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Highway 89: Vassily Primakov

SKP: I want to ask – [Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy” Op. 15] is such a difficult piece. I mean Franz Schubert was to have said himself, “the devil may play it,” meaning, “I can’t really play it, but somebody maybe,” and here you’ve done it for us today.

VP: The reason I picked it out for you guys today – well the story is simple. A few years ago in 2002, I was competing with it in Salt Lake City, it was one of my pieces. Back then I practiced it like crazy, sort of like a maniac, and I really loved it. To begin with, I chose to play that piece because I really loved it musically. But then after the competition process was over, I actually stopped paying it and I haven’t played it – well now it’s more than ten years, it’s more like twelve or thirteen years. Now I got back to it with a different agenda because I realized that I kind of missed it. I really wanted to play because the music is gorgeous. Yes, it’s extremely hard. I’m still trying to catch my breath (laughs).

SKP: (laughs)

VP: You know, I think it’s worth it. It’s just such a joyous piece, especially if you think of Schubert and it’s one of his early compositions where I think he is so full of energy and hope and joy. It’s fun.

SKP: You knew what you were getting into at a very young age. I mean, you weren’t just taking piano because music was cool, but you had the idea from a very early age to be a professional musician.

VP: Yeah, I consider myself very lucky that way because-

SKP: The actual quote we got from you was, “I have nobody to blame but myself”.

VP: Yes, and I stand by it because the reason I say I’m lucky is because I see a lot of musicians around, me and my colleagues, who were, I don’t want to say the word “forced” but they were sort of born into becoming a musician because they are from a musical family. I’m not saying I’m not. My mother was a pianist so obviously I grew up surrounded by classical music. However, my mom was not really keen on the idea of making me a classical musician. So, when people ask me, for example, when did I start playing, technically it’s 8 years-old but the difference is I was the one who approached my mother and I said, “I want to play piano”. I was very firm in that. You see, it was really my decision and I kind of right away envisioned myself, that I would just sort of draw myself in the world of classical music and practice. I never complained when I had to practice hard and for a few hours because again, I made that choice.

SKP: So was she hesitant because she knew what the life of a musician could be?

VP: Yes, yes absolutely. It’s very hard, you know, it’s very hard for musicians and I think – well as a mother I don’t think she wanted me to go through all of those struggles and ups and downs I guess you would call it. Once she realized that I was determined, she was of course extremely helpful in my musical upbringing.

SKP: So we read that when she was trying to find a teacher for you, she didn’t tell people that she, herself, was a teacher. Why was that?

VP: Well you know it’s very interesting. It’s an interesting lie because the first school I ever [went] to, my mom took me there and there was a wonderful music teacher. So she started me and was officially my first teacher even though my mom of course gave me lessons before. My mom obviously told her that she taught in an institute and she herself was a pianist and the reaction was kind of like, “Oh, since the mother is the pianist, she’ll do all the dirty work and I’ll probably do very little”. So my mom was very upset about it because she realized that the teachers were expecting her to do most of the work. So my next teacher – I don’t think it was an easy decision for her honestly – but she basically decided that she [wasn’t] going to say that she [was] a musician, you know. So she didn’t, she just said, “I’m just a mom”.

SKP: And maybe that’s good for family relations too, to have somebody else be your teacher.

VP: Yeah and it actually worked like a charm. My next teacher was very – I still remember it. It was wonderful working with her and she was very determined to get me going.

SKP: You have such an interesting life with ebbs and flows. You’ll have periods where you’re relaxing, you’re practicing and then we read about a recent time where you had fifteen concerts in thirty days.

VP: Yeah

SKP: So it’s all on, all off, feast or famine?

VP: It’s pretty much always like that, you know? It’s either there’s a lot or there’s nothing. When people ask me, “what’s your schedule like,” I say “it’s very chaotic,” because things come, concerts come, in packs I want to say. There is suddenly five in a row and then there’s a gap of three weeks of nothing. You know, I don’t necessarily like it because – I love being on the road and doing five concerts in a row – but then that three-week [of] doing nothing, I don’t like. Because, you know, I sort of start going into a little bit of a depression honestly. It’s like, oh there’s nothing to do.

SKP: (laughing) but practice for hours and hours.

VP: Yeah, but you know we all need moderation. You practice only for a specific date and when there’s no date looming, you are just, “oh I have time”.

SKP: (laughing) “I’ll get to it”. Let me ask you about Chopin. We’re so pleased that you’ll play a couple of Mazurkas for us, you really seem to have a feeling for this. You’ve recorded all of the Mazurkas.

VP: Yeah, I think – the reason I have the feeling is mainly because- well, [it was] one of my first series works that I played. I was ten years-old and it was a waltz by Chopin. To me, back then it was sort of something of a Mt. Olympus.  It really felt so hard and so complex in terms of – not just technically but also I realized right away that there was such an emotional world behind it. I was drawn to it. I was always drawn to challenges, not things that are easy. Actually in general, I choose my repertoire not – sometimes it’s a mistake to be honest with you – I choose a repertoire that challenges me. Not necessarily - you know, there are some pieces that are extremely easy for me to play and if I play them all my life, you know, I’ll be in good shape. But I don’t like that, I like to have a challenge. So Chopin, at the end of the day, is a challenge.

SKP: Well let’s hear this piece, Mazurka in A minor.

---Song break

SKP: When you’re playing these and you’re working with dancers, how does that affect your performance or interpretation?

