Tuesday, March 20, 2007

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.


Blogger Ruth said...

What an enchanting story! I am so relieved it had a happy ending.
...Maybe you would have got a better response from Alan Rickman. Just a thought...

7:15 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

ruth, thank you. I reckon it's never too late for alan rickman!

7:47 PM  
Anonymous elaine k bond said...

Since I've started reading your story I thought of T.M.D, (funny though!).What a moving story, I'm sure that Julie Stevenson didn't get your mail...(I hope). But I don't understand why your cello were sold (?)Can't you write to Matthew Lee...and take "him" back home....?

2:48 AM  
Blogger Louis Boileau said...

Ruth,,,,Fantastic story!

5:00 PM  
Blogger muddy red shoes said...

aah, first love, dont get him back just cherish the memories. Lovely tale.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Brushes with famous cellos....

I recall a particular cello, probably kid-size, that my 10 year old brother played each night between dinner and dessert as the table was being cleared. Girls cleared table as Younger Brother sawed away on a David Finkel, outgrown cello. I remember a large scratch or some such scar, outdone only by the not-so-dulcet tones from the room above the dining room.
This was in New Jersey, circa 1970, where David Finkel and I graduated from Madison High School. He was a nice kid.
Somewhat recently, Brother tried to contact David to ask if he wanted the cello back. Will have to ask how that turned out.
Younger Brother became a geologist.
David Finkel continued with the cello.

Ruth, your blog touches me in many ways.

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That last photo is luscious.


6:16 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...


I have played a Banks cello for about 25 years, branded B. Banks Sarum on the back.

I have twice had a similar feeling of despair for the cello.

First when, walking into the pit for a ballet performance in Toronto, the endpin caught on a riser and i kicked the side with my knee creating a hole about an inch in diameter. I took it to Nigogocian in New York and he did a brilliant job of "doubling" the lower bout, disguising the hole so well, it's hard to find the repair.

Then the next year when, having left it overnight in the orchestra pit of a theatre in Stratford, it was caught in a minor flood. Fortunately, it was laying on its side (in its case) - the OPPOSITE side to the previous incident.

Back to New York; this time to Rene Morel, who did another excellent job of doubling the other side.

All is well now. What an emotional roller coaster.

BTW, my modern cello is a Luis & Clark carbon fiber instrument, which I use for engagements with some degree of danger to the instrument - outdoors, pits, etc.

It is impervious to changes in temperature and humidity and sounds marvelous!

The best of luck to you.

Stephen Green
Los Angeles

8:19 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

hi stephen,

rene morel did my banks up too when i was studyiing with tim eddy at stony brook!!! small world, huh?

11:18 PM  

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