Until the principal artists — composer, conductor, guest musician and other instrumentalists — involved in a world premiere orchestral work are gathered in the same room, a new piece of music is pretty much just a sketch of itself.
“It all comes true in the first rehearsal,” says superstar cellist and Seattle favorite Joshua Roman. Roman recently workshopped Mason Bates’ new Cello Concerto for the composer, accompanied only by piano in lieu of a full orchestra and such added exotica as a kalimba (an African thumb piano) that Bates wrote into the piece.
The results suggested good things to come when the Cello Concerto gets its first, full public airing next week with the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. Written for Roman, the work will be conducted by 26-year-old rising star Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“A piano can’t really sound like a lot of the percussion instruments Mason included, and you can’t sustain the melodies written for wind,” Roman says. “But we have a pretty good idea about the basic groove.”
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Roman will anchor the Cello Concerto, co-commissioned by the Seattle Symphony. The concert will represent the fourth time he and Bates — an innovative composer of large-scale ideas, noted for incorporating electronica into his orchestral music — have collaborated, including a YouTube Symphony performance and a brief set of improvisations at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City.
Bates also wrote a solo piece for Roman that premiered at a Town Hall TownMusic event, a series Roman has guided for eight seasons as artistic director.
“That was the first time we were really working together on written music,” Roman says. “A concerto is something we always talked about, so when the ball got rolling, we jumped on it. Some of the elements that are characteristic of his work, like the soaring melodies that go over the groove, that long-lined lyricism, are definitely there. I think the harmonic palette is very recognizable, distinctly American but a little more jazzy and space-oriented. It makes everything feel very open.
“I’m really excited to be taking the piece to Seattle first. That’s where Mason and I met, that’s where I’ve spent a lot of time, and my family is there.”
An Oklahoma native, Roman was embraced by local music lovers when, at age 22, he became the youngest principal player in Seattle Symphony history. He resigned two years later to begin a lauded solo career, but returns frequently to the area to perform with SSO or other groups.
As TownMusic programmer for Town Hall Seattle, Roman has introduced Seattle to a number of cutting-edge classical music groups and soloists. He typically performs in the series each season.
Roman, now 30, has spent the past couple of years warming up to composing and conducting. In March 2013, he premiered his first work, a solo cello piece, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Last August, he conducted the world premiere of his own 28-minute song cycle, “we do it to one another” (as well as Christopher Cerrone’s “The Night Mare”) at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.
“I liked it,” he says. “I’m not sure I’m interested in conducting the great classics. But for projects like that one, I’m in.”
Also on the Seattle Symphony program are Prokofiev’s Suite from “Lieutenant Kijé, and selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.”
Tom Keogh: email@example.com