SOR Artistic Director Maria Larionoff took some time to visit with our February guest lecturer, Dr. Adam Collins, the popular UM Professor and the newest member of our SOR “family”. Adam’s MOLLI (Montana Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) series on Beethoven was completely sold out last year, and we are very fortunate to have him share his expertise with us on our SOR concert for a discussion on Beethoven’s life and music. Please enjoy reading about Adam and getting to know him as he shares his thoughts on music, food, and hobbies, and we hope to see you at our February concert!
ML: Do you come from a musical family? Was the cello your first instrument, and what made you choose it?
AC: I don’t come from a musical immediate family but my grandparents did have a piano in their home—a remnant of some of my mom’s siblings and my grandma’s piano lessons when they were growing up. I was thoroughly fascinated with the piano when I was very young and my grandparents gave my family the piano when I was six. I started lessons on piano immediately, but already knew I wanted to eventually play an orchestral string instrument. A childhood obsession with the movie Fantasia and an elementary school field trip to hear the NC Symphony had cemented that idea in my mind. Piano was simply the first available instrument for me to study. My dad and I attended the school orchestra interest meeting in the fourth grade and I was transfixed by the sound of the cello when the teacher demonstrated a few notes. My dad attempted to persuade me to take up the violin instead—the cello was larger than me at the time—but I could not be deterred. My piano teacher was also a string player so I started weekly cello lessons right away. I continued with both cello and piano until high school when I switched the cello full-time. I still play the piano enough to demonstrate topics in music theory classes but would never perform publicly.
ML: You regularly perform in many varieties of ensembles, from principal cello in large orchestras, a member of string quartets and other chamber ensembles, and most recently as our newest member of SOR. Can you share some of the challenges and joys that you find performing in these different groups?
AC: Every type of group has its own challenges and rewards. Large symphony orchestras have endless possibilities of sound color combinations and immense power of sound. Performing orchestral climaxes in music by Mahler or Straus is an unparalleled experience. After all, the visceral power a full orchestral sound was what originally drew me into music. While the communal process of creating music with 100+ musicians creates an instant sense of bond with all the other performers, it is a somewhat artificial bond. My main challenge with orchestral playing is that it’s hard to actually know the people on stage with me. As a result, the musical experience for me as an orchestral performer can seem somewhat impersonal or anonymous. Conversely, this is precisely why I enjoy playing smaller groups such as string quartets or the String Orchestra of the Rockies. The smaller the group, the larger a personal impact that I feel I have on a performance. Furthermore, it is much easier to establish personal bonds beyond the music with my other performers in these other contexts. What smaller ensembles might lose in sheer acoustic power, they make up for intimacy and personal involvement in the music-making.
ML: You are a passionate advocate of discovering and promoting new composers and contemporary music. What draws you to certain works, and how do you choose new repertoire?
AC: My passion for contemporary music is rooted in my obsession with finding new musical experiences. I’m constantly attempting to recreate the feeling of the first time I heard the Fantasia film score, a live orchestra, or the cello. I am drawn to pieces that have instant visceral appeal, be it in the form of direct emotional expressivity or a fascinating or unusual tone color. Pieces that really excite me sustain these qualities while demonstrating clear formal and compositional processes. Composers whose music I most admire are able to write music of immediate impact that holds up to analytical scrutiny and repeated listening. While an audience might hear a piece only once, I have to hear it endlessly in the practice room as a performer. Compositional complexity makes the repetitive preparation process much more rewarding. Beethoven’s music is a great example of this type of music: it is both immediately gripping and intricately constructed with small motives. I choose new repertoire by listening to the recommendations of friends and following rabbit holes on YouTube, Spotify, and other online resources. The internet makes it easy to find pieces and composers outside the celebrated canon. A small amount of due diligence opens a world of new experiences—for myself and my audiences—and is well worth the effort. Furthermore, classical music has long neglected the contributions of women and people of color. I do actively seek out music by underrepresented groups to work against this injustice.
ML: What do you enjoying doing in your free time? Favorite places to eat in Missoula? Hobbies you cultivate?
AC: A few of my hobbies include hiking, running, and cooking (baking bread especially). I started a sourdough starter when I moved to Missoula in 2018 and it’s still going strong! I am a novice to breadmaking but, fortunately, it’s a forgiving medium. Even mediocre homemade bread is still homemade bread. Cooking is a complementary hobby to cello for me because its results are necessarily shareable. Just like music, it’s not that rewarding to make food or bake bread without sharing it. I also try to spend as much time ou tside as possible. I live fairly close to a trailhead for the Pattee Creek Canyon/Mount Sentinel trail system, and I often spend an entire afternoon on those trails, listening to podcasts or audiobooks. It’s great exercise and the perfect antidote to any amount of burnout I might experience mid-semester. Being outside in Missoula is itself a reminder of how much I love being here and doing all that I do. While I don’t eat out too often, my favorite restaurant in Missoula is Biga Pizza. Their dough is so flavorsome and all of the topping combinations that I’ve tried are delicious; everything on the menu is a good choice. Biga Pizza was also one of the first meals I had in Missoula (at the home of another SOR musician and my colleague at UM, Margaret Baldridge), so there’s a certain amount of nostalgia baked into every bite for me, as well.
