cello tasting review

Guest post by Vicki Fehling-Mayne

Photos courtesy of Erich Kurschat

It had all the elements of a successful cello society event: friends, music, food, wine and hilarity. Karen Schulz-Harmon hosted an evening combining blind ‘tastings’ of both cellos and wines.

Guests entered Curtiss Hall on the 10th floor of the Fine Arts building and found it transformed into a charming bistro. Café tables were attractively decorated with dark tablecloths and pastel sheet music designs. A buffet table, in the back of the room, held a sumptuous array of treats, courtesy of Rebecca Zimmerman.

On the stage were three screens, glamorous room-dividers like the kind Mae West might have favored. Karen welcomed us, and explained how the tasting would work. Two intrepid cellists, Brant Taylor and Jean Hatmaker, would alternate, playing twelve cellos behind the screens, so the instruments could not be seen. We in the audience picked up ballots, which listed various criteria for evaluating each cello: clarity, color, sound projection, estimated year, estimated country and any additional notes. Each of these characteristics could be ranked on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest marking. We could then choose our overall favorite cello. It was great to hear Brant and Jean play all these fine instruments.

Every cello was ‘paired’ with a mystery wine, disguised in paper bags (!) Our estimable servers, who cheerfully worked throughout the evening, were Allie Chambers, student of Jean’s, and Andrew Harmon, Karen’s husband.

The wines had their own ballots, with criteria like appearance, aroma and finish. We also could guess the region and the year of the wines. Of course, there was much joshing in the audience: ‘ah-from the north end of the vineyard’ etc., and in the end, the wine names were revealed. You would think that if you first guessed a particular wine, then its corresponding cello, you could conclude they both came from the same region e.g. “This seems like a Riesling, so it must be a German cello!” But you would be wrong, like me.

Karen asked for a show of hands after all the cellos had been played, and the majority voted for #11 - revealed to be a privately-owned English cello, made by Bernard Fendt, ca. 1800. As a side note, ten of the twelve cellos were for sale by local shops ranging in price from $8000 to $110,000. Next there was a bow tasting where Rebecca Zimmerman gave a spirited demonstration using the winning cello. She played six different bows (not all at the same time!), performing six excerpts from cello literature to feature characteristic bow strokes like spiccato, sautillé, richocet, etc. Again, this was done behind the screens and as the audience listened, they used their bow ballots to take notes and single out their favorites. The audience then voted on their favorite bow, which was an ivory-mounted French bow from 1959 made by Marcel Lapierre – all six bows were for sale! 

Present at the tasting were luthiers Michael Becker, Whitney Osterud and Peter Seman, and bow maker Jonathan Reimann, whose bow was preferred for its feel, by Rebecca. In addition to the makers in attendance, representatives from Dixon Stein and William Harris Lee were on hand to discuss the cellos and bows that were ‘tasted’ for perhaps a potential match and sale. The wines were supplied by Binny’s and we were given the opportunity to purchase them, too.

Everyone seemed to have a great time, even the non-cellists in the group! It’s events like this (was there really ever an event quite like this?) that make our cello society such a vibrant, thriving group. I hope to see many fellow cellists and friends at the upcoming Cello de Mayo!

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