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Back to Bach

Joshue Roman plays Bach's cello suites.

Cellist Joshua Roman returns to the source

Joshua Roman has followed his own distinctive career pat. When Roman managed to win the principal cellist position with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in 2006 at the very young age of 22, he beat great odds, gaining the most prestigious cello position with a major symphony orchestra, a feat that most young cellists can only dream of. Roman then went on to raise more than a few eyebrows when, a mere two years later, he resigned from his Seattle position to pursue a career as a soloist.

Roman will be the featured artist in the season opening Slee Visiting Artist series concert this Saturday evening, September 21 at 7:30pm in Slee Hall on the UB Amherst campus. He will offer an all-Bach program, playing three of the composer’s suites for unaccompanied cello: No.2 in D minor, BWV 1008, No.3 in C major, BWV 1009, and No.6 in D major, BWV 112.

Bach’s set of six suites for solo cello have become one of the composer’s best-loved and often performed works, but they were not widely known for more than 150 years following the composer’s death in 1750. All that started to change when the very young Catalan cellist Pablo Casals discovered a copy of the scores in a second-hand book store in Barcelona in 1890. Bach’s original manuscript had disappeared after his death, and the earliest known copy of the suites is in the hand of his second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach. She was not herself a cellist and her manuscript contains bowing errors among other inconsistencies in various musical details. This has resulted in a wealth of different editions of the suites, including the edition that Casals used by the German cellist Friedrich Grützmacher, which embellished Bach’s music with ornaments and flourishes. The result has been that every cellist playing the suites has been required to make his own personal choices as to how to play the works, resulting in a multiplicity of interpretations, beginning with Casals, who did more than any other cellist to bring the suites into the classical musical mainstream.

Roman has had a life-long relationship with Bach’s suites for solo cello. “I started playing the Bach suites at a fairly young age, as part of the Suzuki Method,” he says. “Once I moved on from that curriculum, my teacher immediately instituted a schedule that would always have me practicing Bach, alongside whatever sonata, concerto, and/or etude I was studying. For the most part, I’ve kept that up, and never feel like there is ‘too much Bach.’”

While each of the cello suites presents its own set of interpretive challenges, the sixth and final suite raises the bar for the performer to a new level. “The sixth suite is unique,” says Roman, “because it was originally written for a five-stringed instrument. To perform it on a four-stringed cello requires all kinds of maneuvering to make up for the lack of the extra string. This added technical hurdle makes any artist reach even further to bring out the tremendous passion and depth in this epic suite.”

has made it a practice to perform classical music in alternative venues, and he recently completed an ongoing video series called The Popper Project. Wherever he found himself, Roman performed and recorded an étude from David Popper’s High School of Cello Playing, which he then collected and uploaded to his dedicated Youtube channel.

Roman has continued to appear as a soloist with major symphonic orchestras, and last November, he performed the LA Philharmonic premier of Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul concerto, the very same work which Yo-Yo Ma chose to open the new BPO season this week.

For tickets and information, call 645-2921 or visit

Viva Verdi!

In celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, Buffalo Opera Unlimited will host a pair of concerts featuring selections from the composer’s operas in the Performing Arts Center of Rockwell Hall on the campus of Buffalo State College on Friday, September 20 at 8pm and Sunday, September 22 at 2:30pm. The program includes solo arias, duets, quartets, ballets, and choral works from some of the composer’s best known operas, including La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and Un Ballo in Maschera. For the past 28 years Buffalo Opera Unlimited, under its artistic director Tim Kennedy, has been dedicated to giving Western New York singers an opportunity to perform leading roles in opera. Soloists include sopranos Laura Noack and Holly Bewlay, mezzo-soprano Allyn Vandusen, tenor Tamar Greene, baritone Mario Martinez, and bass Eric Johnson. For the first time ever, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, under its new director Erin Freeman, will be a part of the company’s program.

For tickets and information, call 878-3005 or visit

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