Communique: Cellist Amit Peled & His Gang Perform Sunday At Beckwith | "Cellobration!"

Sep 7, 2017

Last season, Chamber Music Wilmington (CMW) invited Israeli-American cellist Amit Peled to town. The big story then was that Peled was playing Pablo Casals' cello. 

Well, he still is playing that cello, and he's returning to Wilmington this weekend--along with 6 of his protegees: the Peabody Cello Gang. The performance is Sunday evening, September 10, at 7:30 at UNCW's Beckwith Recital Hall. 

CMW's Artistic Director, Barbara McKenzie, spoke with us about the performance. Listen above, and read our extended conversation below. For string players, also check out Peled's Masterclass & String Jam at WHQR on Sunday afternoon at 2:00. 

The Cello Gang: Frances Borowsky, Mairead Flory, Ismael Guerrero, Joseph Staten, Jiaoyang Xu, Tzu-Jou Yeh

Cellobration! Program: Sonata for 2 Cellos (Boccherini), Sonata for Cello Solo-Capriccio (Ligeti), Elegie for Four Cellos (Josef Werner), Sonata for Two Cellos in G minor #8 (Handel), Concerto for Cello in C (Hadyn), Hungarian Rhapsody (Popper)

Gina: My first question is, does Amit still have the cello of Pablo Casals?

Barbara McKenzie
Credit WHQR/gg

Barbara: Oh yes. He's touring the world right now and this summer he played in the Salzburger Festspiele with the Mozarteum Orchestra and his career is just really taking off now on a huge scale. The Saltzburger Festspiele is one of the big European music festivals for classical music in Salzburg.

Gina: This is a Cellobration here...A Cellobration on September 10th and Amit is going to be leading this thing, but there will be other cellists.

Barbara: Right. So Amit made such a splash here last year when he performed that I had so many comments like, when can he come back? When can we bring him back? And so I knew that Amit had created this ensemble called the Cello Gang at Peabody Conservatory, which is one of the country's oldest conservatories. It's part of Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Which is close. So I threw it out, I said, Amit would you be able to come back? Would you like to come back and bring the Cello Gang? Because we have so many cello enthusiasts in this area. And so we, we found a time. He is so heavily scheduled but we found a time for the ninth and tenth of September to hit the North Carolina coast. And it's the earliest we've ever opened a season but I was just so happy that we could bring him back. So these, these members of the cello gang are all his proteges. They come from all over the world and they're studying with Amit, they're studying cello performance at Peabody.

And so in the ensemble there's seven cellists. Amit plays with them and some as a soloist with them as a sort of cello orchestra in some of the selections. Other selections we're going to hear one of the stars of the ensemble perform alone and I think we even have a trio. So there are different formations. It's not just a solid block of cellists playing the whole time. And as you know, Gina Beckwith Recital Hall is just a perfect acoustic and it really seems to like strings. So when I say a sort of many cello orchestra I'm not kidding. I think it's going to be an amazing sound in there.

Gina: You know, it's not just people who play the cello who love the cello. I've heard it said that people love the cello because it is so close to the human voice. What do you think about that?

Barbara: Well also, I've always heard that it's a heart instrument. And when my oldest daughter decided she wanted to play the cello we were in a live performance, she was five, and we were at Kennedy Center and my best friend from my day school days was playing principal and Ashley's eyes got really big and she said, Mommy now I know what instrument I want to play. And I said, what? And she said, the cello. And she was so excited about it and threw herself into it. It is. It is a real heart instrument. Maybe that's why we compare it to the human voice because when you hear a beautiful human voice you're really moved. And when we hear a beautiful cello it's very moving. It's an intimate experience.

Gina: Now in terms of the music that will be performed at this concert, of course we have Boccherini.

Barbara: Yes.

Gina: I'm interested in Ligeti. The Hungarian Ligeti.

