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Native son returns

02.25.10
Joshua Roman
Tulsa World

BY JAMES D. WATTS JR.

That Joshua Roman took up the cello at the tender age of 3 was the result of a battle of wills.

"My parents were supposed to let me choose which of two instruments I would play," Roman said during a recent telephone conversation. "But my dad sort of convinced me that the cello, which is what he wanted me to play, was a better choice than the violin, which my mother wanted.

"Of course, I have three siblings, all of whom play violin," he said, laughing. "So I guess Dad only won that one battle."

And given the rapidity with which this Oklahoma native is making his name as one of the rising stars of classical music, it's like that one such victory was more than enough.

Roman will be making his professional concert debut in his home state this Saturday as the guest artist of the Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College.

He will perform the Cello Concerto by Miklos Rozsa, a composer best known for the music he wrote for such classic films as "A Double Life," "Spellbound" and "Ben-Hur," just to name the movies for which he won the Academy Award.

"It's not a piece that gets performed a lot," Roman said. "It's technically difficult (Rozsa wrote it for the cellist Janos Starker), and it takes a large orchestra to bring out all the tonal colors in the score.

"But it's a fun piece to play because it has a real dramatic, emotional quality to it — a real cinematic, epic excitement. At the same time, it has the classical structure you need to make it a solid piece of music."

Roman was born in Shawnee and grew up in Oklahoma City. But the family has strong ties to Tulsa. Several family members graduated from Oral Roberts University and Roman's sister, Kate Gungor, is a member of the Signature Symphony's violin section.

Roman's own academic career took him at age 16 to the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he earned his bachelor's degree in cello performance in 2004, and his master's in 2005.

One year later, at age 22, Roman won the principal cellist job with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra — the youngest principal player in that orchestra's history.

However, after two years with the orchestra, Roman set out on a career as a soloist. He has been in more or less constant demand since — the week before his Tulsa concert was spent performing three concerts with the San Francisco Symphony.

Roman also runs a chamber music series in Seattle called TownMusic, an eclectic, cutting-edge chamber music series. And Roman regularly posts on the Internet site YouTube his performances of etudes by David Popper — one a week, wherever he and his computer happen to be.

"It's all a part of making music accessible to the audience," he said. "And for me, 'accessibility' is really reaching out to people and pulling them in.

"It's something that can be realized in all kinds of ways. It can be talking about the music, to give people a better understanding of what they're going to hear. Or it can be performing in a venue like a bar or a club, where people feel more comfortable than they might in a traditional concert hall."