1- You are currently the principal conductor of the newly formed World Unity Orchestra. Can you tell us more about this orchestra and its vision?
The World Unity Orchestra (WUO) is an orchestra that is developing in response to the turmoil going on throughout the world. We as human beings seem to be drifting further and further from each other. Never in the modern era has the level of polarization been higher. The WUO’s mission is to bridge this gap. We plan on giving concerts not only in London but also throughout the wider world.
2- Is your family musical?
None of my family members are professional musician however, everyone in my family appreciates music. Both of my sisters studied music in school- my older sister piano and my younger sister cello.
3- Who was your first cello teacher?
Well that depends on what you mean by first. I was first introduced to the cello in school by Mr. Lee and took additional lessons with Richard Brown a bassist but who I consider as my first true cello teacher is Bennett Randman- All are current or former members of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra.
4- At 16, you had your first professional engagement as a cellist performing with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. Can you remember your feelings at the time?
Yes. I remember very clearly how I felt at the time. The largest most prestigious orchestra in the state of Mississippi is the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra (MSO). My mother took me to MSO concerts continuously from the age of 4 or 5 until I left Mississippi to study at the Interlochen Arts Academy. It was hard for me to believe that I was sitting on stage with that orchestra performing Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel and Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis. It was a terrifying yet exhilarating experience!
5- You clearly like to push the boundaries in yourself having a passion for new music including performing music by and for the Minimalist pioneer, Steve Reich. How was this performance received by the audience?
First, I should mention that I was performing as a cellist in the Royal College of Music’s (RCM) “New Perspectives” Ensemble. We performed Steve Reich’s “double sextet”. The purpose of the concert was to honour Steve Reich’s legacy after he received his honorary doctorate from the RCM. In addition to the New Perspective Ensemble, other ensembles, including RCM’s Symphony Orchestra, performed Reich’s music on this concert. As for the audience, it appeared that they loved his music as they wildly applauded and we were called back for additional bows after we had left the stage. I should also mention that we performed this same piece for an audience of young school-aged children in a different concert and they clapped along and enjoyed Mr. Reich’s music just as much if not more than the mostly adult audience.
6- Do you think some in the classical music circles are conservative in their outlook and miss out on the wider enjoyment?
I think this is true of not just people in classical music circles but in all music circles. I believe that if one approaches a piece of music or a genre that they do not typically listen to for whatever reason, with an open mind then they might find that they actually do in fact enjoy it. Of course this is not true with all music as there is of course both good music and bad music in all genres and in all periods, but it is certainly possible that one might find something that they enjoy in a genre that they do not usually listen to.
7- 2017 will see the world premiere of your piece for solo violin, “Labyrinth”, at the Palau de la Música in Valencia, Spain and its U.K. premiere in London. How would you describe the thinking behind and inspiration for this piece?
I am an avid reader and just before I wrote this piece I had been reading a lot of Greek Mythology and decided when asked to write a piece for solo violin, to write one loosely based on the famous Labyrinth of Crete. Inspired by my aforementioned encounter with Steve Reich whom I had met only days prior to writing this piece, and Mr. Reich’s ideas on music, I decided to write this piece employing minimalist techniques.
8- What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?
I have two memories that tie for fondest memory performing; In no particular order, the first would have to be the first concert that I conducted with my former orchestra in Chicago, the Virtuoso Philharmonic of Chicago, an orchestra that I co-founded. This was a very special occasion for me not only because I had the opportunity to perform great masterworks with wonderful colleagues, but also because this was the first concert that I prepared for solely by myself and without receiving coaching from a professor.
The other memory is when I for the first time went with a string quartet from the Mississippi Symphony to play a brief concert for elementary school children to introduce them to string instruments. The energy and excitement that was on the children’s faces during and after they heard us perform, many of them hearing/seeing string instruments for the first time, was something that was truly touching and is something that I will not forget.
9- How often do you practice / study scores?
Everyday I dedicate at least 5 hours spaced throughout the day to studying scores, 2 hours to practicing cello and an hour on piano.
10- Would you consider teaching music in the future?
While I would like to be known as a performer first I would like to teach some as well. I strongly believe that it is of enormous importance for musicians to pass on their experiences to younger generations.
11- What advice would you give to young musicians at the start of their journey?
To young musicians at the start of their journey I would say the same thing that my first cello teacher (Bennett Randman) constantly said to me when I was studying with him: “Never lose your enthusiasm!”.