Zelkowicz

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 5): An Interview with Steven Isserlis — by Aron Zelkowicz

Your 1992 recording of Britten's Third Suite is widely known, due to its pairing with John Tavener's "The Protecting Veil" (which has been called a "cult" recording).  Do you have any approximate idea of how many copies that album has sold? I don't know—quite a few, anyway. I wonder how many people have listened to the Britten, though! There's another connection: the very first time I went to see John Tavener with my cello, I played him the passage in the coda of the Britten where the cello breaks into a chordal version of the chant for the dead—like a Russian Orthodox choir.  I remember him saying how wonderful that music sounded on the cello.  Much later, John heard me play the whole suite, and—rather to my surprise, because it [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 4): An Interview with Colin Carr — by Aron Zelkowicz

  Two of my favorite recordings of the Third Britten Suite are both by Colin Carr, with whom I studied during a summer in high school and then years later as a doctoral student.  On both occasions I brought the Third Suite to my lessons.   You first recorded the Third Suite on an album for GM Records, “Unaccompanied Cello”, with solo works by Kodaly, Crumb, and Schuller.  Was this your solo debut album? I had a recording made as part of the Naumburg competition prize, Franck and Debussy sonatas and a few little Faure pieces, but this was my first commercial recording. Why did you choose to include the Britten with these other works? I wanted it to be all unaccompanied and didn't want to play Bach. That meant a [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 3): An Introduction to the Third Suite — by Aron Zelkowicz

  Britten chose to build his Third Suite for Cello around four pre-existing Russian themes: three tunes taken from Tchaikovsky’s volume of folk-song arrangements, and the Kontakion, the Byzantine chant for the dead taken from the Russian Orthodox liturgy.  Rostropovich considered himself Russian Orthodox, and one can appreciate the impact of Britten presenting a score based on this theme as a gift to the cellist in Moscow.  The Third Suite also serves as a dual tribute to Shostakovich.  The second movement, Marcia, includes the signature “anapest” rhythm found in Shostakovich’s symphonies (“da-da-DUM”), and in a subtle yet ingenious linking, the final statement of the Kontakion in C minor employs the notes C-B-Eb-D: a reordered allusion to Shostakovich’s famous four-note D-S-C-H signature (D-Eb-C-B). Britten goes about weaving the Russian-themed motifs in [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 2): An Interview with Steven Doane — by Aron Zelkowicz

My first live encounter with a Britten suite was an in-your-face experience.  Steven Doane played the First Suite, Op. 72 as a “dry run” for a group of students as we crammed into an Eastman studio with barely enough floor space to not get poked with an upbow.  Mr. Doane’s association with the piece has only grown, leading to a brand new recording of the complete suites to be released this year.  I asked Mr. Doane about his thoughts and experiences playing this demanding work over the years. Do you remember the occasion of learning the Britten First Suite for the first time? It’s a piece that I discovered late - I was in my mid thirties when I started working on it, and it was revelatory.  It was an [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 1) — by Aron Zelkowicz

Cellists have as much reason as anyone to celebrate the upcoming Benjamin Britten centenary, if not more so.  The five major cello works he wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich – the sonata, the Symphony Concerto, and the three solo suites – have been taken up in short order as standard repertoire.  By my unofficial count there are twenty recordings of the complete cello suites on the market, not to mention sixteen “incomplete” cycles of one or two suites here and there.  So it can be easy to forget that this music hasn’t been around for very long.  Those of us of a certain age can remember relics like the individually published suites, each score with its distinctly colored cover.  Or Rostropovich’s classic 1970 LP titled, rather definitively, “Britten: The Suites for [...]

Tour of Duty, Tour of Pleasure — by Aron Zelkowicz

A postcard from Vienna: By the time the Danube winds into concrete beds through Stadtpark, the water is just a trickle. Children in their parkas swing on the playground, the U-bahn train pulls into its station, and people stroll or bike over the canal’s bridges, all within a stone’s throw of the surface.  This view from our hotel is lovely and quaint, for those of us on tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony that have north-facing rooms (those with opposite views can peer down on the bustling skating rink next door). Pittsburghers, no strangers to rivers and bridges, hardly needed reminders of the horrible flooding that occurred this week.  The tame canal is at odds with what we’ve seen on the front page of local papers and all over TV.  I [...]

Behind the Scenes of a Music Festival (Part 3): The Rehearsal Mine Field — by Aron Zelkowicz

Quartet rehearsal, 10 am! Which means you show up at 10:04, but then decide to make a quick Starbucks run with the second violinist because the violist is parking his car anyway and seriously, who can be expected to tackle Shostakovich at 10am without their Grande Vanilla Double Soy Macchiato? You return to discuss next week’s rehearsal schedule because there have been just too many e-mails lately (and of course, what are we wearing for the concert?). You take the opportunity to xerox that missing page of your part, unfold your stands, rosin your bows, and then, finally, you’re ready….to tune. It’s ok, no big deal—10:27 is plenty early to start rehearsing. There is always tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Such may be the way of the [...]

Behind the Scenes of a Music Festival (Part 2): The Devil in the Details — by Aron Zelkowicz

According to their blog, Audio-Technica’s acclaimed Artist Elite 5000 Series UHF Wireless System with an AEW-T4100 Cardioid Dynamic Handheld Transmitter was the microphone of choice for Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” concert tour (“It really sounds like her!”).   Of course, all systems use the AEW-R5200 True Diversity Frequency-Agile Dual Receiver. Thank goodness all we have to do is walk on stage with our cello, find a hole in the floor, and play.  When compared with such high-tech riders, organizing an acoustic recital is low maintenance, right?  Right?! Sure—although maybe you should have had that dress rehearsal where someone could have spiked the chairs’ locations on the floor with masking tape because once you start the Brahms Piano Quartet you realize you are blocking the violist’s sight-line to the pianist (causing some uneasy [...]

Notes from the Field: 12 Cellos are Better Than 1 — by Aron Zelkowicz

I wanted to take a break from behind-the-scenes administrative reporting to share a recent concert experience that might be of interest to those who like to “geek out” about all things cello-related. It might have been Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Sex and the City (not that I ever watched the show…) who noted that one of the best things about living in New York City is getting out of it once in a while.  So on a scorching July weekend it was invigorating to drive well beyond the numbered streets and convene with eleven other cellists in the town of Hunter, New York—home to some of the highest peaks in the Catskill Mountains. The simplicity of this village and nearby Tannersville was a quaint contrast to Manhattan.  The Catskills [...]

Behind the Scenes of a Music Festival (Part 1): The Vision Thing — by Aron Zelkowicz

By self-imposed annual tradition, recent weeks have been crunch time, when a year’s worth of planning comes to fruition.  My pet project, the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival, held sway in early June where, for the past several years, it has settled in the form of four concerts.  I thought it might serve as a useful case study to explore various behind-the-scenes topics. This is the season when myriad music festivals around the country are in full bloom.  What is the take-away experience from any one of these that makes it unique?  Even traditional chamber music festivals have their own trademark DNA that set them apart, from big issues (BUDGET, LOCATION) to small (I’m playing in a festival this summer that offers a cookbook featuring the players’ signature recipes—cool!).  Festival X [...]