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Becoming a Professional Cello Solo Performer

Someone sent in the following letter:

.....I am currently studying the cello under Kim Bak Dinitzen at Chetham's School of Music, Manchester. I have been learning the cello since the age of eight and am now sixteen. All throughout the eight years that I have been learning the cello, I have wanted to become a soloist and nothing else. I am trying to find as many possible routes as I can to fulfill my true desire. In the summer I am hoping to go to Banff to have masterclasses etc. and in the Easter holiday I am hoping to go to Prussia Cove in Cornwall to have a couple of masterclasses off the great Ralph Kirshbaum. I was actually wondering what your suggestions would be for me to make the concert platform? Yours faithfully, xxxxxx

Our Reply:

I would suggest that you read an article by Janos Starker called"That Room at the Top."It is Starker's highly cynical view of what it takes to become a soloist. It was originally published in the December 1962 issue of "Mademoiselle" magazine. It was reprinted by me in the January 1995 issue of the Seattle Violoncello Society newsletter, which I believe is posted at the ICS Web site.

I would also suggest you read some of my other articles in the past Seattle Violoncello Society newsletters. There are articles called "What is a Great Performance?" and "Is There Such Thing as Wrong Interpretation?" These aren't great writing samples by me, but they have some interesting ideas.

I have some other thoughts. Though I am not a soloist, I have read many biographies about soloists and have interviewed a number of them for the Internet Cello Society. They are very driven and goal-oriented people. They are VERY knowledgable about the music they play. They all have strong personalities that project to the audience. They have a lot of conviction about their musical ideas. And, most are very in touch with their emotions.

So, you need to build your self-confidence so that you can go out on stage and command the attention of the audience and orchestra. You need to find a healthy balance between your intellectual and emotional approach to music, which means you need a deep understanding of the technical/theoretical aspects of the music as well a being able to access your emotional response to the music. You also need to tap into your love of people and music, so that this love will draw you into communicating with the audience and your fellow musicians, instead of just playing for yourself or showing off. Part of communication is being able to demonstrate the drama and beauty of the piece, i.e. you must have a striking musical personality.

You also need to work on your people skills. Much of a soloist's time is spent meeting people. You must be able to talk with people and make them feel at home with you. Music is a BUSINESS!

You have no hope of being a soloist if you don't have world-class technique. This is a prerequisite. Without it, you have little chance. You can be an amazingly musical person, but if you can't play in tune or play fast enough, nobody will want to listen to you. The technical standards are very high today. You must practice obsessively and be willing to give up a lot of your life if you have any hope of making it (many people give up a lot of their life, don't succeed, and are very sad and angry about the things they gave up, so be aware of the consequences of your actions). All soloists had AMAZING technique by the time they went to college.

You need a great teacher. The occasional master class is not enough. You need someone to push you week after week, someone who is a great musician and a good enough cellist who can point you in the right direction.

There is no guarantee that you will succeed. There are maybe 20 big-name soloists out of the thousands of cellists in the world, so the odds aren't great.

I wish you luck.

Tim Janof

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ICS Staff
Tim Janof, ICS Director
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