Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

fishing in the 3rd stream

an interview with andrew shulman, part 2

October 04, 2009

We conclude our conversation with Andrew Shulman, who is beginning his second year as LACO’s principal ‘cellist:

Bob: Could you tell us a little about your musical education, Andrew? Where did you study, and who were the teachers who had the most influence on you?

Andrew: I studied ‘cello at the Junior Royal Academy of Music with Lilly Philips, then I got a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London and studied with a wonderful teacher, Joan Dickson, and then post grad with Bill Pleeth privately. Joan was constantly finding new technical things to be excited about, and I loved that. Bill was different: He was more interested in performance and freedom in expression. I used to have run-ins with him occasionally, one time concerning the great Dvorák ‘Cello Concerto, since I play the original version, and he plays the “handed-down by word of mouth” Klengel one! He insisted on the urtext edition for Haydn concertos, but not on the original Dvorák, and I pointed out the double standard! Finally, he grudgingly accepted my argument… Around the same time I had some lessons with Jackie du Pré too, which was fascinating. She was too ill to play by that time, but was always very practical in her teaching. I remember taking a Janacek cello piece to her (“Pohadka,” which I subsequently recorded for EMI) and she said “Oh, I really don’t like that piece.” By the time the lesson had finished I had managed to change her mind about it! It’s a shame she never got to play it, though.

Bob: Wow! That gives me goose-bumps! I never thought I would get to speak to someone who had studied with Jacqueline Du Pré! Who have been some of your other primary classical influences on the ‘cello?

Andrew: I listened a lot to Fournier* (my favorite), Rose**, and Rostropovich***. Fournier’s sound was something I always loved and tried to emulate as a student. Always singing, always very natural. I heard him live a few times and was introduced to him by my teacher, but he died before I got to play for him. I have all his recordings, of course.

Bob: What have been your most memorable opportunities to play jazz or popular music? With whom have you played, and what was the setting?

Andrew: I recently enjoyed playing with the [Los Angeles-based, Australian drummer] Tim Davies Big Band, a lovely arrangement of the Fauré “Elegy” for ‘cello and big band, which is on his latest album, Dialmentia; Tim is an excellent musician, and the Fauré has just been nominated for a Grammy, which is nice! In the past, I have worked with George Martin a lot; I was the first to play in Air Lyndhurst Studios in London! I worked with Elton John on Candle in the Wind ’97; with Metallica; Tori Amos (great fun); Moody Blues; The Alan Parsons Project (terrific arrangements by Andy Powell and Alan Parsons, including a big solo ‘cello track); Paul McCartney; Ringo Starr; Whitney Houston; and Louis XIV (I did several ‘cello arrangements for their last two albums, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept and Slick Dogs and Ponies; they’re a great bunch of lads based down in San Diego). I also went on tour with Hothouse Flowers (an Irish rock band) and ended up doing an arrangement of the last movement of Bartok’s 4th Quartet for three ‘cellos and their drummer, which was shown live on MTV from a huge stadium rock concert we did in Estonia! And I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Uli Jon Roth for a number of years; he is the legendary German rock/classical guitarist known mainly for his work with the German heavy metal/hard rock bands Dawn Road and Scorpions. Uli invited me to give a talk at one of his Sky Academy Rock Seminars (I played them some Bach too!), and then he and his current band performed my rock instrumental composition “H.A.N.D” (which won the International Songwriting Competition of 2007) here in Hollywood, with yours truly on eCello. We also played some of the Vivaldi 4 Seasons with Uli playing the virtuoso violin part on electric guitar and me playing electric continuo! I don’t know what Margaret [Batjer] would have made of it! It was certainly very fast, very exciting and very loud!

Bob: Whoa! That’s a fascinating list of collaborations and accomplishments! I’m really impressed by your creativity, versatility and eclecticism! It must be an interesting challenge to “shift gears” between these various musical activities… How do you have time for it all? I mean, seriously, how do you divide up your time between these various activities?

Andrew: Well, recently I’ve been spending about 70% of my time in the studios, recording sound tracks for movies, TV, and CD recordings; I just finished recording some songs with another old Brit, Rod Stewart! The rest of the time is divided between LACO; the New Hollywood Quartet; festivals at Aspen (where I play principal cello and many, many chamber and solo concerts each summer), Mainly Mozart, the Ojai Festival, etc.; and solo concerts and conducting; I’ve had a regular orchestra in Bristol in the United Kingdom for the last 15 years, and I go back once or twice a year to conduct concerts in Europe.

Bob: Again, I’m impressed with the number of “irons you have in the fire.” Just keeping them all straight must be daunting…

You mentioned that your daughter is a mezzo-soprano, as was your mother. Is there any other music-making going on in your household?

Andrew: As a matter of fact, I hear quite a lot of jazz around the house these days. My 17-year-old son, Leo, is an exceptionally talented jazz guitarist. He studies with the great Tom Rizzo, husband of [LACO first violinist] Julie Gigante. Tom is giving Leo something very rare and very special: a complete grounding in jazz guitar, taking in technique, style and theory in a comprehensive program which he has developed over many years. It’s something I would have loved to have had myself when I was a student!

Bob: How about that? Certainly; I am quite familiar with Tom’s work. I take the jazz history classes I teach out on “field trips” for live jazz, and we have caught Tom on several occasions, most recently at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. He’s a superb jazz guitarist, indeed, and I’m not the least surprised to hear that he is also an excellent teacher.

When do you remember first hearing or hearing about “Third Stream” music? What is your reaction to it?

Andrew: I hate labels of any kind, even though I use them sometimes! They tend to isolate genres and polarize opinions. Good Music is Good Music (and Bad is Bad!). I can jump from [Gustav] Mahler’s 5th Symphony to “Toxicity” (System of a Down)^, then back to [Arthur] Honegger’s “Symphony Liturgique,” and finish with a light dusting of Opeth^^ or Weather Report^^^ in a single car journey!

Bob: I have to say, Andrew, your tastes are about as eclectic as anyone’s I’ve heard. I think that’s just fascinating!

What direction do you see your career taking in the future?

Andrew: I am looking forward to working more with Jeff [Kahane]; we have some exciting projects coming up together. Also, I expect to be conducting more and more over the next few years. I have always taught, too, together with my wife, who is also a ‘cellist (she played ‘cello for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, which was great for free tickets!) and Alexander Technique Teacher, and we have a small but perfectly formed teaching studio together. I have so little time for composition at the moment, but I’d love to do more. I have composed some soundtracks for History Channel series, using mainly improvisational techniques, and collaborating with various composers; it is great fun! I’ve used both ‘cello and eCello, the latter tending towards rock instrumental tracks (like “H.A.N.D”) or ethereal, atmospheric sounding cues. Who knows? Maybe I’ll do an album of eCello soon…!

Bob: Well, this opportunity to chat with you has been absolutely delightful, Andrew. I’m so grateful to you for spending this time with us, sharing your fascinating and multi-faceted musical life!

Andrew: I’ve enjoyed being with you, Bob.

*Pierre Fournier (1906-1986) was known in his lifetime as “the aristocrat of ‘cellists” because of his lyrical playing and his impeccable artistic sensitivity. The son of a French army general, he was taught piano as a child by his mother. He suffered a mild case of polio at the age of nine years, and he lost some of the dexterity in his legs and feet. No longer able to master use of the piano pedals, he searched for another musical instrument, and the ‘cello beckoned. He entered the Paris Conservatoire, studying with Paul Bazelaire and Anton Hekking, and at graduation he was called “the ‘cellist of the future.” He played with all the great musicians of his time, including Cortot, Thibaud, Furtwangler, Karajan, and Kubelik. He enjoyed modern music as well, and many modern composers wrote works for him, including Martinu, Martinon and Poulenc. In 1963 he was made a member, and a year later an officer, of the French Legion of Honor.

**Leonard Rose (1918-1984) was one of the very best American teachers and musicians of the twentieth century. Rose’s parents came from Kiev, Russia, but Leonard was born in Washington, D.C. His father was a ‘cellist and gave him his first lessons on the instrument; he subsequently studied with Walter Grossman at the Miami Conservatory, his cousin Frank Miller (principal ‘cellist with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York), and Felix Salmond at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia; two years later, he became Salmond’s assistant. At age 18, after graduation, he joined the NBC Symphony under the baton of Arturo Toscanini; three years later, in 1939, Artur Rodzinski chose him to be principal ‘cellist in the Cleveland Symphony. When the conductor left for the New York Philharmonic in 1943, he took Rose along. In 1946 Rose was offered a professorship at Juilliard, and in 1951, with the blessings of George Szell, Dimitri Mitropoulus and Bruno Walter, he decided to devote himself completely to teaching and solo performances. Among his students were Lynn Harrell, Stephen Kates, and Yo-Yo Ma.

***Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), known to close friends as “Slava,” was a Russian ‘cellist and conductor who is widely considered to have been one of the greatest ‘cellists of the Twentieth Century. In addition to his outstanding interpretations and technique, he was well-known for his commissions of new works, which enlarged the ‘cello repertoire more than any ‘cellist before or since; he gave the premières of over 100 pieces. His mother started him on the piano at age four and his father on the ‘cello at age ten; his father was also a renowned ‘cellist and former student of Pablo Casals. The young Rostropovich entered the Moscow Conservatory at age 16, studying ‘cello, piano, conducting, and composition with, among others, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. Having given his first ‘cello concert in 1942, he won first prize at the international Music Awards of Prague and Budapest in 1947, 1949, and 1950. In 1945 he won the first ever Soviet Union competition for young musicians and in 1950, at the age of 23, was awarded what was then considered the highest distinction in the Soviet Union, the Stalin Prize. He became professor of ‘cello at the Moscow Conservatory in 1956 and taught there and at the Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) Conservatory while pursuing an active solo career.

^System of a Down (sometimes simply referred to as SOAD or “System”) is an Armenian-American rock band from Glendale, CA, formed in 1994. The group consists of Serj Tankian (lead vocals, keyboards, and rhythm guitar), Daron Malakian (vocals and lead guitar), Shavo Odadjian (bass), and John Dolmayan (drums). The band has released five studio albums (System of a Down in 1998; 2001’s Toxicity; 2002’s Steal This Album!; and Hypnotize and Mezmerize from 2005); it has sold over 20 million records worldwide. System of a Down has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, winning one in 2006 for Best Hard Rock Performance. The group went on indefinite hiatus in August of 2006.

^^Opeth is a Swedish heavy metal band from Stockholm, Sweden, formed in 1990. While the band has been through several personnel changes, singer, guitarist and songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt has remained Opeth’s driving force since joining shortly after its inception. While firmly rooted in Scandinavian death metal, Opeth has consistently incorporated influence by progressive music, folk, blues rock, and jazz into its usually-lengthy compositions. Since its debut album Orchid in 1995, the band has released eight studio albums, two live albums, two box sets, and two DVDs; its most recent release is 2008’s Watershed.

^^^Weather Report was one of the most influential of the jazz fusion bands of the 1970s and early 1980s, combining jazz and Latin jazz with art music, ethnic music, R&B, funk and rock elements, in varying proportions, throughout its career. Founders pianist Joe Zawinul and tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter first met in 1959 as members of Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band. Zawinul played with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s group, and Shorter, with Miles Davis’ second great quintet, in the 1960s; both made their marks among the best composers in jazz. Zawinul later joined Shorter in Miles Davis’ seminal fusion group that recorded Bitches Brew in the studio (although Zawinul was never part of Davis’ touring lineup).

Like Davis’ work of the period, Weather Report’s music initially featured extended improvisation, with both a traditional trap set drummer (Alphone Mouzon) and a second percussionist (first Airto Moreira, and later Dom Um Romão). The group was unusual and innovative in abandoning the soloist-accompaniment demarcation of straight-ahead jazz in favor of continuous improvisation by every member of the band. In addition, Shorter pioneered the role of the soprano sax, while both Zawinul, on electric piano and eventually synthesizer, and original bassist Miroslav Vitouš (and then Alphonso Johnson and the virtuoso Jaco Pastorius) experimented with rock guitarists’ electronic effects. The group’s eponymously-titled first album won Down Beat magazine’s “Album of the Year” in 1971. The group’s breakout album that established its hallmark sound was Mysterious Traveller from 1974; this album began Weather Report’s unprecedented string of four consecutive Down Beat “Album of the Year” awards. Their biggest individual hit, the jazz standard “Birdland,” from the Heavy Weather album in 1977, even made the pop charts that year. Heavy Weather was the band’s most successful album in terms of sales, while still retaining wide critical acclaim; it dominated Weather Report’s disc awards, including their last Down Beat “Album of the Year” award.

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