, the only pupil I ever fired did so: a super-gifted young thirteen-year-old ruined by the mother-from-hell, who not only videoed all our lessons but persisted in querying my every suggestion, persistently proposing that I enter young X for the Tchaikovsky competition etc etc etc.

I had to fire X due entirely to her mother's attitude -- after which I discovered that I'd been inducted into the rare and prestigious club of those London cellists who had been obliged to get rid of X, due to her mother.

I always wondered what happened to X ...

Yours cellistically,

Ask Alice

hi, im starting cello soon, and i wanted to get some new strings for the cello ive bought to make it sound better.
I want a warm, dark, mellow sound and ive been told that 'Pirastro -- Aricore' are exactly that, would you recommend this?

Dear Anonymous fellow-cellist-to-be,

First of all, allow me to say how impressed I am at someone 'starting cello soon' who's already interested in sound texture!!!!!!!!!! -- Most people are just concerned with putting the left fingers on the strings in (more or less) the right order, while holding the bow with a vicious deathgrip better suited to attempting an ace at tennis.

Yes, the Pirastro Aricore, which has a synthetic core, is reputed to be softer and glowier than most strings, and also easier to play, comparitively 'edgeless'. (As you're about to figure out, playing short notes is a lot easier than making a seamless legato.) Most beginner cellos are equipped with the cheapest possible Chinese strings, which the first teacher (for the sake of his -- or her -- sanity) immediately whips off and replaces with Jargars (good, reliable, boring, cheapish, very long-lasting). However, if you kick off with Pirastro Aricore, you won't regret it.

Good luck!!!!!

Copyright © 19 January 2007 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

Ask Alice



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