VP: It actually affects my performance greatly, in fact. So there are ten Mazurka’s that they’re dancing to and I play all of the Mazurka’s but of course there are certain ones that are in my repertoire more than others. Out of the ten that they dance, I want to say about five of them I played a lot, a lot, a lot. I got a tape from them, the tape that they were practicing to and I realized the performances are so different. They’re more square. Not necessarily less beautiful, they’re just more square. I found it quite difficult for myself to sort of re-do my interpretation altogether. In a way sort of strip my interpretation, just strip it to bare bones and come to the first rehearsal, which was yesterday, with sort of a fresh stake on things and just sort of follow the choreography and help them to establish their choreography. Actually it’s already established, so that’s why it’s kind of tricky but I love the process. I [had] done this before, I worked with choreographers before and I think it’s an interesting collaboration for a musician because you’re no longer in the center of attention so to speak. You are actually accommodating this group of dancers, it’s fun.

SKP: As you play the pieces, are you able to see the dancers?

VP: I don’t. I mean, I see a little bit so I have my queues and that I am able to see. I don’t really see the full picture unfortunately. So I am looking forward to the set that - they are actually taping it so I will be able to see it afterwards.

SKP: (laughing) you’ll finally be able to.

VP: Yeah

SKP: This collaboration with the Salt Lake Repertory Dance Theatre, celebrating 50 year for them. So they wanted someone good and they got someone. I have to ask – you have a great story – about playing the piano and there was something very surprising about the piano when you were a very young man. You just went in and had to play on whatever the instrument was.

VP: Yeah, well in general this is part of our profession, you know, playing on different instruments all the time. Sometimes you don’t have time to really adjust so in Russia with my teacher, we used to travel a lot. There were those evenings like – professors evenings where basically all of her students got to play. We usually played in a small hall at the Moscow Conservatory, a quite prestigious and important event. So she used to do run-throughs in smaller towns. That one I will never forget because – well we played on all sorts of bad instruments. I mean instruments that had legs falling off, and keys missing. One time we actually had a performance, we arrived very late and the piano lid was closed, the lid that closes the keys, and the girl that was starting the concert goes out to try the piano to warm up. She opens the lid and there is no mechanism. There are no keys.

SKP: (laughing) No one noticed

VP: So apparently the technician took it home to kind of fix things but then, its Russia we’re talking, he probably got drunk and forgot to put it back in. So the concert was delayed by two hours. We were waiting for the action to arrive. My story however, revolves around the so-called “red piano.” I was very young and the town was Tula I think, if I’m not mistaken. So we took a train, the train was delayed also so we didn’t really have time. We had just arrived backstage and the concert had to start. So the announcer went on stage and announced me. I was the first person at that concert because I was the youngest. I played a few short pieces and I came out and there it was. The brand – I don’t think they make it anymore, it’s a very Soviet thing – Red October. They came in different colors too. So there was a Red October that was black, then there was a white one, there was sort of a midnight blue, and then there was red. So we got lucky. We had a red Red October. We’re talking about bright red, not like burgundy or anything, just pure red. I lost it.

SKP: (laughs)

VP: I mean, I played so badly because I could not concentrate, the color was so bright. And you know, it was a stage with big lights. So it makes it even brighter. I really remember feeling like the bull because – when you spent your whole life practicing on pianos that are either black or a very nice brown. The color doesn’t irritate your eyesight. So suddenly there is something like that. I mean the reason I would never forget that is because I remember playing so poorly and was so upset by that because that stupid thing just ruined my performance.

SKP: (laughing) you have to get special glasses for the red piano

VP: I know

SKP: But you made it work, mostly.

VP: I got through it, as they say, yes.

SKP: You’ve talked a little bit about performing – a lot more than just getting through and saying, “okay there were no wrong notes so it must have been good,” but there’s something else. What are you looking for in your performance?

VP: You know, I actually was thinking about it recently. I never consider myself this kind of pianist that is like a virtuoso pianist, you know? I cannot play, for example, Long Long Way by Damien Rice super fast and super clean. Because I never actually – as I remember myself as a child, I never had that trajectory. I always tried to find something in the music that I can sort of deliver to the audience. You know, the message that is in whatever piece I’m playing. My thing – actually it’s a good and a bad thing because I get so involved emotionally and spiritually, just connecting to the piece. I sometimes actually forget that there’s the virtuosic aspect. To me, honestly that’s the most important thing. As a listener for example - I got to a lot of concerts [of] my friends and other musicians – I’m never really fully satisfied emotionally if I got to a concert to hear a very well-taught musician who plays well, who plays clean and fast. I come out of that concert kind of feeling empty. I’m not saying anything against those kind of performances. As a matter of fact, they should be out there. I just personally don’t feel a connection. I start thinking about my laundry or the fact that I forgot to pick up my dry cleaning. Performers that are not necessarily the most accurate or the most virtuosic – most people who come on stage, we call them artists, they deliver a message [and] they kind of speak to the audience. That’s something that’s been my ambition I guess. I don’t know whether I succeed in it or not but that’s my – I hate the word goal but you know what I’m saying.

SKP: (laughing) Let’s hear one of these Mazurka’s.

--- Song break

SKP: Even though these are short, there is so much packaged in to each one of them.

VP: Oh I know, they’re incredibly complex.

SKP: Van Cliburn, when you competed, he said himself after watching you perform La Valse, “prestigious technique, really wonderful with a sheer look of rapture on his face”. It seems like you really have to feel a piece personally to enjoy performing it.

VP: Yeah, that’s one of the main factors I think. That’s why earlier I was talking about the challenge. Sometimes I take pieces that maybe at first I don’t quite get and I take on that journey to be able to understand. Actually Mazurkas is one of those journeys because I remember when I first was asked to play Mazurkas it was my teacher, Vera Gornostayeva, gave me an opus of Mazurkas and I kind of hit a dead wall. I really had no idea what to do with those pieces. It was a few years before I kind of came to realize what it was about for myself. I mean, obviously my teacher helped, but it was more of a personal journey.

