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The Phoenix Blog

Meet Deborah Pae

One of the number one things we are looking forward to in our upcoming show, “radiances,” is the chance to work with amazing cellist, Deborah Pae. We managed to catch up with her over the weekend and have her answer some questions about the show and Jeffrey Mumford’s new cello concerto: of radiances blossoming in expanding air…

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Obviously this is a huge project to undertake. How did you end up working on this particular concerto with Jeffrey Mumford?

Jeffrey and I came to know one another in January 2015 and began discussing the idea of a new cello concerto that year. I was living in Europe at the time so it took a little while before this project gained momentum but during that “gestation period”, I played some of his other works for solo cello and cello & orchestra, which was a great launching point into preparing this piece.

How long does it take to put together a project like this from “hey maybe we should do a piece together” to actually playing it at the venue?

Timing is everything and every project is unique. For us, Matt, Phoenix, and I discussed the possibility of performing this concerto several years ago and over the course of time, we’ve seen all the moving elements to fall into place. This includes waiting for the piece to be completed, coordinating our concert calendars, getting the right funding, personnel, and venue to make this premiere a night everyone remembers. But the idea would never have come up if we didn’t think this would simply be an amazing collaboration.

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What is it like to learn a piece that has never been performed before? How do you know that you’re interpreting things the way the composer intends them?

Learning a new piece that the world has never heard before is very exciting, very daunting, and takes a tremendous amount of focus. I have felt all the emotions! I set very high expectations for myself as a performer but with a piece whose musical material is based [literally] on the letters of my name and has been written by a voice of our time, I feel a great responsibility to interpret and execute this piece at the highest level possible. How do I know if I’m doing it right? There are some guiding principles such as communicating with Jeffrey, understanding his musical language and style, and trying to do exactly as he indicates in the score, but there’s also an element of trust between composer and the performers, allowing them to add their imagination to the music.

of radiances blossoming in expanding air… has some amazingly specific markings for the soloist. What is your favorite one?

Hands down: ‘somewhat explosive, yet ecstatic’

The piece is also difficult, to put it simply. What is one of the most difficult things about it?

Jeffrey uses a lot of major 7th, minor 2nd, and very large compound intervals (intervals greater than an octave) in the form of double stops and I often need to move between them very quickly up and down the cello. It’s quite acrobatic and having the muscle memory in both left and right hands are crucial in addition to getting a very specific color or sound world. He also uses complex rhythms and syncopations between quintuplets and triplets in tandem with these double stops so it’s multitasking at its finest.

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String players really love their instruments. Tell us about your cello. Does it have a name?

My cello’s name is Vincenzo, after the maker Vincenzo Postiglione, and I love him. He was made c. 1885 in Naples, Italy and this instrument has an unbelievable soaring upper register and powerful depth in the bass. For most of my career, I’ve had the great fortune of playing on some extraordinary instruments on loan—Strads, Vuillaumes, and for a very short but special period, David Soyer’s Guarneri. Embarking on finding a cello I could call “my own” was a long process but when you know, you know. It’s a pleasure to continue growing and discovering new things with Vincenzo and he has certainly become an integral part of my voice and the sonic identity of the Formosa Quartet.

Rumor has it you cook a lot. What meal would you cook if you were eating while listening to the concerto?

I’m in LA this week and I had the most delicious smoked duck breast with the glassiest crispy skin, cherry xo sauce, roasted fennel, fennel chips, and chrysanthemum leaves. The duck was perfectly cooked, laced with layers of sweet smoke and had the silkiest texture, which was quickly countered by the explosions of flavor from all the spicy, earthy, and crunchy garnishes. The perfect dance between subtly and punch. I will be cooking a version of this at home with a bottle of Gamay or Pinot Noir, something that has floral aromas and subtle earthy tones. The perfect dance between subtly and punch, which can be heard throughout this concerto. Who’s coming to dinner?

You lived in Boston for some time! What’s one thing you are dying to do again while you’re in town?

Seeing dear friends and eating/drinking all-the-things!

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Join us on May 4th for a chance to meet Deborah Pae and hear her play in person right here in Boston for the world premiere of Jeffrey Mumford’s of radiances blossoming in expanding air…

Matthew SzymanskiComment