Joshua Roman: Not Your Average Cellist

This Saturday, April 9, innovative Classical Cellist, Joshua Roman, will perform with the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera in Dvorák’s New World. Joshua, a TED fellow, gives us his take on new classical music and diverse collaborations.


Photo by Hayley Young.

You were the youngest principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony winning the position at 22 — wow — what was that like?
It was great — they seemed very excited to have me and, of course, I was excited to be there. The orchestra chose me through the audition process, so I didn’t feel skepticism from them regarding my level of experience, but I was definitely the youngest in the whole orchestra! I felt very much like they allowed me to step into that leadership role, and it was beautiful. I loved it. I love Seattle.

Joshua, you are one of only a handful of performers who get the designation of a TED Senior Fellow. How did you get involved with TED talks, and what type of innovation do you hope to showcase?
A friend of mine from Seattle first introduced me to TED through a TEDx event. I gave a talk and played at the Seattle event, TEDxRainier. Through that process, I learned about the fellows program, and attendees encouraged me to apply. TED is a wonderful organization for the melding of minds. Their theme of ideas is worth spreading and is very relevant, especially for those of us in classical music. It’s important to think about the role of music in a larger space, the role of the cello, and what I can do to go broader and deeper.

You are a leader in bringing change to classical music; to reinvigorate it. Why do you think classical music needs to have its envelope pushed? How did you decide that you were going to steer away from the role of the performer to a change maker?
To me, classical music isn’t about a particular repertoire or canon — that’s a byproduct, and a fantastic byproduct — I believe that classical music is a tradition of creativity and innovation. We [as musicians] absolutely have to keep that alive. I never feel like that idea ‘steers me away’ from being a performer. Innovation has to be at the center of what we do.

Do you find that classical music audiences are receptive to new works, collaborations, and innovations that you are bringing?
I find that if you create an environment where people have a chance to open up and experience something, you can go many places, and they will go with you. Sometimes, you have to put in a bit of extra effort to create an emotional entry point, but if you get that, people will come with you and explore.

Sacramento is going through a renaissance; “Be the Change” is quickly becoming the motto for 2016. How can we — as audience members, classical music enthusiasts, and people who aren’t sure they even like classical music — make a change in this genre?
With classical music, it’s important to focus on the passion. At the core of music are connections between people and people respond to passion. Sometimes this gets lost in certain aspects of tradition. If we can pull barriers down and allow the passion from the music, musicians, and audience to be the driving force while sustaining quality — who knows what can happen!

Why do you think so little contemporary classical music is performed?
There’s a lot of contemporary classical music being performed, but much of it is happening in smaller and nontraditional venues. However, there still needs to be more, and the growth that’s happening on the big stage should be encouraged. Exploration and discovery have always been the cornerstones of classical music, so there’s no reason to fear that new sounds will render great music of the past obsolete.

The argument could even be made that our best chance of establishing a connection with those around us is through sharing something created in our time, for our time.

What is your main goal when performing? What do you want your audiences to get out of your performance?
For every performance, I want to communicate what the music is saying, and get myself out of the way. I try to let the passion, emotional quality, and spiritual connection be the carrying force — and of course, it’s my interpretation of these qualities that I share, but the goal is to find whatever is intrinsic in the music and give myself to that emotion.

I want the audience to feel engaged and present, and have an experience that connects us on a fundamentally human level.

This weekend, you are playing something a bit more traditional, Dvorák’s cello concerto. Do you play with a different, perhaps modern approach, or do you find that you stick to playing it in the traditional sense? What should audiences know about this piece?
A piece like the Dvorák is so huge within repertoire that it’s impossible not to be influenced by some of the traditions that have developed around it. But what I actually do at this point is go back to the score and try to free myself from some of the performance traditions that have accumulated since the piece’s premiere. I want to try to find what I think Dvorák is trying to do and say. In a way, that’s not traditional. In my own way, I’m trying to get as close as I can to his idea of what the piece should be.

For me, it’s one of the greatest pieces ever written because it’s such a colorful musical story and there is background in Dvorák’s own life. There’s love, tragedy, and homesickness. The way these emotions play out, even in the way the musicians and musical instruments interact on stage, is extremely powerful.

Hear Joshua Roman and the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera perform Dvorák’s New World this Saturday! For ticket and time information, visit the concert’s page.

***This blog post was written by Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator Raymond James Irwin.


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