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California cellists

Ariane Todes reports from the Piatigorsky Festival in Los Angeles

March 16, 2012

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We’re on the closing strait at the Piatigorsky Festival, with artistic director Ralph Kirshbaum having performed the Dvo?ák Cello Concerto at the Walt Disney Hall last night. It’s been an intense week of listening to cellists of every description, both professional and student. We’ve had two masterclasses every day given by some of today’s top cellists and featuring some great young artists from around the world. And every evening we’ve been treated to some fantastic performances.

I don’t think anyone who was present for Miklós Perényi’s performance of the Kodály Solo Sonata will ever forget the experience. His sound is searingly beautiful and the directness and sincerity of his communication had the audience in a collective trance – you could hear the proverbial pin drop throughout his whole performance. It’s good to know that in an age of hype such as ours, someone of Perényi’s complete musical integrity gets the recognition he deserves, among a cello-centric audience, at least.

Other highlights from the many fine performances included Bloch’s From Jewish Life played by Gary Hoffman, who is too rarely to be heard on the concert circuit, and Jean-Guihen Queyras’s Britten First Suite. Queyras and Perényi were just two of the six performers of the complete Bach Cello Suites on Sunday evening. This was fascinating for the completely different personalities, sounds and approaches to Bach throughout, from the dance of Thomas Demenga and storytelling of Frans Helmerson to the solemnity of Perényi and the dynamism of Queyras. The range of personalities and approaches has been evident in the masterclasses, too, with styles ranging from those who have open conversations with the students, to those who go through analysing detail by detail in each piece.

It has led me to wonder if there would be such diversity of personality among a similarly matched group of top violinists. But the question is probably academic, as I doubt you’d ever manage to get this many top violinists in the same city, let alone in the same hall to listen to each other play, and even to hear each other’s masterclasses. I say that as a violinist, and can hypothesise – are cellists more sociable than violinists? Certainly the atmosphere of mutual support, respect and openness has been remarkable, to the benefit of all of us who have been lucky enough to attend.

Read more about the event in the May issue of the magazine

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