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Joshua Roman

Review: Charismatic S.F. Symphony soloist blends Schumann, Leonard Cohen

From the San Francisco Chronicle

By Joshua Kosman

It’s not every day you hear an instrumentalist at a classical orchestral concert sing a pop song as an encore. But crazy times demand crazy responses, as cellist Joshua Roman told the San Francisco Symphony audience in Davies Symphony Hall on Friday, July 30.

So Roman “went out on a limb” and followed up his fluid account of Schumann’s Cello Concerto with a vocal rendition of Leonard Cohen’s perennial “Hallelujah” — crooning and growling, accompanying himself on the cello, and ultimately leading the audience in a brief but restorative sing-along.

It takes, as they say, a very particular set of skills to pull off something like this. But Roman — who, in addition to being a formidable musician, boasts the easy, sunny charisma of a boy-band frontman — is just the person for the job.

His appearance in Davies was a last-minute fluke, after the scheduled soloist, cellist Pablo Ferrández, ran into visa problems and had to withdraw. The remainder of the evening, however, went ahead as advertised, including an impressive Symphony debut by the young Colombian conductor Lina González-Granados.

Roman, though, provided the main share of showmanship, coursing through the fast outer movements of the Schumann with a blend of precision and almost improvisatory freedom. In the central slow movement, he brought out a vein of sensuous melancholy that went straight to the heart.

None of that quite prepared a listener for vocalism, though, in a spot where a more traditionally minded cellist might have followed up with a bit of Bach. Roman’s turn as a singer came as yet another reminder that there are many other ways of celebrating that “secret chord” that Cohen mentions than the ones we’ve become accustomed to.

Read the full review.