SKP: You know, you mentioned your teacher, Vera Gornostayeva. You actually – I think this was even perhaps a prize to her that you found some of her recordings that were of performances [that] she didn’t even know existed in the archives of Moscow radio. Do you remember playing those for her?

VP: Yes.

SKP: What was her reaction to hearing her own performances?

VP: It was a very moving moment I think, in both of our lives. Actually I did surprise her because when Natalia and I – and Natalia Lavrova is my partner in a small record label that we run, LP classics. When we started the label we kind of right away thought we wanted to bring back some of the historical recordings from Russia, from the vaults of the archives. So I kind of went and dug up those tapes of Gornostayeva. Those were live concerts that were broadcast on the radio.

SKP: Were these on quarter-inch tape reels?

VP: Reels, mostly reels.

SKP: You may have saved them just before they degraded.

VP: Well I mean, I’m actually very grateful we have this archive in Moscow that I think is doing quite a good job trying to preserve all those materials so that’s a plus. They were actually very nice about collaborating with us but she had no idea that those were in existence and Natalia and I first got the materials and we put together the first disc and she said, “well when are you going to send it to her?” and I said, “You know, honestly let’s master it let’s get it in shape and then I’ll send it to her.” So basically that’s how it happened. I sent it to her and then I called her. I was in New York and she was in Moscow and I called her and I said, “Hi how are you?” and you know, we chatted for a bit. Then I said “By the way we are starting this series of CD’s where we’re going to release your recordings and live performances.” Then there was this silence. I think as a pianist I know what went through her mind. Of course one of the first things that goes through [is], “were they good performances? Did I actually play all the notes?” and you know, things like that. Then shortly after, I traveled to Moscow and I spent a couple of weeks with her because my then I had already about 8-9 hours of music, her performances, and we just sat down and we listened because of course we wanted her input, like what she thinks is good and what is not. I mean she didn’t know, for example, that there was a recording of her playing Mussorgsky Pictures or Chopin Fantasy. So it was a revelation, especially because, for example, Mussorgsky Pictures is a recording from 1959 and she’s listening to it for the first time in 2012. We’re talking about a major moment in one’s life. Especially because by then she was about eighty-one, eighty-two and she stopped performing. She was, at that time, only concentrating on teaching. So I think it was a very special thing for her.

SKP: To hear something from herself, in her prime that she didn’t even know had been recorded. That’s quite a gift, actually. The fact that her work can now be heard outside of – for years she couldn’t travel, we understand. So she wasn’t heard live anywhere else.

VP: Over 20 years she was so-called, “blacklisted.” It was a Soviet thing, it was many things, many aspects. At the peak of her career she did get invitations but she never got to the west. So, she played Soviet countries, she played Czech Republic and places like that. Mostly of course, her career was in Soviet Union and she did play a lot of concerts and she had a huge following. But unfortunately people, for example here, only knew her name as a teacher because her wonderful students were traveling everywhere and winning prizes and competitions. We were so determined to do this, to kind of shed light – not that she’s a great teacher but she’s also a great performer.

SKP: What is it you hear in those recordings that you like? That you think, “others need to hear this”?

VP: Well it’s a little bit personal for me obviously because I studied with her for 8 years so I hear a lot of things that she taught us. Mostly, of course, it’s the quality of sound that the piano has to send when you play Chopin or Schubert. The way the interpretation is structured and phrasing and just the architecture of the piece. I truly believe that her playing, for example, represents the best in Russian school. Just as we’re listening to Kilos and Vector, she was among them. I mean, she was actually very close with both. I’m not saying they are playing similar but it’s the same tradition, all fresh and plain.

SKP: So when you go to record today, when you know you have a recording date, how is recording different now than it maybe would have been – it sounds like they were just recording to have an archival copy back then. But what kind of mindset do you have when you go into a recording, to still get that live, that fiery, emotional connection?

VP: Over the years I’ve learned one rule about the recordings: if you want to make a good recording an actually feel good about it you have to take chances. So I think, for me, I use a recording as a tool basically, almost like a rehearsal to see what I can do with the piece. You know when you go on stage, you may take chances but less so because there’s this pressure for playing for the live audience and you are sometimes being a little careful. In studio, I feel that one needs to sort of go the distance and maybe sometimes do something crazy. You do have that notion of you have another take. It’s not like there’s one take and that’s it. I am not a huge believer in making a recording that is really nice and careful. What’s the point? If you’re recording, for example, a Beethoven sonata, there are millions of recordings out there of those pieces that are great. If you’re going into a recording studio to record that same Beethoven sonata, you might as well try to do something new with it. You have to deliver a new message. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.

SKP: We’ll we’ve enjoyed your one-take performances here today very much. Vassily Primakov you’re an excellent pianist, you’re collaboration with the Repertory Dance Theatre is what brought you here but we are so pleased that you would make time to play for our Highway 89 audience.

VP: It’s my pleasure, thank you

SKP: There’s information about Vassily’s upcoming tours and projects all online at VassilyPrimakov.net. Special thanks also to Joanne Rolan, the artistic lesion with the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition for helping arrange today’s performance, and congratulations to the Salt Lake’s Repertory Dance Theatre on 50 years of performance.

 

Highway 89: Portland Cello Project

Douglas Jenkins, Artistic Director. Group members: Skip Vonkuske and Kevin Jackson, Diane Chaplin, Sage Coy and Julian Kosanovick.

(Speaking with Douglas Jenkins)

SKP: Thank you so much for coming today.

DJ: Thanks so much for having us. It’s a pleasure to be here.

SKP: You know, you play such a diverse repertoire but you’re not throwing in pop songs as a gimmick or a shtick. It’s for real.

DJ: Well, it’s kind of both

SKP: (laughs)

DJ: (laughing) No pretense here.

