The New York Times: Selling a 300-Year-Old Cello

Delbanco was featured prominently in a recent article in The New York Times:

Published: January 13, 2012

On a cold day last winter, an ailing Bernard Greenhouse, wearing an elegant bathrobe and attached to oxygen, was wheeled into the living room of his Cape Cod home, which was festooned with paper cutouts of musical notes. Relatives and students, locals and caregivers had gathered to celebrate the 95th birthday of one of classical music’s most respected cellists, a founding member of the famed Beaux Arts Trio and a beloved teacher. Young cellists performed for him, and then Greenhouse indulged in a martini and a plate of oysters. Thus fortified, he decided he wanted to play for the company. He picked up his cello and, though a bit wobbly, soulfully rendered “Song of the Birds,” a Catalan folk melody transcribed by Pablo Casals, with whom he studied many years ago.

“And then he laid down the bow and praised the cello for its beauty,” Nicholas Delbanco, Greenhouse’s son-in-law, recounted. “He said it had been his lifelong companion and the darling of his heart.” Indeed, the instrument, known as the Countess of Stainlein, ex-Paganini of 1707 — perhaps the greatest surviving Stradivarius cello — had been with Greenhouse for 54 years. It was his voice on numerous recordings and a presence at up to 200 concerts a year. Toward the end of his life, Greenhouse asked his nurses to lay the instrument next to him in bed.

But in a twist of exquisite poignancy, Greenhouse was not actually playing his precious cello that day on Cape Cod. It was an exact replica that was made especially for him, a beautiful instrument but not the Strad. As they listened to him talk of his love for the cello, his daughter Elena Delbanco and her husband grieved that he could not tell he was playing the substitute. “We knew that this was the beginning of the end,” Nicholas Delbanco said. Five months later, Greenhouse died.

Despite saying that he wanted to sell his cello while he was still alive so that a worthy young musician might benefit from it, Greenhouse was unable to part with it. Now his family has entrusted the sale of the Countess of Stainlein to the Boston violin dealer Christopher Reuning, who this week will open sealed bids starting in the millions of dollars.

Read the full piece:

“Selling a 300-Year-Old Cello” on the The New York Times website »

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