Leah Rankin | Staff Writer
Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos trudged alone through the heart of the Amazon Rainforest carrying his cello on his back. All of a sudden, a tribe of cannibals surrounded him, jabbing at him and threatening him with their brandished spears.
Villa-Lobos could think of only one thing to pacify the savages, so he took his cello out of its case and began to play. The savages lowered their spears as the cello’s music filled the air and solemnly backed away into the shadows of the jungle.
“They thought he was God,” said Arie Lipsky, cello faculty member at the Chautauqua School of Music.
Lipsky loves to tell this famous myth about Villa-Lobos. In a free cello recital that will be shared with the bassoonists of the Music School Festival Orchestra at 2 p.m. today in McKnight Hall, Lipsky has programmed two of Villa-Lobos’ compositions for cello ensemble.
The cello portion of the recital will begin after the bassoons at about 3 p.m.
“The cello ensemble sound is absolutely marvelous,” Lipsky said.
The cello section of the MSFO will perform in the second half of the concert with Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 and No. 5, two movements in a nine-movement work scored for various instrumental combinations. These particular movements are scored for an orchestra of cellos.
In this music, Villa-Lobos treats the folk music of his native Brazil with the harmonic and contrapuntal styles of Johann Sebastian Bach.
“It’s like tropical Bach,” Lipsky said.
Estelle Choi, 25, will play the principal part in Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1.
“It really shows how versatile the instrument is,” she said.
Lipsky will conduct an ensemble of 10 cellos, and soprano Sasha Djihanian-Archambault will join the group for Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.
The piece allows the singer to use her imagination, Djihanian-Archambault said.
“I imagine being in Brazil, in the Amazon, and seeing all the birds,” she said.
Although these cellists have performed together in the MSFO for seven weeks, the dynamic of a cello orchestra still presents a challenge.
“There’s a sensuality about it,” Choi said, “and a rhythm and drive. It’s about getting the cello to speak without letting technique hinder the lines.”
Choi said the cellos in this piece play every part of the orchestra. There are the basses that lay down the harmony, a percussion section and different colors of melody.
Lipsky said he cherishes opportunities to bring together the cello section. After seven intense weeks of lessons, master classes and orchestra rehearsals, the cellos are like family.
“By the end, it’s like they’re my little kids,” Lipsky said.
Bassoonists Jayson Heubusch and Taylor Smith also said they feel they’ve grown as a section from their time spent playing together in the MSFO.
“We’ve definitely come a long way since the beginning,” Heubusch said.
In the first half of the recital, the bassoonists will play a program of duets and chamber music from composers like André Jolivet and Eugene Joseph Bozza.
This recital will be one of the last chances for these instrumentalists to perform together before they part ways. After the MSFO concert Monday night, these musicians will head back to school, now with the support of their friends from Chautauqua.
“It’s a way to connect again and say goodbye,” Lipsky said.
Donations for this recital benefit the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.