Barbara: Yes. Apparently he wrote a solo Sonata for cello. So there's no piano accompaniment and there's no piano in this concert. It's just cello. And so one of his graduate proteges is playing the Ligeti on the program. I'm not sure we've ever had anything by Ligeti on the cello music Wilmington series. So I'm very excited because I think it is incredible contemporary music and something that's very accessible.   

Gina: Which piece is going to have all the cellists? 

Barbara: The Hadyn. Because there's seven. The Hadyn and the Handel will have all the cellists.

Gina: So Barbara, I know this is no fair, this is a terrible question, but what piece are you most excited about hearing on stage at Beckwith?

Barbara: Well I think, just because of the sheer virtuosity, I think Popper. David Popper, if it's not all the cellists, it's six of them will be a real tour de force and really, really fun to watch and hear. And anyone that has heard Amit Peled knows that he's just amazing, not only is he incredibly sensitive and expressive, he brings across such a human element in his playing. It just speaks to you really directly. He is such a virtuoso. And his playing is so rich and clean and it just seems really effortless and I know when he performs the intonation is as perfect as I think you'll ever get it. And not that that should distract from the music but sometimes it can. And he's just such a fabulous musician. So I think the David Popper ,they're closing the program with the Popper and Popper wrote so many etudes to show off the cello and I just think to hear that many cellists on stage performing this big virtuoso piece is going to be a treat.

Gina: And also let me ask you about, this performance is on Sunday evening, but on Sunday afternoon at two o'clock, here at WHQR we are having a little Cellobration of our own with Amit. Tell us about that.

Barbara: Well, as you know, I'm really excited to use Chamber Music Wilmington as a vehicle for inspiring people in the community to pick up their instruments and play. And so this year we're really concentrating on building that aspect of our community outreach. So we've invited all the string players in the community to come at two o'clock. Bring your instrument, whether it's a cello or a viola or a violin, and join us here with Amit Peled and the Cello Gang from two to probably around three or 3:15. There's going to be a string jam, as it were. And I know that the first part of that hour we're going to hear from different young string players in the community. Playing for Amit and the Cello Gang and then afterwards everyone is just going to be invited to play together. And he selected a beautiful tune everyone I'm sure is familiar with called the “Wonderful Hallelujah.” And so I have the music for that. And if people are interested in joining us just bring your stringed instrument and music stand and I will supply you the music, you just have to contact me through BarbaraMakenzie2008@gmail.com.

Gina: So people can contact you to do the actual masterclass? Or contact you even if you want to show up?

Barbara: Well I thought even if people want to show up they should register so we make sure we have enough chairs.

Gina: Barbara, just real quick tell me about the Schumann Quartett [performing November 5th].

Barbara: The Schumann Quartett is this fabulous young ensemble from Cologne and they recently secured a young artist in residence position at Lincoln Center. They’re a truly wonderful young quartet. It's three men and one young woman and they are just a fabulous quartet. So we're very happy to have them and they will be doing the Adagio for Strings from Barbours String Quartet that is on the program. And they're also doing the beautiful Schubert Rosamunda Quartet. Real quartet lovers are going to enjoy that program for sure.

Gina: Tell me about the rest of the season.

Barbara: We call it classical music for everyone because we really want people to know that we are opening the doors. Please come check out classical music, you're going to love Chamber Music Wilmington's programming. It's in a very intimate beautiful space and we have such a variety this year. We start with a Cellobration with seven cellists from Peabody and then we offer the Schumann Quartett that is coming via Lincoln Center, and the third program is ACRONYM, a Baroque String Band, and they're actually presenting Vivaldi's Four Seasons. And then last but not least the Calidore String Quartet, also a young quartet in residence at Lincoln Center that will close our season and offering beautiful music-the Adagio for Strings, again Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Shubert's Rosamunda. And one of our own composers, Caroline Shaw, who is from Greenville, North Carolina is going to be introduced in on the program. So I hope that people will come and bring their kids. We have free tickets for kids 18 and under. 

Transcription assistance from PopUpArchive & Lindsay Wright