Banks and Hills
The metal strings are back on the Benjamin Banks cello for the first time in three years. The reason is that my best friend (witness at my wedding, my principal cello for twelve years in Glyndebourne, co-continuo mate on the life-changing voyage of Handel's 'Theodora', companion in losing a baby, fellow yoga traveller, Bollywood fan and many other things shared over the years) has bought a house in Cadiz and she and her partner have organised a series of concerts there starting on Friday.
I was just about to get my 'modern' cello operated on. It has been unplayed and unloved now for too long. 'I'm never going to play on metal strings again' I said to myself, deciding to return the cello to its original setup and to use it for romantic and classical repertoire, whilst using my other cello (a Josef Hill) only for baroque. In my decision, I didn't account for girlfriends popping up and asking me to hang out in Cadiz with a shit hot (albeit metal) string section, and how much that would mean to me.
My 'modern' cello is ancient. It was made in 1772 by Benjamin Banks, and is older than my 'baroque' cello. Let me tell you our story:
When I was six, my parents bought me a beautiful cello made by this chap in Salisbury. I played on it from the age of ten, fell in love with Brahms and Richard Gere and eventually even Bach whilst playing it. I discovered ocean waves and first love with it in-between my calves. I ate my first oyster and had my first kiss and came straight to it to express my wonder. I moved to Germany aged seventeen and it was the only language I knew. That cello was home until, on tour in Italy with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, I was told 'there had been an accident' with the instrument van.
I was advised not to look. Indeed I never did see my soul mate in a hundred pieces. I just saw the box, like a coffin. A friend of the friend offered to help. I agreed to lunch with him in some barrat home corner of Bedfordshire. As we ate -probably, given the era, a tofu stir fry with brown rice - there were two cello cases lying silently at the back of the room, watching us. One of them had my beloved in bits inside. The other, as far as I knew, was just a box.
"Actually I have another cello by Banks here" the friend of the friend said. It was like having one's partner killed in a car crash and someone saying breezily that they had another just like him. I wanted to slap him. I knew, even if the cello were my cello's brother, I would never love him as much.
Actually my cello's 'brother' turned out to be a much better instrument and so I have played on a Banks cello (with a short break during which I grieved for and was haunted by my old instrument) for thirty three years.
At the time of my loss there was a film out called 'Truly Madly Deeply' directed by Anthony Minghella, with Juliet Stevenson. It was about a woman being haunted by the ghost of her dead husband who had been a cellist. In the film there was a scene with the ghost playing the cello under the London arches of Waterloo Bridge.
'That's your old cello' a friend said to me one day.
'What? My old cello is in a hundred pieces'
'No, it was put together again, and that's Matthew Lee playing it in the film. He bought it.'
I wrote to Juliet Stevenson to tell her the parallel story of the ghost cello in her film. She never wrote back. Anyway, Benjamin Banks and I are still very happily married, and vibrato or no vibrato, gut or metal, nothing will change the true voice of my soul-mate from Salisbury.
ps. due to archive problems, I have gone back to the old blogspot address.