SKP: But you bring all the technique of a cello.

DJ: Yeah, definitely. And we try to choose pieces of music, pop pieces of music, that will translate well, that we can bring something new to [and] make something new with.

SKP: Well we read an interview with a Chicago Tribune with one of the group members, Diane, and the quote is, “We found that everything sounds good on a cello”.

DJ: (laughing) Indeed

SKP: And really it does, with over a thousand pieces of music. Do you have some kind of music library or is it all on a thumb drive somewhere?

DJ: Well at this point they’re all on iPads. We read all of our music on iPads, which will allow us to play a completely different show every night. So one night we might be in a symphony hall, the other night we might be in a rock club and so we want to have all of our music with us. We used to carry around big binders full of music but that was not super practical so thank goodness for technology.

SKP: So do you e-mail, “Here’s tomorrows show”? And just send it to everybody?

DJ: Yeah pretty much.

SKP: So you’re not scrolling [through] a thousand pages 

DJ: No, no, nothing that bad.

SKP: Now, Bluegrass New Orleans. We read that one time you were thinking, “Hmm we haven’t approached that style yet.” Is that something that’s still waiting to happen or have you taken a stab?

DJ: We haven’t. You know, time moves so quickly. I’ve totally forgotten about that. But yeah, every time that we play in New Orleans, it’s a place we want to be, and the music – the culture there is so rich that yeah, maybe that’s still in the future.

SKP: Well let me ask about this – you played a piece by Elliott Smith. Singer, songwriter, lived ‘til 2003. I think six different songs on here are songs he wrote, but also you have taken some from song fragments. So how do you even have access to those and what have you done with them?

DJ: Well the idea with that was to kind of do an homage to Elliott – to his song writing, his composition style and you think, his lyrics are so wonderful and his voice is so wonderful but he was such a composer as well so we decided to try and take the music and really celebrate that compositional aspect of it. At the same time, we thought maybe a good thing to do with this record is to create something new as well. So to take little seeds from Elliott’s music and sew them elsewhere and see how they grow. So those song fragments are – you would never recognize them to go with the original piece. We look for the strangest part of the piece. Elliott always has these moments in these songs that just kind of make your hair stand on end and they’re usually very fleeting [and] very brief. But we tried to figure out what it is with that moment and we take it and make it as abstract as possible and then we give it to a composer. Most of them are northwest composers and say, “Hey, do something with this. We’re not telling you what it’s from but make a piece out of this.” Then we commission the pieces to be composed and record them.

SKP: So I am wondering just about adapting music in general for cello. I have to say, the violin is so often the star.

DJ: Yeah

SKP: But no one says, “I’d sure love to hear twenty violins.”

DJ: I wonder why that is

SKP: So why does that work with cello? Why does it work?

DJ: Well I think that we have such a large range, I mean we can get up into the violin’s range. We can also go very low. I mean the same range as the human voice is usually the cliché you’ll usually hear referring to the cello. So it allows us to get all the different parts of the orchestra in one instrument.

SKP: So what’s the biggest challenge when you take a piece and you know it’s going to be all cello?

DJ: Oh, what is the biggest challenge? There are many technical challenges with it. I mean sometimes with those really high notes - technically playing them really fast is usually difficult for us and it’s easier for a violinist. Luckily we have players like Diane and Skip who can just nail those high notes and they’re practically playing the violin on the cello for us.

SKP: So we heard that one time you started on some hip-hop arrangements and ended up actually just sort of throwing that out and starting again.

DJ: We did, we actually recorded a whole record of hip-hop arrangements and it just didn’t feel right. I mean, hip hop is the most vibrant musical culture in the country, if not the world, today. I think we just had to go through the process of thinking we could do it and then admitting we couldn’t do it and then going back and humbly re-figuring it out.

SKP: (laughing) what a great challenge though. So, we hear there’s no formal audition process.

DJ: Nope

SKP: Do you have to be a Portland resident, or what gets you in the group?

DJ: You know, send an e-mail and then say, “Hey I’m available.” Then maybe a couple years later we’ll say, “Hey are you still available?” (Laughs)

SKP: (laughing) “Yes, I’ve had no work and here I am still”

DJ: That’s about what it is. I mean you have to be able to read music, you have to have an open mind, you have to be able to be willing to sit in a tour van for long periods of time so it kind of self-selects at a certain point.

SKP: Well thank you.

---Song break

(Speaking with Diane Chaplin)

SKP: Diane, thank you for being here. Now, you moved from New York. You changed coasts, you changed the whole side of the country and you start playing with the Portland Cello Project and very soon you find yourself performing with the Penteras, this metal group.

DC: Yeah, you know my whole aesthetic of moving to Portland was to not continue what I had been doing. I was in the classical quartet world for so long and I really wanted to break out of that [and] do other things so I think I’ve accomplished that really well.

SKP: So you’re in this concert. It’s the 20th anniversary tribute concert, Vulgar Display of Power, and the crowd was very different than most classical-

DC: It was very different and you know it was one of the most wonderful and fun things I’ve ever done in my life. So it’s a very heavy metal, screaming kind of thing. I mean, we didn’t understand any of the lyrics. The crowd of four of five-hundred people screamed every lyric the whole time…

SKP: (laughing) while you’re playing

DC: …While we were playing, but one of the things about the whole cello sounding great on everything is all of that music, once you get out of whatever those lyrics are, sounds great and the energy and the drive of the music itself is what is fantastic on cellos.

SKP: I am just trying to imagine that much energy in the room. That’s exciting. Really that leads to another question. One thing that you do is you reach a whole other demographic than you would if you were the Portland Cello Quartet.

