“A CELLO-BRATION”: THE CELLO TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT

Soloist Zuill Bailey joins the Boulder Phil for an intimate, cello-centric program. 

By Izzy Fincher March 11 at 9:35 p.m.

“Why write for violin when there is cello?” Rachmaninov asked. 

There is something particularly captivating about the cello, with its sonorous tenor and subtle grandeur. It is wildly expressive—lyrical, passionate and romantic, yet also mournful and solemn, and profound in a way that captures the heart and soul.

Zuill Bailey

To celebrate this instrument, the Boulder Phil will present “A Celebration of Cello” with soloist Zuill Bailey, streamed from 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, March 13.

The cello-centric program includes a reduced instrumentation of Schumann’s Cello Concerto and a double-cello concerto by contemporary Italian composer Giovanni Sollima. Other works on the program are a violin trio by the Phil’s own Paul Trapkus, plus works by Debussy and Wagner.

Bailey, a Grammy-award winning cellist, will lead the “cello-bration.” He will appear on two contrasting concertos, which displays the cello’s multifaceted personality. In Schumann’s Concerto in A minor, the cello’s sensitive lyricism is shown, while Sullima’s double- concerto, to be performed with Boulder Phil principal cellist Charles Lee, exhibits more of the cello’s boldness and virtuosity.

“In Schumann’s concerto, the cello is refined and elegant,” Boulder Phil conductor Michael Butterman says. “Whereas in Sollima’s (double concerto), the cello is an outgoing, extroverted rebel. The cadenza feels like rock’n’roll—it shreds. It’s crazy, with a lot of flash, energy and edginess.”

Lee believes the energetic double-cello concerto, titled “Violencelles, Vibrez!” (Cellos, vibrate!), will be a highlight of the program. Sollima, an Italian cellist and post-minimalist composer, juxtaposes the cello’s different moods, moving from brooding, dark echoes to a sweet, lyrical duet to a brisk, vivacious cadenza. 

Charles Lee at rehearsal with the Boulder Phil

“It starts very mysterious and lyrical with long, romantic lines, using lots of vibrato, sustaining sounds,” Lee says. “The added element of two cellists alternating gives it a special effect, like an echoing cave.” 

In the opening, the two cello lines weave together, nearly indistinguishable from each other. “At first, it’s not so striking that there are two cellos when you don’t focus on the visuals,” Lee says.

Later, the distinct cello parts emerge in captivating musical dialogue, riffing off each other’s energy in a virtuosic display. Lee described the cadenza with Bailey as exciting but very challenging to play. 

The rest of the program focuses on orchestral works, adapted for a smaller chamber setting, including Debussy’sPrelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll,” an intimate musical love letter to his wife Cosima. 

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun has been arranged for chamber orchestra, created by Schoenberg’s student Benno Sachs during World War I. It was first played for Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances, a chamber concert series held in Vienna from 1918 to 1921. 

During the war and the 1918 Flu Pandemic, chamber series like this one were popular in Europe due to limited financial resources and available musicians. Now, in our current pandemic, the reorchestration is once again ideal for a smaller, socially-distanced orchestra. 

Though the cello isn’t directly in the spotlight in either work, it still plays a more prominent role than usual. “When you adapt a large work for a smaller ensemble, the cellos become even more noticeable and exaggerated,” Lee says.

“We usually aren’t the go-to melody instrument (in larger works). When the cellos take the melody, it’s a treat.”

The violin, however, does snatch back the orchestral spotlight with Trapkus’ Trio for 3 Violins. Trapkus, a former violinist for the Boulder Phil, is also an active composer, who has written four works for string quartet and string ensemble. “Trio for 3 Violins,” written in 2012, features the three violins as equal soloists, and its energetic, minimalistic aesthetic is similar to Sullima’s Violencelles, Vibrez!.  

Paul Trapkus

Butterman is excited for the Boulder Phil to perform Trapkus’s trio for the first time. He believes the Boulder Municipal Airport’s hangar, where the concert was filmed last fall, is an ideal setting for the trio, far more intimate than Macky Auditorium.  

“(The trio) is a work that I found interesting, tuneful and appealing on first hearing,” Butterman says. “It uses a lot of repeated, minimalistic patterns. There’s a lot of interplay, exchanges of ideas and taking turns between the three equal violin parts.”

Despite the brief violin interlude, the concert is still a “cello-bration” through and through. For cello lovers, it should be a special treat—a musical extravaganza with two talented soloists.

As Bailey comments, “I always say the only thing better than a cello is two cellos.”

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“A Celebration of Cello”
The Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor. with
Zuill Bailey and Charles Lee, cellos

Debussy, arr. Schoenberg: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Schumann, arr. Philip Lasser: Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129
Paul Trapkus: Trio for 3 Violins
Giovanni Sollima: Violencelles, Vibrez!
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Tickets can be purchased for $40 here. The concert can be streamed starting at 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, March 13.