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Cello Professor to Explore the Unknown on Feb. 25

February 17, 2010
Roger Lebow

Roger Lebow

Roger Lebow. adjunct professor in the Conservatory of Music and instructor of cello, isn’t really a stranger to walking on the wild side.  (Cellists, you know – almost as wild as trombonists.)  A new-music advocate of “too many years’ standing,” he’s commissioned solos by Leo Smit, Donald Davis, John Steinmetz, Leon Milo, Jean-Pierre Tibi, and David Ocker, and participated in dozens of chamber music premières. He has recorded with his chamber group Xtet on the Delos and New World labels, and has made several audiophile recordings for the Water Lily Acoustics label. As is curiously so often the case with avant-gardistes, RL is also an ardent player, on baroque cello and viola da gamba, of early music.

Next Thursday, Feb. 25, at 8 p.m. in Salmon Recital Hall, Lebow and his recital partner, pianist Gayle Blankenburg, will explore the musical boundaries of the unknown.  Admission is $5-$10, waived with Chapman student, faculty or staff ID.

We’ll let him tell the tale – because it’s so cool.  (And in his spare time, we think he should write liner notes for P.D.Q. Bach…or Lady Gaga):

“Gayle  and I wanted to devise a program of pieces for cello and piano that nobody–cellists included–knew. That in itself would be easy. The taller order was that we wanted the music to be great–so great, in fact, that the cellists in the audience will all want to program these pieces. Better still: we wanted the rest of the audience to decide to quit their day jobs and learn the cello in order to play this stuff.

“Some of the composers are not household names, perhaps not even in their own household.  Other selections are by well-known composers, but generally unknown (perhaps even by their composers). In short, we’re obnoxiously enthusiastic about this concert and hope we can entice your presence.

“We begin with a relic from the time when French Impressionism got its first heady blast of the primal energy of Igor Stravinsky. The piece, though, is not from Paris but Amsterdam. The Dutch composer Willem Pijper was just 52 when he died in 1947, and he’s never established much of a presence on this side of the Atlantic, but his music is intoxicating and compelling, and we think you’ll go scurrying to get recordings of his other pieces. His Second Cello Sonata, which we’ll be playing, lasts only as long as the far more familiar Debussy Sonata, and though it shares some of the whole-tone Impressionist perfume and the way it flits unpredictably from one mood to another, there is an angular Fauvism at work here that bespeaks a strikingly original voice.

“Anyone for Hans Pfitzner? He’s better known in Germany, where his songs, chamber music, and the opera Palestrina are still performed. When Gayle and I read through Pfitzner’s Sonata we were knocked out. Where had it been all our lives? Why don’t cellists play this? And this sonata is his Opus 1, though you’d never suspect that when you hear it: this is a self-assured, masterful piece. Pretty much the worst thing you can say about it is that he really, really liked Brahms–well, that and the fact that the last movement is in F-sharp major; I have some choice remarks about that–but as you’ll hear, this is a pretty remarkably original piece. (Listening suggestion: Three Preludes from the opera Palestrina.)

“The second half of the recital has composers one has heard of, at least. But Jean Sibelius’s Malinconia is far from commonplace on cello recitals, nor has Liszt’s La Gondola lugubre or Villa-Lobos’s Song of the Black Swan found its way into the heart of our concert repertoire. The first two are as elegiac as you’d suppose. And un-be-liev-ably gorgeous. Villa-Lobos, in his hyper-macho Brazilian machismo, set out to one-up Saint-Saens’ beloved cello piece. Go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-a-l-l-l-l-l-l-l Brasil!!!!!

“I think the real find for many will be Gareth Farr’s Shadow of the Hawk. There have been other examples in art music that draw from rock music, but they usually sound like they’re slumming. Ours is a piece that legitimately (and here I draw from the rarified lexicon of the musicologist) kicks ass. Farr is a composer/percussionist from New Zealand (have fun at He also studied at Eastman with Christopher Rouse, whose more rock-tinged and explosive sensibilities were a good mix with his own. Farr also performs in Indonesian gamelans, and you can hear this strand in our piece too. All in all an exuberant, kinetic, technicolor piece that screams out for a place in our repertoire.”

Wow – Roger, we will be there with bells on!  And it sounds like we’ll be running out right afterward to buy a cello!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ben Burton permalink
    February 26, 2010 12:14 am

    Hej Roger,

    SOrry I can’t make it!
    ‘Love to hear a cellist kick ass.


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