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Pieter Wispelwey loves hummus. The noted Dutch cellist makes sure he "wipes" at least a plateful of his favorite chickpea concoction every time he comes to Israel. He'll have the opportunity for more on his fourth visit this month. He's arrived for the Israel Festival to perform his signature Bach cello suites today as well as the Brahms Concerto for Cello and Piano with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra on June 6.
In a concerto with an orchestra, the question of who adapts to whom always intrigues.
"In general the soloist knows the piece better than the conductor," says Wispelwey "so typically the conductor defers to the soloist, but in the Brahms double concerto there's the pianist, and because there's a strong symphonic element to this concerto, the conductor will definitely have his own ideas. It will be challenging," he concludes happily.
And even though he's played the Bach cello suites scores of times, and made several recordings of them, they never stale because "apart from the fact that playing is as necessary as breathing, eating and drinking, it's also an existential challenge. If I have an inspirational block, if a great work doesn't inspire me, then I'm musically dead."
Altogether "I believe you need to be human on your instrument, that is, recognizably expressive so that you can make an emotional statement with the notes.
"I still find the Bach suites a fantastic challenge. I never lose curiosity about what I might discover on that evening when I go on stage. The atmosphere is never the same, because of the audience, because of the acoustics, so the [musical] dialogue is never the same. The suites talk to me in multiple voices. Playing them is like being at a party."
Speaking with the The Jerusalem Post prior to his arrival from his 17th century home in Amsterdam where he lives with his British-born wife, oboist Alexandra Bellamy, and their two children aged three and five months, Wispelwey recalled his roots.
Now 44-years old, Wispelway was born in Harlem to a musical family and grew up in Santpoort where his parents still live. His violinist father had and has an amateur string quartet. His mother plays the piano, so "I grew up with lots of music. I was about two when I started to sit in on my father's rehearsals. I started the piano early, but they wouldn't let me touch the cello until I was eight. I was in awe of it then, and I've never recovered."
When he was 19 Wispelwey moved to Amsterdam where he studied with local teachers Dicky Boeke and Anner Bylsma, then he went on scholarship to the US where he studied with Paul Katz and then with William Pleeth in the UK. Recognition quickly followed and in 1992 he won the Netherlands Music Prize, becoming the first cellist to do so.
But Wispelwey hasn't gone the competition route, preferring instead to play a varied repertoire that ranges from early to contemporary music. He's recorded extensively and is known for doing his own editing, saying that "I choose the cuts, but then I let the engineer put them together."
He plays both a modern and a baroque cello, a 1760 Guadagnini, and both travel next to him on the plane. He's played with ensembles and orchestras from Australia to Russia, and says that audiences everywhere "because they're music lovers, are much the same. Playing in Asia can be fantastic; classical music is hugely popular there, and with young people too. There's no reason why it shouldn't be the same in Europe and the US. It's just silliness and ignorance that keeps it off the education curriculum."
And finally - is he going for some hummus on this trip?