SOLIS MEDIA GROUP
Celebrity cellist Zuill Bailey joins the Honolulu Symphony this weekend.
Bowing with different strokes
Cellist Zuill Bailey doesn't mind that his TV performance brought new fans to classical music
Despite his matinee-idol appearance, cellist Zuill Bailey downplays his looks in favor of the classical music he loves.
But were he signed to a major label, you know you would see his handsome visage featured predominantly in the marketing. Heck, he's even done some television acting, albeit only once on a gritty and harrowing prison drama, HBO's "Oz."
'A SALUTE TO RUSSIAN MASTERS'
Cellist Zuill Bailey and the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra; Andreas Delfs, conductor:
In concert: 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $21 to $74; $10 students; 20 percent discount for military and seniors
In the show's debut 1997 season, Bailey played a mentally disturbed cellist imprisoned for killing a fellow musician, later dying a horrible death himself during a prison riot.
But his character proved so popular, and his featured cello performances so engrossing, that some viewers were spurred to attend Bailey's subsequent concerts.
Since then, it's been all about the music, and Bailey hopes to turn people on to the piece he'll play with the Honolulu Symphony this weekend in a program titled "A Salute to Russian Masters."
Alongside offerings of Borodin's "Prince Igor" Overture and Shostakovich's moving Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Bailey will perform as soloist in Tchaikovsky's challenging "Variations on a Rococo Theme."
Commonly known as the "Rococo Variations," the piece pays tribute to Tchaikovsky's idol, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Taking its inspiration from the ornate mid-18th century style, the composition consists of a melodic theme created by Tchaikovsky that includes seven variations and two cadenzas.
"In many ways, it's an homage to Mozart," said Bailey by phone from his home in El Paso, Texas, where he serves as a professor of cello at the University of Texas-El Paso, and as artistic director of El Paso Pro-Musica. "Surprisingly, Mozart wrote nothing for solo cello, so it was a terrific loss. But even though this homage is so difficult to play, it's really the best of both worlds, combining the elegance of Mozart through the passion of Tchaikovsky.
"It's an incredible piece, with seven variations and a theme, and each variation shows different aspects of the cello, first with some bowing gymnastics, then some left-hand display, and it goes through some balletic lyricism, trill ornamentation, a virtuoso cadenza, and a slow movement that leads to a charge to the end. The piece is very accessible and never gets old to play."
Bailey first worked on the piece in Washington, D.C., with a man considered a hero to most cellists, the late Mstislav Rostropovich, who was conducting the National Symphony before his death in April 2007.
"He was the man most identified with this work. The beauty of the sound was so apparent when Rostropovich played. He projected such a love of the music, he was like a beam of sunshine. He told me to make sure that the sound and the simplicity of the work came through first and foremost, and that the greatness of the piece comes through."
And after this weekend's performances, the audience can look forward to a souvenir of sorts -- a recording of the "Rococo Variations" featuring Bailey and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra will be released in January of '09.
"I've been studying the cello since I was 4, and I knew then that this is what I wanted to be," he said. "I found doing something like 'Oz' was very interesting because it was outside of the box."
And if it means getting people to the concert hall, all the better.
"Great art doesn't need to be oversold," Bailey said. "It stands for itself. The important thing is to make great art accessible. I always found that to get people to hear it, they'll be surprised and become more open to accepting it. It's like, the more you get to know it, you'll want to return to the trough again and again. Marketing can only take classical music so far, because if the product and quality is not there, you get nowhere."