Raise money for multiple sclerosis and celebrate Jacqueline du Pre

Cellist Jacqueline du Pre. Picture: PA

Cellist Jacqueline du Pre. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The 70th birthday celebration of cellist Moray Welsh coincides with the 30th anniversary of du Pre and raises money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society

The steps up to the Lloyds Bank building on Hampstead High Street are relatively new and fairly innocuous, but they bear testimony to one of the great tragedies of modern British music-making.

Because it was on her way into the bank that the cellist Jacqueline du Pre, who lived nearby in Pilgrims Lane, first fell down and realised there was something seriously wrong.

It turned out to be multiple sclerosis. It ended her career when she was only 27. And some years later, in 1987, it finally killed her: a death whose continuing resonance explains why the 30th anniversary will be marked by commemorative events throughout 2017 - starting with a gala concert organised by her colleague and close friend

the Brondesbury-based Moray Welsh.

Best-known these days for his time as principal cellist with the London Symphony Orchestra during the 1990s/2000s, Welsh followed in du Pre’s footsteps as a student to join the famous Moscow classes run by that presiding giant of 20th Century cellists, Mstislav Rostropovich.

Shared experience forged a bond between the British students at those classes. And as a result, Welsh was at hand to witness many of the sometimes glamorous, sometimes desperate occurrences of du Pre’s life that have acquired, though time, a close to legendary status.

Most Read

Prominent when she was still a teenager, she found world fame by the age of 20, playing the Elgar concerto on a recording with Sir John Barbirolli and the LSO that remains a benchmark of its kind.

She went on to become the poster girl of British music in the 1960s: youthful, passionate, ablaze with energy and inner fire. She moved among a comparably dazzling circle of emerging stars like Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Barenboim.

And it was after her marriage to Barenboim in 1967 – a much-publicised event that took place at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, with du Pre converting to Judaism for the purpose – that the newly-weds settled in Pilgrims Lane: the base from which they held court as the golden couple of classical performance.

That it lasted such a short time gives that brief, ecstatic moment a peculiar poignancy. But long after du Pre’s career had stopped, what Moray Welsh calls “the Jackie effect” lived on. And it survives today.

“This concert that I’ve organised,” he says, “is principally designed to celebrate all she achieved. But as it coincides with the year of my 70th birthday, it’s also going to celebrate some of the other friends and colleagues who have shared a life of music with me.

And at the same time it will salute the extraordinary courage of men and women who have been affected by this terrible disease of MS. With one man particularly in mind.”

That man is the British luthier Roger Hansell who, although severely handicapped by the disease, is still producing world-class instruments with help from an assistant.

Hansell’s work is celebrated in the string world. Twenty years ago he made a copy of Moray Welsh’s 1705 cello so exact in detail and performance quality that other cellists in the LSO had no idea their principal had switched from something made three centuries earlier to an alternative whose ageing process had been all of three weeks.

Hansell also made a copy of du Pre’s own Stradivari cello, called the “Davidoff”, which you can hear these days played by the great American exponent Yo Yo Ma.

“I’m glad to say that Roger is coming to this gala concert,” says Welsh, “and it will be a privilege to have him there because he sums up what can still be achieved when MS strikes.”

Among the well-known artists scheduled to appear up on the platform beside Welsh himself will be Guy Johnston, Martin Roscoe, Simon Rowland-Jones, Julian Jacobson and others – representing several generations of the best of British music-making.

Proceeds will be going to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The event starts 6pm, Sunday February 26 at the Royal Overseas League, Park Place SW1. Booking: MorayWelsh.eventbrite.co.uk