Israeli musician Amit Peled brings famous cello to Aptos
Amit Peled has many blessings in his life. He’s an accomplished cellist and conductor, and has performed in top venues throughout the world. At 28, he became the youngest professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he and his wife are raising three children. And twice in his life, once when he was a boy and again as a man, his life’s path was altered by a man he never met: the preeminent cellist of the 20th century, the late Pablo Casals.
His musical journey began when he was 10 years old. Up until that point in his life, Peled—who grew up on an Israeli kibbutz (or commual settlement) in the “middle of nowhere” —was mostly interested in playing sports, primarily basketball. But when his dad presented him with a cassette tape of Casals playing the cello, it changed Peled’s life.
“I listened to it every evening,” says Peled. “I fell in love with the cello because of it.” It wasn’t long before he began to play the cello himself.
Peled’s study of music, and the cello in particular, has been nothing short of prolific. He played in the prestigious Israeli Army String Quartet, and later came to the United States to attend Yale University and the New England Conservatory of Music. And eventually, he traveled to Berlin to complete his graduate degree in music.
When Peled returned to the United States with his new German wife to accept a professorship at Johns Hopkins’ Peabody Conservatory of Music, the staff there mistook the 28-year-old Peled for a student. The ever-youthful Peled chuckles as he recalls how he was told to stand in line with the incoming students.
Last July, after 10 years at Johns Hopkins, a mutual friend presented him with the musical proposition of a lifetime: Would he like to meet Pablo Casals’ widow and play the cello for her? Peled quickly accepted and made the short trip from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., where Casals’ widow, Marta Casals Istomin, served as director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from 1980-1990.
“I decided to play Bach—Casals was famous for his Bach recordings,” Peled recalls about his meeting with Casals’ widow. After playing for her for a bit, he says she was impressed with his playing and asked him if she could comment on his technique, which he readily agreed to.
“From then on, she killed me,” says Peled, with a laugh. “It turned out to be a lesson.” The session with Casals Istomin, an acclaimed musician in her own right, lasted more than an hour. “I’m a conductor myself and I’m not used to getting lessons. But it was just wonderful.”
The payoff for Peled was huge. He was invited to New York to play Pablo Casals’ 1733 Goffriller cello, which was acquired by the famous maestro in 1913.
“[Its] special sound is more like a human voice than other cellos,” he says. “It suggests colors to you that you didn’t know existed. It’s a more sophisticated tool, like a handcrafted Rolls-Royce instead of a Toyota.”
After the trip to New York, Peled was given the Goffriller on loan. He’s been touring the country ever since, performing with Casals’ cello—which will eventually be put on permanent display in a Madrid museum, never to be played again.
Local music fans will have a chance to hear Peled for themselves during two upcoming performances in Aptos, a benefit concert on Saturday, March 16, and as part of the Distinguished Artists Concert Series on Sunday, March 17.
“He’s a wonderful performer in the way he engages the audience and makes a personal connection,” says John Orlando, the concert series director. “He loves making contact with the audience. His performances are wonderful—not just from what he plays, but with what he shares.”
Orlando founded the Distinguished Artists Concert Series in 1984. The group typically sponsors five to six concerts a year in Santa Cruz County, primarily featuring classical pianists, such as Yevgeny Sudbin, who will headline a show in April.
Orlando, who was a music instructor and head of the piano department at Cabrillo College for more than 25 years, says that while the concert series typically focuses on piano, the group makes an exception when given the opportunity to feature a musician of Peled’s caliber.
“I think he’s one of the great cellists in the world. He has everything. Flawless technique, beautiful tone, and very deep soul— and you know it,” says Orlando. “I’m sure Casals’ widow saw that immediately.”
Amit Peled will perform at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 17 at Resurrection Church, 7600 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Tickets are $16-24. Call 539-0000, or visit distinguishedartists.org. Peled will also play at a benefit for the Juanita Orlando Piano Fund at a private Aptos location at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 16. For Saturday’s show, donations are requested, reservations are required and space is limited. Call 539-0000 for reservations.