The Croatian cellist was 75

Valter Dešpalj

Valter Dešpalj

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Croatian cellist Valter Dešpalj died on 9 April 2023, aged 75. Tributes for Dešpalj flowed on social media from his numerous former pupils.

’I consider him the biggest and main influence on my growth as a cellist, musician and person in those crucial years, so important for development of a young professional musician,’ said cellist Luka Šulić. ’It’s impossible to put into words how much he has done for me and all of his many great students.’

’He was a unique interpreter, arranger and teacher, with an immense knowledge and inextinguishable dedication towards music and cello playing,’ wrote former student Kristina Winiarski. ’He lead the way for his many, many students with integrity, curiosity and deep respect towards the craftsmanship of every composer and piece of music he came across.

’He taught with eagerness, wit, humor and creativity. He really knew how to challenge, but also how to support. He taught me the power of humility, the power of now, and that music is never just about music, or about you, but actually about everything else imaginable and unimaginable in this world.’

Dešpalj was born in 1947 in Zadar to Albanian parents. He attended the Juilliard School where he studied cello with Leonard Rose and chamber music with Felix Galimir and the Juilliard Quartet. He also took master classes with Pablo Casals, Pierre Fournier and André Navarra, and pursued two years of postgraduate study with Galina Kozolupova at the Moscow Conservatory.

Dešpalj enjoyed an international performing career, appearing at festivals including Gstaad, Lockenhaus, Kuhmo and Dubrovnik as well as leading concert halls such as Carnegie Hall, Royal Festival Hall in London, Sydney Opera House, Amsterdam′s Concertgebouw and Moscow Conservatory Hall. He performed as a soloist with Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Dresden Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Dutch Radio Orchestra, Washington National Symphony, Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Dešpalj was an active teacher, with many competition winners emerging from his teaching studio. He was cello professor at Zagreb Academy of Music and Liechtenstein Music Academy, and served as guest professor at the conservatories in The Hague, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Graz University of Music.

He was an editor of cello music with publishers including Ovation Press, International Music Company, Edition Chanterelle and Edition Kunzelmann. As well as music for cello, Dešpalj also arranged music for guitar, including Bach’s Solo Cello Suites, Violin Sonatas and Partitas and Flute Partita.

Dešpalj served on the jury panels of international competitions including the Tchaikovsky, Bach and ARD competitions.

In 2019, Dešpalj received the Vladimir Nazor Award for music - an annual arts and culture prize established in 1959 awarded by the Croatian Ministry of Culture.

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