Michael Samis to Resurrect Forgotten Cello Concerto for Debut Album

Michael SamisNashville Symphony Orchestra cellist Michael Samis has undertaken a daunting task – resurrecting Carl Reinecke’s Cello Concerto Op.82. Mr. Samis rediscovered the little-known Romantic era piece while searching for unique repertoire for his debut solo album to be released on the Delos label in 2014.   Backed by the Gateway Chamber Orchestra (in which he is also a member), he’ll be bringing his cellistic chops to both the Reinecke and Ernest Ansermet’s 1943 orchestration of Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro. The album will also include two solo works for cello – John Tavener’s Threnos and Ernest Bloch’s Suite #1 – as well as Osvaldo Golijov’s Mariel, with Eric Willie on marimba.

Mr. Samis received a 2013 Tennessee Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship in Music for Solo Instrumental Performance, which will help to fund this project. He’ll also also be conducting a Kickstarter campaign (kickstarter.com/projects/michaelsamis/a-forgotten-cello-concerto) to support recording expenses. A video about the project is available at the end of this post.

Recently, Mr. Samis took the time to share his thoughts about rediscovering the Reinecke and his special connection to each of the pieces on this album. Please enjoy the interview below.

Author’s note:  Mr. Samis is a dear friend of mine from our days at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and I am thrilled about his new project.

Viola da Voce: How did you discover the Reinecke cello concerto?

Michael Samis: When Delos offered to release my debut solo CD, I began pouring through forums, blogs, and other sources on the internet to see what lesser known music was out there. I was hoping to find a concerto or piece for cello and chamber orchestra, because I planned to record at least part of the disc with the fantastic Gateway Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Gregory Wolynec. I ran across a forum where someone conveyed that there really should be a professional recording of Carl Reinecke’s cello concerto. I had never heard of this work. I immediately found the solo cello part and started reading through the main themes on my own. Almost right after hearing the lyrical, yet almost folksy, opening melody, I knew that this had to be the piece for me.

VV: You recently performed the Reinecke for the first time on February 11 with the Gateway Chamber Orchestra. Did you have any challenges in obtaining the orchestra parts?

MS: Yes, the parts did not arrive until 10 days prior to the concert. Schott had to reprint them in Germany.  We originally thought we were getting parts from a library in the US, the only existing set that Wilson Ochoa (amazing Nashville Symphony librarian and producer of my album) could find, but it turned out that those parts were in terrible, unusable shape since the piece hadn’t been played in so long.  So, we had to have new ones printed.  Wilson spent the entire Superbowl weekend (even cancelled his party) proofing the parts and correcting errors.  We could not have done it without him!

VV: How did you choose the repertoire for this album, and is there anything which ties the pieces together?

MS: Reviving the forgotten Reinecke Concerto spurred me to build this album around connections to the past, with works that look back to music and people for their inspiration. I include Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro to share the style of music that inspired Reinecke. Ernest Bloch’s Suite #1 for solo cello was modeled after J.S. Bach suites from centuries before. For music of a more personal nature I turn to two of my favorite living composers. Both Osvaldo Golijov’s Mariel, for cello and marimba, and John Tavener’s Threnos, for solo cello, were written following the death of their close friends, and reflect on their lives and memories.

VV: What inspired you to use Ernest  Ansemet’s 1943 orchestration of  Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro?

MS: Carl Reinecke wrote in the early Romantic-era tradition of his teachers, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. I love the singing expressive melodies of this period, and their outgoing and communicative nature. I am including Schumann’s charming Adagio and Allegro as a nod to the lyricism that is such a part of Reinecke’s music. Nashville Symphony librarian Wilson Ochoa, who will be producing this recording, discovered the legendary conductor Ernest Ansermet’s 1943 orchestration of Schumann’s piano part. Originally, the piece was written for horn and piano, with permission granted by the composer to perform the piece on violin, viola, or cello. This will be the first-ever recording of Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for cello with orchestra.

VV: Do any of the pieces on this album have special meaning to you?

MS: Each of the works on the album speaks to me in its own way, though I’m particularly moved by Reinecke’s concerto. I love its passionate lyrical melodies, rhythmic energy, and fun virtuosity. It reminds me of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, which I listened to over and over as a kid. It saddens me that it was lost simply because Reinecke’s music was considered “out of fashion” in the late nineteenth century, and was overshadowed by the critics’ focus on Richard Wagner. It really excites me to bring such a gorgeous concerto back into the repertoire.

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