Cello wunderkind Joshua Roman returns as TownMusic ringmaster

Joshua Roman
Seattle Times

Cello wunderkind Joshua Roman brings a fresh approach to chamber music at Seattle's Town Hall.

"It's very rewarding to come up with an idea for a series of concerts, especially when you know the performers involved," said cellist Joshua Roman.

"The great thing about programming this series is that it's music I want to hear. It's new music, stuff I'm into," says Joshua Roman, 24-year-old director of Town Hall's TownMusic program.

Heading into his second season running the TownMusic chamber-music series, Roman - a solo cellist of growing international renown, and former principal cellist for the Seattle Symphony - is a favorite in this city.

Following his graduation with a master's degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2006, Roman auditioned for and won the Seattle orchestra's coveted principal chair. Before leaving that post at the end of last season, he developed a passionate following here, not only for being a gifted player with the orchestra but for his ubiquity within the regional music community.

Roman performed concertos with Tacoma's Northwest Sinfonietta, soloed with the Cascade Symphony, and played in the Seattle Cello Society's Bach Suites Marathon and the Seattle Chamber Music Society's Summer Festival. He also presented chamber works at the Triple Door nightclub, recorded music on historic cellos owned by local collector David Fulton and performed a solo in a KCTS-TV Seattle Symphony special.

But it was an unprecedented, sold-out solo recital at Town Hall in March 2007, followed by well-received concerto performances there the following July, that led Roman to try something new.

"The staff at Town Hall and I got to know each other," Roman says by phone from Edmonton, Alberta, where he has been performing with the Edmonton Symphony. "We talked a lot about music. They were excited by a fresh approach. The decision to have me become music director felt organic. I'd never done anything like that before. I was nervous but excited."

"TownMusic's goal is to entrust a season to a compelling artist," says Town Hall's executive director Wier Harman. "We encourage artists to build a program around their most immediate interests, their curiosity. A TownMusic season should feel like a very present-tense snapshot of a creative personality. So Joshua's first obligation is to his own creative voice. With his rare combination of virtuosity and utter lack of pretension, he makes a perfect ringmaster for music here."

Town Hall's mission perfectly coincides with Roman's expanding interests. He has developed a reputation for performing a diverse repertoire, exploring new music and collaborating with active composers including Samuel Adler, Gabriela Lena Frank, Sydney Hodkinson, Aaron Jay Kernis, Paul Schoenfield and David Stock. (Roman will premiere Stock's Cello Concerto in May with the Seattle Symphony.)

Roman will appear in three of TownMusic's six programs, including Thursday's opening night dedicated to 20th-century American masters. He'll perform George Crumb's Cello Sonata, a piece he calls "very American. Crumb makes music that is fun and accessible but stretches you. The character is easy to get, but it's progressive and not normal."

Clarinetist Bill Kalinkos, who impressed the Town Hall audience last season, will perform solo on Elliott Carter's brief and playful "Gra."

Kalinkos will also play on John Corigliano's desolate "Soliloquy" and a plaintive movement from John Adams' "Gnarly Buttons." He'll also join Roman for what should be a real crowd-pleaser: Steve Reich's minimalist "Clapping Music," for two performers using nothing more than their hands.

"It's very rewarding to come up with an idea for a series of concerts, especially when you know the performers involved," says Roman. "It enables the kind of sharing that happens in chamber music playing, only on an organizational scale. When you meet someone who brings a new sound or beat, or even when you perform with someone who just sees things from a different angle, if you are open to these experiences, they stretch your concept of musicality and challenge you to grow."