Montreal Cellist Stéphane Tétreault

Cello warrior.

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At age 10, Stéphane Tétreault self-identified as a “cello warrior”, including the phrase in his very first e-mail address. Today, at 25, he still sees himself that way, although his idea of what a warrior is and does has changed. Rather than the young boy who identified with the lone hero battling the Lord of Terror in the Diablo video game series, he now thinks of himself as more like a knight on a quest, travelling the world with his cello on his back, always delving deeper into the music and trying to improve himself as a musician, searching for his true, authentic voice.

On meeting him, you would be forgiven for not immediately recognizing the warrior within. Slim and boyish, he might still be asked to present ID at a bar, but already this young classical musician has been a soloist in Paris, Amsterdam, London, and Philadelphia, and in his home city of Montreal he has long been recognized as having the potential for a major career. Charlotte Gardner of Britain’s Gramophone magazine wrote this of his CD Haydn–Schubert–Brahms, produced by Analekta in 2016: “After no more than four bars Tétreault had my full attention, so charmed was I by his elegance, lyricism and faithful yet personality-filled readings.”

Unlike those of many prodigies, however, Tétreault’s beginnings were not auspicious. It took outright bribery to get him started. At age 7, his music teacher at Montreal’s Fine Arts Core Education (FACE) had to bribe him with the promise of a year-end gift if he took up the cello instead of the violin for her Suzuki class. Tétreault’s father would pay him $2 for every 15 minutes of practice beyond what was required. “Bribery—a sort of recurring theme with me,” he says, laughing.

“After no more than four bars Tétreault had my full attention, so charmed was I by his elegance, lyricism and faithful yet personality-filled readings.”

A key early supporter of Tétreault was conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has engaged him with both Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain and the Philadelphia Orchestra. “When Yannick brought me on tour to Europe to some of those great halls, never did I feel filled with pressure or nerves or anxiety. To the contrary, it was like, let’s go share what we have, and that’s to share music with the greatest number of people.”

Tétreault has been playing the 1707 Countess of Stanlein, an ex-Paganini Stradivarius cello from the same Stradivari vintage as the ones played by Mstislav Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma. The Countess was purchased at auction by the late Quebec philanthropist Jacqueline Desmarais in 2012 for just over $6-million (U.S.), specifically for Tétreault to play. She had contacted him after seeing a short clip of him playing during a Radio-Canada TV news broadcast. Tétreault describes the first moment he held the Countess in his hands. “I played one note, one open string, and I was in love. I’d never heard such a beautiful sound.”

What makes Tétreault inspire such generosity? John Miller, who has brought Tétreault several times to Stratford Summer Music, describes him as “the complete package: quality of talent, dedicated to his craft, a beautiful sound, a warmth of personality. Audiences delight in his company.” Add to that his dedication to playing music and his interest in projects beyond the classical repertoire, and you have the makings of a 21st-century cellist.

Photo by Luc Robitaille.

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February 20, 2019