Mikhail Veselov: Russian cellist in America
Interview with cellist Mikhail Veselov from the Neave Trio
KM: I’ve only been to Russia once, Moscow in 1996. Where in Russia were you born and where did you grow up?
MV: I was born in St. Petersburg and grew up there. I received my undergraduate degree in Moscow, then came to Boston.
KM: How did the Neave Piano Trio come about?
MV: Violinist Anna Williams and I met at the Longy School of Music in Boston, where years later, we are now on faculty and in-residence as a Trio. Anna and I had similar values in music and loved playing together . We met Eri Nakamura at a summer festival, where we all teach. Eri is from Hiroshima, but she has studied and performed around the globe. We liked her playing and collaborative spirit and thought she might be interested in joining the Trio. The rest is history, as they say.
KM: What is your earliest memory of hearing music as a child?
MV: I remember my parents took me to a symphony concert at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Hall when I was about five. I was so captivated by the variety of colors and characters the orchestra could create. St. Petersburg has many wonderful venues where you can hear anything from a solo violin to an opera and I was very lucky to grow up being exposed to so much music and culture.
KM: When did you first begin to play an instrument?
MV: I began to play the piano when I was three-years old. I took up the cello when I was ten. There was something about the warm cello sound that attracted me—it seemed so wonderfully alive!
KM: What are some of your favorite pieces to play on cello?
MV: Whatever I’m working on at the time. We are so privileged to have such a vast piano trio repertoire and we are always learning something new to fall in love with.
KM: What cello players, alive or dead, do you admire?
MV: There are so many incredible cellists today and in the past that I admire. I love Jacqueline du Prè’s playing. People like Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma have done incredible things for cello playing and pushed the limits in cello repertoire.
KM: Russian music, especially choir music and opera, puts great emphasis on the lower register. How do you think this influences composers who write the music?
MV: I think that comes from the Russian Orthodox Church singing and I think many Russian composers used church chorales in their compositions.
KM: Are there any contemporary Russian composers whom you think should be more played in the United States?
MV:; Nicolas Slonimsky, who after his wife died taught in Los Angles, becoming a friend of the rock composer Frank Zappa; and also Sofia Gubaidulina who composes very atmospheric music and – to come back to your previous question – is very influenced by church and folk music.
KM: While Haydn’s quartets remain in the standard chamber music repertoire, his trios are rarely played, although the Beaux Arts Trio did a complete recording of his trios. Can you tell me why the Neave Piano Trio chose the particular Haydn trio you will play at St. James Place in Great Barrington on September 29th?
MV: In Haydn one finds so much humor, unexpected twists and turns. In most cases the violin and cello stay quite close to the role of the piano. Haydn is so much fun: his colors, abrupt stops that emphasize his humor, his wit.
KM: You will be performing an early Leonard Bernstein Trio that possess a conversational atmosphere; what do you think is interesting about this piece written when he was still a student at Harvard?
MV: I find it so fascinating to see someone like Leonard Bernstein, this huge figure in music world, before he was The Leonard Bernstein, when he was just a student, who was full of ideas and was finding his musical voice. We had a privilege of recording this piece, alongside Korngold and Arthur Foote Trio for the Chandos label.
KM: The Brahms Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87 (1882) that you will be performing has sometimes been called a mystical masterpiece? How did the Neave Piano Trio arrive at choosing this particular gem to play?
MV: I love to play this composition very much. Brahms, who was such an incisive, self-lacerating self-critic of his writing—even burning some of his compositions—was so proud of it, even boasting about this piece to his publisher. Written at his maturity, it features a beautiful second movement and flying scherzo.
KM: The Neave Piano Trio has been given the privilege of performing the world premiere of Dale Trumbore’s Another Chance. What did you see as a challenge in this new composition—from a technical and/or aesthetic perspective?
MV: Yes, it is a privilege—a wonderful piece. The piece features resonant sonorities, complex textures, and wonderful harmonies. It starts with a fidgety theme that feels unsure and by the finale blossoms intro bold, broad gestures.