Moments before the Emerson Quartet’s appearance in Paris, at the Cité de la Musique’s 4th Biennale Quatours à Cordes, David Finckel acquired the bow of Valentin Berlinsky, the founding cellist of the Borodin Quartet, who passed away in 2007 having played in the quartet, and on this bow exclusively, for 60 years. David purchased the bow directly from pianist Ludmila Berlinskaia, daughter of the cellist, before proceeding to the stage to perform a work that Berlinsky had helped bring into the world, Shostakovich’s 9th Quartet.
in David’s words…
Cellist Valentin Berlinsky was an iconic figure in Russian music. First and foremost, his playing was of the highest order, always strong, secure and beautiful, and he brought to the Borodin Quartet the expectation of artistic excellence which gained the ensemble international popularity and respect.
Educated at Moscow Conservatory, Berlinsky began teaching immediately after graduation and never stopped. He coached countless young musicians and was dedicated to passing along the infinite knowledge he had gained through his years with the repertoire, and especially his associations with the greatest Russian composers of his time.
Berlinsky acquired this bow in 1946 in Mirecourt, France. It was made by a family of bowmakers named Morizot, whose father, Louis, had studied with Sartory. He and his five sons set up shop in a kind of factory style, each brother working on different components. The shop lasted into the 1970’s, having produced a huge volume of bows which are highly prized.
Regarding this bow, a letter to me from Ludmila reads: “…I can assure you that he performed and recorded with the Morizot during his entire career, as the mark of his thumb on the ivory can testify better than anything else.’’ Which means, among other innumerable historical events, that this bow played at the funerals of both Stalin and Prokofiev; performed all the Shostakovich Quartets for the composer in private; recorded quintets with Sviatoslav Richter; gave the first performances in the Americas, and probably world-wide, of the complete Shostakovich cycle.
In the 1990’s I met the late Mariedi Anders, one of the most distinguished artist managers of our time, who lived an active life into her 90’s and was the American manager of the Borodin, bringing them here on numerous tours. At the time, the Borodin Quartet had engaged first violinist Mikhail Koppelman, who was living in Brooklyn. I asked Mariedi how the quartet managed to rehearse with the others living in Moscow. Her response: “When you play 260 concerts a season, you don’t have to rehearse very much.” This number is approximately one hundred more than I’ve ever played, yet even in his later years, Berlinsky always looked the leanest, most agile and energetic in the quartet. I have yet to learn his secret.
An extraordinary testament to this bow’s travels is its “passport”, an essential for musicians traveling in and out of Russia with valuable instruments. The bow came to me with the passport, which as you can see has become an extraordinary work of graphic art. This passport only goes back as far as 1998, so one can get a sense of the relentless travel the quartet endured, and probably still does.
Ludmila, extraordinarily charming and equally passionate, also told me that her father did not own his cello – the state did. So this bow, as she says in her letter: “is the main physical link to my father’s career and my wish is that it will continue to live and travel like it did during the last 60 years playing music and transmitting its spirit.” I am thrilled to have the chance to fulfill her wish and look I forward to doing justice to the legacy of this marvelous bow.