The Italian One is orange. Flamed bird’s eye on the sides and back, fine stripes down its unassuming front. Heavier than most modern cellos I’ve tried, with a steel endpin I would replace with a tungsten carbide scepter of death in a big hurry should I ever assume ownership of it.

The Italian One plays as a single, long string. There are no perceptible seams when I change from one to the other. No bump from C to G, no need to slam on the brakes when I go over to the A. Yet the A is malleable; able to be pushed to brightness or overwrought Dvorak-style pleading, or hushed to a chaste vesper with what only now seems like little effort.

That’s the thing with a fine instrument. God help you if you purchase one before you’ve sorted your technique out. I remember playing an Amati when I was 14 and feeling utterly smug for a good hour. Then, just by chance, I strolled by a rehearsal space where the owner of said Amati was helping the younger kids do some sectionals. I even remember the piece: Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. The Amati was still up in his teaching studio, so he grabbed one kid’s 3/4 medium-grade instrument to demonstrate, and of course sounded better than I had when I was doing my best version of Rostropovich on a gazillion dollar axe an hour earlier. The moral of this story: do not expect any instrument to change who you fundamentally are as a player. You should be able to make nearly any instrument sing with no excuses.

The Italian One allows me to breathe when my current cello makes me sweat. My technique remains consistent in each position; the algorithms do not have as much variation when I do things like octaves or thumb position thirds and fifths: the real test of intonation. I was not perfect immediately on this instrument. I know there is always work to do. An instrument of this caliber played after over two decades of work feels like a reward for my efforts.

Really, it’s like any relationship. A good one may humor your deficiencies a little bit, but mostly it will be a proving ground for strength you already possess. Who you truly are will always come to the surface, and you will be better off having not invested in flattery during the process of becoming that person.

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8 Responses

  1. I don't understand why a cello that sounds amazing in the shop and on trial, sometimes over months, ALWAYS sounds exactly like every other cello within a month after purchase. As a recovered equipment junkie, I know this.

    (Oh goodie – my word verification is "metribe"!)

  2. well my sweet one.. you are a cellist, a teacher, humourist and bonne vivante.. but I think the gift you own which delights me the very most.. is the way you put words together….love, lenny

  3. GGP: Perhaps I am drunk on its charms, but this cello just has a silkiness that I have not noted in other instruments. I usually think that most cellos sound the same, too. I feel that way in the shop, on trial, etc. I am a grumpy cello shopper! This is such a long process anyway; I will see what's what in a few months. 🙂


  4. Lenny! I miss you. Send pictures of your dog with the underbite, please. 🙂 And bonne vivante? What a great way to spin my day. Thanks for that.

  5. Eager to hear all about your hunt, EW.

    I bought a new axe last spring, and last week had occasion to play my previous instrument (still on consignment [grrr]) and am still happy with the bump up to the next level. I agree with you that the cello doesn't make the cellist, but man can it make things easier/more fun!

    Post photos of the new Italian beauty so we can ogle and admire!

  6. Oh, I simply ADORE helping my students shop for cellos! It's such a fun experience for all!

    & I totally agree with you on the technique before cello bit.

    However, there are some cellos out there that REALLY need some serious technique in order to squeeze out some decent tone. I hate the way instrument rental companies just hand over these wooden boxes to brand new students. Such a shame.

  7. What you say is so true. As a new player I learned this quickly. I play a cheap Engelhardt with problems obviously but I noticed when my teacher plays it it sounds quite nice. I knew it would be pointless to ever purchase another cello before I too could make mine "sing" as you say.

  8. Saw Wendy Warner at a small masterclass last year. Frigid, nasty driving day and she didn't want to take her cello out of the hotel, and asked if she could use a student's instrument (for demonstration purposes).

    Obviously she'd never played this cello before, and I'm thinking it was probably a sub-$7500 instrument. Oh, kids– she made that wood box *sing*, instantly. Humbling on multiple levels. (Stunned, questioning much, I found solace in McDonalds french fries immediately thereafter. Hard to explain.)

    Question for EW and the rest: what's the minimum price you'd consider an 'investment grade' instrument? $20K? $30K? Higher?

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