In the early 1970s, Gregor Piatigorsky, a renowned cellist who was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States, traveled across the world to perform with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). During the concert, Piatigorsky broke a string in the middle of a solo. In a pinch, he turned to Abrasha Bor, then-principal cellist and founding member of IPO, to switch instruments.
“It’s okay for a member of the section to play without one string, but as a soloist you can’t miss a string while you play,” said Eyal Bor, son of Abrasha and director of education at Beth El Congregation in Pikesville. “Over the years my father kept his cello that [Piatigorsky] played, and it was the instrument he used to make his ends meet.”
During the April 3 edition of the 1st Wednesdays @ Beth El series, presented by the Bor-founded Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Lifelong Learning at Beth El Congregation, renowned cellist Evan Drachman, grandson of Piatigorsky, told the audience a version of the aforementioned story before revealing that he was holding and about to play the same cello his grandfather and Abrasha Bor played in Israel more than 40 years ago.
Once the audience’s applause subsided, Drachman continued, “This is a cello made in the year 1888; it’s a Viennese instrument. I feel that it’s a very special thing to get to play on it this evening.”
After Abrasha died in 2009, Bor bought his father’s Viennese cello, and said he intends to donate it to a music school one day.
The concert was celebration of Abrasha’s life performed just weeks before the 10-year anniversary of his death. Abrasha was born in Russia in 1921 to a family of talented musicians. He and his two brothers all learned different instruments as to not compete with one another, and all became founding members of the IPO.
In addition to Drachman and Bor, who played clarinet during the concert, pianist Daniel Weiser; Beth El Congregation Cantor Melanie Blatt; guitarist Bruce Casteel; and a second clarinetist, Naomi Farkhas, an 11th grade student at River Hill High School who takes lessons with Bor, all performed.
Before the concert, Beth El congregants Maxine and Robert Kontoff expressed admiration for the 1st Wednesday series.
“There are very few that I haven’t come to. They’re wonderful shows,” Maxine said. “They have all different types of entertainment. If you don’t like one month, you’ll love the next.”
Robert was excited to hear Drachman play on his very old, exquisitely maintained cello.
“I’ll tell you, the cello he plays is phenomenal. Made in the 1700s I believe,” Robert said.
Drachman confirmed Robert’s assertion during the performance when, after taking longer than expected to tune the instrument, he quipped to the audience, “This cello was made in 1725. They forgot to tune it at the factory.”
Bor thanked Drachman for his willingness to play two different cellos during a single concert, telling the audience it is uncommon for a professional cellist to do so.
After the concert, Bor’s wife, Hana Bor, said Abrasha, “an amazing, amazing man,” deserved to be honored by such a performance.
“What is so beautiful about the 1st Wednesdays program is that it draws people from the community. It really is a community event. It’s not just Beth El,” Hana said.
One such community member was Arnie Feiner. “I’m a guest here from Chizuk [Amuno Congregation],” he said. When asked what brought him to Beth El on a Wednesday night, he said, “This is a great program; look at this audience.”
Hundreds were present. Hana said her husband only wanted to set up 100 chairs in the auditorium, but she knew they needed more. So 300 seats were arranged and before the start of the show, more rows were added to accommodate the crowd.
A day before the performance, Bor noted his father’s influence on his life, even to this day. Every day Abrasha walked, studied Italian and played cello. Bor, each day, jogs, studies Jewish texts and plays clarinets. Though the similarities were plentiful, Bor conceded to one major difference.
“He was much less hyper than I am though,” Bor said. “He was much more calm and sweet.”