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These Are a Few of My Favorite ... Cellists
12 August 2014
Lately I have been writing quite a few intense articles, so today I felt like it was time to take a short break and lighten up a bit. Therefore, I would like to bring to your attention a few of my favorite cellists.
Although the violin is right there at the top of my list of favorite instruments, sometimes its high pitch can sound a bit screechy, which can cause the music it is making to be somewhat less relaxing than it could be. In contrast, because the cello is in a lower register, I find that its sounds are often more soothing. And anyway, isn't a cello simply an overgrown violin? So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite ... cellists.
Not only is Gretchen Yanover an excellent cellist, but she also has the additional appeal of a cool name and of residing in the wonderful Pacific Northwest — Seattle to be exact.
It was back in 2010 that I discovered her 2005 debut album Bow and Cello. I've listened to this wonderful music SO much since then! I keep coming back to Gretchen's cello compositions because the music is beautiful, soothing, and not overly orchestrated. Follow the link and listen to the samples, and you'll see (or hear) what I mean.
I have loved Bow and Cello so much that I've been wishing for these past four years that she would make a second album. But I've been looking and hoping in vain — until now!
I just discovered this week that Gretchen has finally released her follow-up work: Waves Wash Over Us. Hurray! More of the same great cello music. The only thing wrong with it is that at 34 minutes it's just about half the length of her first album, making it feel like a big chunk of it is missing. But it's definitely better than nothing! Hopefully she's back in her stride, and there will be further albums in the not-too-distant future.
Here is a video of Gretchen performing the first track, called Turnaround, from her new album. And before we go any further, regarding this video and all the other YouTube videos below, I'm sorry for any ads you have to endure before the video starts — that's a YouTube thing that's totally beyond my control. With that out of the way, let's watch and listen!
Next on my list of favorite cellists (not necessarily in any particular order) is the Swiss Martin Tillman. Follow the link to read the Wikipedia article, because his accomplishments are pretty impressive — and so is his music!
I've got three of Martin's albums, and each one is quite different. A Year In Zurich is a quiet, calm album on which Martin plays both the piano and the cello. Even though there is quite a lot of cello, the piano is definitely the dominant instrument.
The next two albums are collaborative works. The exotic Amadeus On the Nile, with Tom Vedvik, was the first album I heard with Martin's cello. It's hard to put the style of music into words — it's meditative, yet often has a groove. There are Middle Eastern flavors mixed with a good helping of electronica, and plenty of cello throughout. It even has four tracks with some female vocals. Normally I DETEST instrumental albums with vocals, but this is one of the rare cases in which it actually adds to the music rather than ruins it. It's a very captivating, enchanting album that I really like a lot. Listen to the samples and see how it tastes to you — but I'll warn you, the entire songs are much better than the short samples.
My third and final Tillman album — Afterglow — was recording with Michael Hoppé on keyboards and Tim Wheater on flute. I've listened to this album SO many times — A hundred? More? — but I never get tired of it. It is always fresh, relaxing, and moving. As Michael says about his music, "it's very much from the heart, for the heart." That is definitely the case with this album!
Sorry, there doesn't seem to be any actual performances by Martin Tillman on YouTube, but at least you can listen to these two pieces, which are fairly good representations of the entire albums they are found on, and ignore the preachy, irrelevant visuals if you want. First, the track "Odessa" from the album Amadeus on the Nile: After that groove, let's try something more soothing, like "Thoughts Of You" from the album Afterglow, with, of course, Martin Tillman on the cello once again:
And then there's Steven Sharp Nelson, one of the Mormon Piano Guys, who is a very popular cellist these days. Because, from what I understand, they became a YouTube sensation before they made any albums, we'll start off by looking at a couple of their dozens of very entertaining music videos. Both of them feature Steven Sharp Nelson alone without Jon Schmidt on the piano.
Because I am such a fan of science fiction, I think that their Cello Wars (Star Wars Parody) Lightsaber Duel is one of their best. And with nearly 19 million views, I am obviously not alone in the universe!
