The great Catalan cellist and conductor Pablo Casals once described the cello as "like a beautiful woman who has not grown older, but younger with time, more slender, more supple, more graceful”. Such rhapsodic imaginings were to be expected of a man whose recording of Bach’s Cello Suites, between 1936 and 1939, continues to be regarded as definitive among connoisseurs. Casals’ playing was world-renowned, prompting one music critic to say that he did not expect to hear his like again “for centuries”.
The experts, admirers and aficionados will debate whether Casals, who died in 1973, has yet to find a worthy successor, but his fidelity to one of classical music’s more unwieldy of instruments is shared by at least one lawyer. David Gordon, who runs Wandsworth practice DG Law, began his love affair with the cello at a tender age and now, aged 36, finds that his passion is undimmed. “It’s a large and cumbersome instrument and I probably took it up by way of doing something different from my sister,” he says. Gordon's family was all musical. His sister played the violin but if sibling rivalry played a part in Gordon’s decision to take up the cello, it is not one he regrets.
“I love playing the cello and performing,” Gordon adds. He has degrees in both history and law from Aberdeen and Strathclyde universities respectively. The Scot says that whenever he feels burdened by the weight and size of his chosen instrument there is always consolation to be had: “At least it’s not as bad as being a double bass player. They have to have special cars made to lug around their basses.”
Gordon’s proficiency with the cello – he had achieved Grade 8 by the time he was 16 – saw him win a music scholarship to his secondary school and enjoy playing in a variety of reputable orchestras in his teens. Soon, though, came academic study, and serious cello-playing was put on hold. By the time Gordon returned to the cello in earnest, in his mid-twenties, he had a very clear sense of what he wanted from his passion.
“People told me from an early age that I could play professionally, but I always knew that this wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he says. “For a start, to get anywhere you’ve got to be in the absolute top drawer, and I wasn’t sure if I was there, but moreover I didn’t want what had always been a source of great pleasure to become work.”
Gordon started playing again, and soon found himself as part of a quartet. The Sutherland Square String Quartet plays occasionally in public and regularly in private, at the Bloomsbury house of the viola player’s partner. “It’s a lovely atmosphere, playing pieces by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven in a Bloomsbury town house,” he says, though he reveals that the quartet is not without its fair share of creative tension. “Two of us are very keen on public performances, while the other two are more retiring. As well as that, the same two who want to play publicly more often also enjoy playing contemporary music. The other two favour pre-19th century material.”
Gordon avows that a degree of creative difference is a healthy thing, and admits that he is in the more progressive camp – even to the extent that he enjoys playing the theme tune from Eastenders. He chuckles when disclosing that one of the quartet’s public performances was at the launch of academic writer Brian Parsons’ book The Way of Death. “It’s a very serious, well-written history of funerals in London. I admit that we did play some rather sombre pieces at the launch.”
Unlike many other lawyer-musicians to whom I have spoken recently, Gordon sees parallels, not divergence, in his professional life and hobby. “If you’re part of an orchestra sometimes you will practice the same part – even just a note – again and again. It’s a case of many different parts all striving to work together harmoniously. You have to be disciplined and master the ability to concentrate on tiny details. When the whole thing comes together, it’s incredibly satisfying and not dissimilar to working on large property and corporate transaction.”
For Gordon, indeed, the synergy between law and music even led to his firm acquiring its largest client. As he says: “One of the other members of the quartet turned out to be a serial property buyer, and when he found out I was setting up my own business, he asked if I would act for him. It was the beginning of a successful and mutually beneficial working relationship – and it all came from playing the cello.”