Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Countess Finds a New Home

In last week's NY Times Magazine, Dan Wakin had an article about the late Bernard Greenhouse and his beloved Stradivarius cello, known as the Countess of Stainlein. Today, he follows up with a short, sweet article: the Countess was sold to a Canadian patroness of the arts, who plans to lend it to a young Canadian cellist. The cello sold for more than $6 million, which was the minimum asking price.

I'm glad that the cello will be played; it's unfortunate that great old string instruments are so expensive that only the wealthy or investment syndicates can afford to own them. And it's worth keeping in mind that Christian Tetzlaff, one of the world's greatest violinist, plays a modern instrument that cost something like $30,000 new. He sounded pretty damn good on it in San Francisco two weeks back.

What killed me in the Times Magazine article was the news that upon his death, Gregor Piatigorsky's cello was lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the provision that cellists could apply to play it, but the family would have to approve the application. In the 35 years since Piatigorsky's death, there's been one request, which was turned down.

String instruments need to be played. Maybe that cello is getting regular workouts from a museum staff member; maybe there is some provision that Dan Wakin didn't report on. But I wish that cello were being played regularly, in practice and in concert, by someone who loves and cherishes it.

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