Jay Campbell Review-an interview with the cellist

Triple prize-winning cellist (he’s won the Ruiz, the Elmaleh and the Naumberg Awards) Jay Campbell is, at 26, at once a seasoned and consummate professional and a young artist with his whole life and career before him. From all accounts, that career is wide-open to excellence.

The New York Times has referred to his “electrifying performance”, and the Washington Post has said “Once Campbell wraps himself around the cello, you’re willing to follow him anywhere”. His deep and diverse repertoire and range, coupled with his eclectic musical interests have led him to collaborations with many fine and famed musicians, to audio recordings and over one hundred premiered works.

Jay Campbell through strings

On the eve of his performance at the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series at 12:15 P.M. tomorrow, February 10, 2016, at the Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, this reviewer spoke with him about his thoughts and philosophy of music and musicianship. What emerged was a portrait of a soulful and centered artist in full launch. He thoughtfully stated, in pertinent part, as follow:

His real music education began at the Crowden Middle School, in Berkeley, California, which has a strong history of outstanding musicianship. He continued through Julliard, from which he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and where he is in his last post-graduate year as part of a program called “Artist’s Diploma”.

He does not accept the assertion that “one must have a rock-solid foundation in music by the age of 18”; he did not begin to practice intensively until the age of 19. Indeed, at the time of his audition to Crowden, at 9, he still couldn’t really read music; he played “by ear”.  As to what that means, he paraphrases Stravinsky, “Even ducks have ears-the difference is listening”. Musicians, he believes, are not more or less likely to hear details in music or performance. Playing music is like having a conversation: it requires an intensity of listening. Developing a great ear is a function of experience, not of thinking. The more you engage with the music, the more it gives back. However, it is very important to spend time away from the music.

Jay Campbell with cello

He practices as much as he must to liberate technique and allow the focus to be on communicating the internal aspects of the music. This cannot be faked-one must not prostitute the music.  A satisfying performance, even one that results in an award casts light back on how you’ve prepared and frees you to go back and reconsider for the next piece of work. Being nominated for or winning an award is not a terminal point, but an encouragement. The higher ideals are to get lost in the music; the “muse” cannot be summoned artificially.

He is committed to playing both classical and a variety of contemporary music, continuing to perform with the Da Capo Chamber Players, as an ensemble performer, and with orchestras. He feels that chamber music may well be one ideal of what a musician of his ilk can offer, yet when he plays with a concerto under the conductor’s baton, that is another example of the ideal- a musical camaraderie with a different skillset but identical goals.

 “In a dream world”, he mused, he could continue playing both with the same people he already works with, and keep meeting new people to play alongside. He knows that music is about people-there is a strong social element involved. At the same time, he avers, an artist can never force another person to feel something-he can lay it out and hope it touches others in a way that is unique to them. And every time he plays a piece, it reveals itself to him anew.

Anyone who has heard Jay Campbell play will certainly be in the presence of one who has been touched by greatness.

Jay Campbell performs

Tomorrow afternoon at 12:15, Jay Campbell and pianist Conor Hanick, who have often appeared together in outstanding symmetry, will perform works by Stravinsky, Carter and Debussy at The Chicago Cultural Center. Tickets are free, but these two are crowd-pleasers, so it’s important to come early. The performance will be heard again on WFMT, 98.7 on your FM dial-check with the station for timing.

The two will appear again this Friday, February 12, in Naperville with the Du Page Symphony. Jay will be giving a recital in New York on March 2 for the Italian Academy at Columbia, followed by concerts in Iowa and New York.

For information on concerts or to obtain information, go to the Jay Campbell website

All photos courtesy of  Beowulf Sheehan

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