My Instrument: Christina Mahler and her Vuillaume cello

In a previous issue of a Tafelmusik house program, Christina Mahler introduced you to the cello she plays in baroque repertoire, made by José Contreras c.1740. In our issue for Beethoven “Pastoral” Symphony, she introduces her second instrument, a later instrument made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume c.1840.

By Christina Mahler, cello

Some of you may remember the wonderful Canadian double bass player David Sinclair. He played with us often in the 1990s, and can be heard on quite a few of our recordings of classical music from that time. He now lives in Paris with his family and works mostly in Europe.

David’s grandmother, Adelaide Liefeld, was a professional cellist, a difficult career choice as women were not accepted in symphony orchestras at that time. At the age of eighteen she went to the Chicago Musical College to study with Jaroslav Gons, paying for her tuition and food by playing in silent movies.

After graduating, Adelaide joined a women’s orchestra which played in New York, before touring the world from 1927–29. They played on all continents, staying in each place for weeks, months, and in the case of Australia, for over a year. There is a wonderful photo of her riding a camel, with pyramids in the background! It must have been an exciting life, in spite of having to play frustratingly “light” music as a steady diet!

Her last stop was Paris, where she resumed her cello studies with Gérard Hekking at the Paris Conservatoire. Hekking played a beautiful Vuillaume cello and was able to find another gorgeous Vuillaume for Adelaide, which she played for the rest of her life. She returned to Canada in 1933 to marry and raise a family. She later played in the Regina and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestras, and was a passionate chamber musician and teacher.

Just as José Contreras, the maker of my baroque cello (eighteenth century), is considered the Stradivarius of Spain, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (nineteenth century) is often called the Stradivarius of France. His instruments are robust, well-balanced, and simply superb. They are in a class of their own.

In 1994, David’s family was ready to part with this extraordinary cello that they had inherited. I fell in love with it and was fortunate enough to find an investor. I now have the privilege of playing it whenever I want, which I will be doing in the Beethoven concerts in Koerner Hall in May.

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