Two weeks ago, the cellist Alban Gerhardt wrote exclusively on Slipped Disc about the way his precious bow was destroyed by careless TSA agents in the US. Now he has found that the cello is damaged, too. Here is the second instalment of Alban’s nightmare travel diary:
On February 6 a careless TSA officer at Washington DC’s international Dulles airport destroyed my bow. Yesterday, hours before my live-broadcast concert with the National Symphony of Ireland in Dublin, I found that the sound-post of my Goffriller cello had been pushed so strongly that on the back of the cello one can see a brutal crack.
What had happened? Why did I only realize this two and a half weeks after the incident? And how dare I complain when I took the risk of damaging my cello by checking it with ordinary bags? Some people seem to believe I deserve such an accident.
In 23 years of travel, neither my cello nor my bows have been harmed by the case being thrown around by baggage handlers. What happened here is that people felt the need to open the case and close it with brutal force.
Naively I believed my cello was miraculously unharmed when the bow was snapped in half over the bridge of the cello, but the impact pushed the bridge down and through the soundpost it created this crack which affects its sound and, probably, its value.
After my three concerts in Madison, which I played on a bow from a cello professor, flying to New York to play a private concert I felt that my cello responded with much more difficulty, even though I had borrowed from a violin shop next to Carnegie Hall an amazing Tourte bow. Instead of blaming my cello I tried to find a way to make it work. I had been taught by my father to always blame myself if something doesn’t work. I am not a frequent guest at violin makers, though in this case I should have had my cello checked after returning to Berlin a week after the accident.
I did go directly from the airport to my bow-repairer, who had just finished repairing my Kittel bow, which had snapped during a rehearsal with the Hallé Orchestra 10 months ago, to exchange it with my poor Knopf bow. He didn’t seem too optimistic about repairing it, but he will give it a try. Back home I needed a break from cello, took care of my 14 year old son and his problems in school, spent time with my pregnant wife (oh yes, she is due in June!) and tried to forget my bad luck. Two days before leaving on February 20 to Zurich and Dublin to rehearse and perform the Schumann and Dvorak concertos with the orchestras there, I started practising again and could not believe how much I had to work to make the cello sound. Maybe the repair had altered the gorgeous Kittel bow in a way that it didn’t sound any more?
The struggles got worse during rehearsals in Zurich and the following day in Dublin, and I realized I could not perform on equipment like that. The strings seemed incredibly low (hardly any space between strings and fingerboard). The supportive and lovely orchestra musicians in Dublin helped me connect with an excellent fiddle maker, Conor Russell, whose wife picked my cello up the night before the concert and provided me with a just finished new instrument of her husband on which I was able to play the dress rehearsal the following morning.
Marc, principal bassist of the orchestra, drove me after rehearsal to the home of Conor, about an hour outside of Dublin, where I received the bad news that the bridge had sunk in because of the crack in the back. Conor had cut a new bridge just for the concerts in Dublin and on Sunday in Zurich, but warned me that the back might not keep it up much longer.
I got back to my hotel at 6:10 pm, took a nap until 7 pm, arrived 10 minutes late for the pre-concert talk, practised another 15 minutes before the concert and went on stage for the live-radio-broadcast of the Dvorak Concerto. Cello felt rather good under the circumstances, but I did not have a good feeling about the Kittel bow which seemed a bit wobbly. After the opening of the last movement I looked at it and realized that it was ready to snap again – two fresh cracks had opened at the tip, I could not believe my bad luck.
During the 30 seconds of orchestra tutti I put my bow down, signaled the conductor to keep on going, walked over to the assistant principal cellist and silently asked for her bow. I will never forget the expression in her face – she must have thought I had gone mad! I finished the concerto on her bow wondering what I had done to deserve such challenges. Oh, I have never had emotional attachment to things, and as a father I know the only really tragic loss, the loss of your child, but to make music I do depend on good equipment.
It is more enjoyable and inspiring to perform on fantastic instruments with a gorgeous bow. During the Prelude of the 6th Bach suite which I played as an encore I decided to take this strike of mishaps as an incentive to actually pursue the dream of being able to play one day on the best possible cello with a matching bow – a Strad is a much better investment than any stocks or funds or even real estate, so maybe I can convince somebody in the future to let me perform on this kind of investment….