Thomas Loewenheim has made his mark on the Fresno music scene since his arrival six years ago as a conductor — both of the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and as music director of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno.
But he's also a cellist. So it's no surprise he has dreamed of establishing an international cello festival here.
This year's CelloFresno festival, which includes two public events this weekend, features one of the world's great cellists: Lynn Harrell, who performed to acclaim in 2007 with the Fresno Philharmonic.
We caught up with Loewenheim via email to talk about the festival.
Question: Give us a brief history of cello festivals in Fresno.
Answer: Fresno State has been hosting an annual cello festival since I arrived in Fresno six years ago. This year's event is the first ever "CelloFresno: The International Cello Festival." I had the dream of an international cello festival here in Fresno since the first day I arrived here.
With the help of my friend Emilio Colon, cello professor at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, who has been visiting Fresno for the past two years for our annual event, we were able to make this dream come true and are very excited to have internationally renowned cellist Lynn Harrell, as well as Jesus Castro-Balbi from Texan Christian University, Cara Colon from Indiana, Tom Landschoot from Arizona State University, Jonathan Ruck from Oklahoma University and Brian Schuldt from the Felici Piano Trio join us for this special event.
What is Harrell's reputation in the world of cello?
Lynn Harrell is one of the most well-known cellists around the world. He performed with the most well-known orchestras and conductors and was featured on many of the leading recording labels performing some of the most well-known cello concertos.
Actually a funny story is that when I was about 13 years old, I got a cassette tape of Mr. Harrell playing the Schumann and Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos for my birthday. At the time, I used to play the recording and perform with it playing in the background. I played it so many times that the tape almost wore out. It is therefore a special honor for me to actually conduct Saint-Saëns' concerto with Mr. Harrell performing it with the orchestra.
You are co-artistic director with Emilio Colon. How do the two of you put the festival together? Do you have a theme or focus?
Emilio and I have known each other for many years … we met at Indiana University. We were both students of the great cellist Janos Starker, who passed away last April, and have always shared the passion for cello festivals, in which we get to celebrate this wonderful instrument and the music written for it. The theme of this year's cello festival is more than just one cello.
In addition to Mr. Harrell's performance of the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto, we will be featuring two double-cello concertos by Klengel and Vivaldi, and Popper's Requiem for three cellos and orchestra on the Friday night concert with the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra. We will also feature different cello ensembles ranging from two, three, four, 12 and over 70 cellists, all performing together at the end of the concert on Saturday night. During the festival, we will also honor Lynn Harrell for his upcoming 70th birthday, and the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, Dr. Vida Samiian, will host a reception for him and the guests of the festival at the end of the concert on Saturday night.
How many students will attend, and where is the farthest coming from?
We are expecting nearly 70 students from Fresno, other cities in California, as well as from Arizona, Indiana, Nevada and Oklahoma. We are also expecting several international guests from China, Germany, Korea and Mexico.
What does it mean for students to be able to work with such cello masters?
When I grew up in Israel, we were very privileged to have annual events in which Janos Starker and Aldo Parisot came and (presented) master classes and rehearsed the cello ensemble. Later in my life, we had similar opportunities at the universities I attended. I also attended two international cello festivals, one in France and one in Germany, and last year I was honored to be invited to give a master class and perform at the Texas Christian University Cello Fest. I know that as a student, I would look forward to these special opportunities each year as they were the most inspiring events that helped my development as a cellist.
Meeting the fine artists that were faculty, hearing them perform and teach, as well as meeting students from around the globe inspired me to become a better cellist and musician. I remember how difficult it was to afford these festivals and am so happy I am able to bring such wonderful artists to work with the students here in Fresno. This will definitely be an eye-opener and hopefully an inspiration to the musicians in our community and the visiting students.
Get a little poetic for us about the cello. What is it about the instrument that you think touches listeners?
Well, what else is there to say about the best musical instrument created by man? Many people attribute the beauty of the cello to the fact that it is the closest in its sound to the human voice. Others have praised the instrument for its large range and the beauty of all its registers. I personally am convinced that each cello has a soul and a personality that comes through to the audience while it is being played. I am also very happy I was fortunate to have had some of the best cellists in history as my mentors and am very fortunate to have such wonderful colleagues who are willing to come here with their students and share their love for the cello.
Anything else you'd like to say?
I truly hope that many people will take this rare opportunity and will attend our events this weekend. In addition to the two concerts, we will also have master classes starting Thursday afternoon all the way through noon on Sunday. We will also have a lecture by the string company D'Addario, a panel discussion about teaching and much more. All events will be taking place at the Fresno State Department of Music.
I would also like to thank everyone who helped make this festival possible, especially to the generous host families who will be welcoming our guests to their homes this week. It's just another testimony of what a special and warm community we are lucky to have here in Fresno.
CelloFresno: The International Cello Festival, Fresno State. There are two gala concerts:
-- 8 p.m. Friday, Concert Hall, featuring Lynn Harrell with the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and festival faculty with works by Klengel, Popper, Rossini, Saint-Saëns and Vivaldi.
-- 8 p.m. Saturday, Concert Hall, featuring works for two, three, four and 12 cellists, as well as two large cello ensembles.
Details: facebook.com/cello-fresno. $15, $10 seniors, $5 students.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, email@example.com and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.