Danjulo Ishizaka on one of Stradivari’s last cellos, the 1730 ‘Feuermann’
- Player Described by Rostropovich as “phenomenal in his technical ability, perfect in his musical creative power,” German-Japanese cellist Danjulo Ishizaka regularly records and performs as a soloist and chamber musician. His latest album, Grieg Janacek Kodaly (Onyx), explores the folk music influence on those three composers in duets with pianist Shai Wosner. Ishizaka is also the professor for cello at the Carl Maria von Weber University of Music in Dresden, Germany.
- Instrument “I play the 1730 Feuermann Stradivari cello, on loan by the Nippon Music Foundation.”
- Strings “It’s been a challenge figuring out the ideal configuration of strings for the Feuermann. Currently, I’m using Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Gold for the A and D strings and Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore Tungsten for G and C. I’ve usually been happy with most of the instruments I played with the Spirocore tungsten-wound G and C strings—the A and D strings have been somewhat trickier, though. For solo performing, you need an A string that penetrates well in big halls with a clear core, yet sings, and is not too dull and not screaming. “This was especially challenging with the Feuermann, since it’s less ‘cello-like’ and much brighter compared to the cello I used before, the 1696 ‘Aylesford’ Strad. The Evah Pirazzi Gold is a good compromise, not screamy, not too soft, but still bringing out the great variety of tone colors.”
- Condition “The Feuermann is a very narrow cello. It’s one of the last cellos Stradivari made and part of a late experiment for a new model, the so-called ‘forma B piccolo.’ It’s perhaps the narrowest cello that Stradivari made. The varnish of the Feuermann is more reddish, whereas the Aylesford is more golden. The Feuermann has two dark stains on the upper bass bout that are visible on a video of Feuermann performing the ‘Spinning Song’ by Popper. “The dealer who purchased the cello in 1939, described it as follows: ‘The back, in two pieces being similar, the head plainer; the table, in three pieces, is of pine of fairly even grain, the top left flank being marked by a small knot; the varnish, of thick texture, is of light chestnut-red color. This instrument is in excellent state of preservation.’”
- Bow “I use several bows, mostly modern ones. I choose them depending on the piece, the climate, the mood of my instrument, or which bow has enough hair! I’m using bows by Victor Fétique (a soft bow with nice colors, very elegant and light), Karl-Heinz Schmidt (which is more focused), Thomas Gerbeth (which is probably the most versatile bow with the Feuermann), and other bows that I use for practicing or for very contemporary music.”
Is this your primary instrument?
Yes, but I’m also using a beautiful copy of the “ex-Konstantin Romanov” Montagnana made by Wolfgang Schnabl and previously played by my beloved teacher Boris Pergamenschikow.
How does it compare to your previous primary cello?
I used to play the “Lord Aylesford,” also on loan by the Nippon Music Foundation. It’s one of the earlier Strads and was cut down in size as many other cellos have, but is still such a huge instrument. Swapping instruments has been a huge change for me. The Feuermann Strad has a much brighter sound compared to the Aylesford Strad. Also, it responds quicker and needs much less power to be played. The Aylesford has a deeper bass and very different tone colors. The way you produce the tone colors is quite different, and the overtone spectrum is different. The Feuermann is easier to play because the scale ratio is smaller and requires less stretching of the left hand.
What gift does the Feuermann bring to your playing that cannot be found in any other instrument?
It brings Emanuel Feuermann’s energy, of course! Its tone colors and character are unique and recognizable, even on the radio. If two cellists with individual sounds play on the Feuermann, you’d still recognize that it’s the Feuermann, no matter who’s playing it. Feuermann himself wrote about his cello in a letter from July 1940: “My cello is marvelous. I have had occasion to play other Stradivari, but none of them has this immediate tenor-like sound of mine.”
How does this cello inspire you as a performer?
The Feuermann has its own personality and demands that the player respect it, just like a relationship between two human beings. So, sometimes you have to accept what the cello wants you to do, and at other times, it overwhelms you with the beauty of its sound!
What is its history?
Before Feuermann, the cello is known to have been owned by de Barrau (a Parisian amateur), August-Joseph Franchomme, Ernest de Munck (a pupil of Adrien François Servais), and a pupil of de Munck (either a Gardner, or C. H. Heriot), who bought the cello around 1915. Since Feuermann’s death, it has been owned by Russell B. Kingman and Aldo Parisot, and is now owned by the Nippon Foundation.
Have you thought about the people who have handled it before you?
Oh, yes, a great deal. As I’ve come across Feuermann many times, I’ve learned a lot from him and about him. I was especially keen on learning more about him after winning the Grand Prix Emanuel Feuermann competition in Berlin, in 2002. He’s a great inspiration to me, both as a musician and as a virtuoso.
Steven Isserlis, who used the Feuermann before me, has been one of the cellists who inspired me directly. I took a master class of his many years ago and knew the recognizable sound of the Feuermann, though he used gut strings. It’s unbelievable that I’m now able to play the cello I saw in his hands back then!
Do these players resonate in your cello? In your performance?
They certainly do. All of those great players, including Aldo Parisot, who’s used it before Steven Isserlis and after Feuermann, have had a strong and influential relationship on the instrument, and I’m sure it makes a big difference to how it sounds now.
What is this cello’s personality?
It can be really moody, depending on weather, humidity, season, and so on. When it’s moody, you have to control every tone differently and you need to sense how it reacts. Then it’s just about the cello and not very much about you. One can play super pianissimo and it would still be audible in the last row of a big hall; it can be sharp and fast like a wild animal but also be smooth and tender as the softest fur. Considering its size, it’s just remarkable how much it draws your attention to it.
There’s a limitation that is quite obvious, though. I’m not using it for contemporary music, which includes knocking and beating the instrument and playing on other parts apart from strings. That’s a practical matter, which limits the use, but isn’t a limitation of the cello itself. The only other thing I could think of is the wolf tone, which changes location depending on weather and season.
What are its likes and dislikes?
Likes: Mediterranean climate, gentle care, and a nice window seat on the plane. Dislikes: Too humid or dry air, changes of hot and cold air, and being played with too much bow pressure.
When and how did you truly learn the soul of the Feuermann Strad?
I think that I can say that this process isn’t accomplished and probably will never be finished. I’m excited that there is always something new to be discovered from the cello and one lifetime isn’t enough. The Aylesford took me a few years until I could say that I “knew” it, and I assume that it’ll take just as long with the Feuermann.
If given the ability, what would the Feuermann say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?
I’d hope that it’d say, “I love you, my dear!” But in reality, it’s more likely that it’d say, “You suck!”