String Orchestra of the Rockies is thrilled to welcome celebrated Missoula native Maria Lambros as our featured soloist at our November concert. She took a few moments to answer some questions with Artistic Director Maria Larionoff about her incredible journey as a successful chamber musician, soloist, and pedagogue, and also to share a few of her favorite things about Missoula. We hope you enjoy getting to know Maria before hearing her play in November!
ML: Was the viola your first musical instrument, and what was it that made you want to become a violist?
Lambros: I started on the violin because my Mom had the great insight to know that it was a good fit for a child who loved to use her hands cutting paper and making things. To me, it was a magical thing, and I loved it right away. Much later, when I was at Sentinel High School, the Trio D’Accordo: Jorja Fleezanis (SOR’s soloist last spring!), Yizhak Schotten and Karen Andrie, came to my school and played the Dohnanyi Serenade for String Trio. I was completely taken with the gorgeous viola solo in the Romanza and the violist’s deep, velvety sound. Immediately, I started listening to as many viola recordings as possible–I became a viola fanatic! Missoula’s KUFM had a listener request program on Thursday evenings and every week I would call in and ask for a different viola piece, often changing the tone of my voice so that the host, David Kappy, wouldn’t know it was the same person. Well, he figured it out (“SOMEBODY out there really loves the viola!”) and one night he devoted an entire show to music for the viola. I was so excited that I recorded it from my little cassette player and listened to it until the cassette actually broke. A year later, I switched to viola and started college on that instrument.
ML: Besides classical music, what types of music and artists do you listen to?
Lambros: My jazz musician friends Michael Formanek and Mark Feldman turned me on to jazz, mostly the classics like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, etc. I love old rock ‘n roll such as The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. On long car trips, we love listening to Willie Nelson and Elvis. Our favorite klezmer artist is clarinetist Giora Feidman- check him out–he’s amazing! And, I even enjoy some heavy metal (Opeth, Between the Buried and Me, Dream Theatre), due to the strong influence of my son, Daniel.
ML: Who were/are your mentors? What is the best advice they gave you, and what do you like to tell aspiring young musicians whom you mentor?
Lambros: My first wonderful mentors were from my growing up in Missoula. Eugene Andrie, my violin teacher, influenced me so deeply with his warmth, gentle manner and emphasis on listening to and playing with others–he would devote parts of many lessons to playing duets with me. Keith Henke, our beloved grade school conductor, taught us that music-making could be joyous and fun and he delighted us with his incredibly creative musical descriptions (“This needs to sound like elves dancing on a cedar chest!”). Our high school conductor, Harold Herbig, made music with amazing passion and humanity. He believed that we could do anything–he gave us confidence in our abilities by challenging us with the great symphonic literature. Later in life, my biggest influences were the members of the Cleveland Quartet, Robert Mann violinist, Paula Robison flutist, Kenneth Cooper harpsichordist, Sergiu Luca violinist, and Leon Fleischer pianist.
The best pieces of advice I can give young musicians are:
PRACTICE WELL. Practicing is about solving problems. Zero in on what is not happening the way you want it to and fix it, right away! No more practicing things over and over without really thinking about what you are doing.
Music is about character and telling stories. Engage your imagination and creativity at all times.
Play from the heart–it is key to connecting with others.
Play lots of chamber music! It is the best way to learn to listen.
Be grateful to be a musician–it is a great privilege.
At the end of the day, put people first.
ML: You have played in many professional string quartets throughout your career. Can you share what you love most about being a member of a quartet, and what you find the most challenging?
Lambros: I absolutely love the musical communication and intimacy between the foursome–it is endlessly fascinating, and the listening happens at such a heightened level. Four-string instruments have such a wealth of possibilities for matching intonation, bow strokes, vibrato, sound color, articulation–the challenges are endless! Working together with such intensity can be hard at times and people can really drive you crazy. The openness and flexibility required in a string quartet make a regular marriage seem pretty easy, for sure! Again, my motto is: PEOPLE FIRST. People are more important than what happens in the music. If you talk about difficulties openly and really try to UNDERSTAND another’s point of view, most of the time–but not always–you can work things out. Sometimes, it is not a healthy situation and the group should not continue, and that’s OK- there is another opportunity out there.
ML: You recently launched a program in Baltimore called Our Joyful Noise Baltimore. Can you tell us about it?
