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Orchestral Tales: the cello

Paolo Pietropaolo

If you take the most famous solos for a given instrument of the orchestra, you’ll find a vivid character emerges — a character with a magical story to tell. That’s the idea behind Orchestral Tales, season 3 of the award-winning Signature Series.

To hear the cello’s tale, click on the Soundcloud play button below. Follow along with the pop-up comments to find out what composition is playing, or scroll down for a complete list.

Read more about the cello’s characteristics below.

Orchestral section:


Patron instrument of:

Performers. Selfless acts. Passion.

Cello-like fictional characters:

- Jane Eyre
- Jen Yu, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

1 cello clip to watch before you die:

The passionate rendition of part of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto “played” by Susan Sarandon with Jack Nicholson in the 1987 movie “The Witches of Eastwick.” (The hands are those of a professional cellist.)

3 immortal cello moments in pop culture:

1. James Bond using a cello case as a toboggan — and the cello as ballast — to make yet another spectacular getaway in the 1987 movie The Living Daylights:

2. World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s appearance on The West Wing playing the Prelude from J. S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 and triggering a nervous breakdown for Josh Lyman.

3. The rhythmic cellos in “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys and the titular cello in Nick Drake’s “Cello Song."

1 reason to play the cello:

So you can hear “Oh! I love the cello!” whenever you tell people what instrument you play.

Famous cellists you should know about:

- Jacqueline du Pré
- Mstislav Rostropovich
- Pablo Casals
- János Starker
- Yo-Yo Ma
- Alisa Weilerstein
- conductor Arturo Toscanini
- composer Heitor Villa-Lobos
- composer Luigi Boccherini
- English actress Rosamund Pike

Pieces heard in The Cello’s Tale (in order of first appearance):

- Khachaturian: “Dance with Crotalums” from Spartacus
- Tchaikovsky: "Pas de deux" from The Nutcracker
- Saint-Saëns: “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals
- Wagner: Prelude from Tristan und Isolde
- Dvořák: Cello Concerto, first movement
- Mussorgsky/Ravel: “Gnomus” from Pictures at an Exhibition
- Elgar: Cello Concerto, first movement
- Rossini: Overture from William Tell
- Tavener: The Protecting Veil, fifth movement
- Mahler: Symphony No. 4, first movement
- Tchaikovsky: “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker
- Prokofiev: Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet
- Elgar: Variation No. 12 (B.G.N.) from Enigma Variations
- Mahler: Symphony No. 2, first movement
- Fauré: Élégie
- Bach: Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1

Meet all of the instruments.