Not quite a year ago, I read a book that changed my life. That book was The Cello Suites, by Eric Siblin. It’s a beautifully written book about, predictably, the Unaccompanied Cello Suites by JS Bach. Really, though, it was about the mystery of their conception, alongside the story of their rediscovery by legendary cellist Pablo Casals. What I took away from this book were two simple truths: that Bach’s music was but one shred of evidence which proves that there are beautiful, wonderful things conceived in the human mind worth honoring forever; and that Pablo Casals was so much more than the “finder” of a cherished artifact, he was a man who carried himself with dignity, who was, once, a living example of the noble humanity Bach tried to capture in his music.
I thought a great deal about Casals last year, little things like his smile, the respect he showed to students and peers, his endearing habit of playing the suites one by one, every morning…and big things too. Things like loud, strong gestures against political oppression. Like living in exile and using his music as a symbol for hope. His intolerance for injustice hit me just as hard as his delicate handling of ignorant, albeit enthusiastic young cellists.
I found myself wishing for someone like him in my life. The great role models I’ve known as a cellist keep slipping through my hands as one by one I’ve had to start saying goodbye. Who will replace them? Who will make us think about the world the same way, for example, Marc Johnson or Janos Starker did? Who else will play by the wall like Rostropovich, or on the ruins like Vedran Smailovic in our striking header photo, taken by Mikhail Evstafiev? Who will remind us that we must live rich lives in order to have something to say through our music? Who will take a stand, when a stand is needed?
Maybe one of us. Maybe one of our students. But it won’t happen unless we look at the example of role models past and present, and realize what we’re truly capable of as musicians. Unless we embrace the opportunities presented to us to make positive change.
And so, I humbly introduce the Casals Project, and invite you to explore the site and the ideas behind it.