Friday, November 16, 2007

The Roller Coaster Continues

A difficult decision has made been made...

Andrew Carruthers Cello 44.

Let's start last week.
As you know, I had fallen head over heals in love with the Carruthers cello. A great instrument. The quartet loved it, I certainly did. And still do.

I took my old Mirecourt out of his case again.
And started crying.
What was I going to give up?!?

The Mirecourt has a very special sound. Rich, warm and something else magical.
However: I have not played it seriously for two years. The only reason for that is, that it is difficult to play.
I have always been willing to live with that, but after I played the carbon fibre cello, I realized that things could be much easier.
For a while, I forgot that I missed playing wood; it was just too comfortable.

The carbon fibre cello is a great "work horse".
It is great for teaching, for outdoor gigs, for endless symphony rehearsals: it almost impossible to injure yourself on them. But they lack the warmth of wood. I guess they sort of lack personality.

That is why I started to look for a different cello. Wouldn't it be great if I found an instrument that would have the carbon-fibre-type ease, and the depth and warmth that I was searching for?
I found it in the Carruthers!

But playing it against my Mirecourt changed everything...


I played the instruments at the next quartet rehearsal.
I played both of the cellos for my quartet friends, in a variety of pieces. I played Bach, Elgar, Andrix; they preferred the Mirecourt in all of the solo works.
But... as cello in the quartet they preferred the Carruthers! The Carruthers has a much more focused tone, very clean and easy.
The Mirecourt is more sluggish, obviously harder to play, which you hear.

That did not make things easier for me! I did not know a person could cry so much over such a thing!

I took both cellos to my luthier, Ross Hill in Calgary.
He restored my Mirecourt years ago and really loves that instrument. But he knew that I was looking for something else, and he is really honest.
He examined the Carruthers and really liked it a lot. It is obviously an instrument of the highest quality. A great buy, he assured me.
Then I explained to him my feelings about my Mirecourt...

A colleague of mine, who was there at the same time, played both cellos for me. He asked if I had considered a different set-up for my Mirecourt.
Ross agreed.
The bridge of the Mirecourt is a little soft and it has a tendency to "walk". This can make an instrument sluggish, unpredictable and difficult to play. Changing the bridge, possibly the sound post (the soul of the instrument) and tweak things like the tail gut, he figures he could make the instrument easier to play.

The current bridge on my Mirecourt.

I have decided to give that a try. I know that I could never buy this instrument back if I sold it. I need to know that I tried everything before I could give it up. If this does not work out, I will at least know that I have given it all that I can. Perhaps I will then be ready to sell it.

People have asked why it is so difficult, especially since I have not played the Mirecourt much and since I love the Carruthers so much.
I don't have a good answer except that I always knew that the Mirecourt was there anyway. I read a short story the other day, about a woman who had not had contact with her father for four years. Now he passed away. For four years she had not missed the man or even thought about him very much, but now that he passed away, she felt a sharp pain, missing him terribly. While missing a person like that is very different, I somehow felt that that story described to some extend what I was going through with my Mirecourt.

I consulted more colleagues. They all agreed: first give the different set-up a try.
I will.

Mirecourt bridge.

I do have to say that it is with pain in my heart that I will send the Carruthers back. If only I could afford both: they would have such a different place in my performances.
I also can not say that one is better than the other. Perhaps, if I am perfectly honest, the Carruthers is better in many ways. But I have such a history with my Mirecourt. It is such an extension of my personality....

Carruthers bridge. Nice bridge!

One of my students said something, completely intuitively that stuck with me. When she heard me play the Mirecourt, she said:
"Grandpa has experience, but he is sure stuck in his ways".
It does describe it well. The Carruthers has a youthful energy that the Mirecourt does not have. The Mirecourt has "experience", character perhaps, that maybe the Carruthers does not yet has.



No, none of this has been in vain. I have needed this to reconnect with my old friend Mirecourt.
I am, however, not willing to permanently injure myself. I will give this an honest chance, and if the Mirecourt will still prove to be a difficult instrument... well: I do know where to find Andrew Carruthers (!


Monday, November 5, 2007


Two cellos are safely at home.

It arrived in one piece!

