January 4, 2024
My friend the pianist Mary Joe Pagano, founder and artistic director of The Chamber Music Center of New York, is always on the lookout for talented, young musicians. Recently she told me, excitedly, about the Galvin Cello Quartet, and sent me a link to their web site. The Quartet’s cellists, Sihao He, Sydney Lee, Haddon Kay, and Luis Fernando Venturelli, are brilliant instrumentalists and thoughtful musicians individually, but their renditions as a group, for example of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, are glorious. In the hands of an artist the cello has a seductively beautiful voice, but the richness, depth, and nuance produced by a cello ensemble is a sensory experience beyond description.
Listening to the evocative sound of the Galvins made me think of another cello ensemble and the remarkable experience they once had. The story was told to me by Raimund Trenkler, founder and director of the Kronberg Academy. I met Raimund, a cellist himself, while I was performing at his music festival.
Over lunch one day, Raimund and I began exchanging notes on traveling by air with our instruments and the special problems cellists encounter. Raimund’s cello ensemble had recently returned from a concert tour. He said the performances were met with great success and that travel arrangements, especially for the cellos, had gone off without a hitch—that is, until the final plane trip home. At the airport, luggage had been checked and boarding passes and seat assignments issued for the musicians and their instruments. But when they arrived at the gate, a flight attendant informed them that their cellos would not be allowed on board. And why? Because the pilot claimed the bulky instruments would somehow be an evacuation hazard in case of an emergency landing. No amount of pleading on Raimund’s part moved the flight attendant to reconsider, for, according to airline rules, it was the pilot’s ultimate decision, and his alone, regarding everything from taking off, landing, and, in this instance, allowing cellos on board.
Somehow Raimund managed to talk the flight attendant into letting him speak to the pilot directly. Within a matter of seconds he was face to face with a dour airline captain who refused all of Raimund’s entreaties: We’ve always been allowed on board with our cellos, airline rules permit it, cellos have never posed an evacuation problem. When Raimund finally realized that he was getting nowhere with this rigid and unfeeling man, he tried one last gambit. “Sir, although I disagree with your decision, I must accept that you have final say in the matter, but would you at least allow us to play for you at the gate?” To Raimund’s surprise, the captain shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why not.”
So the musicians took out their cellos, and before the assembled passengers waiting to go on board and the airline captain standing rather stiffly among them, they played with the rapturous sound that can only come from a fine cello ensemble. When they finished, Raimund told me, he looked up to see that the captain’s face had softened and that he seemed visibly moved by the performance. Then the captain turned to the musicians and said, “You can all come on board with your cellos.”
Best wishes for a happy and thriving new year, and one filled with all kinds of glorious music.
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