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Ben Hoyle of the UK-based Times writes that Christine Walevska went to Facebook to post a painting of herself at aged eight with her child-size cello.

Here’s a story about a virtuoso’s stolen cello that has a happy ending. I initially learned about it from the Los Angeles Times, where reporter Stacy Perman starts out with a bang: “It was Sept. 14, 2013, when a mysterious email bearing the subject line ‘Is this your first cello?’ landed in Christine Walevska’s inbox.

“The renowned cello virtuoso, however, checked her emails infrequently. … And so six months passed before she clicked on the missive sent by strangers living in Chico, Calif.

“ ‘Maybe you will recognize this cello,’ the note read, describing the instrument made by the 19th century French luthier Auguste Sébastien-Philippe Bernardel. Three photographs were attached.

“Walevska scanned the first two, showing the front and back of the instrument. When she pulled up the third, her heart nearly leaped from her chest. ‘I was so shaken up,’ she recalled.

“The image revealed the luthier’s label, visible through one of the curlicued f-holes. Across it was a note inscribed in the feathery pen of the master himself: Pour la petite Comtesse Marie 1834. ‘For the little Countess Marie.’

“ ‘I could hardly believe it,’ she recalled. The cello had been given to her as a child by her father; nearly 40 years earlier, it had been stolen. …

“Walevska responded to the email with alacrity: ‘Please phone me as soon as you can! Anxiously awaiting your phone contact.’ …

“Her father, Hermann Walecki, an internationally respected dealer of fine and rare classical instruments in Los Angeles, [had] presented the little cello to her in 1953. She was 8½. …

“[Even as she outgrew it,] she remained stubbornly attached to the Bernardel, said her brother Fred, recalling how hard-pressed she was to move up to a larger instrument. Hermann mounted the little cello on a wall in his store, telling her, ‘You will hand this down to your daughter, and her child after that.’

“When Hermann died in 1967, Fred took over the music shop and transformed it into a rock ‘n’ roll mecca — the place where everyone from the Beach Boys to the Rolling Stones went to buy guitars and have them repaired.

“Then one day in 1976, two men in their 30s walked into the store. ‘Wow, what a far-out store,’ Fred remembered one of them saying. ‘You must have a lot of expensive things. What are the most valuable?’

“Without thinking, Fred immediately pointed to his sister’s cello on the wall, as well as a custom-made guitar with mother-of-pearl inlay. That night, after closing, the store’s windows were smashed, setting off the alarm. By the time the police arrived, the cello and the guitar were gone.”

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Years later, when the Breshears family decided to rent a child-size cello from a reputable dealer for their daughter Starla, Julie Breshears “found the label intriguing,” the Los Angeles Times continues. ” ‘I thought it was crazy that this belonged to a countess and nobody knows about it.’

“So she searched the internet looking for clues. When she typed in ‘Bernardel’ and ‘Pour la petite Comtesse Marie 1834’ she came across an interview that Christine Walevska had done with the Internet Cello Society. The Breshearses decided to reach out to her. They typed up an email, attached three photos and waited.

“It was shortly after Walevska’s birthday, March 8, 2014, when she spoke to the Breshearses.

“The conversation started on a note of wariness but quickly turned to amazement. The Breshearses described how Starla had been winning contests and was about to solo with an orchestra. Walevska recounted the instrument’s theft. ‘Now you know the true story of that instrument,’ she told them. The Breshearses were dumbstruck.

“Before they ended the phone call, Dustin told her, ‘You should have your cello back.’

“ ‘We’ve got to figure out how to handle this properly,’ she replied.

“The Breshearses sent Walevska videos of Starla playing the cello, and as she watched Starla perform, Walevska saw herself. ‘I knew immediately, she was a big talent,’ she said. ‘This little girl’s name, Starla, is well chosen.’

Click here to read how a lovely relationship developed between the former child prodigy and the little girl she met because once upon a time a beloved cello was stolen.

The London Times has additional information here.

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Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post
Eddie Adams rehearses on a cello at George Mason University.