Customs did give me some minor grief at the border when they searched our entire car. At least they did let me handle the cellos. The Jay-Haide cello is very heavily "antiqued" to make it look 300 years old, so the customs officer didn't quite believe me when I told her it was brand new! They looked inside with a flashlight, to check the actual year it was made, but probably also to check for drugs or so. They also researched the cellos, to make sure that I told them the truth about the price. After all; I could have brought home a $400,000 cello, right?
We have driven 6600 kilometres in 9 days, and stayed only in the San Francisco Bay area!

The first bow strokes...

The Carruthers cello is my new big love!!
It is absolutely amazing. I briefly pulled my bow across the string when I came home, but sat down seriously on Sunday and played it all day.

I was a little nervous:
  • Would it still be as great as I thought it was when I played it in Santa Rosa?
  • Is it really better than my Mirecourt?
  • Is it better than (or at least equal to) my Luis and Clark?
  • Would it like my Roy Quade bow?
I am happy to say: YES!!!

It is so easy to play. It is powerful, yet warm. It projects so easy. It is a great match for the bow.

I really drove down to San Francisco for the baroque cello.
While I was there anyway, I figured, I should try some "contemporary" cellos.
The purpose of trying all of these cellos (and I played about 45 of them while in the San Francisco Bay area!) was:
  • to see if my Mirecourt is a good instrument in its price range.
  • to see if the Luis and Clark instruments are indeed so much better than most instruments up to about $50,000
  • to justify for myself that perhaps playing the carbon fibre cello was all right, so to stop feeling guilty about not playing the Mirecourt.
To answer those questions:
  • The carbon fibre cellos are competitive, and they are much cheaper.
  • My Mirecourt is a very nice instrument.
None of the 45 or so instruments that I played spoke to me. Sure, they were nice, some were very nice, but so is my Mirecourt and I was not playing it.

But the Carruthers... now that is a different instrument alltogether!
I fell in love with it after the first bow stroke.

This morning I took it to my string quartet rehearsal. I was a little nervous again, because they all like the carbon so much. They have found it easier to play with than the Mirecourt.
Their advice? "You'd be crazy not to buy this cello!"


The difference with the carbon fibre cello? That instrument sounds like it always has a built in re-verb. That makes it sound like you are always in a big concert hall.
The Carruthers is as big (or perhaps bigger) in tone, but much warmer and without the "echo". And the bass of this cello is un-equalled!
What I have missed on the carbon fibre cello is fine colouring, and subtle soft playing. It is great for playing big and it is easy.
This Carruthers cello will do whatever I ask it to do. And I have only played it for two days!

Andy Carruthers said before I left with his cello: "please don't tell me if you find the carbon fibre is better than mine; make up another excuse, but don't tell me when it is better!". He can breathe easy: his cello is far superiour than any cello I have played!

Playing the Carruthers. To the side are: Jay-Haide, baroque cello of a colleague, Luis and Clark, Mirecourt.

My Mirecourt? I had some good laughs with it yesterday. As I played it against the Carruthers, he was cranky and difficult. But at the end of the day, when I wanted to record the instruments to listen on a distance, it sang like it hadn't in a while. I laughed and remembered that this is so typical for him: he is a moody cello.

Playing the Mirecourt.

Our violist this morning had an interesting comment about the Carruthers. He said: "this instruments really likes you". That made me feel good!
Perhaps the Mirecourt is just too moody for me? It may be different in the hands of someone else. And once again: it is a very nice cello. Of all the instruments I played, the Mirecourt is still nicer than most!

Needless to say I am exhausted and excited. It is such a personal and emotional journey! The Mirecourt has been such a friend for almost 19 years, yet I hadn't played it in two years. I felt guilty about that! As I had mentioned before: I have no personal bond with the Luis and Clark; while I really like what I can do with it, it is very replaceable. My husband always jokes that the carbon makes his life easier, since I am not so "paranoid" about it. He can put it in the car without me worrying. He is even allowed to carry it!
The Carruthers cello is great. I am really happy that I know who made it too. It makes even more personal. And he is such a nice man!

Having such a strong connection again with an instrument is great. A colleague who recently sold a cello and bought another one said that letting go of the old instrument was like getting out of a bad relationship, where you didn't realize that it was bad until you were out of it. I think I know what he meant!

The Luis and Clark, the Carruthers, the Mirecourt, the Jay-Haide

I have not yet spent much time with the baroque cello, but the hour or so that I played it I found it beautiful! Rich and warm.
I have commissioned Jay-Haide to build me a piccolo cello as well. It will take about 3 months. I will be curious how it turns out!

Now: back to the practice room: I will be playing Bach!