The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: “Rock star” cellist Joshua Roman talks about performing and composing affect each other, and discusses the popular Dvorak Cello Concerto, which he performs Saturday night with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra. | November 5, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

“Classical rock star” cellist Joshua Roman, will perform with the UW Symphony Orchestra this Saturday night, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall as part of the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series, which is being held in Mills Hall while the Union Theater is undergoing renovation.

Roman will also hold a FREE public master class on Thursday, Nov. 8, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall in the UW’s Mosse Humanities Building. 

The program on Saturday night includes “Menuet Antique” by Maurice Ravel; Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 4, by Antonin Dvorak; and Symphony No. 4, H. 305, by Bohuslav Martinu.

Tickets are $15 for the general public; $12 for Memorial Union Members, UW Madison Faculty and Staff, and Non-UW Students; and FREE for UW Students with valid ID.  To order tickets, call the Box Office at (608) 265-ARTS (2787), buy online, or purchase in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing box office in Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave.

Last season, Roman was guest artist for the Seattle Symphony’s opening night gala; made his Toronto Symphony debut; performed at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament; and was presented on the Dame Myra Hess series in Chicago, among other performances. He also performed duos with Yo-Yo Ma at a State Department event hosted by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden for the President of China, and played at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway.

Before embarking on a solo career, Roman was principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony for two seasons, a position he won in 2006 at the age of 22.

Since that time he has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras. He performed Britten’s Third Cello Suite during New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival in a pre-concert recital at Avery Fisher Hall, and was the only guest artist invited to play an unaccompanied solo (at bottom, performing the Sarabande movement from J.S. Bach‘s Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello) during the YouTube Symphony Orchestra’s 2009 debut concert at Carnegie Hall.

Since 2007, Roman has been Artistic Director of TownMusic in Seattle, where he creates programs that feature new works and reflect his eclectic musical influences and inspirations.

Roman’s outreach endeavors have taken him to Uganda with his violin-playing siblings, where they played chamber music in schools, HIV/AIDS centers and displacement camps, communicating a message of hope through music.

Committed to making music accessible to a wider audience, Roman may be found anywhere from a club to a classroom, performing jazz, rock, chamber music, or a solo sonata by Bach or Kodály. His versatility as a performer and his ongoing exploration of new concertos, chamber music, and solo cello works have spawned projects with composers such as Aaron Jay Kernis, Mason Bates, Derek Bermel, Gabriela Lena Frank and Dan Visconti.

Roman (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Could you briefly tell us about your current and future career plans for touring, recording, doing other projects? Are there any interesting, but little known facts about yourself?

Over the last couple of years, I have been fascinated more and more by the relationship between the genesis of a piece by the composer and its subsequent interpretations by artists. I often get the chance to work with composers, and this has always informed the way that I look at an older piece.

At a certain point, though, I got the bug to know more. What is it like to write a piece? What is important in the eyes of a composer? Intonation? Character? Dynamics? All of the above? So I started writing music, and recently even began taking composition lessons.

I now approach new (and familiar) pieces with a fresh outlook, and different things come to the fore. It has really been eye-opening, and I would encourage all budding musicians to take some time to learn how to write music. It doesn’t take much knowledge to make a significant and positive impact on the way we approach interpretation. (Below is the first page of autograph manuscript of Dvorak’s famous Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.”)

What would you like to say about Dvorak’s status as a composer and about his beautiful Cello Concerto that you will play? Do you have a special view of his work? What should we listen for in the concerto and your interpretation?

Dvorak is a very special composer. I’ve always felt that he is someone who wore his heart on his musical sleeve. I’ve read old quotes knocking his sense of style (even the well-known musicologist Donald Tovey had it out for poor Antonin) and deriding him as a composer of the past.

While there may have been certain things that he was less successful at than others, I think that it’s unfair to judge someone by their worst works, and when Dvorak was at his best he was truly great.

The Cello Concerto in B minor is absolutely my favorite work of Dvorak, and one of my favorite classical works, period. I can’t get enough of this piece, for me it is the ideal setting for the glorious characters the cello can produce. With its giant orchestral role, the colors and nuances become very powerful, and to me the emotional connection with the mind’s storytelling nature is immediate.

This particular performance is exciting to me because I am exploring the concerto again after months away from it. As I prepare, I have forgone the usual route of practicing with the cello part, and instead I am relying only on the orchestral score.

This is a concerto that many people already love, and that presents a unique challenge: performing in a way that not only shows my own personal interpretation, but also connects to the myriad pre-existing ideas the audience may have.

My approach is to go as deep as possible into the characters, based on the indications in the score and the sounds as I imagine them before the orchestra brings them to life. In this way, hopefully the performance becomes about more than just “style” and takes us on an organic journey with Dvorak’s spirit.

This is your Madison debut. Do you have anything to say about Madison and the University of Wisconsin or the UW Symphony Orchestra?

This will be my first trip to Madison, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the city as well as getting to know the music school. I was also surprised to find that one of my first chamber music coaches, Felicia Moye (below), is teaching in Madison at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. She gave me such wonderful insight when I worked with her in Oklahoma as a student, and one of the great things about a small music world is the opportunity to see the people who influenced you and thank them in person.

Was there an Aha! Moment — some composer, piece or performance — when you knew you wanted to be a professional cellist?

I’ve known pretty much as long as I can remember that this is the life for me. I started playing when I was three, and by the age of six or so I was already telling my parents and everyone I knew that I wanted to travel the world with the cello. There have been many wonderful lessons along the way, and I will forever be grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity follow my dream.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Classical music Q&A: “Rock star” cellist Joshua Roman talks about performing and com… […]


    Pingback by Practice « Anne Libby — January 8, 2013 @ 9:00 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,256 other subscribers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,403,921 hits
%d bloggers like this: