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Meet the Artist: Trey Lee, Cellist

Meet The Artist
The Cross-Eyed Pianist
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Without a doubt, Pau (Pablo) Casals has been a major inspiration for multiple reasons. His playing has always sounded like someone singing and speaking at the same time, which is what I am constantly trying to achieve in my own playing; I find that a musician who can do both has a much greater ability to keep a listener’s attention. Much is also said about his interpretations being irresistibly astute. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, much of this comes down to his courage to play everything with total commitment. Why courage? I think it’s because as artists, we are terrified that once we have made a musical decision that can reveal the essence of who we are, we will be judged by it forever (particularly so on a recording). However, Casals’s significance beyond his solo career is what has continued to inspire me over the years. While concertizing as the foremost cello soloist of his time, he also undertook a number of endeavours that have continued to influence the world of music.

Today, cellists all take for granted that the Bach Cello Suites are very much a part of our lives. (Living in Berlin, I am less than two hours away from the town of Cöthen, where he composed them.) But we owe much of these works’ ubiquity to Casals. His elevation of the Bach Suites to the pinnacle of the cello repertoire is a singular feat that probably will never be replicated, and yet, is also an example that encourages all of us to seek out new works; it has certainly provided me impetus to imagine how music from other genres and instruments can be expressed on the cello convincingly and with integrity. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s become an essential part of the job today.

Casals was also chiefly responsible for the founding of at least two music festivals in Prades and Puerto Rico. It was my great fortune to spend some time at the Abbaye St Michel de Cuxa in Prades studying and performing with his student Bernard Greenhouse. Sitting in the refectory after concerts drinking the dull but plentiful wine made on-site surrounded by the thousand-year-old Gothic setting, I fantasized about bringing such a captivating atmosphere elsewhere, and the seeds for my own festival, Musicus Fest, were sown. Another series, Musicus Heritage, is held in Hong Kong’s historic sites where the locals never imagined concerts would take place, but now they do! The “cellist as festival founder” is truly another Casals legacy.

Ever the pioneer, Casals’s piano trio with Jacques Thibaud and Alfred Cortot was already conquering the music world decades before another ...

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