New York News

‘Goddess of the Cello’ Provides Music To Help Church Recover From Fire

The painting on the wall behind the grand piano in cellist Christine Walevka’s Fifth Avenue apartment depicts her when she was a 16-year-old prodigy. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

UPPER EAST SIDE — Cellist Christine Walevska has performed in Carnegie Hall and on concert stages all over the world. But the performance she gave on Saturday, April 23 may well be the dearest to her heart.   

Walevska, 77, was the headliner at a benefit concert at St. Helena’s Church in the Bronx to help the parish raise money to pay for extensive repairs to the church’s sacristy, which was heavily damaged by a fire on Dec. 26. Prior to the concert, she said she was especially looking forward to the performance.

“First of all, I am a Catholic. I’ve always supported anything that had to do with my church. I particularly believe that music is a very important part of bringing things of a spiritual nature to people. And every human being has a need for something spiritual,” she said during an interview in the living room of her Upper East Side apartment, where photos of her with Rudolph Nureyev and Arthur Rubinstein grace a bookcase and where a grand piano and her cello appear poised and ready to be played.

Walevska revels in the idea of bringing the works of great composers like Bach, Beethoven and Brahms to today’s audiences and is delighted at the opportunity to perform in a church. “Now, the only time that you can hear the great Masses that were written by the great masters is in a concert hall,” she said.

She was still finalizing her playlist for Saturday’s concert. “What’s wonderful is that the cello sounds beautiful in churches because they have such great acoustics,” she explained.

Walevska said she had heard about the December fire at St. Helena’s, but had no connection to the church. However, when a friend, Gail Tweedy, a public relations representative, asked her if she would be willing to play her cello at a concert to raise money for the church, she jumped at the chance.

“I believe that God has given me a talent for a reason — to share it. And I want to be a great interpreter, to be able to bring the music of these great composers to the audiences,” she said.

Walevska makes sure to attend Mass every Sunday, no matter what country she finds herself in. “If I’m playing a concert in China, I go to church in China,” she said.

When she is home in New York, she attends Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in East Harlem — taking two buses to get there — because she loves the Latin Tridentine Mass.

Walevska, who was born in Los Angeles, was taught to play the cello by her father, Herman Walecki, when she was six. She studied at the Paris Conservatory and has been performing as a soloist since she was 18 years old.

She was dubbed the “Goddess of the Cello” by Brazilian music critic Antonio Hernandez in 1975. “I find it flattering,” she admitted.

Walevska made headlines in 2015 when a rare, child-sized 1834 Barnardel cello that her father, a dealer in rare musical instruments, had given to her to play when she was a child was returned to her 40 years after it had been stolen. The instrument had been taken from her family’s Los Angeles music shop where it had been kept after she outgrew the instrument.