DC: Yeah, and I think that’s part of the appeal certainly for us as players as well as for the audience. There is certainly that idea that we’re going to play things that you don’t expect to hear on the cello. We really, really try to push that far and to surprise you with the variety. We’re playing a bunch of things today. They’re a little bit similar because we’re focusing on Elliott Smith but in a normal show by us, you’ll hear a change in music every time we do a new tune. It will be classical, it’ll be jazz, it’ll be hip-hop, heavy metal, all that.

SKP: Well you’re also the director of the Rose City Youth Orchestras where you conduct youth ensembles and you also do – with the Portland Cello Project you do some cool concerts.

DC: Right, I teach at a couple of colleges in Portland, but I am the Director of Educational Outreach actually for the Cello Project. I help organize and coordinate things that we do that are outreach concerts to school children. For instance yesterday in – where were we yesterday? Idaho Falls. It’s hard to keep track. We played for 700 school kids. We did a concert that morning for them. It’s just great because we’re building audiences of the future.

SKP: Really, you are. I am thinking that those people, for instance in Portland, the Rose City Youth Orchestras, that they’re also going to come out to your concerts.

DC: Well, hopefully. We hope they do. I think it’s really important – I think the enrichment to people’s lives, to expose them to music. You know, music is one of those basic human expressions. All cultures in the world do music in some way, shape or form. Whether they’re banging on sticks or singing songs, everyone has musical expression but not everyone can do it. They don’t feel like they have a musical soul in them. I think, for us to perform, we’re bringing that to people who maybe can’t do it themselves, but training children or even just playing concerts for school kids, helps them fulfill that desire for human beings to have music around them.

SKP: You know, one of our student producers for one of the radio shows for BYU Radio is from Portland and as soon as she heard, she said, “I heard them! I heard them, they came to my school when I was just a kid and I loved them.”

DC: Yay!

SKP: So, you’ve stayed in top of mind with her all this time. I want to ask - you said once that you had, “the good fortune to grow up surrounded by generous teachers and conductors.” Not every student and teacher are still on speaking terms by the end of the career.

DC: I had an amazing cello teacher, more than one actually, who gave me lessons either for free or a ridiculously amount of lessons when you’re supposed to be getting your one hour a week. In college [they would] give me three hours a week of lessons with no compensation, that’s what I mean by generous.

SKP: They believed in you or saw that you were serious about it?

DC: All of the above and that they were understanding that an hour a week of mentoring for a very talented student isn’t enough. I try myself to extend that same courtesy because it’s the only way that I can pay them back – these teachers that were so generous to me, who are all gone now. I do a certain amount of lessons either scholarships or totally free and let people come play in my youth orchestra. If they don’t have the money, that’s okay they can come play anyway because that’s how I give back.

SKP: That’s great. I think it’s pretty clear that you also have a lot of fun playing and I bet that gets passed on as well.

DC: Yeah, I love to play and I love to play in this group. It is so fun and it is fun in a different way. Classical music is fun also, in playing in a serious quartet or playing a recital or something. That’s fun but its serious fun. You have to practice really hard for months before and you feel like there’s an aesthetic of the way it’s done. The great cellists of the past have laid down this great legacy and we don’t have that here. We just – we’re the legacy. We’re setting the bar, we’re setting the legacy. So that gives us a freedom to just play our best and make it ours.

SKP: That’s actually a great introduction to this next song.

---Song break

(Speaking with Skip Vonkuske)

SKP: I wanted to ask about this whole opening your mind to new possibilities of what you could do with the cello. Obviously you had great technical training. Then, you found out what a loop-pedal was.

SV: Yeah, well it began even before loop pedals existed. When I was a teenager, I just wanted to take the cello where it hadn’t been before. The first thing I learned about were delay pedals, and I could get a two-second delay and play harmony above what I just played and that was such a revelation. I just wanted to do it all the time. Then one day I did discover the loop pedal. Another cellist was using one and that was our colleague, Gideon Freudman. I said, “What is that and when can I get one?” and apparently it was the next day.

SKP: (laughing) We read that you once said you were jealous of guitarists having this big, tunnel pallet and you were more inspired by Pink Floyd and Robert Fripp than Yo-Yo Ma and Mstislav Rostropovich. Here we’re quoting you from years ago and you could be in a whole different place, but it seems like you really are – do you feel like you are still exploring what a cello can do?

SV: Absolutely, absolutely. Although I would say that Mischa and Yo-Yo Ma are equally influential on me. Yo-Yo has done so many things since those early years when I was looking for something more and when I was drawn in to the tonal pallets of electric guitar players. There’s so much that you can do with the cello without effect and I do believe that the best effects on the cello come from your right hand and your left hand and what you have inside.

SKP: Well you’ve performed for a while - Celltronic, was the name.

SV: Absolutely. It’s my actual website name too but I still perform under the name Celltronic. That’s kind of a blanket term used to describe the music I make when I use the loop pedal and pick-up’s and [it’s] a different approach to solo work that makes it feel like ensemble work but is not quite the same as playing with other live people.

SKP: I think we’re used to seeing guitarists have five or six pedals but this is a new thing to see a cellist with an array like that.

SV: Well there are quite a few of us out there but everybody does it a little different and looks for a different set up and a different sound. You’re always attempting to unlock that thing that will inspire you to play something new that you haven’t played before.

SKP: Let me talk about collaboration. Obviously you collaborate within a group and influence each other and make suggestions but you work with a lot of outside musicians and I don’t know if you have a few favorites. One that really struck us was working with Buckethead.

SV: Well working with Buckethead was an ensemble experience and one that was very – there was a separate-ness to it. We were still Cello Project and he was Bucket and our paths crossed while we were on stage. His people talked to us for him.

SKP: It’s hard to talk through the mask? Or he just likes to remain separate?