Unfortunately, it seems that Sony Music Entertainment (SME) is being a jerk in some cases, and might not let you watch the video embedded below from this page. It works in one of my browsers (Firefox) but not in another (Safari). So if the following video won't play below, you can click on this link to watch it on the YouTube Web site. Whatever! Definitely NOT how to win friends and influence people! On a more serious and calmer note, Carol of the Bells (for 12 cellos) showcases once again the visual treat, along with the aural treat, you get just watching Steven Sharp Nelson perform a song: These two videos just scratch the surface of what the Piano Guys have created over the past few years — the latest count is 53 videos. Of course, they don't all achieve the same level of quality or enjoyment, so I've collected my favorite 24 videos into my very own YouTube Steven Sharp Nelson cello playlist. All in all they are pretty astonishing performances and video productions!
Once the Piano Guys videos became popular, they started putting together some albums so their fans could buy the music. I've got two of them — first, their self-titled The Piano Guys album, with a selection of songs from their most popular videos. It's pretty good, but it's even more entertaining to watch them play the songs in the videos — especially to see Steven's overflowing enthusiasm for, and love of, playing the cello.
The second album is Steven Sharp Nelson's Christmas Cello. It has nice arrangements of a number of well-known traditional Christmas songs, plus a selection of lesser-known pieces which help keep the album fresh.
Bach's complete cello suites (#1-6). There's definitely no frivolity or modernity here! As the Wikipedia article about them starts off, "The six suites for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello." Personally, I have the recording performed by Heinrich Schiff.
In order to give you a small taste of what the six suites are like — which comprise a total of 36 movements over two hours of performance — you can watch this video of the Gavotte I & II from Suite 6 in D Major, performed by cellist Ophélie Gaillard. In this case, she is NOT counted as one of my favorite cellists, sorry! From what I have read and heard, it sounds like she is a wonderful musician, but because I never even knew she existed until I wrote this article, you can hardly expect her to be one of my favorites. In this case I'm highlighting the cello composer, not the cello player.
On the other hand, I also discovered these next cellists while I was writing this article. Even though I had never heard of them before, all it took was one view of their five-minute pseudo-Baroque performance and I was completely won over. With over 22 million views, there is obviously a huge number of others who have been won over as well!
If you want the ultimate in visceral, heart-thumping, sweat-inducing, over-the-top "Baroque" cello, you just gotta check out this video from the 2CELLOS duo of Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser. Once again, it seems that Sony Music Entertainment (SME) is being a jerk in certain cases, and might not let you watch the video embedded below from this page. If it doesn't play for you, you can click on this link to watch it on the YouTube Web site. Sheesh! other songs from their two albums, I wasn't really convinced that I would want to buy an entire album's worth of their music. I'll have to let that stew for a while and come to a more solid decision down the road. For now, Sulic and Hauser don't make it onto my list of favorite cellists. On the other hand, they are pretty wild and amazing musicians, and are presenting the cello in a whole new way to a new generation. On the other hand ... on the other hand, there is no other hand, as Tevye famously said in Fiddler on the Roof. So I'll leave it at that.
CD Baby music store to your attention. If you followed the album links above, you will have already found that some of them lead to CD Baby. I have discovered quite a bit of great music there over the years — some of it which you won't find anywhere else. According to their Web site, they feature about 3 million tracks from almost 400,000 albums by more than 300,000 artists from around the world. When you buy from CD Baby, you're supporting independent musicians directly, and not just lining the pockets of record companies.
In addition, like Gretchen Yanover, CD Baby is also located in the great Pacific Northwest — in Portland, just an hour's drive up the I-5 from where I live in Albany. I bought my first album from CD Baby over ten years ago, in early 2004. Here's a copy of the amusing and very-unusual e-mail they sent me:
I just did a search for "cello" on CD Baby, and it came back with 200 results. Who knows? With all that abundance and richness, perhaps the next star on my list of favorite cellist is already there just waiting to be discovered. So much to listen to, so little time!
Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved 'Bon Voyage!' to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Friday, February 20th.
I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as 'Customer of the Year'. We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!
This article is 14th a series of articles on this Web site related to Literature, Music and Photography which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
On September 29, 2014, Rich Lindvall wrote:
Check out Sol Gabetta. She finds a whole 'nother level for me. Crazy amount of attention to each note and tone. But also real large scale shapes of phrases.