Lambros: Oh my… so much to say–this is what is really consuming my energy these days as I am so excited about this project! The vision of Our Joyful Noise Baltimore is a world where all people–regardless of the economic situation, disability challenge or circumstance–have easy access to the life-affirming splendor of live music. We bring a concert series of the highest professional quality to a veterans’ shelter, women’s prison, cancer treatment residence, and for families living with autism (our motto is: All Behaviors Welcome!) in the Baltimore community. We started our second season in September and the extraordinary effect the music is having on our audiences has exceeded our wildest expectations and has proved to us, over and over again, the incredible power of music and the importance of art to vulnerable populations. A veteran at the Baltimore Station recently told me, “Thank you, That was most excellent. It’s good to know that there are still things in life worth living for.” The impact on the musicians is significant as well; a Baltimore beatboxer and vocal percussionist who participated in our first set of concerts called it a “life-altering experience.” The last concert by folk musicians Dan and Claudia Zanes literally had the women in prison dancing in the aisles!
ML: My visits to Missoula never feel complete without a stop at my favorite places: Liquid Planet Grille for The Dude Abides sandwich; Caffe Dolce for gelato and a cappuccino, and Bernice’s Bakery to pick up doggie treats for our golden retriever. What are your favorite places when you come home to visit Missoula?
Lambros: Ah, I’m very low brow here because the nostalgia for my childhood kicks in with visits to Hoagieville, the Dairy Queen and Taco John’s. I love getting tea at Butterfly Herbs and pizza at Bigga Pizza. But I’d say I mostly hang out at Caffe Dolce, not just because my cousin owns it and I’m likely to run into a family member there, but because the food and ambiance are so fabulous!
ML: I understand you are a big Baltimore Orioles fan. Are there other sports/hobbies you would like to share?
Lambros: Yes, despite the Oriole’s miserable season, we still love them. We (because my family does this together) follow the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Capitals and try to go to several games each year. I love making things such as cards, quilts and books and have a serious Qigong practice. I’m the family historian–I love putting together scrapbooks of life stories; right now, my Dad and I are going through HIS father’s scrapbooks and are putting together his history for future generations to enjoy. My favorite thing–above all–is visiting my family in Missoula, San Diego, Seattle and Chevy Chase, MD and my son Daniel in San Francisco. I really wish I lived closer because I love them all so much!
I’m so excited to come to Missoula in November and play with the wonderful String Orchestra of the Rockies, a group that my parents describe as a Missoula cultural treasure.
ML: We are looking forward to it as well! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and wisdom with us!
Our September guest artist, international superstar Catalin Rotaru, sat down for a brief interview with SOR Artistic Director Maria Larionoff and shared some of his musical adventures and thoughts on life.
ML: Was double bass your first instrument, and how old were you when you began taking lessons?
CR: I was about twelve years old when I began taking lessons, and yes, the bass was my first musical instrument. I do believe in destiny—that I came into this lifetime to do this on the planet. The universe arranges everything in your life, so you just follow the course that is pre-set. That is my personal take!
ML: You play a lot of concerti written for other instruments—Haydn cello concerto, Mozart violin concerto #5, Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations, Paganini violin caprices (wow!!). How do you select the repertoire for your arrangements?
CR: This is connected to what we just discussed about pre-destination. You know, as I am driving, I will hear some tune on the radio, one of these beautiful classical concerti, or maybe I am at a music festival and I hear another colleague performing something, or I can simply be at school in the hallways and hear somebody practicing a certain piece. Usually, if one of those pieces really sticks in my head the first question that pops into my mind is—can I do that on the bass? This is 99.9% of how I chose these pieces. I simply grab the original part that the music was written for and try it on the bass. Most of the time it actually works! I think there were a couple of exceptions where it was unplayable on the bass, so I gave up.
ML: You tour and perform constantly all around the world. This summer I know your itinerary included Taiwan, Germany, Amsterdam, and Mexico, among other places. My husband, double bassist Barry Lieberman once said that traveling with a bass is like going on a vacation and taking your refrigerator with you! Can you tell us what it is like to constantly travel with your bass? Where are your favorite places to visit?
CR: Traveling with the bass is not an easy feat. Often airlines will give you a hard time—this happened especially at the beginning of my solo career. After I built up some frequent flyer miles with the airlines they stopped asking me questions—of course, after you fly so much with them, they kind of trust you! I always have my flight case with me (a bass trunk) and I always check it in. In a way, it’s better than cellists, who have to buy an extra ticket for their instrument. It’s a little cheaper for me but much more risky—twice so far in my life they broke the case and the bass! But again, it comes with the territory.
As far as my favorite places to travel, that is a really hard question for me to answer precisely, to pinpoint one location on this planet. I just simply love the planet and everywhere I go I try to see the beautiful sights of every single place. Of course, they are sometimes quite different from one another in political, social, economic and developmental respects. I try to look at the positive aspects because I think this is the way we all should approach life.
ML: I know you are an avid movie buff, especially sci-fi and fantasy. What else do you like to do in your free time?
CR: Yes, I do like sci-fi and fantasy movies! I would also say that when I am traveling, walking through airports or driving somewhere, I listen to classical music and also audiobooks. Since I was a kid I have been obsessed with two primary subjects: existence and extraterrestrial life. And not just a little bit interested, but really obsessed! I am trying constantly to find answers to these questions: Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? This is a passion of mine.
ML: Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Catalin—we are looking forward to hearing you play with SOR in September!