cello de mayo

Monday, May 5th, 2014
Nichols Hall
1490 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL

Our season will conclude with an event featuring Latin-inspired music! Chicago cellists of all ages will perform works by Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos, de Falla, Albéniz, Mores, Matamoros, as well as Chicago-based composer, Marcos Balter.

Cellist extraordinaire Chris Wild will perform “Memoria,” a solo work by Balter featured on the newly-released album Abhanden.  Journalist, Ellen McSweeney of The Music Box, will host a live interview with both Balter and Wild.

Your ears will be dancing upon the sounds of seductive tangos performed by smaller cello ensembles and lively cello choir music conducted by Linc Smelser. After the concert, we will announce the winners of our raffle - tickets will be available at the door - and treat everyone to a traditional Cinco de Mayo reception hosted by Lawrence and Abby Block.  We hope you'll join us for the festivities!

The Chicago Cello Society would like to thank German Marcano for his assistance in helping organize this event all the way from Venezuela!

Admission:  FREE  for current CCS Members
                         Adults - $10
                         Students - $5
                         RSVP - none, payment collected via cash or check at the door


Carter Brey Masterclass Review

Guest post by Sara Sitzer

Carter Brey with 17-year old cellist Brandon Xu

Last week I had the great pleasure, along with the rest of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, of accompanying Carter Brey on the Dvorak Cello Concerto. Brey played incredibly--his first movement was heroic, romantic and technically perfect. His second movement left nary a dry eye in the house. Everything about his performance was inspiring. While he was in town, the ESO arranged for him to give a masterclass at Judson University in Elgin.

Now, some famous musicians came to play their instrument so naturally that they’ve never had to put much thought into what techniques they are putting into practice. Often times these musicians don’t make the most articulate or helpful teachers, simply because they haven’t had to think analytically about what they are doing when they perform--it simply comes easily to them. Perhaps since this was what I had experienced in other recent masterclasses, I was half-expecting this to be the case with Carter Brey. Boy, was I wrong.

Brey worked for a half hour each with 4 students, ages 12-17, whose skill levels ranged widely. From the least to most advanced, he was able to engage them and put them at ease, and was also able to address universal concepts applicable to any cellist of any level. Below are some of the concepts I found most useful and most interesting.

General Concepts:

To achieve a successful sautille bow stroke, the screw of the bow should make tiny ovals.

We sometimes wrongly associate volume with bow pressure. What actually allows the bow to draw a louder sound has to do with the vibration of the string or amplitude. This is achieved through bow speed and contact point.

In experimenting with using a baroque bow, Brey found himself staying close to the frog almost all of the time and generally playing off the string. This has affected the way he thinks about playing Bach and all baroque music now.

When your contact point is close to the bridge, the sound becomes saturated with overtones--this is why it can be so resonant.

To achieve smooth string changes, think of the bow itself as a pivot.

Our goal is to find a balance of expression between the right hand and the left hand--neither one is solely responsible for phrasing and musicality.

Slides are made with the bow. To hide a shift, let up on pressure and slow the bow down.

Piece-specific Concepts:

Popper, Hungarian Rhapsody - The Hungarian language is full of extremely strong accents, often on the first syllable of a word. Keep this in mind in regards to accents and phrasing.

Bach, Suite No. 1, Prelude - Practice by playing each bar as a chord. This will force you to think about each bar as a hand shape, rather than a bunch of notes. This will improve intonation.

Elgar, Cello Concerto, Movement 1 - More than any other concerto, the integration between the solo cello part and the orchestra part is highly involved and highly conversational. Knowing the score is vital so that you are aware what instrument or section you pass the melody to or take it from, whether you’re playing melody or accompaniment, and what dynamic you should be to fit in with the texture.

Brey with 15-year old cellist Nathaniel Blowers

The masterclass was insightful, inspiring and entertaining. No official video was taken, but if you’re interested in hearing Carter Brey speak about inspiration and the cello, take a look at this recent TED talk he gave. He truly has proven himself to be, not just one of the great cellists of our time, but also a wonderful teacher and speaker.


cello tasting review

Guest post by Vicki Fehling-Mayne

Photos courtesy of Erich Kurschat

It had all the elements of a successful cello society event: friends, music, food, wine and hilarity. Karen Schulz-Harmon hosted an evening combining blind ‘tastings’ of both cellos and wines.

Guests entered Curtiss Hall on the 10th floor of the Fine Arts building and found it transformed into a charming bistro. Café tables were attractively decorated with dark tablecloths and pastel sheet music designs. A buffet table, in the back of the room, held a sumptuous array of treats, courtesy of Rebecca Zimmerman.

On the stage were three screens, glamorous room-dividers like the kind Mae West might have favored. Karen welcomed us, and explained how the tasting would work. Two intrepid cellists, Brant Taylor and Jean Hatmaker, would alternate, playing twelve cellos behind the screens, so the instruments could not be seen. We in the audience picked up ballots, which listed various criteria for evaluating each cello: clarity, color, sound projection, estimated year, estimated country and any additional notes. Each of these characteristics could be ranked on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest marking. We could then choose our overall favorite cello. It was great to hear Brant and Jean play all these fine instruments.

Every cello was ‘paired’ with a mystery wine, disguised in paper bags (!) Our estimable servers, who cheerfully worked throughout the evening, were Allie Chambers, student of Jean’s, and Andrew Harmon, Karen’s husband.

The wines had their own ballots, with criteria like appearance, aroma and finish. We also could guess the region and the year of the wines. Of course, there was much joshing in the audience: ‘ah-from the north end of the vineyard’ etc., and in the end, the wine names were revealed. You would think that if you first guessed a particular wine, then its corresponding cello, you could conclude they both came from the same region e.g. “This seems like a Riesling, so it must be a German cello!” But you would be wrong, like me.

Karen asked for a show of hands after all the cellos had been played, and the majority voted for #11 - revealed to be a privately-owned English cello, made by Bernard Fendt, ca. 1800. As a side note, ten of the twelve cellos were for sale by local shops ranging in price from $8000 to $110,000. Next there was a bow tasting where Rebecca Zimmerman gave a spirited demonstration using the winning cello. She played six different bows (not all at the same time!), performing six excerpts from cello literature to feature characteristic bow strokes like spiccato, sautillé, richocet, etc. Again, this was done behind the screens and as the audience listened, they used their bow ballots to take notes and single out their favorites. The audience then voted on their favorite bow, which was an ivory-mounted French bow from 1959 made by Marcel Lapierre – all six bows were for sale! 

Present at the tasting were luthiers Michael Becker, Whitney Osterud and Peter Seman, and bow maker Jonathan Reimann, whose bow was preferred for its feel, by Rebecca. In addition to the makers in attendance, representatives from Dixon Stein and William Harris Lee were on hand to discuss the cellos and bows that were ‘tasted’ for perhaps a potential match and sale. The wines were supplied by Binny’s and we were given the opportunity to purchase them, too.

Everyone seemed to have a great time, even the non-cellists in the group! It’s events like this (was there really ever an event quite like this?) that make our cello society such a vibrant, thriving group. I hope to see many fellow cellists and friends at the upcoming Cello de Mayo!