January 27, 2012 4:27 am

Young Montrealer loaned 300-year-old Stradivarius cello

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MONTREAL – Stéphane Tétreault, an 18-year-old student of Yuli Turovsky at the Université de Montréal, has become the hands-on custodian of a 1707 Stradivarius cello that ranks among the most valuable instruments in the world.

Reuning & Son, a Boston rare-instrument dealer, announced this week that the instrument, one of only 60 Stradivarius cellos in existence, was acquired “for an undisclosed amount via sealed-bid auction by a patroness of the arts from Montreal.”

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Tétreault played last June at a Place des Arts benefit concert honouring Jacqueline Desmarais, who is well known for her support of young artists, particularly singers.

The cellist also performed in December at the Gala of the Opéra de Montréal, another organization to which Desmarais has ties.

Reuning & Son president Christopher Reuning said Tuesday that the purchase price was “a fair bit above” the minimum bid of more than $6 million U.S. Reuning calls this unspecified price “a world record by a fair margin” for a cello, a claim also endorsed by Strad Magazine.

Last June, the Lady Blunt Stradivarius violin fetched what was taken to be a world-record price (for a violin) of $15.9 million U.S. in London. This instrument was once owned by a descendant of Lord Byron.

The Stradivarius cello, named Paganini, Countess of Stainlein, also has an impressive pedigree. Its ownership has been traced to 1816 and Vincenzo Merighi, a cellist of the La Scala orchestra, who sold it to the reigning violin virtuoso of the early 19th century, Niccolò Paganini. 

From the shop of the famed French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume it passed to the family of Count Louis Charles Georges Corneille de Stainlein-Saalenstein, whose widow is memorialized by its name.

In the 20th century, the instrument was used by Paul Grümmer of the Busch Quartet and Bernard Greenhouse, founding cellist of the Beaux Arts Trio, who died last May at age 95.

“I am immensely touched and humbled to have been chosen to play an instrument that was cherished for so many years by Bernard Greenhouse, who has always had my great respect and admiration,” Tétreault said.

Reuning said it was unusual for an instrument as valuable as the Paganini, Countess of Stainlein cello to be entrusted to a teenager.

All the same, he regards Tétreault as “a mature 18-year-old” – a view shared by the purchaser.

“They cherish the instruments,” Reuning said of dedicated musicians. “They are great custodians.”

Some connoisseurs suppose that continuous use by a qualified professional is good for the health of vintage instruments by Antonio Stradivari and other famous Italian makers. Reuning dismisses this notion a myth.

All the same, the case is sometimes made that keeping great instruments in circulation is more ethical than locking them under glass.

“An instrument is a living thing whose vibrations keep its voice alive,” Denis Brott, who plays a valuable David Tecchler cello on loan from the Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank, said Tuesday in an email. “Not to play an instrument is to silence its voice.”

Quebec has recently become a hotbed of valuable instruments. Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal concertmaster Andrew Wan uses a 1744 M.A. Bergonzi violin on loan from the Montreal philanthropist David Sela.

A few musicians, including OSM players, use instruments provided by Roger Dubois, president of Canimex, a Drummondville industrial firm.

Alexandre da Costa plays a Stradivarius violin owned by Dubois.

There is at least one other Stradivarius cello in Canada, the Bonjour cello of 1696, also part of the Canada Council bank.

An under-17 First Prize winner of the OSM Competition, Tétreault last summer was accepted as a contestant in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the most prestigious in the world.

Ginette Ravary, Tétreault’s mother and manager, said Tuesday that the first opportunity to hear Tétreault with the new cello would probably be a concert on March 8 at the modest Chapelle du Bon Pasteur, although he might have it up and running for a concerts on Feb. 4 at the Théâtre Outremont and Feb. 19 at Centre Culturel in Pierrefonds.

He is almost certain to use it for Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in the Maison symphonique on April 22 with the Orchestre Métropolitain and conductor Julian Kuerti.

Visit orchestremetropolitain.com for details on this concert and the Conseil des Arts de Montréal-sponsored tour of the island.

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