This summer I have been reading installments about the early life of someone I thought I knew well when she was a child. I thought I knew how difficult life was for her and her younger brother after her parents divorced. Wrong. Without getting into details, I’ll just say I didn’t have the slightest idea. Reading her story, I feel like crying. I feel like going back in time and trying to fix things.

Fortunately, I know this girl as an adult and can see that somehow she was saved, with the violin playing an important role in saving her. I’m telling you this because I want to share a story about a boy who was saved by a cello.

Allison Klein reported the cello story in April at the Washington Post.

“Eddie Adams didn’t have the money to buy college textbooks this semester, so he had to rely on his classmates at George Mason University to loan him theirs. He is the principal cellist in the school orchestra, but he couldn’t afford to buy or even rent a cello. That, too, he had to borrow.

“That was two weeks ago.

“After a story ran in The Washington Post about Adams’s tormented, impoverished childhood and how the cello has become his lifeline, people started donating money — more than Adams ever imagined was possible.

“The day the story ran, April 13, Adams looked at a GoFundMe page that had been set up for him and saw it had reached $25,000. It was so much money, he was sure there was a technical problem with the fundraising site.

“ ‘I legitimately thought it was a glitch in the system,’ said Adams, 20, who as a child moved around Northern Virginia with his mother and five siblings about seven times, including to a homeless shelter in Alexandria.

“The next day when the fundraiser reached $70,000 — and hundreds of people had left comments telling him he was worth every penny — he texted his strings professor and mentor, June Huang: ‘I’ve been crying all day … happy tears.’ …

“As of late Wednesday evening, the GoFundMe donations had reached $141,120.

“ ‘I still don’t want to believe it happened because it’s too much money for me to even think about,’ said Adams, who is estranged from his family and whose only home is his dorm room.

“On top of that, people donated other large and personal gifts. Two people are buying him cellos, one valued at up to $20,000 and another that will be specially made for him, valued at more than $30,000. A couple in Delaware bought him a $700 custom-fitted tuxedo he will wear during performances. Gift cards and checks started arriving at the university, totaling close to $5,000.

“The City of Alexandria invited him to play at a homeless shelter, Huang said. He plans to do it. …

“Adams’s first move was to pay a $250 deposit for an educational music festival he will be attending this summer. Then he went to the dentist for the first time since he was a child. And he paid off $15,000 in student loans that were accruing interest and had been weighing heavily on him.

“ ‘That was a very big moment for me,’ he said. …

“Huang, whose support of Adams was described in the Post story, said she has been deluged by calls and emails from people who want to help Adams.

Huang first heard Adams play at an audition for the school’s orchestra. She dropped her pencil, forgetting to score his performance because she found it so soulful and beautiful. …

“It was Huang’s private violin student Noah Pan Stier who at age 12 set up the GoFundMe page last year after Huang told him about Adams’s difficult childhood. Noah recently turned 13 and had a bar mitzvah, asking for donations for Adams instead of gifts. By early April, Noah had reached his goal of raising $10,000. That is the same GoFundMe that is now at more than $141,000. …

“Now, Huang is the point person coordinating Adams’s donations and talking with people around the country and in places such as Germany, England and Singapore who contacted her in recent days wanting to help. She has been getting pro bono guidance from various estate planners, tax lawyers and accountants to figure out how to keep the money safe for Adams and make it last. She said she’s been in nonstop motion the past 10 days, but she’s thrilled with all the support. …

“Huang said she includes one of Adams’s close friends, Adam Rothenberg, and his former middle school teacher, Gerald Fowkes, in financial discussions she has with Adams for transparency’s sake. She keeps all his financial information in a binder the four of them can look at. And she’s trying to teach Adams how to manage his newfound money at the same time she’s trying to figure it out herself. …

“Adams said he is now getting a lot of attention on campus, as people approach him and say they had no idea that his past was so difficult, that he faces so many challenges. He’s shy so the attention is not always easy for him.

“ ‘I have anxiety about these types of things, but I should get used it because it’s all really good,’ he said. ‘I’m trying not to think about it because finals are coming up and I’m trying not to let that take up all my head space. I still need to study and practice as much as I was before. I need to focus on my schoolwork because that’s the whole purpose of it all.’ ”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Judith Jockel/laif/Redux
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is a musician who knows the power of music to be a force for good. Concerned about our fractured society, he asked himself, “What can I do?”

