Malcolm Parson, Turtle Island Quartet’s new cellist, on the strength and range of his Montagnana-model instrument
The easy-going and infinitely talented composer, cellist, and performer Malcolm Parson is keeping busy these days. It’s no wonder—he’s been recognized and renowned ever since his musical career took off at the ripe age of 14. After winning the Atlanta Symphony Community Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition, Parson debuted with the group. Quickly thereafter, he found himself performing at the National Black Arts Festival’s “Classics from the Next Generation,” and in Andre Watts’ “50th Birthday Celebration.” Today, Parsons is playing with the Turtle Island String Quartet and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
We caught up with him long enough to get behind-the-scenes info about his personal instrument and gear—shortly before he was scheduled to stop by the Strings magazine offices to record a Strings Session.
—Heather K. Scott
Tell us about your instrument and bow.
I play a Montagnana-model cello made by Jay Haide as a part of the à L’Ancienne series. The bow that I play is nothing special and something simple that was bought at Ray Violins in Boston, Massachusetts.
Can you describe your instrument’s condition?
This particular cello model was built in 2013, so the instrument is in great condition. No scratches, marks, or bruises.
Is this your primary instrument?
Yes, it is indeed my primary instrument. But I do have a second cello that I play at jam sessions and shows around New York City. It’s not anything special, but it gets the job done when my primary cello needs some rest.
What does your instrument teach you?
My cello teaches me that I must give everything time and patience in order to fully grasp its true potential. Also, I don’t need extremely expensive products from the [most profitable] business owners in the world in order to find something that fits all of my needs.
How does the Montagnana model compare to your other instrument?
In comparison to my other cello, the sound is definitely louder, clearer, and more present. My second cello always seemed very muffled, which makes it really hard to play a true forte.
What gift does your instrument bring to your playing—something that can’t be found in other instruments?
That’s a tough question! I would say that the gift that I’m noticing currently is how quick and responsive I’ve become to subtle changes that may be needed at any particular moment. Be it something that’s “yellow” or “blue”—or something that’s rich or melancholy—this cello helps me so that I can respond quickly and effectively. It has such a dynamic sound.
What do you know about your instrument’s history? Had anyone handled this cello before you?
I haven’t thought much about my cello’s history. I may very well be the first person to own and play it! The only thing that I do know is that my friend David Bonsey was going to give it to his wife; and, I’m pretty sure she has had a few plays on it before me.
How did you come to be in possession of your instrument, and do you own it?
I went to David Bonsey’s shop to get a bridge carved, and he gave me this instrument to use on loan while my other one was being fixed. As soon as I played it, I was blown away and thought to myself, “How could anyone just loan me this amazing instrument for a few days?” I was expecting something a little more “student sounding.”
Well, David noticed my enthusiasm and told me that it’s really not as expensive as I thought. I was sold. I left with it that day and brought it on the road the following day.
What specifically drew you to this instrument?
How easy it was for me to get so much sound out of it, without trying at all. It was as if the instrument was guiding me and telling where it wants to go and how it should sound.
What is your instrument’s personality and temperament like?
Spicy and spunky. Ready for any situation.
If you were to liken your instrument to a personality, does anyone specific come to mind?
The only person that comes to mind is my fiancé, Tameeka Colon. She named her (my cello) “Lady Tea,” which reminds me of her.
Does your instrument perform/sound better in certain settings over others?
It sounds great in performance halls, churches, and pretty much any acoustic situation. Being that I have to mic my instrument every now and then, it can sometimes sound a little different or unnatural—depending on who the sound engineer is that night.
What are your instrument’s strengths and limitations?
This cello’s strengths are that it is very clear, projective, dynamic, rich, and responsive to any situation. Right now, the only limitation that I’m noticing is a serious wolf tone (C# on the G string). Also, it can be pretty bright on the A and D strings, yet not too bright.
If given the ability, what would your instrument say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?
“Take your time and stop rushing me to do what you want me to do! We are in this together. You must follow me at a certain point.”
All About My Gear
Strings: Jargar (A, D); Larsen Soloist Edition (G, C)
Bow(s): Nothing special; a “no-name” bow
Case(s): Original Stevenson cello case
Rosin: Gustave Bernardel rosin
Repairs/maintenance: David Bonsey Violins
Other Gear: I also use an L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic DI, Ernie Ball VP JR, and a David Gage Realist Copperhead for cello