Cellist Nicolas Altstaedt shares about his cello, and his love affair with the instrument, in conversation with Jessica Duchen.
I play a Giulio Cesare Gigli cello, a typical Roman school instrument. The Roman school as established by David Tecchler 50 years before and he had two significant apprentices. Michael Platner was the other one, who made rather larger instruments, and Giulio Cesare Gigli made slightly smaller cellos – though we’re only talking about half a centimetre difference!
There are several cellos of Gigli I saw, two other instruments very similar in style, and its very interesting making. They are very far from being perfect. When you look at the form that Stradivari established, everything is perfect: the scroll, the measurements, and the symmetry. In this instrument, nothing is really symmetrical. The form is very individual and when you put it down on its side it shakes all the time because the sides are not square or symmetric at all.
I looked into when it was made because the paper inside is fake! So we did this dendrochronology where you check the rings of the tree to see when it was made and you could clearly tell it was cut between 1750 and 1753, and at that time they didn’t store the wood for a long time so it was probably made in the 1750s and you can clearly tell from what family it comes from.
I’ve played this cello since 2013. It was Tarisio Auctions that gave this instrument to me when they found out that I had to give the cello I’d played before back to the German foundation that lent it to me. I have been very lucky to play a wonderful Nicolas Lupot cello, a French cello, one of the best instruments I’ve ever seen, also because it’s in incredible condition. There’s not a single crack in it. It’s like a French Stradivari, it’s like the best instrument that ever came out of French instrument making because it has all sides of French cello making: it’s very balanced, it has huge tone to project and also an incredible depth that sometimes I miss in French instruments, partly because they are mostly younger.
So I played this for 11 years but then had to give it back to the foundation because I was 30 years old and that was the age limit for its loan, so I had no instrument! Tarisio was very helpful, they came and said “Can we help you?” and two or three months later I got an email saying there’s a cello in London, pick it up and have a look – that was this Gigli. I’m normally very picky or very doubtful about things I choose or do, but this was love at first sight. It was also the first Italian instrument I had played at length. So it’s my first Italian instrument and now we are together!
Altstaedt and Madžar tour Australia 11 - 30 September.
View their full Australian tour dates and programs