1 Feb 2024

Sergey Malov: Turning the cello on its head - almost

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 1 February 2024

An artist who is as versatile as he is virtuoso, Sergey Malov has many strings to his bow – including the baroque violin, viola, and cello da spalla.

Thanks to Malov, Adam Chamber Festival-goers will get plenty of opportunities to acquaint themselves with the latter, on which Johann Sebastian Bach might himself have played his cello suites.

Speaking to RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump from RNZ's Nelson studio, shortly before dashing to a rehearsal ahead of the opening night of the 2024 Festival, Malov says a player holds the cello da spalla across the body like a guitar, but it's still tucked under the chin like a violin or viola.

It looks more than a little awkward, but Malov says it "almost floats in front of the performer".

“It’s quite light, only half the weight of a usual guitar.”

Violinist Sergey Malov

Sergey Malov, still finding time for the violin despite his side(ways) cello hustle. Photo: Julia Wesely

Malov came across the cello da spalla by chance several years ago. He was so entranced he asked a luthier friend to make him one.

“I had the instrument first as a toy … then it came to accompany me all over the world, including here to New Zealand.”

Why the instrument fell out of favour after Bach's time, Malov cannot say, but he's keen to bring it back again as it  gives him the chance to play something that's familiar, in a new way. 

“Coming across this instrument couldn’t be any more handy … in a sense, showing something new, something fresh.”

He also uses a looping pedal in his performances and generally prefers to play standing up as “it’s much more dynamic”.

Having grown up in what was then known as the Soviet Union, in a city then known as Leningrad, Malov is now a permanent resident of Berlin – “the nicest, most open city in the world”.

Crump observed that Malov has travelled a long way musically since winning the 2011 Michael Hill Violin Competition on a 'modern violin' performing a 20th century masterpiece, Bartok's 2nd violin concerto. Branching off into period instruments, like the cello da spalla, seems like a massive change in direction.

Malov says his curiosity was always there, and taking on Baroque instruments was a natural progression.

Besides, he's busy commissioning new music for his cello da spalla ensuring – at least in his hands – this instrument from the past has a healthy future.

But for those of you pining for Malov the violinist, there'll be plenty of that on show as well during this year's Adam Chamber Festival.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes