The Spokane Symphony performs as many timeless classics as it does 21st century curios, and this weekend’s Classics concert further bridges the divide between contemporary and classical. The upcoming program features two of P.I. Tchaikovsky’s Shakespearean tone poems from the late 1800s alongside a prominent cello concerto that’s only a few years old.
The evening’s concert will feature an appearance by New York-based cellist Joshua Roman, who most recently performed with the Spokane Symphony in 2012. Under the direction of conductor Morihiko Nakahara, Roman will be play a 2014 cello concerto by American composer Mason Bates, whose work has been performed many times by the orchestra.
“I’m really excited to come back,” Roman said during a recent phone interview. “I know not only the city but also people in the orchestra, and this will be my first time there without Eckart (Preu). So that’s kind of cool, too.”
Even though he’s only 33, Roman has played the cello for nearly three decades. He says he had ambitions to be a professional musician as early as 6 years old: His parents were both musicians and his father played the cello, and he picked up the instrument when he was a child.
“They started us four kids early, and it was never intended to be a career. But I took it very seriously,” Roman said. “A lot of my musical development was grounded in classical training, but I was also heavily influenced growing up in Oklahoma and playing with my friends who weren’t classical musicians.”
At only 16, Roman attended Cleveland Institute of Music as an undergraduate, and he became the Seattle Symphony’s youngest ever principal musician when he was 22. He’s frequently on the road, and he recently started composing his own music, which he describes as “post-minimalist.”
Roman has performed his friend Bates’ concerto with at least a dozen different orchestras already, which is unusual for a relatively new piece. Symphony audiences have fallen for the concerto, Roman said, because it playfully reinvents familiar orchestral forms and musical themes.
“There’s a certain sound and feeling that I think captures now, and I feel like Mason has that,” Roman said. “He has this open approach to harmony that, to me, feels like an update on (Aaron) Copland, the way he treats harmony and its malleability. His orchestration is incredibly colorful and unique.”
Bates, whose work is known for marrying lush string arrangements with elements from the electronica genre, wrote the concerto specifically for Roman to play. He’s now as closely associated with the work as the composer, and he says the concerto itself captures both of their personalities in the music.
“We worked together to make it idiomatic to the cello, and he was studious in how he approached my playing personality,” Roman said. “It’s such an incredible feeling to hear that in the piece. It’s amazing that he put me into the piece.”
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