A uniquely Galwegian instrument will see its concert debut at the opening of Music for Galway’s reimagined CELLISSIMO festival, a new cello festival for the west of Ireland, in a special performance at 7:30pm on March 25th, when Headford musician Naomi Berrill plays a piece specially composed for the Galway Cello by Bill Whelan.
The story starts with musician Philip Fogarty. No stranger to hybrid musical journeys himself, he hit upon the notion, when discussing CELLISSIMO, of an instrument made of materials from Galway, as a response to the themes of landscape and migration in Galway 2020’s call for submissions a couple of years back; this cello would be a nexus merging Italian tradition, technology and continental culture with the rich tapestry that is Galway, as expressed in the materials from the Galway landscape itself.
Music for Galway ran with the idea, approached luthier Kuros Torkzadeh about making it a reality, and the rest, as they say, is history: quite literally so, as it turned out that this luthier had in his possession a plaster cast of the Gore-Booth Cello, an original B-form Stradivari cello, which had belonged to Sir George Gore-Booth of Lissadell, Co. Sligo. The precise form of this instrument, made in 1710 in Cremona, Italy, became the footprint for the Galway Cello, and so the instrument was infused with Stradivari DNA.
The original Baron Rothschild Gore-Booth survives to the present day, currently in private hands and last known to have been the instrument of cellist Rocco Filippini. As to whether it can be construed that the two instruments are now somehow communing in realtime is a question probably best unattempted here. But communed at one point they certainly have, thanks to the dedication of Kuros Torkzadeh to his craft.
A singular challenge was the sourcing of woods in Galway suitable for the making of a cello; however, these were indeed found, with necessary exceptions such as the ebony for the fingerboard; yews, sycamores and spruces from west of the Shannon all feature.
A particularly distinctive element of the cello is its scroll, carved in a multi-dimensional reworking of the Claddagh Ring motif in a way that both embraces and reimagines the iconic symbol and its Galway-ness. The fact that such an idea looks that obvious in hindsight, but is at once so inevitable and yet so bold and original, is a resounding tribute to the talent of the craftsman.
The Galway Cello has its concert debut on March 25 as part of the reimagined CELLISSIMO programme, when Naomi Berrill premieres Fragments, a piece specially commissioned for the instrument’s inaugural outing from Bill Whelan.
Also running from March 25th to 31st will be the online CELLISSIMO Exhibition curated by Rob D’Eath, which will highlight the Galway Cello and document its creation. Elements of the exhibition will include The Skies are Empty – a piece from Yseult Cooper Stockdale and Philip Fogarty performed live from two locations, Cork and Galway, during the first pandemic lockdown in April 2020; a short film featuring Adrian Mantu, of ConTempo String Quartet, playing Lamentatio by Giovanni Sollima on the Galway Cello; portraits of the Galway Cello by Anita Murphy, and ‘Meet the cello maker’, where musician and artisan go head-to-head - Philip Fogarty in conversation with Kuros Torkzadeh as they discuss the ups and downs that Kuros encountered in the making of the Galway Cello. You will find the exhibition, full programme and booking details on www.musicforgalway.ie/cellissimo