By Philippa Kiraly, Special to the Sybaritic Singer
Town Hall opened in 1998, the remodel of an old Christian Science Church with a sanctuary perfect for public performances, lectures, political speakers, wedding receptions, arts events of all kinds. There were several areas which needed change, however, such as more even acoustics in the main hall, better ventilation and more toilets. It took some years to fund, during which the venue became in use 365 days a year and added a secondary performance area, but it was not until Town Hall was closed to undertake the needed work, that Seattle realized how valuable and important, how crucial a space for the city it had become.
Tuesday night it reopened to an enthusiastic audience, with a solo performance by cellist Joshua Roman, who inaugurated the Town Music series 12 years ago and continues to curate it. A performer who has always been something of a pied piper in Seattle, where he was the youngest principal player the Seattle Symphony ever had had before he embarked on his solo career, his Tuesday night performance showed how his musical understanding and ability to convey it has only deepened over the years. During these he has explored the outer limits of musical adventure, and the extreme possibilities of his instrument, all of which he brought to his performance Tuesday, along with a technical ability which made light of all the difficulties and surprises his performance choices required.
He began with one of the Bach Suites, No. 3 in C Major, played with a profound insight into its beauties. For the rest of the evening he played an eclectic variety of 20th and 21st century works, by Mark O’Connor, Mark Summer, Krzysztof Penderecki, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Caroline Shaw, Lisa Bielawa and finally, by himself. These were mostly fast and busy works, with widely varied uses of the cello, from simple strumming, slurping and plucking, to playing with the bow not only on strings on the fingerboard side of the bridge, but on and even behind the bridge, each causing different timbres and qualities. There was knocking and tapping, swiping near the tail piece, squawks, snorts and squeaks, all of it incorporated into colorful, engaging works. Each was quite different and almost all had moments where Bach’s influence could be ascertained, sometimes in string-crossing chords, sometimes a phrase pattern or in a snatch of harmonic progression.
Roman made it all seem easy. He played his cello as an extension of himself, and his casual approach with some introductions of the music between works and how he came to play them made it seem the more intimate experience. In his own work, he sang at the same time and he did also in his encore, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, encouraging the audience to sing along in the refrain.
I wish though that he had included some slower works, ones with long sustained notes, so that we could hear how they sounded in the hall’s new acoustic.