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Gregor Piatigorsky: A Musician's Love of Art

Gregor Piatigorsky, the Russian cello virtuoso, used to talk about "tasting the blood" of music -- music as destiny. "Nobody can really choose music as a profession like you can choose to become a dentist," he once said. "It chooses you. So actually from the beginning you have very little to say. You are taken by it."

As NPR's Susan Stamberg reports, Piatigorsky also was taken by the works of art that he collected throughout his life. In celebration of the centennial of Piatigorsky's birth, samples of his collection -- along with his prized Stradivarius cello -- are on exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The cellist's daughter, Jephta Drachman, sees a connection between the art her father collected, and the music he made. "His music is full of warmth and human qualities. He spoke through music, but mainly he really told a story, he told of his feelings, he told from the heart. And the things he picked out all have that warmth and expression. They all speak."

Among those works being shown are a large folding screen by Picasso, featuring two musicians in curvy blue-black lines, two geometric figures in a pink-orange field by Paul Klee and a widow in black, against a vivid orange background by Chaim Soutine.

Baltimore Museum curator Katie Rothkopf says Piatigorsky was an ardent collector. "He fell in love with what he saw. He loved color, he loved line, he loved exuberance. He loved seeing the artists' personality in the art."

Gregor Piatigorsky: Virtuoso as Collector is on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art through June 8. On Sunday, in Baltimore, a concert will celebrate the centennial of Piatigorsky's birth. His grandson and several of his students will perform works for which the master cellist was famous.

Music Heard in This Report

1. Gregor Piatigorsky playing Ernest Bloch's "Shlomo, A Hebrew Rhapsody," Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch, conductor (1957 recording)

2. Piatigorsky playing Serge Prokofiev, Cello Sonata, Opus 119, pianist Ralph Berkowitz (1953 recording)

3. Piatigorsky playing Robert Schumann, cadenza from final movement of Cello Concerto in A Minor, London Philharmonic (RCA, 1934)

4. Evan Drachman (Piatigorsky's grandson) playing the Bach Suite #1 in G, BWV 1007. (Drachman's version is not available commercially.)

5. More from the Robert Schumann concerto. (See #3)

Note: These recordings may not be commercially available.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.