How I came to play Pablo Casals’s Goffriller cello

A portrait of Young Pablo Casals by Spanish painter Ramon Casas
View this article in Hebrew.

While having breakfast at the hotel on a typically sunny and humid NY July morning, I had no idea how this cello day would unfold. A well-in-advance planned appointment with the legendary Mrs. Marta Casals Istomin had been expanded joyfully and magically by my good friend, cellist and concert entrepreneur Neale Perl, into a cellofest – a Strad at 10:00am, Pablo Casals's Goffriller for lunch and Jim Wolfensohn's Guarnerius for dinner...

The 1698 Magg Stradivarius was waiting for me as I entered the spacious show room at Christophe Landon Violins. Of course with Neale around I was treated to the king's chair with respect and anticipation. First bow stroke and the 314 year old 'wild horse' woke up. People around me blurred into one foggy image, as I got hold of my horse and went for the ride of my life! A piercing golden sound of a real magnetic Strad filled the room and it was unfortunate to wake up realizing that having that wooden box with me would cost 6.5m!

Feeling warmed up and on musical cloud nine, Neale and I proceeded with our cello day to meet Mrs. Marta Casals Istomin and the historic cello of her late husband, and our cello God, Pablo Casals. The idea of seeing that instrument up close was hard for me to grasp. How can I, a simple man, son of farmers from a tiny kibbutz in Israel, hold now the instrument that helped Casals redefine cello history? This cello made the journey with the Maestro from Spain into world fame. All the major recordings of Casals were created with this instrument, and so many musicians have grown up, and have been musically shaped listening to that sound. Simply no words!

הצ'לן פבלו קזאלס

Pablo Casals

I was shaking when the door was opened and Marta handed the case to me. Should I open it myself? What if it breaks when I touch it? The cello was calmly asleep when I took it over, as if an old man was peacefully enjoying a deep rest. Moreover, I couldn't resist the strong smell of Casals's famous pipe emerging from the cello as I settled down to play the first notes.
My dream had come true, I was playing the most famous instrument in the world right here, right now and all I could think about was my mother being so far away in Israel, not able to see, hear and appreciate it with me. Imagining her eyes and warm touch, I dove into the Dvorak concerto and woke up playing the last notes of Bloch's Prayer hearing Marta's approval "now that was something!"

I realized that with this cello, not like the wild horse from earlier that morning, I had to find a way not to disturb the instrument's own voice, to allow its natural tone to blossom. The cello started suggesting to me different ways and colors to use and I was amazed by the palette of possibilities. This was like stepping into a museum, where one observes beauty by acknowledging it and not so much by creating it. A magical voice is planted into that magnificent Goffriller and I am so blessed to have had a personal conversation with it.

Israeli cellist Prof. Amit Peled

Israeli cellist Prof. Amit Peled

By now my day had risen to a heavenly state, and after a quick bite to eat Neale and I proceeded to visit Mr. James Wolfensohn, former Head of the World Bank and an amateur cellist. I had heard many great things about Mr. Wolfensohn, but never expected to connect with him and his cello in such a deep way. A Stradivarius and a Goffriller could have been enough spirit for a lifetime, but now I was standing in Jim's beautiful living room and here she was - the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life... a magnificent big and reddish-like Guarnerius cello in mint condition standing next to the couch ready to be touched, ready to create magic, ready to change my life.
Jim, with his warm eyes and humble look had placed himself on the edge of his seat and I went straight to work. If a wild horse and an old man had taken me to heaven before, this time a beautiful woman made me want to stay there forever. The sound of that Guarnerius was so round, rich and velvety as if I was swimming in chocolate or smelling Aphrodite. Please do not wake up... Bach suites, Brahms sonatas, Dvorak, Schumann, Haydn, Elgar concerto - I found my voice, and neither Jim nor Neale had shown any sign for me to stop.

Suddenly, just when the famous ascending scale from the Elgar concerto ended, a voice: "You know Amit, Jackie found this cello for me". He continued: "I was her first student". I stopped, wanting to hear more. Jim continued with the whole touching story of how he and Jacqueline Du Pre met and how he became such a good friend and prominent supporter of the arts all around the globe. We continued, over a cup of coffee, to discuss the world's politics, Middle-East peace process, etc., and I was amazed and humbled by this great human being who treated me since the first second as a real friend. What a lesson for life!

When I went back to the hotel and was greeted by my beloved wife and adorable kids I simply said that I had had a day in heaven and would never forget it for the rest of my life.
A couple of weeks later, while on tour in Germany, I got an email from Mrs. Casals Istomin announcing that she would lend me the Casals cello.
Weirdly as if getting a sign from above, that same day an email arrived from Mr. Wolfensohn offering me his Guarnerius! Was I still dreaming? Wasn't that day in NY enough? Why those two on the same day? Well, why complain...? Dreams can become true and our life is reenergized by them. I have always fantasized on just seeing the Casals cello and here I am able to play it along with a magnificent Guarnerius.

Dancing with the Strad that morning in NY, conversing with the old man and making love with Aphrodite have been the highlight of my cello career. However, meeting the people behind those monuments has taught me a lesson of generosity and human kindness that will stay with me forever.
I feel honored and privileged to play the Casals cello these coming years, and secretly hope of having the Guarnerius as a mistress...

Prof. Amit Peled plays Pablo Casals' Gofriller Cello: