World’s oldest cello will sound again

World's oldest cello will sound again
A 460-year-old cello from a South Dakota collection will thrill an audience for the first time in 20 years as part of the national radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

"The King," as the cello is called, was crafted by master Andrea Amati in about 1545 and was played for King Charles IX of France in 1562. It now is displayed in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, and will be played when Garrison Keillor presents his radio show live from Vermillion on Saturday, April 29. Nick Curry will be playing The King, and Susan Keith-Gray will accompany on piano.

Tickets for the show are available by calling 800-333-0789.


"The King is one of our great treasures," said Andr� Larson, director of the National Music Museum, housed on The University of South Dakota campus. The museum boasts a world-class collection of instruments and music-related items.

Larson said the priceless cello has not been played in public since the museum acquired it in 1984.

"We have not wanted to place it at risk other than under extraordinary circumstances, but there seems no better way to share it with a wide audience," he said.

A Prairie Home Companion, one of public radio's most popular programs, is heard by some 4 million people each week.

Larson said that London violin dealer Charles Beare, who heard The King in 1982, described it as "perhaps the greatest cello sound I have ever heard."

The King originally was crafted as a three-stringed bass violin about 1545 in the workshop of the master Andrea Amati of Cremona. It is the world's oldest surviving cello, Larson said, making it "an icon of Western civilization." Shortly after its creation, it was painted and gilded with the emblems and mottoes of Charles IX as part of a set of 38 stringed instruments crafted by Amati for Charles IX's coronation as King of France in 1562. It remained in court until the set was dispersed, with most of the instruments destroyed, during the French Revolution in 1789.

The King is one of several instruments from the National Music Museum that will be featured on A Prairie Home Companion. Plans for the show also include a collection of Civil-War Era instruments like those that would have been part of "Custer's Last Band" and original music by Felix Vinatiere, bandmaster for the ill-fated general.

A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor will be performed live from the DakotaDome at The University of South Dakota on April 29.

The show begins with a warm-up at 4:45 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m. The national radio show airs from 5 to 7 p.m. on public radio stations. In South Dakota on SDPB Radio, it airs live from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday and repeats on Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.

The South Dakota performance of A Prairie Home Companion is sponsored by The University of South Dakota and the Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

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