Cellist Zuill Bailey is delighted to return to “the region that produced everything that is my life—especially to the glorious hall of Strathmore, which is a musical instrument itself.”
The recent double Grammy Award-winner—Best Instrumental Solo and Best Contemporary Classical Composition–is a Northern Virginia native who earned one of his degrees at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. His current home base is El Paso, Texas, where he serves as artistic director of the chamber music organization El Paso Pro-Musica and University of Texas at El Paso professor of cello.
“El Paso is humongous,” he said, noting its potential audience of 800,000 people, plus all the millions of Mexicans beyond the nearby border.
Bailey became accustomed to being away from home as a student at the Juilliard School in New York. These days, he travels frequently—which he said has “opened my creativity”–due to his myriad of commitments: he serves as artistic director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival in Alaska, the Northwest Bach Festival & Series in Spokane, Wash., and Mesa Arts Center’s Classical Music Inside Out Series in Arizona. And, of course, 2017 featured “a unique life event,” a trip to Los Angeles to accept his Grammy Awards.
The National Philharmonic and Maestro Piotr Gajewski will welcome Bailey to the Music Center this month, first for a week of rehearsing, being a special guest at the April 17 morning musical conversation with Gajewski; taking part in NP’s Artist-in-Residence program, which includes teaching or presenting informal recitals at local schools, youth orchestras, retirement homes, hospital and synagogues; leading two open-to-the-public master classes (April 22 at the Music Center, April 23 at Potter Violins in Takoma Park) and the pair of concerts on April 22 and 23.
“It’s been an almost annual event for the past decade,” Bailey said, adding that during that time, “We have developed a special audience that trusts in our collaboration. We have traversed the cello literature, and created a massive survey of how the cello has inspired great composers through history.”
“Zuill Bailey is one of my most frequent soloist collaborators,” said Gajewski. “In addition to concerts at the National Philharmonic, we have also appeared together with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra and at the Northwest Bach Festival.
Cello was the first instrument for the 4-year-old son of two music educators, his mom. a Peabody-trained pianist who gave lessons in their home, his dad, a clarinetist with a doctorate from the University of Illinois. Bailey insists he “remembers it happening. I sat on telephone books. Cello stopped me in my tracks. Life seemed in slow motion. It just felt right.” That, he said, was the start of what he calls his characteristic “living based on instinct.” He learned via the Suzuki method, which predominated in the 1970s.
Bailey became “obsessed” with the cello, which he said is the instrument most like the human voice. “My parents never had to tell me to practice.” By age 12, he added, “I knew the cello was the one thing in my life I couldn’t live without.”
And thereafter, Bailey said, “I made it a mission. Cello was the torch to show me my path, and through the example of my parents, I knew it was possible to have a musical life of teaching, engagement and performance.” His sister, violinist Allison Bailey, who also studied at Peabody, is the music director at Alexandria’s Thomas Jefferson High School.
“It was rare to have silence in my house, but it was always live music,” Bailey recalled. “No radio was necessary because we had each other.”
As for his social life, all his friends were of like mind—gratefully using their music as “an outlet for expression and communication” and playing instruments in the youth symphony. Again, his parents were the models for “showing me how power music is in bringing people together to celebrate life. We would have dinner, then go to a concert that inspires you to see yourself and the world differently, then talk about it,” he said. As such, he added, “through my travels, one of my goals is to expose everyone to that power. I like to go into communities as well as perform concerts, shock people with music.” His 1693 Matteo Goffriller cello is the perfect vehicle, he said. “It’s portable and it’s acoustic.”
This concert program will feature Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, variations on two themes of Jewish origin; Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo, the final work of the composer’s Jewish Cycle and Maurice Ravel’s arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which depicts an imaginary tour of an art gallery. The concert is part of the “Exploring Jewish Identity through Music” series initiated by Gajewski, son of a Holocaust survivor whose family emigrated from Poland in 1969. The series also celebrates NP’s Jewish musicians and will recognize Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday in 2018.
Gajewski is clear about his opinion of Bailey’s work. “When the history of music in our time is examined,” he said, “Zuill will be up there as one of the most important artists and innovators of the turn of the century. His artistry is exquisite, but his contributions to the entrepreneurial aspects of our industry are also on the cutting edge. He never ceases working to make the music making not only sublime, but also engaging and relevant.”
Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23, at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. An instrument petting zoo will take place from 2 to 2:30 p.m. April 23. Ticket prices range from $23 to $78, with free tickets available for ages 7 to 17. Call 301-581-5100 or visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.