Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

fishing in the 3rd stream

an interview with andrew shulman, part 1

September 21, 2009

In a chamber orchestra like LACO that is not noted for turnover, new faces are relatively few and far between. The presence of a new principal in the string section might be a cause célèbre, especially when the departing principal was part of LACO for more than 20 years, as was Douglas Davis. As he begins his second year as Davis’ replacement as principal ‘cellist, it is to Andrew Shulman’s credit, and a tribute to his musicianship, that his transition has been so smooth.

Andrew hails originally from London; he has performed recitals in many of the world’s esteemed halls, and his careers as ‘cellist and conductor have taken him all over the world. He has directed, and performed as soloist, all the major ‘cello concertos with such orchestras as the Philharmonia, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the Fields, the City of Birmingham Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Utah Symphony, the Singapore Symphony and orchestras all over Europe, the United States and the Far East.

Shulman studied ‘cello and composition at the Royal Academy and the Royal College of Music in London, winning the major ‘cello prizes there, in addition to the “Madame Suggia Gift” and the “Royal Society of Arts” prize. He was appointed principal ‘cello of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic at age 20 and shortly afterwards was offered the first chair position with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, at the age of 22, by conductor Riccardo Muti. In 1986, he received an “Honorary RCM” by The Queen Mother, and he subsequently became a professor at the historic Royal College of Music in London. He has since given master classes all over the world. He also joined the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields as principal ‘cello for Iona Brown in 1987. In 1990 he had the distinction of becoming the very first British winner of the “Piatigorsky Artist Award,” presented by the New England Conservatory in Boston; he subsequently returned to the USA on numerous occasions to teach and give concerts.

In 1999, Andrew moved his family to Los Angeles and currently makes his home in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains. From 1999 to 2002, Andrew served as first chair ‘cellist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and became one of the most sought after solo ‘cellists working in the TV and Movie music industry. Interestingly enough, he had played solo ‘cello on Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997,” a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, the highest selling single of all time. (He played for Charles and Lady ‘Di’ many times at Buckingham Palace, as Charles is an enthusiastic amateur ‘cellist and was patron of the Philharmonia Orchestra.) Andrew has recorded extensively throughout his career, including more than 25 recordings on the EMI label as ‘cellist with the Britten Quartet; Vivaldi’s ‘Cello Concertos; and in 2008, ‘cello concertos composed for him by Christopher Stone, Nathaniel Levisay and Maria Newman.

We recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Andrew, and I’m pleased to share that experience with you:

Bob: I really appreciate your making time in your busy schedule to spend with us here in The Stream, Andrew.

Andrew: Thank you for getting in touch with me, Bob. I’m glad we’ve found an opportunity to get together.

Bob: A little bird told me early on, after your arrival at LACO last year, that your musical interests were varied and wide-ranging, so I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity for some time! But, first, I’d like to hear your story from the beginning. Do you come from a musical family?

Andrew: Both of my parents are professional musicians, although they are both now in their 80s and semi-retired. My father played principal Contrabass in the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company and the English National Opera in London, and mother was a mezzo-soprano principal in the Carl Rosa Opera Company, and then at Sadler’s Wells and the English National Opera. In fact, I just got a CD of them both; they performed together in Richard Wagner’s The Mastersingers, conducted by Reginald Goodall, on the tenth of February, 1968. The recording was in the BBC archives for decades, but it was recently resurrected and first became available on CD in July 2008.

Bob: Can you believe that? What a special find for you!

Andrew: I’ll say it was! But my parents weren’t the only musicians in the family; my grandparents on my father’s side were also professional musicians, on violin and piano.

Bob: Well, it’s easy to see where your interest in music first came from! Do you have any siblings who are musical as well?

Andrew: I have one younger brother who is very musical, but not professionally; he became a chef. He is talented in many areas, but he chose food, which is one of my weaknesses, too…

Bob: When did you start taking music lessons?

Andrew: I started playing the piano at age six, but it wasn’t my thing. Now I wish I’d persevered; more facility would come in handy when I’m conducting, particularly when I’m rehearsing singers for opera productions! And my 20-year-old daughter, a fabulous mezzo-soprano too, is constantly asking me to accompany her through arias and recitatives; I’m so frustrated at how little use I am. She’s very kind to me, though…

Bob: When then did you begin playing the ‘cello?

Andrew: I started studying the ‘cello when I was ten, and by the time I was 12, I knew I wanted to be a professional ‘cellist.

Bob: As you know, we’re particularly interested here in The Stream in the relationship between classical and other genres of music, especially jazz. I’m wondering: How old were you when you first heard jazz music? Do you recall what your response to it was?

Andrew: My father played jazz bass, too, so I heard lots of jazz from an early age. I love jazz with a rocky, harder edge, such as Barbara Thompson* and Paraphernalia, [drummer] Dave Weckl**, [the late Austrian keyboardist Joe] Zawinul***, [the late electric bassist Jaco] Pastorius****. I love some of the more esoteric math metal too, like Meshuggah^. And I was obsessed with Yes^^, [Peter] Gabriel’s Genesis^^^ and Pink Floyd^^^^ in my late teens and early 20s, since I’d missed out on them in my teens, while I was obsessed with the ‘cello.

Our conversation with Andrew Shulman continues next time.

