Cellist Zuill Bailey in Williamsburg

Cellist Zuill Bailey
Cellist Zuill Bailey (photo from zuillbailey.com)

It’s always a thrill to perform with top-level guest soloists. They feed the collective soul of the orchestra and often elevate concerts into highly memorable events.

American cellist Zuill Bailey brought that kind of electricity to the final concerts of the Williamsburg (Virginia) Symphonia season Monday and Tuesday evening. Bailey performed Robert Schumann’s restless and sometimes thorny Cello Concerto with soulfulness and ease. During rehearsals and performances, I was impressed with the singing tone he drew from his 1693 Matteo Gofriller cello, previously owned by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet. At moments in the second movement of the Schumann, the music became a barely audible whisper. Before performing the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s First Solo Cello Suite as an encore, Bailey reminded the audience that in 1693, the year his instrument was made, Williamsburg’s College of William and Mary was founded and Bach was 8 years old.

In addition to an international career as a soloist and chamber musician, Zuill Bailey serves on the faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso. He is Artistic Director of the Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane, Washington. You may have seen (and heard) him on the popular HBO series, Oz, where his instrument’s endpin became a murder weapon. Explore Zuill Bailey’s extensive discography here and on iTunes.

Here is the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello, No. 1. 

Here is a piece that blends chamber music and the concerto: Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto” for Violin, Cello and Piano. Violinst Giora Schmidt and pianist Navah Perlman join Bailey. Itzhak Perlman is conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra:

On Sunday tourists at colonial Williamsburg were treated to an impromptu concert outside the Kimball Theatre on Merchant’s Square:

Cellist Zuill Bailey gives an impromptu performance of solo Bach in Williamsburg, Virginia on May 3.
Cellist Zuill Bailey gives an impromptu performance of solo Bach in Williamsburg, Virginia on May 3.

A Sublime Moment from Mozart’s “Così fan tutte”

220px-Croce-Mozart-DetailMozart’s Così fan tutte (“Thus Do They All”) falls under the category of opera buffa, or comic opera. It’s an absurd story of “fiancée swapping,” which ultimately turns out all right in the end.

In a coffeehouse in Naples, two military officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boast that their fiancées, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, will never be unfaithful. Don Alfonso makes a wager that, within a day, he can prove the officers wrong. He believes that all women are ultimately fickle. Accepting the wager, Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to go off to war, but then return in disguise and attempt to seduce the other’s lover.

Amid all of this buffoonery comes one of opera’s most sublimely expressive moments. In the Act 1 trio, Soave sia il vento (“May the wind be gentle”), the women and Alfonso wish the soldiers safe travels as their ship sails. There’s a hint of the calm ocean in the trio’s undulating string lines. But what makes this music so remarkable is the way it transcends the dramatic situation of the opera. We’re briefly transported somewhere else, entirely. The music is deeply expressive, but it can’t fully be described in words.

In a Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musician profile, cellist Kari Docter talks about a life-changing experience which resulted from hearing Mozart’s Soave sia il vento during a Met rehearsal.

Here are Thomas Allen (Don Alfonso), Susanne Mentzer (Dorabella), and Carol Vaness (Fiordiligi) in a 1996 Metropolitan Opera production, conducted by James Levine: