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A sartorial vision in a black, edgy-looking suit, the cellist mounts the platform in the apse of the rural Virginia church, and is greeted by the warm applause of the fans who have braved a torrential Virginia rainstorm to be there with him.  Wrapping his 6-foot, 5-inch frame — his hope was to play both the cello and basketball — around what now seems to have shrunk into a tiny version of an adult sized instrument, Israeli virtuoso Amit Peled draws his bow across the strings, a passionate launch into a sonata by Johannes Brahms.  It must be said, however, that his ability to command and enthrall does not seem to be solely governed by his selections, spanning the Baroque to the contemporary; whether its Ludwig van Beethoven, Edward Elgar, Maxim Shostakovich or compositions by the 19th century Czech cellist David Popper, the team of Peled and Pablo hit it out of the park every time. 

Named to honor its former owner, the legendary Pablo Casals, Pablo (the cello) was paired with Amit, as a match made in heaven, one which was orchestrated by Marta Casals Istomin, a dynamic musician, administrator and Casals’ widow, who headed Puerto Rico’s Casals Festival, served as artistic director at the Kennedy Center and then as president at Manhattan School of Music.  

The masterpiece fabricated in 1733 by the Venetian Matteo Goffriller was Casals’ instrument, on which he played until his death in 1973, the year that Peled was born. Six years ago, Amit’s life was transformed when he was invited to Istomin Casals’ home and performed on Pablo for the first time in many years. He later wrote: My dream had come true; I was playing the most famous instrument in the world right here, right now and all I could think about was my mother being so far away in Israel, not able to see, hear and appreciate it with me. Imagining her eyes and warm touch, I dove into Dvorák’s Cello Concerto and woke up playing the last notes of Bloch’s “Prayer” from “Jewish Life,” hearing Marta’s approving ‘Now that was something!’  He captured these memories in his children’s book, “A Cello Named Pablo,” a sweet and fitting introduction to the world of music intended for the very young.

After the instrument had undergone major restoration for the better part of a year, it was inevitable that Pablo would come out of retirement and resume his previous globetrotting, with Amit as traveling companion. Curating his own concerts, he has developed “Journey with My Jewishness” showcasing both story-telling and the performance of material by both Jewish and non-Jewish composers including traditional songs and prayers and pieces by Max Bruch, Ernest Bloch and J.S. Bach.

Peled, who grew up on a farm and went on to study at America’s most prestigious music schools, has for many years been acclaimed for his work on stage and on numerous recordings as recitalist, a performer of chamber music for ensembles which he himself has founded and as a guest soloist with orchestras here and throughout the world.  On the faculty of Baltimore’s Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, he regularly performs with students he teaches and mentors, most notably in his group Peabody Cello Gang. As one reviewer wrote: “One could hear in this the rich tone and phrasing of the master teacher, carried by his superb students.”

Dedicated to passing on his knowledge of the Casals tradition to his students, now and in the future, Peled has authored a manual on the cello, “The First Hour” and is also ambassador promoting iClassical Academy, a music platform created by those who play offering high-quality Master Classes that provide access to those who want to learn, wherever they are.

After the concert concluded, the affable Peled remained true to his stage persona, as he signed autographs and kibitzed with his audience, telling me to “remember to write that I left early to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with my family.”

Hear Peled perform Schuman with the Tel Aviv Philharmonic.

New Architecture in Eastern Europe

Slated for four days of opening events commencing on October 18, Vilnius’ new modern art museum — housing the contemporary collection of Baltic art belonging to philanthropists Victor Butkus and Danguole Butkiene, is the product of a collaboration between native architects and engineers and the famed designer, Daniel Liebeskind.  Known for his many, groundbreaking works including Berlin’s Jewish Museum and the World Trade Center Memorial, Liebeskind, the son of Holocaust survivors, has fabricated the museum’s cutting-edge façade in white plaster, a material that has been associated with the city for many centuries.  The museum, conceived as a cultural landmark which links the newer and older sections of Vilnius, features a public outdoor terrace, and roof which can function as a gathering and performance space.

In August, the city of Warsaw, Poland announced plans for a new Jewish theater, a project spearheaded by its mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, which calls for the renovation and adaptation of a 19th century tenement, one of the few extant traces of the city’s pre-war Jewish presence.  Warsaw’s former Jewish theater was demolished last year.  The sum of $41 million dollars has been allotted for the building, which will include two theaters and facilities to be used for the promotion of Yiddish culture.

The  designer will be chosen by competition.

It is envisioned that the project will take five years to complete.


A rendering of the exterior of Vilnius’ new art museum, designed by Daniel Liebeskind. Credit: Courtesy of Studio 3D Architects.


Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B’nai B’rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.