Cellist Joshua Roman has played with a number of pianists during his career, and one of his favorites is Andrius Zlabys.
“We went to school together in Cleveland and started playing recitals together two years ago,” Roman explained by phone from Chicago. “He’s an especially good listener. When he plays, even when it’s quiet, it feels like we’re connected at the brain. He really knows how to make chamber music. He’s not just an accompanist for me.”
Roman and Zlabys team up to present a recital of works by Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Robert Schumann and Ludwig van Beethoven for the Los Alamos Concert Association’s Friday performance in Duane Smith Auditorium. It’s a program that Roman has played once before.
“I like the program a lot,” he said. “The contrast between each half – Stravinsky and Prokofiev in the first half and Schumann and Beethoven in the second half – is very interesting.”
Roman travels to New Mexico immediately after presenting an unusual work-in-progress stage performance at the University of Chicago with actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith. “On Grace” is a re-enactment of interviews with real people about the subject of grace.
“There are interviews with a Buddhist monk, a mom and politicians among others,” said Roman. “There’s quite a bit of music in the show. Not quite 50 percent, but almost. My original intent was to use music by (Johann Sebastian) Bach, but that got complicated. So I started writing my own music.”
Roman, who had never written music before, has been thrilled to try his hand at composing and gain insight into the compositional process. “Working with Anna has opened the flood gates to composition for me,” he added. “It’s very exciting.”
What’s also incredibly exciting for Roman is the instrument he has been playing since May. His 1738 cello made by Italian violin and cello maker Domenico Montagnana (1686-1750) is a dream come true.
“This cello has one of the most interesting combinations of power and darkness of tone,” Roman said. “It has all sorts of tone varieties. There seems to be no end to the variety. I’m not left wishing for more. There’s a feeling of freedom in the sounds I can make.”
A native of Oklahoma City, Roman began playing the cello at the age of 3 on a quarter-size instrument and gave his first public recital at age 10. He attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, earning his bachelor’s degree in cello performance in 2004 and his master’s degree in 2005. In 2006 he became the principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony. Two years later he launched his solo career, which includes recitals, concerto appearances and chamber music engagements.
Always interested in exploring different ways of sharing music, Roman recently completed an ongoing video series called “The Popper Project.” Wherever he and his laptop found themselves, Roman performed and recorded one of the 40 études from David Popper’s work “High School of Cello Playing.” His recordings are posted on YouTube.