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Thursday, January 9,2014

Bracing for flight

Cellist David Requiro takes on Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky with the Lansing Symphony

by Lawrence Cosentino
Cellists are the corvids — the crows and ravens — of the classical aviary. They excel at thoughtful communication, don’t preen much and look good in black.

They also get a false rep as brooders. “I would not consider myself a serious person at all,” cellist David Requiro declared. As guest soloist at Saturday’s Lansing Symphony concert, Requiro, 27, will bring a lot of energy, both light and dark, to Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1.

In fourth grade, long before Requiro became a professor of cello at the University of Puget Sound, he fought with his brother over a trombone in band class, giving rise to an incident last seen in “The Three Stooges.”

“The slide separated from the bell and flew across the room,” Requiro said. “I got kicked out of band, and that was the end of my trombone life.”

He got serious about the cello while attending the Crowden Music Center in Berkeley, Calif., and taught at the University of Michigan before settling in Seattle.When Requiro digs into the core classics, including a recent Beethoven cycle in Washington, he flies off with awards and competition wins. But he has a corvid’s curiosity for adventure.

He recently hooked up with a Romanian ensemble of “spectral” musicians, a musical subculture that obsesses over the math and physics of every sound and the micro-acoustics of each performance space. Right away, Requiro knew he wasn’t on the Chardonnay and Chopin circuit.

“They picked me up in Paris, slid open the van door and there’s a cello — unfortunately, a very good cello — just rolling around in the back,” Requiro recalled. He asked them what happened to the case.

“The best answer I could get in broken English was, ‘The case was ugly.’” On tour in Europe, he walked around Paris and London, taking the subway and the Chunnel with a “naked cello.” “I covered it with a T-shirt or a jacket when it rained,” he said. “It was a bizarre experience.”

Requiro also likes to flock with his own kind. Much like crows and ravens, cellists like to congregate.

“We actually want to play together,” he said. “We enjoy the sonority of the cello.”

The Cello Bash, an annual gathering of all the cellists in the Bay Area, was an annual ritual for Requiro while growing up in Oakland, Calif. The festival culminates in an overwhelming choir of about 110 cellos. Last year, Requiro toured as one-fourth of a cello quartet, playing music by Bach, Mozart and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

“You don’t see four violinists getting together to play music,” Requiro said. “My experience is that violinists are wired differently. There’s a lot less competitive edge to being a cellist. It’s a brotherhood.”

Sooner or later, any modern cellist has to grapple with the Shostakovich concerto, a daunting crow’s flight that zigzags from droll humor to icy desolation (sound familiar?) and back again.

The music sucks up all of a cellist’s stamina, but not for the sake of showing off. “To me, it’s all about mood. It’s important to maximize every emotional nook and cranny. You can never find yourself in a rut.”

The second movement requires the cellist to produce glassy, dog-whistle harmonics that chill the spine.

“I’m a little young to know a lot about the Cold War, but there’s this Russian, Space Age coldness,” Requiro said. “I have a hard time not thinking of cosmonauts.”

Free fall follows in the form of a supercharged cadenza, or solo, that accelerates from stasis to freakout in a few dizzying minutes. Many cadenzas allow for improvisation, but arch-control-freak Shostakovich wrote every note of this one, leaving none of the frenzy to chance.

“That’s one part I really enjoy tackling,” Requiro said. “It’s so anti-classical-standard-form.”

For Requiro, there’s no letup as the cadenza slams into the high-energy last movement like a capsule on re-entry.

“There are pieces where you can sit back, release some muscles and take a breath, but this piece doesn’t let you take a breath,” Requiro said.

If he’s not in quarantine with some Jack Daniel’s after splashdown, Requiro can at least kick back and breathe in some Tchaikovsky melodies when he’s done.Saturday’s all-Russian program will melt the Cold War ice with lush suites from two Tchaikovsky ballets, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake,” along with another, less often performed, ballet suite, Igor Stravinsky’s “The Fairy’s Kiss.”

Lansing Symphony Orchestra

David Requiro, cellist 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11 Wharton Center Cobb Great Hall $15-50 (800) WHARTON, whartoncenter.com

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