Recently, my husband and I watched the lovely documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — about children’s television visionary Fred Rogers.

Mister Rogers had a gift for speaking directly to the individual child through a mass medium, unlikely as that sounds, looking into the child’s eyes and letting the child know that she was seen.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who ultimately became a friend of Mister Rogers, is seen in the documentary making his first appearance on the show. He tells the documentarian, who happens to be his son Nicholas, that he was scared to death when Mister Rogers put his face very close and looked into his eyes, until he realized that’s what children do.

It made me a bit sad and more conscious of the lack of eye contact today’s children get as we imagine we’re interacting if we talk to them while looking at our phones. No wonder they get stressed. Generally speaking, it’s through the eyes that children learn they are really seen. Mister Rogers understood their needs. He was a great healer.

Yo-Yo Ma is also a healer, but although he has appeared often on television like Mister Rogers, it is music that is his medium. Rebecca Milzof reports at Billboard about Ma’s current project to use his musical gift to help heal the fractured world.

“On Sept. 2, cellist Yo-Yo Ma played all six of Bach’s cello suites at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, Germany. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for the world’s most famous classical musician, who was playing at the church where the composer premiered many of his works. But the setting had a deeper meaning: In 1989, it’s where peaceful rebellions against communist rule — which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall — began.

“ ‘This is the very [place] where these [political] changes happen,’ says Ma, 62, over the phone from Leipzig. Today, he notes, Syrian refugees are coming to the city and facing demonstrations of a different sort — from right-wing nationalists. ‘It’s the right moment to explore the idea of home. What is home? It’s where you go to be sustained in difficult times. For me, Bach is home.’

“Over the next two years, Ma will visit 36 sites worldwide as part of his Bach Project, playing the cello suites in places like the Nikolaikirche — settings with sociopolitical meaning. It coincides with the recent release of his third and final recording of the suites, Six Evolutions.

“ ‘We live in more and more of a fractured society,’ the 18-time Grammy winner says. ‘As a cellist, I was thinking, “What can I do to help?” I’ve been toying with the idea of “citizen musicians” for a while.’ …

“So far, that has meant engaging with the Mexican-American community around Denver after playing Red Rocks in August and meeting community organizers spurring industrial revitalization outside Cleveland.

“ ‘One of the things culture does best is to make the “other” into “us,” ‘ he says. He’ll test that idea on six continents.” More at Billboard, here.

By the way, Nell Minnow has a really nice interview with the younger Ma about Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on Medium, here. He talks about performing with his dad as a child on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and he still sounds amazed that Fred Rogers could get him to do that.

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Photo: SoundCloud
With his unconventional collaborations, classically trained cellist Seth Parker Woods draws new audiences to the arts.

I’m always interested in people who see the world in unconventional ways and take their talents down unconventional byways.

The July issue of Strings Magazine provides an example of one such path-breaker, cellist Seth Parker Woods.

Thomas May writes, “For Texas-born cellist Seth Parker Woods, pushing boundaries and definitions comes naturally — both for his own creative development and for his overall sense of mission.

“ ‘I’m trying to change the face and the landscape in which music can be experienced, regardless of class or ethnicity or background,’ Parker Woods says. …

“Parker Woods refuses to let his identity as a cellist be restricted by conventional perceptions of what a classical string player does. Which is why, even at this still-early stage of his career, he’s already been leaving his imprint on a fascinating variety of collaborations across disciplines.

