Eliot Bailen, the Artistic Director of The Sherman Ensemble, speaks about his adventures in music and an upcoming concert that features an unusual program of music.
KM: When did you first begin to play an instrument?
EB: When I was seven. I began playing pop tunes on guitar. I started cello late, when I was 15 and though I am primarily a classical musician, I continue to have affection for popular music including pop, jazz and bluegrass. For me the prevailing model is chamber music – playing great music with a small group of great musicians.
KM: When you became serious with the cello with whom did you study?
EB: Aldo Parisot at Yale. He’s from Brazil and will be 98 in a couple of months; he still teaches at Yale; he based his ideas on the playing of Emanuel Feuermann. Villa Lobos wrote his 2nd Cello Concerto for him and dedicated it to Parisot. Aldo became a great friend of Paul Hindemith who taught at Yale. Aldo has become a virtual institution at Yale.
KM: What are some of your favorite cello chamber pieces?
EB: My favorite is the great Schubert Quintet in C major. It appears that Schubert’s most popular work is the Trout Quintet; I think that is because pianists want to play that work and promote it, but being a cellist and musician, I think that the Quintet in C major is number one. I really love Schubert’s chamber music and think it superior to his symphonies. I am also very fond of Antonín Dvořák’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 104. Written during his extended stay in America, the cello concerto was influenced by Victor Herbert ‘s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra and reflects Dvorak’s love for the folk idiom. I’m also fond of Boccherini’s famous Fandango Quintet and his cello Sonata in A major.
KM: What do you think is special about the Schubert?
EB: It’s a true melodic masterpiece of his late style, especially the first movement. The second slow movement is unexpectedly sad, yet deeply moving. Optimism is recovered in the third and fourth movements. Schubert shimmers as the music fluctuates between major and minor keys. As a chamber music composer, Schubert is a cornucopia of high and low styles, deep personal feelings, and accessible public sentiment, as in the final movement of the Quintet in C.
KM: How did The Sherman Ensemble come about?
EB: My family had a home in Sherman. I met my wife, Susan Rotholz, when we were both studying at Yale. She had begun playing the flute at twelve. She went on to study at Queens College and Yale with Thomas Nyfenger and also studied under the great French flutist Marcel Moyse. We decided to put on a concert in 1982. It was such a success that in 1983 we founded The Sherman Ensemble as a non-profit 501c3. We are now in our 36th year. You can learn more about the Ensemble at www.shemanchamberensemble.com.
KM: Can you tell me something about your children’s programs?
EB: My work with children is a focal part of my life. I developed a program called Song to Symphony, a large-scale original musical production which involves a large segment of the school population in the creation of a musical/theatrical production. More recently I have been writing compositions for high school bands and choruses in large scale works resembling oratorios. The content for these productions emanates from the target school and we bring in professional musicians to work with the children and perform with them for the concert. So far I have done 36 of these projects.
KM: I think you have written an opera for children?
EB: Yes, yet we are still working on it. It’s called Tiny Moustache. The Tiny Mustache imagines the backstage story of young teens involved in musical and theatrical performances at the Ghetto at Terezin during WWII. This work in development is based on actual events and seeks to provide a deep and moving perspective on the young lost in the Holocaust.
KM: I’m hearing a contemporary resonance in this project. I hope the project is completed and we can all watch it on PBS channel 13.
EB: Yes, I am always trying to find time to work on it! Soon, soon!
KM: What about your own compositions. I once heard your sextet and l enjoyed it a great deal. What other original compositions have you written?
EB: Among more recent commissions are an Octet, a Concerto for Flute and Orchestra and a musical setting of the wonderful children’s book, Ping the Duck.
KM: What else are you involved in?
EB: Aside from my teaching at Columbia University and Teacher’s College, I’m Founder and Music Director of Chamber Music at Rodeph Sholom as well as the Artistic Director of The New York Chamber Ensemble which performs a series of concerts at the Cape May Music Festival (NJ) during the end of May and beginning of June.
EB: I’m excited about it, not only because we will be playing Schubert’s great Quintet in C major, but it’s special group of friends joining us including SCE’s own violinist, Jill Levy (she is also concertmaster of Albany Symphony Orchestra), as well as some friends from Holland: Elisabeth Perry (violin), Richard Wolfe (viola) and Matthias Naegele (cello) who are members of The Rietveld Ensemble based in Utrecht, The Netherlands. A unique aspect of this particular performance of the Schubert Quintet is that Matthais and I will be playing brother cellos made by Matteo and Francesco Goffriller which is a rare circumstance! On the same concert we will also be playing some Beethoven, John Corigliano, and Alberto Ginestera.
KM: I’m looking forward to that concert!