Remembering Jacqueline du Pré, an Icon of the Cello

Mr. Barenboim acknowledged that Ms. du Pré’s knowledge of music theory “left a bit to be desired, to be quite objective. But she more than made up for that with an extraordinary intuition and sensitivity. I have never encountered somebody like this.”

“The greatest musical joy was to play together with her,” he added. “I think we complemented each other. She had an abandon that was very contagious, and I loved it.”

The tribute concert will be performed by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble co-founded by Mr. Barenboim. It will open with Richard Strauss’s “Don Quixote.” The cello soloist will be Kian Soltani.

“If this was the last concert I would ever play, I would die happy,” Mr. Soltani, 25, said. He remembered being overwhelmed as a teenager when he first saw a video of Ms. du Pré. “It was like I was watching some old master, although she was in this young body,” he said. “In 300 years, people will still be talking about her.”

Ms. du Pre’s legacy owes much to the fact that she grew up in the television age. Her smiling, telegenic face and passionate playing became familiar to audiences far and wide, thanks to recorded performances and documentaries.

Her uniqueness “really projected itself to the audiences. It projected itself even more so on the videos, because she had such a physical way of playing the cello,” Mr. Barenboim said. A deaf person watching them “would immediately know what a high degree of intensity there was in her,” he added.

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Mr. Barenboim, center, with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 2006. He said playing with Ms. du Pré was the ”greatest musical joy.” Credit Luis Castilla

Ms. du Pré also set an example for other British musicians. “She was like a goddess for us,” said Steven Isserlis, a renowned cellist. “She was just this force on stage, and that of course always stays with you.”

What also made her stand out was her destiny — “so tragic that it doubly fixed her in our hearts,” Mr. Isserlis said. “She’s an icon twice over.”

Ms. du Pré was born in Oxford, England, in January 1945. At the age of 4, she heard the cello on a radio program about orchestral instruments, and told her parents she would like to “have one of those.” Backed by her mother — an accomplished pianist and teacher — she began learning at age 5.

At 11, while studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Ms. du Pré won the first of many prizes. She made her debut at Wigmore Hall in the British capital at 16. “She was already a sensation,” recalled the pianist Stephen Kovacevich, who was there. “I was just blown away.” The two later became close friends, playing and recording together.

Jacqueline du Pré perfroms Elgar’s Cello Concerto Video by Allan Marshall

In 1965, age 20, Ms. du Pré made a recording of the piece she is best known for: Elgar’s “Cello Concerto.” Her debut at Carnegie Hall in New York also came that year. In January 1966, she arrived in Moscow to study with the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. There, she became friends with a fellow British cellist, Elizabeth Wilson, who later wrote a biography of her.

In 1966, in London, came what Ms. Wilson called Ms. du Pré’s “big moment”: meeting Mr. Barenboim. “He became a guide for her and a support in her musicality, but at the same time she absolutely remained herself,” Ms. Wilson said. Ms. du Pré and Mr. Barenboim, both former child prodigies, were married in 1967, and they performed and recorded together extensively.

Richard Morrison, a music critic at The Times of London, said they were a potent combination. “They came from exact opposite backgrounds geographically, socially and religiously, and yet they were very matched as personalities,” he said. “They had a very intense sexuality about their relationship, as well. I think that was mirrored absolutely by the sort of music they made together.”

There was a “strong bond” that “you couldn’t help but be swept along by,” he added.

The dream union, however, was soon clouded by Ms. du Pré’s illness. “She could sometimes play and sometimes not, because she lost her feeling in the arms and in her fingers,” Mr. Barenboim recalled. “She didn’t know what was wrong. Nobody could tell her.”

When Ms. du Pré arrived at the Philharmonic Hall in New York for a performance in February 1973, she found herself “suddenly not being able to open the cello case,” she later recalled. “I walked on stage not knowing what G was, where C was, and not knowing what sounds were going to come out, or how I’d find them.” She never performed again, and took up teaching instead.

Mr. Isserlis took private lessons with her in 1978, arriving once with a sonata by the Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian, a work that Ms. du Pré did not know. “She was fascinated, and she was so helpful,” he said.

In March 1977, before illness overtook her completely, Ms. du Pré appeared on the BBC radio program Desert Island Discs. She admitted she had been “very frightened” by her disease when it was first diagnosed.

“But then I can say that in a sense I’m lucky,” she said. “Because the cello repertoire is small, I had done most of what I loved, and I can look back on a full musical and solistic life.”

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