Gig of the Week: IPO with Joshua Roman

Joshua Roman
Southtown Star

By Jessi Virtusio

Even though they’ve never met Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra music director David Danzmayr and cellist Joshua Roman are connected.

They’re both booked for the IPO’s Classical IV concert on March 23 at the Lincoln-Way North Performing Arts Center in Frankfort.

But there’s also an interesting overlap that will occur with the Columbus, Ohio-based ProMusica Chamber Orchestra.

Roman is scheduled to perform the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner Aaron Jay Kernis’ cello concerto under ProMusica music director Timothy Russell prior to Danzmayr taking over that orchestra for the 2013-14 season.

“I haven’t met this guy yet,” Roman said of Danzmayr, “and we already have these connections.”

Roman has been connecting with the cello since age 3 when his cellist father, David, and his violinist mother, Becky, steered him to the stringed instrument.

“It’s a way for me to explore and connect,” Roman said of the role music has played in his life.

“Connection is very important. It’s extremely important for me to be connected and sharing with other people, giving them what I feel is important.

“At the same time, music allows you to do that in a way that is not bound by words, especially when you play cello.

“You’re making a statement that really allows people to come to it on their own time and to have their own message to influence.

“It’s the universal language. Part of that is because everyone sees something different in the same thing. It’s shared and it’s personal at the same time.

“For someone who likes to continually rethink their positions on things and to be open to change, learning and growth, that is how I like to approach life.

“It’s not good to be making revolutionary statements that you can’t take back rather than exploring a medium that allows for that growth.”

Roman will perform Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107” with the IPO.

“The particular concerto I’m playing by Shostakovich is a remarkable representation of the conflict in 20th century American music that played out in the Soviet Union,” Roman said.

“It’s a very profound statement of both. At the same time, it’s very personal and yet something is universal as well. He really manages to capture the cello’s voice and a lot of intimate emotions.

“But it’s so relatable because we know the story of persecution in the Soviet Union and the overtones of that, of the military and of the regime saying, ‘You must do this,’ and ‘You cannot do that.’

“Those run through. It’s the interplay between those two elements that really creates a powerful statement. It’s very compelling and important.”

Although Roman is a deep thinker, he’s also a free spirit not bound by the conventions of classical music.

As skilled as he is playing the cello, he also collaborates with artists from a variety of musical genres and mediums.

Case in point was Roman’s cover of English rock band Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” with hip-hop experimental musician DJ Spooky for the Voice Project.

The multitrack conversation between electronic music via iPad and Roman’s expert playing made for a symphony of a different sort.

He’s also collaborated on projects like “On Grace,” a work for actor and cello, with Anna Deveare Smith, whom he called one of the ultimate artist activists.

“Her art really is directly engaging with situations and conflict and questions what is happening right now,” Roman said.

“Art can do that and is something that should do that. It should be a safe place for us to feel what is going on in the world, our personal reactions and what happens within us to respond to that.

“Working with other artists not only is interesting because they’re coming at it from a different perspective.

“But right now I hope, especially with Anna, that it forces you to articulate what it is that you’re doing, what it’s value can be and really what your purpose is behind the notes you are playing.

“And working with someone else who comes at it from an entirely different angle, that’s very healthy.”

The sharing involved in music is also something Roman, an Oklahoma native who now lives in New York, relishes.

He along with his brothers, Nate and Isaac, and their sister, Kate Gungor, traveled to Uganda to communicate a message of hope through music in schools, HIV/AIDS centers, displacement camps, etc.

“That was a really deep experience that we had,” Roman said. “My brothers and sister and I really didn’t know what we were getting into.

“We really wanted to share music with people who really needed to hear it. That was really it.

“The goal was to give things to other people. For me, it’s been an affirmation of what I do and letting music speak for itself.

“Here we played for people who never heard of violin, and a lot of them were bewildered by written music.

“The idea that somebody over 100 years or 200 years ago had written this down that long ago was astounding to them.

“They were some of the best audiences that I ever played for in terms of focus, literally laughing out loud at musical jokes and being able to describe the structure.

“They were paying attention. They didn’t have any concept of classical music being for other people.

“There really is a lot to great music and it’s often the baggage that we bring with us that keeps us from communicating that. It’s important to get past that.

“The experience of being over there and so many wonderful people sharing their lives with us and opening their lives to us was extremely moving and very powerful.”

Roman’s 2012-13 season is a busy one, which includes his Los Angeles Philharmonic debut as well as his trip to the Southland.

“Generally I love traveling because it’s great to see new places,” he said. “Now that I’ve been traveling for a few years, I’m also getting to know certain places really well.

“It’s a small community, the classical music community, along with the excitement of new places and new things and this feeling of being at home wherever you go because that’s where your community is.”