SV: I don’t think he said a word to us or anybody as far as I know.

SKP: (laughing) A purely musical collaboration.

SV: A purely musical collaboration.

SKP: Well are there any other favorite collaborations? Maybe that have been a little more collaborative?

SV: We really enjoyed all of our work over the years with Laura Gibson. I’ve enjoyed our work with Patti King who ends up touring with us a good portion of the time when we need a singer that our audience will love. But I’ve loved – Blind Pilot, there’s more people that I could mention. I’m sure that as I drive away today I’ll remember – I should have mentioned all these other people.

SKP: That’s a good starter list, maybe we could find the rest online [or] other places. Well we want to hear another piece…

---Song break

(Speaking with Douglas Jenkins)

SKP: I wanted to ask you – you have such an amazing beginning to start. You didn’t even pick up a cello until you were a teenager.

DJ: You guys do all your research. You have quite a producer I think.

SKP: It’s her superpower.

DJ: (laughing) Yeah that story hasn’t gotten out very much but its true. I started later [when] I was about seventeen or eighteen.

SKP: Would some people say that’s too late to really get good at it?

DJ: Yes

SKP: So that’s amazing that you – you found a great teacher.

DJ: I was lucky to have really good teachers. Also, to be – I don’t know how much of the story to tell. I was in college and I couldn’t really afford college and I needed free rent or cheap rent. So this woman was very kind to me and basically gave me really inexpensive rent in her house and she happened to be the principal cellist in the symphony in the town I was living in. So I basically got free lessons for years, daily. She cracked the whip. She was a mean teacher and –

SKP: (laughing) So there’s a place for the task-masters of the world.

DJ: There can be. I think her theory of it was, “he shouldn’t be playing this late anyway, [and] he’s too old. So if he’s going to do it, he better do it right from the beginning.” So I lucked out.

SKP: Well we love the story of you taking an old vintage fender amp into Eugenes Buy and Sell Music Center-

DJ: (laughing)

SKP: So you [were] going to pawn this or just sell it. Then you end up with a cello.

DJ: Yep, that was it. I mean, like I said, it was hard to afford college so I had this – I was trying to pay rent. And then I was like, “maybe I shouldn’t pay rent this month, maybe I should get a job.”

SKP: But you had never played it before, you just saw one.

DJ: When I grew up, I grew up in Honolulu and the rehearsals of the symphony were free every Sunday. So the public would come in and just go sit-in on the rehearsals. For me it was, “I need a place to escape to,” and it ended up being my place to escape to. So I had, growing up, only listened to classical music and seeing the symphony every weekend that way. I loved the cello the whole time. It was always the one I wanted to play but you know, when you’re fifteen wanting to be a punk rocker usually takes precedence to that so-

SKP: (laughing) First things first

DJ: (laughing) Yeah

SKP: So do you ever do that? Do you ever have an open rehearsal?

DJ: I don’t think we have, that’s actually a pretty good idea.

SKP: That’s kind of a cool idea. Well you found a way to fit in with the cello it sounds like.

DJ: Yeah, I mean life takes all its strange twists and turns and ended up where it was.

SKP: Well I want to ask also about, – we also read about – you’re going to be like, “what? Did they examine my life with a microscope?” You’re an interesting fellow, let me just say that. So, we were fascinated that you were in grad school and then thinking, “do I even want to do this?”

DJ: Yeah, that’s right.

SKP: You’re not the first grad student to think that. It seems like what you did is you invented a job that didn’t exist, that was the job you wanted.

DJ: I don’t think it was, I think I just lucked into it. I think it was just something that was happening. There was a lot of people, I mean it wasn’t – playing the cello this way, playing in rock clubs is not a unique thing. I mean Matt Haimovitz was doing it before we were. I think a lot of it – there was a lot of people involved when Cello project got started and I think everybody was just on the same wavelength.

SKP: Okay, you’ve totally convinced me [that] you’re completely uninteresting.

DJ: (laughing) mission successful

SKP: (laughing) Thank you so much. The music is so beautiful and I’m wondering – you do combinations. We’ve heard a quartet [and] the last piece was five players. How do you decide that?

DJ: Usually it works itself out in rehearsal. If [someone’s] feeling there’s just too much in one place or it feels like it needs to have more of an intimate feel – and we really like that on stage, to have that variety of the bigger vs. smaller ensemble just to give a different change in texture and that kind of thing.

SKP: Good. Well we’re going to hear – we’re going to try some classical chops now here to prove these guys really did practice and go to lessons…

---Song break

(Speaking with Julian Kosanovic)

SKP: Julian, no time to give you the full FBI workup here but-

JK: Oh, darn.

SKP: But is it true? Are you the newest member of the group?

JK: That’s true. Just a little over a year now, yes.

SKP: And so, was it what you expected? Were you – maybe you listened to them enough that you knew exactly what to expect – but were you surprised by anything when you joined the group?

JK: Well before I joined I was very impressed with what they were doing. I was awe-struck every time I went to a performance and [was] just so into it. It was so fun to be in the audience. I feel so fortunate to now be part of it and there’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes that I never knew went on. Now I know a lot of the workings of how a tour is put together and how much managerial work goes into it.

SKP: Yeah, it’s not just playing beautiful music. Beautifully done, thank you.

(Speaking with Sage Coy)

SKP: Sage, I understand it was not too long ago that you graduated from college.

SC: Correct.

SKP: And where did you study music?

SC: I went to school at Louis and Clark college and I actually was a psychology major and was a music minor.

SKP: So you just flipped over. And what made the change for you?

SC: Well, you know, when I started school I had recently felt a little burnt out on classical music. I started playing when I was six. When I got to school I just started jamming and playing with friends and it became fun again. I started taking lessons again but decided to do the minor because it made it something that I had to practice and had to be really involved but it wasn’t my primary academic focus so it didn’t become something that I had to do.

SKP: So it sounds like you’re still jamming and still having fun.

SC: I am, yeah. I would say so. This is a great group to do it with.

SKP: Thank you for coming in and playing today. It’s been beautiful to hear you play.

SC: Thanks for having us.

(Speaking with Kevin Jackson)

SKP: Kevin, thank you too for coming in and playing today. Now I understand that you also write music for video games.

KJ: For the group, yeah, I arrange a lot of video game music, anime music, movie music.

SKP: Any favorite games that have the themes that you love the best, growing up and getting exposed to?

KJ: I mean they are definitely two different things. When you grew up there was like 8-bit music so these composers were working with a really limited scope.

SKP: Yes, yes.

KJ: Mario and Zelda, those were amazing games to grow up with and that just ring in your head. Then as you get older they get into orchestra, like Final Fantasy and all [that] sort of music has really [been] with me my entire life.

SKP: It’s really great that better music is getting put into games. There’s some real skill going into it now, not the, who could play something? Or, who could make an endless loop?

KJ: No, they hire full orchestras now. They spend as much as movies do.

SKP: Well I have to confess, me and my two youngest boys went to a recent Zelda orchestra concert and we were cheering there, we were loving it.

KJ: Right? They’re good!

SKP: Did you start off on the cello?

KJ: I did.

SKP: Just right from the beginning, you thought, “that’s for me.”

KJ: In fourth grade I was the only kid large enough to start on the full-sized cello.

SKP: (laughing) “Here dude, play this”

KJ: Exactly.

SKP: Kevin, thank you so much for coming in. The ensemble we heard today from the Portland Cello Project. Douglas Jenkins, the artistic director. We also heard Skip Vonkuske, Diane Chaplin, Kevin Jackson, Sage Coy and Julian Kosanovick. 


Book Review “Railhead” by Philip Reeve


Crossing the Great Network of trains that hurtle through the gates between planets and stealing what he needs to survive is just the way Zen wants to spend his time until the mysterious Raven hires him for a job. Revealing that Zen holds just the right DNA necessary for him to breach security on the Emperor’s impenetrable train, Raven is sure Zen has what it takes to steal an enigmatic object from the trains’ art collection. Knowing this job will set his family up for life, Zen agrees. But things don’t go as planned, leaving Zen facing danger at every turn. The only way out is to find a way to reveal Raven’s intent while staying out of the clutches of those hunting him, but even crafty Zen may not be able to beat these odds.

 

Author Philip Reeve has frequently proven his ability to push the bounds of the imagination, but this novel is his most ingenious yet. Part steampunk, part space opera, part dystopia, the novel defies categorizations beyond a broad science fiction label even though it’s as much adventure and mystery as fantastic. It’s incredible how the setting itself has a unique personality and objects that just might be part of the atmosphere in other works and are integral to the plot and theme. The ambiguous nature of the villain really builds tensions. And, the powerful main character connected to a world peopled with amazing characters both human and non-human, creates an engagingly well-constructed story that daring readers will devour.

 

Review By Olivia Noli, “Worlds Awaiting” Social Media Manager


*Contains mild violence.

 

Find this and other book reviews at: http://byucbmr.com

 

DISCLAIMER:

At Worlds Awaiting we discuss a wide range of information aimed at supporting adults who want to build literacy skills in their children.   We understand that there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to children’s development, so the information we provide is intended to reach a wide audience. The books and other resources we recommend will also naturally cover a wide range of interests and subject matter that addresses a range of maturity, reading, and comprehension levels.  Since no one understands a child’s needs better than their caretakers, we encourage families to critically select the books and resources that meet their own individual needs and standards.



Haiku


One of the most ever present forms of poetry is the Haiku. This simple form is one of the most used in schools, and I’m sure that almost everyone has had the opportunity of writing one at some time or another. Traditionally this form, which consists of three lines with seventeen syllables written in a 5, 7, 5 syllable count pattern, is also a favorite of authors of poetry for children. A book of Haiku I enjoy is Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter Reynolds. This book is a simple exploration of boys in nature that captures real experiences throughout a year in wonderfully crafted Haiku. Another fun book of Haiku is Hi Koo! by Jon Muth—which is about a panda named Koo. Note that the title of the book is saying hello to the panda and is not saying the name of the poetry form (Hi space Koo). I love the character of Koo and how each of the poems uses the poetry form to weave in the alphabet, the seasons, and the adventures of Koo and his friends. But if these great books are not enough, then there are other great books which explore Haiku and use the form to tell all kinds of interesting stories. A great example of this is Lee Wardlaw’s book Won-Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku. This book of connected Haiku poems tells the story of a cat from the time it is adopted at the shelter until it settles into its new home. This book shows Haiku at its best as each poem keeps the form intact and all connect together to tell the whole story. Another very innovative application of Haiku is Chris Crowe’s novel Death Coming up the Hill. This book in verse is constrained by syllable count as the main character Ashe recounts his perceptions of the Vietnam War not only by writing Haiku, but also dedicating one syllable to each of the soldiers killed in the deadliest year of the war. The book contains 976 Haiku with 16,592 syllables—the number of soldiers killed in Vietnam in 1968. If our chat here atWorlds Awaiting has made you eager to look for a little bit of poetry to spice up your day, you may want to take the time to check out these and other great books filled with Haiku.

 

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Peter Reynolds.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2010.

 

Hi Koo! by Jon J. Muth. Scholastic, 2014.

 

Won-Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin.  Henry Holt and Co., 2011.

 

Won-Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku, by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin.  Henry Holt and Co., 2015.

 

Death Coming up the Hill by Chris Crowe. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2014.

