Russians Peering Into the Past

And a Glowing Cello Star of Today


Cellist Joshua Roman has been called a “classical rock star” by the press. “If all musicians were as affable…there’d be no chatter about classical music and how it is in jeopardy or doomed to die,” wrote the San Francisco Classical Voice.  Roman can be found anywhere from clubs to classrooms, performing jazz, rock, chamber music or solo sonatas. He’s performed his own Cello Concerto with the Illinois Philharmonic and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and written a song cycle, “we do it to one another,” based on Tracy K. Smith’s book of poems Life on Mars.  He’s a TED Senior Fellow. He’s Artistic Advisor of the award-winning contemporary streaming channel “Second Inversion, ” and he has his own blog “Cutting Through the Noise.” https://www.joshuaroman.com/blog.

Roman most certainly has been making a name for himself since garnering attention at age 22 as the youngest principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony. That was 11 years ago. He’s on a roll, wouldn’t you say?

“A cellist of extraordinary technical and musical gifts (who) coaxes sounds of remarkable beauty from his instrument,” said the San Francisco Chronicle. And the Seattle Times  called attention to “a big, succulent tone and impassioned style.”  

Roman appears to be the coming thing. And he’s coming here, twice quite soon. He’s playing two pieces by Tchaikovsky with the Omaha Symphony this month plus next month in a new work, “Dreamsongs,” by Aaron Jay Kernis, one inspired by world dance music, including rock. That’s in the Symphony Joslyn series.  Thomas Wilkins conducts it all.  

The Tchaikovsky gig features two pieces written when the Russian composer was in his late 30s and late 40s. The more youthful one is “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” as close as Pyotr Ilyich ever came to penning a cello concerto. It was inspired by the Classical style and by Mozart’s music, based on an original theme. The other is “Pezzo capriccioso” whose title may be due to the fact that he wrote it quickly. Actually, at the time he was suffering the loss of a close friend which is why this piece could sound more serious than lighthearted.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s feelings are often likewise ascribed to his somber, darker music. E.g The Tenth Symphony, part of this concert. Much of the music was conceived and written during Stalin’s days. Times of oppression and fear. This work is frequently described as full of tragedy, despair, terror, and violence. Despite a few cheerful moments, the score comes permeated with emotion, including  pained lyricism and intense melancholy, even in wistful moments. As for the exultant ending, music writers call that triumphant.  It premiered shortly after the dictator’s death, when the composer was in his late 40s.

Certainly extramusical feelings and ideas can easily be read it the two above compositions, although neither composer wrote or said any such thing initially. Shostakovich later claimed that his 10th was about Stalin, yet many writers about him suggest that he didn’t intend to write such a story or a message during the seven or so years of creation. No one knows for sure what either Russian was actually feeling when putting those notes on paper. Words may describe that; music cannot. Your own emotional response is the essence of the experience.     

This Omaha Symphony concert is Feb. 17 & 18. Kiewit Hall, Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St. Fri. & Sat.  7:30 p.m.  $19-$70. www.omahasymphony.org


Category: Music

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