When she has her cello restrung, a musician receives unexpected advice from a master.
In 1959, my "new" cello (made in Italy about 1770) arrived in its heavy, wheel-less black case. Eager to try out the instrument, I was dismayed to discover only three playable strings.
Regrettably, during its ocean voyage, the C string (the lowest, thickest, and most expensive one) had snapped. I hurriedly bought another, which cost $5. At the time, I thought this was an expensive purchase.
Through the years, I have needed to pay for many more strings, which wear out periodically. Recently, I decided to invest in a new set and made an appointment with Valery, an expert luthier. He can replace all four strings in less time than it takes me to change a single one.
After greeting me politely, he immediately inquired, "Did you hear that Rostropovich died today?"
Mstislav ("Slava") Rostropovich is well known – especially to cellists – but I hadn't yet heard the sad news.
Then Valery asked, "Did you know that he used to live in my hometown in Russia?"
"No," I answered.
My string repairman continued, "I was born in Voronezh, where Peter the Great built his fleet of sailing ships, using pine from the nearby forests."
Then Valery pointed to a black and white photograph, one I had often admired. Standing in a line were Rostropovich and three other musical celebrities: composer Dmitri Shostakovich, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (Rostropovich's wife), and violinist David Oistrakh.
"Nathan Zarahovich, my wife's uncle who played the violin and was also a journalist, gave me this snapshot he took in the early 1970s," Valery explained. "He had just interviewed this quartet. He lived near Shostakovich's outside Moscow at Peredelkino. Many artists and writers had their summer houses in that village."
Those in the photograph were good friends as well as collaborating musicians, and I have specific – although tenuous – connections with each one.