29 June 2011

Guilhermina Suggia

Guilhermina Augusta Xavier de Medim Suggia Carteado Mena, known as Guilhermina Suggia, (27 June 1885 – 30 July 1950) was a Portuguese cellist. She studied in Germany and with Pablo Casals, and built an international reputation.

She spent many years living in England, where she was particularly celebrated. She retired in 1939, but emerged from retirement to give concerts in Britain. Her last was in 1949, the year before her death. Suggia bequeathed an important British scholarship for young cellists, which has been granted to performers including Rohan de Saram, Jacqueline du Pré and Steven Isserlis.

Suggia was born in Porto to a family of Italian descent. Her father was a competent musician and taught her musical theory and cello. Such was her progress that by the age of 12 she was appointed principal cellist of the local orchestra, the Orpheon Portuense. In 1904, under the patronage of Queen Maria Amélia of Portugal, she went to study at the Leipzig Conservatoire under Julius Klengel.

Within a year Suggia was asked to appear as a soloist with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under its conductor, Arthur Nikisch. From 1906 to 1912 she lived and worked in Paris with the cellist Pablo Casals.It was generally believed, incorrectly, that the two were married, and Suggia was sometimes billed as as "Mme P. Casals-Suggia". She began to tour internationally, building her reputation. She and Casals were rated as "the world's leading cellists."

After they separated, in 1913, Suggia retained her admiration for Casals, describing him as pre-eminent among living cellists. In 1914 she formed a trio with the violinist Jelly d'Arányi and the pianist Fanny Davies.She was particularly celebrated in England, where she lived in the 1920s and 1930s. She was a frequent visitor to Lindisfarne Castle in northern England, where a cello now rests in the Music Room in commemoration of her time spent there.

In 1927, Suggia married José Mena, an X-ray specialist. During World War II, Suggia and her husband returned to Portugal, where she lived in retirement. She visited Britain after the war, giving performances of the Elgar Cello Concerto in aid of charity. She gave her last concerts at the Edinburgh Festival in 1949 and in Bournemouth later the same year. Suggia died in Porto at the age of 62, a year after the death of her husband.

Suggia bequeathed her Stradivarius cello to the Royal Academy of Music in London, to be sold to fund a scholarship for young cellists. The Suggia Gift, established in 1955, has since 1995 been administered by the Musicians' Benevolent Fund. It has been won by cellists including Rohan de Saram (1955), Jacqueline du Pré (1956), Hafliði Hallgrímsson, Steven Isserlis, Raphael Wallfisch and Julian Lloyd Webber. In 2010 it was announced that the 2011 Suggia Gift would be run in association with the 2011 International Guilhermina Suggia Festival, held in her native city.

The large auditorium at Casa da Música in Porto is named Sala Suggia in her honour. Suggia made a small number of gramophone recordings. They include Haydn's D major Concerto with John Barbirolli and Saint-Saëns's A minor Concerto with Lawrence Collingwood. They were reissued on compact disc in 1989.

Guilhermina Suggia plays Kol Nidrei from Max Bruch

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