Stéphane Tétrault: On his master and his cello, the Countess of Stainlein, ex-Paganini of 1707 Stradivarius


April 2016


Stéphane Tétrault is an attractive 21 years old cellist from Quebec. He studied for over 10 years with of the late cellist and conductor Yuli Turovsky. Stéphane became ​​known internationally as the recipient of Bernard Greenhouse’s cello, the Countess of Stainlein, ex-Paganini of 1707Stradivarius. He was 18 at the time.


When I asked him what playing on his new Stradivarius cello has changed for him, Stéphane laughed, happy. For him it has transformed just about everything. First, it has greatly changed his perspective from a musical point of view. It is absolutely exceptional and irreplaceable for an artist’s creative development to be able to play on such an instrument at the age of 18. "It’s a chance to grow up with this instrument, to discover everything it has to offer, to discover its 300 years of history. It's so nurturing. I am still pinching myself, it's a dream." Playing on such a beautiful instrument also changed everything for Stéphane in terms of his career in Quebec, in Canada and abroad. It gave it a fantastic boost.


Stéphane says that theCountess of Stainlein, ex-Paganini of 1707has a strong personality but is not difficult to play. The cello will respond to almost any bow pressure. However, it sounds best and freest with a greater bow speed and faster movements that allow the instrument to breathe. "It's such a good cello that you have to find the right words to describe it. What the instrument itself brings me is extraordinary, unimaginable. Just take the low D - there are 40 harmonics above it. I repeat, with it everything is possible. My cello is my guide, a life companion. It is a nice every day motivation, there is so much to find, there is no limit. It is so inspiring to be able to do everything I imagine."


For Stéphane, you must be fully immersed in music, you must feel and live the emotions. "It has to be hot. It is by living the emotions that you can express yourself. It is a physical sensation. It is beautiful when it happens but it is not easy. There are evenings when all goes well, you feel very well what you want to do, it becomes real, it becomes personal. There are evenings when nothing is working. We must reach the stage of transition from the child prodigy to the musician, the artist. Eventually there is a point where everyone is able to play the notes, they are able to play as fast as you, and accurate, and this is not what really matters anymore.”


As a listener and musician, first and foremost, Stéphane want to be moved, regardless of whether there are false notes, if the intonation is sometimes doubtful or if the music is not articulated perfectly. "Of course, you have to keep a level of overall performance but the most important thing for me is that it touches me. My teacher Yuli Turovsky often said that I had to play each note as if it were the last. It was like that when he was playing, there was an urgency to express."


Jacqueline Dupre once said of William Cliff (her teacher until she was 17-18) that he had formed the spine of her cello playing. "I think it is a beautiful image, a beautiful metaphor. I think that it is what Yuli Turovsky has done for me. Honestly he was like a third grandfather for me. I adored him, he was so dedicated to the cause. He could spend hours and hours with me, there was no limit. Sometimes I was at his home by 8pm and have my lesson until 11pm or midnight and then we would still talk for hours. He was fascinating. We did not speak only about music. A lot of what we discussed was about music, it is true, but more often than not we talked about other things, we talked about life. For me he is irreplaceable."


According to Stéphane, Turovsky was a man who had absolutely all the answers. He knew what to say. "The minute we started to work together the piece would improve. He did not even need to say anything; his presence alone was a total inspiration. For him I think it was important to give confidence to the student, to valorize him and to give him independence."


Stéphane Tétreault is not only a talented cellist but he also has a passion for conducting. "Conducting, it is Yuli Turovsky who imposed it on me. He threw me into it. I was 14 and Yuli organized a concert for young talents with I Musici [de Montreal Chamber Orchestra]. A few months earlier, he had started talking about one of his young students who was going to play the Korngold Cello Concerto at the concert. He asked me if I knew who would conduct the concerto before telling me that the task befell to me. He did the same thing when I played under the direction of Maxim Venguerov a few years later.” Yuli Turovsky had a beautiful philosophy. For him it was important to dare to do things even if they were not absolutely perfect. 


Turovsky's intention was not to train other “little Yulis". He tried to understand pupils’ individual personalities and make them grow. He tried to take students’ ideas and shape them so that they materialized. It was important for him to help his pupils find their own voice. He listened to his students’ different personalities and chose the repertoire accordingly. With him music was living. "This is a tool for the rest of your life: to have had this feeling of loving the music like that, to have felt good about the music."


For the moment Stéphane travels a lot. He is often off to Europe where he takes classes with different teachers, to learn but also to make himself known. He is also auditioning for different conductors. "I am at a point in my career when the goal is to make people talk about you, so that people know you exist. It is nice to see the great cellists’ emotion when I tell them that I am playing on the Stradivarius that belonged to Greenhouse. It brings back good memories. It makes everyone happy to see this instrument, it is so beautiful."