Musical Athleticism: Peled, CSO present shostakovich at his most authentic

PELED

PELED

Amit Peled is a multi-sport athlete: He plays basketball and cello. Torn as a teenager between pursuing sports or music, he threw himself toward music, resigning himself to the certainty that he would never be tall enough to play in the NBA.

Now, a number of years and growth spurts later, the Israeli musician stands 6-feet-5-inches tall.

But even if he’s not running layups or shooting free throws anymore, those years on the court continue to inform his approach to the concert hall.

“The greatest athletes don’t get wounded usually because they know how to use their body,” he said. “A lot of what I do now as a musician is based on learning how to use my body earlier as an athlete.”

Peled will demonstrate his musical athleticism with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater with Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 126. The CSO will round out the evening with “Pohjola’s Daughter” by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98.

Performing alongside an orchestra is ultimately what Peled said he enjoys most, but basketball maintains an immutable presence in the artist’s life. Reflecting on a recent performance in Buffalo, he said going to a college basketball game was “even more fun than playing with the orchestra.”

There are certain situations where basketball continues to take precedence over performance even in spite of that decision he made years ago.

“During May and June when the playoffs are on, it’s very hard to get me to play concerts,” he said.

And Peled plays many concerts, splitting his time between guest artist appearances and teaching at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The husband and father of three often finds himself pulled in different directions at the same time.

“I call it the triangle of my life that is teaching — which I love — and performing — which I love — and my family — which I also love,” he said. “I’m always trying to keep this triangle alive. If you do too much performing, then make sure you still see your students and always, always find time for the family.”

Peled accordingly structures his life in concert with that triangle. During the school year, he said he has a personal rule to never be away from home for more than four days — a rule so unyielding that he admits to turning down performance opportunities because it would take him away from home for seven or 10 days at a time.

For the three-month duration of summer, his rule is to cart the whole family wherever he may travel. That means his children get to tour the world, but it also means Peled grapples with jetlagged 5-, 8-, and 10-year-olds as he rushes from airport to hotel to rehearsal.

Whatever happens and however cranky his kids feel, Peled said his job requires him to put everything aside once he starts to play. As he performs Shostakovich on Saturday, Peled said it doesn’t matter whether he got enough sleep the night before.

“You get into the part and present the piece you were asked to present,” he said. “You are a servant of the composer.”

Peled also happens to play the same cello as Pablo Casals, who is regarded as perhaps the greatest cellist ever. While Peled has fallen in love with the instrument — he said he has just recently found his own voice with it — his performances still live in the shadow of its previous owner.

Critics often draw comparisons between specific Casals performances and Peled’s contemporary concerts — something that weighs on the artist’s mind.

“Just to have the privilege and the honor and the responsibility to play that cello really makes me think twice before every note I play,” he said.

But, as a somewhat rare exception, Casals never had the opportunity to play this particular concerto, meaning Peled gets to make the first impression. In fact, Saturday may be the first impression many audience members have for this particular concerto — Peled said it is rarely programmed by orchestras. He said the late work provides an opportunity to hear Shostakovich at his most authentic.

“The late period for a composer is a period where, like for anyone growing older, you don’t try to prove anything to anybody,” Peled said. “It’s a time when if you write something, if you do something, you do it for yourself.”

Which, although by no means in his late period himself, serves as an accurate description of Peled.

“This is my life,” he said of the cello.

Critics often draw comparisons between specific Casals performances and Peled’s contemporary concerts — something that weighs on the artist’s mind.

“Just to have the privilege and the honor and the responsibility to play that cello really makes me think twice before every note I play,” he said.

But, as a somewhat rare exception, Casals never had the opportunity to play this particular concerto, meaning Peled gets to make the first impression. In fact, Saturday may be the first impression many audience members have for this particular concerto — Peled said it is rarely programmed by orchestras. He said the late work provides an opportunity to hear Shostakovich at his most authentic.

“The late period for a composer is a period where, like for anyone growing older, you don’t try to prove anything to anybody,” Peled said. “It’s a time when if you write something, if you do something, you do it for yourself.”

Which, although by no means in his late period himself, serves as an accurate description of Peled.

“This is my life,” he said of the cello.