“An increasingly frequent and welcome presence among new-music circles, Parker Woods also draws audiences from the spheres of dance and innovative visual arts. And while the cello is at the center of his creative work, it shares space with his ongoing explorations of kinesthetics and the body, choreography, electronic music, visual art, and theatrical performance. …

“ICED BODIES is Parker Woods’ contemporary reframing of a legendary avant-garde collaboration from 1972 between the maverick designer Jim McWilliams and the late cellist and performance artist Charlotte Moorman. The original version was a durational ‘happening’ … that involved Moorman using a saw and other tools to play a cello sculpted from ice as it melted. …

“Parker Woods [headed] to London’s Royal Albert Hall to perform with the Chineke! Orchestra for its debut at the BBC Proms on August 30. He’s one of the founding cellists of this ensemble, which was created to address the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities among Europe’s professional orchestras. …

“ ‘My upbringing is in classical, and that’s still a major part of my career. But I feel that we as performers have to usher in the music of now and be advocates for it,’ Parker Woods says. …

“As a boy in his native Houston, where he was born in 1984, Parker Woods recalls falling in love with the sound of the cello when he saw the film The Witches of Eastwick. In one over-the-top scene of this comedy-fantasy, based on a John Updike story, Susan Sarandon plays the instrument with Jack Nicholson at the piano until her cello bursts into flames.

“Parker Woods started lessons at age five or six. ‘My father was a gospel and jazz singer, and had a band that would rehearse in our basement studio. My earliest musical experiences came from listening to them rehearse when I was a toddler.’ …

“A connection to opera, ballet, and film composer Patrick Soluri opened the door to Europe, which has remained a major focus of Parker Woods’ career as a performer and scholar. Through Soluri, he was engaged to perform in the Berlin Staatsballett orchestra. He later worked with the contemporary choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and P.A.R.T.S., the dance academy of her company Rosas. A residency at the Centre Intermondes in La Rochelle, France, led to several more collaborations.”

“ ‘I just kept breaking all the rules,’ says Parker Woods.”

Read more here.

Hat Tip: ArtsJournal.

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The Facebook page of my friend Alden, the oboist, linked to an article on Benoit Rolland, winner of a 2012 MacArthur Award.  Alden said Roland reminded him of the sushi genius in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,”  a film about a very intense and innovative perfectionist.

The story that Kathleen Burge wrote for the Boston Globe suggests just how inventive Rolland is. “For his entire professional life, Benoît Rolland has been making bows for stringed instruments with one goal: making music easier to play.

“ ‘If a musician is not comfortable with the bow, the bow becomes an obstacle, and he or she cannot be free to play,’ Rolland said. …

“This fall, Rolland, who lives in Watertown with his wife, was rewarded for his innovations and artistry over a career that has included making about 1,800 bows. He was named one of 23 MacArthur Foundation fellows, and given an unrestricted grant of $500,000. …

“Over the years Rolland has made bows for some of the world’s most famous musicians, including violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Anne-Sophie Mutter.

“Kim Kashkashian, a violist who teaches at New England Conservatory, has asked Rolland to make two bows for her.

“ ‘He actually will listen to you play and watch you play and instinctively understand the style of your playing, the particular sensuality of your bow and string relationship,’ said Kashkashian, also a leader with the local Music for Food program.

“Each of the bows Holland made for her has distinctive qualities. One works especially well if she is playing chamber music with a piano, Kashkashian said. ‘The second bow he made for me, which has a really deep chocolatey sound, I would tend to use if I were playing completely alone.’ ”

Read the Globe article here.

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First Parish does not have a typical service on New Year’s Day. For one thing, attendance is sparse.

Sunday’s “Taizé” service put me in mind of something my mother used to say about Unitarians to tease my father, who was one. (The denomination was not yet Unitarian-Universalist.) She liked to say that her impression of Unitarians had always been “seven people in an attic with a violin.”

Parishioner Joan Esch and her cello provided the opening music yesterday. Instead of going into the main sanctuary, we gathered in the parish hall, sitting on folding chairs around a small table with candles and flowers. At most there were 40 people, including toddlers running and climbing.

Mark Richards led the Taizé service, explaining that the concept started in France. The First Parish version is short and consists of one-verse songs sung over and over in unison without accompaniment and interspersed with readings, cello interludes, meditation, and candle lighting — for remembrance (such as an illness or death) and hope (such as a new beginning or a birth).

I enjoyed being there. It was different. And I liked a line that was quoted from a long-ago minister — something about the mystery within reaching for the mystery without.

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