*Barbara Gracey Thompson, born in Oxford, UK in 1944, is an English jazz saxophonist, flutist, and composer. She studied clarinet, flute, piano and classical composition at the Royal College of Music, but the music of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane profoundly influenced her and caused her to change her focus to jazz and the saxophone. Paraphernalia is one of three bands she has formed since 1975; it has been her current working band, comprised of Peter Lerner on piano, Billy Thompson on jazz violin, Dave Ball on bass, and husband Jon Hiseman on drums. Barbara was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1996 for services to music. She retired as an active saxophonist in 2001 and worked exclusively as a composer, due to Parkinson’s disease, which was diagnosed in 1997. But she returned to the stage in 2004 to cover for a band member’s illness, and in 2005, she performed live with Paraphernalia in their “Never Say Goodbye” tour. She and Hiseman have two children: Marcus, born in 1972, and Anna, born in 1975), who is now known as singer-songwriter Ana Gracey.

**Dave Weckl, born in 1960, is a highly acclaimed jazz fusion drummer. Originally from Missouri, he majored in jazz studies at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. Emerging in the New York fusion scene in the early ’80s, Weckl was soon working with artists such as Paul Simon, Madonna, George Benson, Michel Camilo and Anthony Jackson. His most famous early work, where his popularity blossomed, was with the Chick Corea Elektric and Akoustic Bands from 1985 to 1991. Since leaving Corea, Weckl has worked with guitarist Mike Stern and released ten recordings as leader, three under his own name, and seven as The Dave Weckl Band.

***Josef Erich Zawinul (1932-2007) was an Austrian jazz keyboardist and composer. He first came into prominence with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and then went on, in the band of trumpeter Miles Davis, to become one of the creators of jazz fusion. He made pioneering use of the electric piano and synthesizers and co-founded the groups Weather Report and Zawinul Syndicate. Right to the end, with the latter group, he was melding jazz and rock with his own mix of world music, populating his groups with young men and women from Africa and the Middle East, thereby creating music with a rich cultural pastiche. Zawinul won the “Best Keyboardist” award 30 times from the American jazz magazine Down Beat’s critics’ poll.

****John Francis Anthony “Jaco” Pastorius III (1951-1987) was an American jazz musician and composer who was widely acknowledged for his skills as an electric bass player, as well as his command of varied musical styles, including jazz, jazz fusion, funk, and jazz-funk. He is regarded as one of the most influential bass players of all time, and the only post-1970 jazz bassist known on a first-name basis. He was inducted in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988, one of only four bassists to be so honored (the others being Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton and Ray Brown), and the only electric bassist to receive this distinction. Pastorius suffered from mental illness and substance abuse and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982. He died in 1987 at age 35 from a beating sustained from a doorman while trying to gain entry into the Midnight Club in Fort Lauderdale.

^ Meshuggah is a Swedish five-piece experimental metal band formed in 1987. It first attracted international attention with the 1995 release Destroy Erase Improve for its fusion of fast-tempo death metal, thrash metal and progressive metal. Meshuggah’s lineup has primarily consisted of founding members vocalist Jens Kidman and lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal, drummer Tomas Haake, who joined in 1990, and rhythm guitarist Mårten Hagström, who joined in 1994. The band has gone through a number of bassists, but the position has been held by Dick Lövgren since 2004.

^^ Yes is an English progressive rock band that was formed in London in 1968. Their music is marked by sharp dynamic contrasts, extended song lengths, abstract lyrics, and a general showcasing of instrumental prowess. Yes blends symphonic and other “classical” structures with their own brand of musical style. Despite a great many lineup changes, occasional splits within the group, and the ever-changing trends in popular music, the band has continued on for over forty years and still retains a large following. Band members Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White toured in late 2008 and early 2009 with Canadian progressive rock vocalist David Benôit and keyboardist Oliver Wakeman on the In The Present Tour.

^^^ Genesis is a Grammy Award-winning English rock band formed in 1967; it is among the top 30 highest-selling recording artists of all time, with approximately 150 million albums sold worldwide, including 21.5 million albums sold in the United States. The longest-tenured members of Genesis are Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks; Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett also played major roles in the band in its early days. Genesis began as a 1960s pop band playing moody, simple, keyboard-driven melodies. During the ’70s, they evolved into a progressive rock band, incorporating complex song structures and elaborate instrumentation, while their concerts became theatrical experiences with innovative stage design, pyrotechnics, elaborate costumes and onstage stories. Following the commercial failure of the 1997 album Calling All Stations , the band announced an indefinite hiatus. However, in 2007, Banks, Collins and Rutherford reunited for a 20-city tour of Europe and North America, which included a free concert at Rome’s Circo Massimo in front of 500,000 fans.

^^^^ Pink Floyd was a English rock band who in the 1960s earned recognition for their psychedelic and space rock music, and in the 1970s, as they evolved, for their progressive rock music. Pink Floyd’s work is marked by philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, innovative album cover art, and elaborate live shows. One of rock music’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful acts, the group has sold over 200 million albums worldwide, including 75.6 million certified units in the United States. Pink Floyd influenced progressive rock artists of the 1970s, including Genesis and Yes, as well as contemporary artists such as Nine Inch Nails and Dream Theater.

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