When I was 10 years old, I started lessons with the cellist, Pamela Hind O’Malley in Cambridge, where I grew up. Over her piano was a large portrait of a distinguished looking man, who looked very thoughtful, noble and wise. Pamela told me this was Pablo Casals, the father of modern cello playing and someone she had studied with in Prades.
Every time I was there, I took in that image. Around that time, my father gave me a box set of his recordings of the Bach cello suites, and I went to Heffers bookshop with some birthday money to see if there were any books about him. There were, and I still have them. The first I bought is simply titled “Casals” and is a collection of photos by Fritz Henle. These are images of Casals, at home, playing, sitting with his cats and dogs, just “being” and talking about his philosophy. It was inspirational to me.
Casals became, and still is, my hero for his breadth of vision and his depth: for his cello playing, and for seeing himself as a man who could and would, speak up for many (and be heard). I admired (and learnt from) his work and his thought as a musician, and his invaluable teaching. With more birthday money later still, I bought the book “Casals and the art of interpretation” by David Blum.
More recently I discovered a wonderful read by Eric Siblin, a Canadian rock critic. He discovered Casals and his recordings of the Bach cello suites in 2000. He became obssessed by them, by Casals, Bach and the cello. He travelled around the world, talking to cellists about their responses to Bach’s music. These tales are woven around the life stories of Bach and of Casals. If you don’t have this book, get it! It is so inspiring and intriguing.
We need heroes to look to. They are human, but hold truths and model strengths and ideas we may aspire to.