A 200-year-old prize cello that belonged to a Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra member is the star item in Christie's instrument sales this fall. Known as the Davidov cello, after a celebrated Russian virtuoso of the 19th Century who played it around the world, the 1780 Guadagnini is expected to fetch in excess of $300,000.
The instrument was the cherished possession of Kurt Reher, former principal cellist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who died in 1976. A member of the Philharmonic for 27 years, Reher was a prominent soloist, free-lancer and performer with local chamber groups.
He came from a musical family that moved to Los Angeles from his native Hamburg, Germany, when he was a year old. Invited by Otto Klemperer to join the L.A. Philharmonic in 1934, Reher became its principal cellist 10 years later under Alfred Wallenstein and retired in 1974 due to illness.
Nino Rosso, the Philharmonic's assistant principal cellist and Reher's co-worker for 14 years, recalled the "buttery quality" of the Davidov cello and the "tender loving care" his colleague lavished on the instrument. "He was very particular about it and took great care to guard it from any damage," Rosso said.
Slightly undersize (about 1 inch) from the standard 29-inch length, the golden-colored Guadagnini was capable of legendary music making, especially in Reher's hands, Rosso said. Reher was remembered as "a suave player, very musical and with extremely good taste. When he played the D-major Haydn Concerto--particularly the second movement--it was just lyrical."
In 1972, Reher (who also owned a Stradivarius) sold the Davidov cello to his brother-in-law, Joseph di Tullio, also a cellist in the orchestra and a free-lancer at 20th Century Fox studios. Di Tullio, who played the instrument for a number of years in the Philharmonic and in his sound-track gigs and for local chamber groups, died last year and the cello has been put up for sale in London.
Instruments by Giovanni Baptista Guadagnini, a pupil of Antonio Stradivarius, are rising sharply in value because it is not known exactly how many survive. Barely 50 Stradivarius cellos are known to exist.