Not many New Years' days come in as smooth as velouté de cardoons and ceps in candlelight with jolly company, and by the light of a full moon with a 1999 Chateauneuf du Pape, and then end in such a shock as an old friend’s sudden (for me at least,
was battling with bladder cancer for over a year) death.
I didn’t have the chance to say hello to Felix, or goodbye. Today, however, I realize how much a man to whom I have not spoken for over twenty years is part of the yarn of me.
Here is one of my strongest memories of Felix Wurman.
I was seventeen. Felix was probably in his early twenties, living in London, sharing a house with another of the brilliant curly-haired cellists of his generation, Richard Lester. He had created Domus, a group that went around Europe performing music on hilltops in a geodesic dome that he built and the group erected at the appointed sites. (‘Suffice it’ says SusanTomes
‘to say that Felix was probably the only person in the world who could have got me to run about in the rain carrying heavy boxes full of aluminium tubes.’)
Anyway the phone rang.
‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ said Felix.
‘Nothing’ I said. ‘Why?’
‘Wanna come to Italy?’ (The American pronunciation being the delicious 'Iddully').
Felix and I were both studying cello in Germany at the time. Or perhaps he’d finished. Anyway, there was a course, he said, that I mustn’t miss, with a great cellist. I agreed. I don’t know why. Well, yes I do, because it was Felix, and he was always and absolutely irresistible.
The next day after dusk, Felix and I rolled up with our two cellos and a rucksac or two, in his camper van, on a Tuscan hill. Lots of people were walking around with strange shaped instruments. At that point I knew nothing about original instruments. I had certainly never heard of a theorbo. Or of Anner Bylsma, the great master of baroque cello. I played Hindemith as that is all I had prepared, and looked a fool. A square. Felix played Bach and Boccherini and anything else, launching himself and flowing into the baroque repertoire, and of course life in Iddully (and the wine, espresso and girls that came with it) with a his unique Wurman zest. As always.
Today I am a baroque cellist. I think I flow a little, sometimes, and have a degree of zest. Today, for the very first time, I wonder if Felix was not at the core of a slight gear shift then that, twenty years later, became a life change.
Felix went on to create the Church of Beethoven
in Albequerque. If you live anywhere near, go. If not, create a new one.
Oh Felix, you packed so much into your too short life. I never got to say Bravo. Nor hello. Nor goodbye. But I love you and I promise I will try to honour your memory by trying to live fully, passionately, with risk and heart, humility, humour, love and courage. Let there be churches of Beethoven around the world.
Oh and by the way, I think you would be proud of me. I gave Julian a very fine Rancilio coffee grinder for Christmas. Be peaceful wherever you are, dear friend, and be always surrounded by beautiful music.