The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Aug 31, 2013

Joshua Roman, the cello as weapon of peace

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Sebastian Spreng, Visual Artist and Classical Music Writer

A young cellist in meteoric rise, 29-year-old Joshua Roman is a perfect example of an accomplished 21st century artist. The native Oklahoman is a composer, organizer, curator, social media expert and complete musician. Roman has made three working visits to Miami in 2013 to date. He made his debut with the New World Symphony in March 2013, he closed the XX Mostly Mozart Festival earlier this summer and he returns to open the 2013 Sundays Afternoons of Music season September 8.

Between visits, the cellist completed his first “sonic installation” at the Museum of Art in Santa Barbara (in collaboration with the legendary Music Academy of the West), premiered a new cello concerto by Aaron Jay Kernis, gave recitals in Denver, LaJolla and Vancouver, served as the artistic director of Seattle's Town Hall TownMusic Series, debuted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and premiered his co-creation On Grace for actor and cello at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral.

Roman is hailed as a "classical rock star,"  is a YouTube celebrity, a 2011 TED Fellow and one of the most serious artists of his generation. according to critics "A cellist of extraordinary technical and musical gifts", virtues that has proved as principal cellist with the Seattle Symphony (position he won at age 22 as the youngest in the history of the Orchestra) and then embarking in a solo career. Switching between San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago or New York - at Carnegie Hall or Le Poisson Rouge - now is Miami’s turn and Joshua graciously agreed to answer a dozen questions for his audience.

Why you choose the cello as your voice? I feel like the cello chose me. I've played since the age of 3, and it was only a few years later that I began to strongly identify with the voice of the cello. Its range and tone are versatile and powerful, and have a deep emotional, even spiritual, resonance with me.

Favorite composer and work for cello? Whatever I'm playing at the moment! I value Bach's Solo Cello Suites very highly though, they are a big influence on my understanding of music.

What is the most underrated piece for cello? Walton's Cello Concerto - this piece I believe to be underrated because of his very unique and personal style, and the ending of the concerto. He was adamant that it not has a flashy ending, but rather concludes in a cyclical manner. I love this unapologetic approach.

Tell us about the program you designed for the Miami concert on September 8? I designed the program with an eye on 19th and 20th century repertoire that is full of vigor and strength, but also inventive and even playful at times. I've done a lot of 21st century music, so this program is much more traditional and I'm looking forward to digging in to some meaty pieces by established greats of the past. The program, Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, Sergei Prokofiev Sonata in C Major, Op. 119, Robert Schumann’s Fünf Stücke im Volkston and Beethoven: Sonata No. 4 in C Major, Op. 102 No. 1

Do you feel more at ease playing chamber music, solo or soloist with orchestra? It depends on the specific relationship with the other musicians, as well as the exact repertoire. Each has its own benefit. There is a special energy from playing with other musicians that inspire you to play better (chamber). I also really enjoy the complete freedom and responsibility that comes with a solo performance. And with an orchestra, the potential for drama, contrast, and scope is very compelling.

What's your favorite venue? I've always loved listening to concerts at Severance Hall, in Cleveland. And the first time I played a note in Carnegie Hall (solo Bach) I didn't want to leave the stage because the sound just seemed too perfect to be real.

Who are your absolute idols? Emanuel Feuermann! Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Heifetz, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles…

As  a young performer, what are your suggestions for incorporating new audiences? I'm not sure that there's any one formula that would work, I've always just tried to be myself and connect on a real level. Part of that for me has always stemmed from growing up around non-classical friends, and learning how to share what I have as well as learn from my friends about what they have to offer. That's the best way I know of to begin the conversation and see where it leads.

Why do people seem afraid to attend classical concerts? I think there's a perception sometimes that classical music is something that can only be enjoyed one way, and if you're not "in the know", then you're not meant to experience it in any meaningful manner. I think there are many ways a great piece of music can be presented, played, heard, and enjoyed, and the more we can explore this, the more others might feel welcome to become a part of the process.

What are your goals? I would like to develop my voice as a well-rounded musician. Performing, composing (a recent undertaking), commissioning, programming, and other ways of inspiring fellow musicians are becoming integral parts of a full musical life that helps me distill what it is I want to say, and how I can best say it.

Are artists happier than “normal” people? Depends on the artist! I know some artists who really suffer for their art, and others who approach it very easily, and everything in between. For most, I do believe there is a strong connection between their art and personality, and that is something I cherish about art.

Which record would you bring to a desert island? Silence!! That would be amazing (for a while).

Sunday Afternoons of Music presents cellist Joshua Roman and pianist Cory Smythe - 4 p.m. - September 8 
at Gusman Concert Hall, University of Miami. 305-271-7150;

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