 

By Rachel Wadham, Host of WORLDS AWAITING


DISCLAIMER:

At Worlds Awaiting we discuss a wide range of information aimed at supporting adults who want to build literacy skills in their children.   We understand that there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to children’s development, so the information we provide is intended to reach a wide audience. The books and other resources we recommend will also naturally cover a wide range of interests and subject matter that addresses a range of maturity, reading, and comprehension levels.  Since no one understands a child’s needs better than their caretakers, we encourage families to critically select the books and resources that meet their own individual needs and standards.

Book Review -- Girl Rising by Tanya Lee Stone. Penguin Random House, 2017


In 2013, Tanya Lee Stone saw the documentary film Girl Rising and quickly realized that there was another format in which to tell the stories of the amazing young women around the world who face obstacles to obtain a basic education. And thus, this book was born. Building on the field notes, photographs, and raw footage provided by the filmmakers, Stone brings to life the lives of girls from India, Nepal, Egypt, Cambodia, and other countries where there are approximately sixty-two million girls who are not in school. Organizing the stories around three barriers to education access (modern-day slavery, child marriage, and limited access), Stone, and the stories she tells, puts real faces to the challenges and beautiful successes of amazing young women.

 

The stories told in Girl Rising are full of pain and grief, but the ultimate message of this book is one of hope and courage. The stunning photographs are powerful reminders that there are real people behind the statistics. Stone outlines with basic infographics. She also places a strong emphasis on the arts in the lives of these girls, and she shows how they use dance, drawing, and poetry to convey their messages for the promise of change. The girls' ability to triumph over extreme odds to just go to school provides a sobering reality to many teens; Stone’s focus in the last chapter that covers the solutions anyone can use to change the world, are empowering. Tanya Lee Stone's vision for how the future of our globally connected world can build and support girls through education, is for every reader who cares about making a difference.


By Rachel Wadham, Host of WORLDS AWAITING

 

*Contains truthful representation of real life violence, assault, poverty.

 

Find this and other book reviews at: http://byucbmr.com

 

DISCLAIMER:

At Worlds Awaiting we discuss a wide range of information aimed at supporting adults who want to build literacy skills in their children.   We understand that there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to children’s development, so the information we provide is intended to reach a wide audience. The books and other resources we recommend will also naturally cover a wide range of interests and subject matter that addresses a range of maturity, reading, and comprehension levels.  Since no one understands a child’s needs better than their caretakers, we encourage families to critically select the books and resources that meet their own individual needs and standards.


Sherlock Holmes


As a young teenager I, like many teens, developed a love of mystery stories. With that love, I also developed a fascination with one of the most endearing literary characters who still has books written about him and films as well, to this day—Sherlock Holmes. There seems to be something fundamentally interesting about a man who can solve mysteries by observing the world around him in such minute detail; it’s a testament to the power of the human brain and how it can be used.


I must say I still love a great Sherlock Holmes story. And, today there is no shortage of fun ones out there, especially for kids. I’d particularly like to recommend the Young Sherlock Holmes series by Andy Lane, beginning with the book titled Death Cloud. This series follows a teenaged Holmes as he begins his career as a detective and hones his deductive powers. Lane’s view of Holmes adds a whole new layer to the Sherlockian lore by telling us just what he was like as a kid. I also appreciate that Lane adds in some great historical detail and even some real life events when Holmes faces down the likes of John Wilkes Booth. 


While Lane’s stories take a more classic look at Holmes, one of my other Holmes recommendations takes a more nontraditional look. Nancy Springer gives us a female Holmes with the much younger sister of Sherlock named Enola. Enola has the same deductive prowess as her older brother and she uses it to solve complex and engaging mysteries. Stories like Springer’s extend a classic that we love into new territory. It’s exciting for readers because there is some familiarity there. But in the end, we are able to see things in such a new way. 


When I was a girl I couldn’t get enough of Sherlock Holmes. So, I can tell you, that if Springer’s books had been available when I was a girl, I would have been very excited to read about someone like me who could do exactly what I could do. There is no doubt that I would have loved having Sherlock’s AND Enola’s stories to sneak under my covers at night. So, if you and the readers you love are looking for a great mystery, you might want to take this recommendation from Rachel at Worlds Awaiting and check out how authors are reimagining the classics for today’s readers.

 

By Rachel Wadham, Host of WORLDS AWAITING


Death Cloud by Andrew Lane. Macmillan, 2010.

 

Red Fire (US title) Red Leech (UK title) by Andrew Lane. Macmillan, 2010.

 

Black Ice by Andrew Lane. Macmillan, 2011.

 

Fire Storm by Andrew Lane. Macmillan, 2011.

 

Snake Bite by Andrew Lane. Macmillan, 2012.

 

Knife Edge by Andrew Lane. Macmillan, 2013.

 

Stone Cold by Andrew Lane. Macmillan, 2014.

 

Night Break by Andrew Lane. Macmillan, 2015.

 

The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer. Penguin Philomel, 2006.

 

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer. Penguin Philomel, 2007.

 

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets by Nancy Springer. Penguin Philomel, 2008.

 

The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer. Penguin Philomel, 2008.

 

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer. Penguin Philomel, 2009.

 

The Case of the Gypsy Good-Bye by Nancy Springer. Penguin Philomel, 2010.

 

DISCLAIMER:

At Worlds Awaiting we discuss a wide range of information aimed at supporting adults who want to build literacy skills in their children.   We understand that there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to children’s development, so the information we provide is intended to reach a wide audience. The books and other resources we recommend will also naturally cover a wide range of interests and subject matter that addresses a range of maturity, reading, and comprehension levels.  Since no one understands a child’s needs better than their caretakers, we encourage families to critically select the books and resources that meet their own individual needs and standards.