The noblest Roman of them all
An understated rock star
by Christopher Key
That subhead may be something of an oxymoron, but it seems to apply very well to cellist Joshua Roman who headlined last night’s Bellingham Festival of Music concert. The media, of which I am a somewhat reluctant member, has been known on rare occasions to engage in hyperbole and in this case they’re both right and wrong. I wasn’t the only one in the audience expecting to see a spectacle on the order of Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg. The spectacular musicianship was there, but Roman doesn’t seem to feel any need to imitate Mick Jagger. It’s not as easy to do with a cello as it is with a violin.
Before Roman’s extraordinary performance, the BFOM orchestra proved once again that it is an astonishing aggregation of amazing musicians. Leading off the program was Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major (“Classical”). Prokofiev was another of those musical prodigies who make most of us mortals feel somewhat inadequate. He began composing at age five and was both popular and prolific. Maestro Michael Palmer’s interpretation of this work was dynamic and exciting. The woodwinds were exceptional.
Franz Josef Haydn is considered the father of the symphonic form, having birthed 104 of them. That statistic never ceases to boggle my mind. The BFOM orchestra boggled it even further with their performance of Symphony No. 101 in D Major (“The Clock”). I have perhaps mentioned the strings before, but they went above and beyond the call of duty in this one. There are frantically intense string passages that they rendered with complete crispness and not a trace of the muddiness that often accompanies such challenges. Flutist Christina Smith was on the receiving end of some well-deserved bravos.
After the intermission, Mr. Roman took the stage with a masterful performance of Antonin Dvorák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104. The cello is thought of as being toward the lower end of the stringed instruments, but the solos in this work are, for the most part, at the upper end of the cello’s range. Indeed, it often sounds more like a viola in the talented hands of Roman. It was fascinating to watch his fingers fly across the neck as he coaxed nuances from his instrument that were nothing short of thrilling.
There is no doubt that he is intensely connected with the music as he swayed back and forth to the rhythm. But his unquestionable stage presence did not take precedence over his prodigious talent. Since he often plays jazz and rock music, we may assume that he saves his most extravagant physical moves for those venues. The media image of the classical rock star seems to have taken a firm hold, since many of the comments I overheard indicated that he had set the ladies hearts all a-twitter. I was somewhat surprised that there weren’t swooning female bodies blocking the aisles.
Tonight’s concert was sold out and I am told that the next one, featuring The Romeros, is also a done deal. Let that be a lesson to you. The Bellingham Festival of Music is a world-class event and if you want to see and hear these concerts, you’d best think about next season’s tickets right now. www.bellinghamfestival.org.
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