by Mike Telin
Cellist David Requiro and pianist Elizabeth DeMio continue a long collaboration with a concert on Arts Renaissance Tremont’s series at Pilgrim Congregational Church on Sunday, April 18 at 3. We spoke with David in New York and Elizabeth in Cleveland.
David Requiro: Yes, and it’s been nice to keep my ties to Cleveland. I spent four years at CIM. I loved it there. I love many things about Cleveland and CIM. I studied with Richard Aaron, and I followed him the University of Michigan as well. The chamber music program at CIM is at the highest level, and I was part of a very serious string quartet for three of my four years. I participated in some very intense quartet seminars. Even the orchestra program I thought was just top notch. So its been great to maintain those ties after leaving, partially through the recordings I’ve been doing. Nathaniel Yaffe, the engineer – producer – editor, is kind of a one-man show. He’s also a former Richard Aaron student. It’s been really nice working on these recordings at CIM, working with Liz and Nathaniel, as well as working with CIM cellists. The debut album that you have was recorded in what was then the brand new Mixon Hall. That was a fabulous experience too. We are actually going to finish up some Beethoven recording sessions right after this recital. This will be the complete works of Beethoven. We’re recording it in Harkness Chapel, and I think Harkness is very fitting for that kind of repertoire. I think it will turn out very nicely.
MT: Is this recording also with Liz?
DR: Absolutely, none other then Liz. She can handle all of the Beethoven sonatas and variations almost on the fly. I give her a call and say I’m flying into town and can you do this, and she’s always like absolutely.
MT: The two of you have worked together for a number of years.
DR: Yes, we first started working in small collaborations when I was a freshman, and as more performing opportunities began to come up; it’s always been Liz. The big things we have done together started in my junior year when we performed all of the Beethoven sonatas for my junior recital in one afternoon at Harkness Chapel. She was kind enough to be my collaborator during the Naumberg competition in New York, and things went well there. As a result of winning that competition we were able to give recitals at Weill Hall, at Carnegie Hall, the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, as well as many other places around the country. It’s been nice.
MT: In your opinion, what makes this collaboration between the two of you work so well?
DR: I think what distinguishes Liz the most is the type of sound that she uses. It always feels like it is perfect. It is always appropriate to the repertoire, and how it is scored. She not only knows the repertoire inside out, partially because she has played with cellists for so many years. But, she has the gift of being able to choose her sounds, whether it is a supportive sound for me to play with, or whether it’s a soloist sound. She is so solid with the basics, the technical ability is all there. But in the end what makes her such a pleasure to work with is her concept of sound.
MT: I agree with you completely. Have you played at Pilgrim Church in the past?
DR: No, I have not, but recently I’ve been talking to some friends, and they told me the space was very nice, so I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be a very nice event.
MT: You have chosen a very interesting program, but why these three pieces?
DR: I kind of picked the heavy hitters from two different recital programs that I have been playing recently, but more importantly they are the most distinctive works that I’m playing right now. The balance just feels right, for instance the Saint-Saëns is one of my favorite works, but you cannot ignore that the piano part is almost that of a concerto. I know Liz loves this piece, so I want to be able to showcase her as well. The Beethoven is kind of an old classic of ours, we have played it a lot together, and I think it pairs well with the Saint-Saëns. Although we have both played the Shostakovich many times, we have never played it together. So, although there is no particular theme to the program, I think of it as simply a variety of the major sonatas for the cello.
MT: You have won many competitions, and now you are living in New York playing with some terrific ensembles; what are you finding exciting about this phase of your career?
DR: Well it has been fun to be able to focus on what I really want to be doing, and that is chamber music and solo work. So far I’m happy with the balance that I have had between the two. This past year I’ve been able to perform concerti, give recitals, and being part of the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players has been a fresh experience. Their purpose is to program obscure composers, who were famous during their own time, but we have forgotten, so there are always a few pieces that are sort of bizarre, with a strange instrumentation that always give me a fresh outlook. Also, I have been giving master classes whenever I can. I actually just accepted a teaching position at the University of Puget Sound.
MT: That’s great. Congratulations. What do you like about playing concerti?
DR: Well I can’t say that I like it more or less then playing chamber music. It’s just a completely different experience. What I like about working with an orchestra is the challenge of achieving a chamber music kind of sound. No matter if it is Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich or Haydn, the end goal is to try to achieve that chamber music quality.
MT: What do you do with your free time?
DR: Well the weather is starting to get nice and I just bought a tennis racquet yesterday. I love dining out with my girlfriend. I’d say that just enjoying my time in New York is pretty key right now.
Elizabeth DeMio: I would say that it is a lot more fulfilling then playing by myself. While I enjoy playing concertos, musically the duo is the height of possibilities for music making. You have two people who are so into what they are doing, and you can bounce off of each other. When you have two people who are sensitive to each other you can almost read the other persons mind. You try to duplicate that when you are with an orchestra, but it isn’t the same. Of course when you are giving a solo recital there is no one else to bounce off of, so you go deep into yourself for musical ideas. It is far more interesting to be able to bounce ideas off of another person. I just can’t get enough of it. I think it is the best way to make music.
MT: During your career you have had the opportunity to collaborate with many incredible musicians.
ED: Yes I have been very fortunate.
MT: Is there anyone who stands out in your mind with whom you felt the sixth sense that you speak of, where it was just so easy the first time?
ED: You know, each person is different, so it is hard to say if there is one person. I would say that there have been several people with whom I have been able to immediately hook into. I personally feel as though I have developed this sense over a long period of time. It takes time to let go of what you are doing and to really listen to the other person while you are playing. I think I have gotten better over the years, and I think I have learned from everybody that I have played with, and that includes students. I learn just as much from the students as I do from the professionals. Every musician has something unique to offer, and I enjoy that. I hope that was a good answer!
MT: Yes that was a very good answer. Speaking of students, David told me that the two of you first worked together when he was a freshman.
ED: Yes I did. It seems so long ago now.
MT: So this is sort of a two-part question. First, over time, the two of you have developed a professional working relationship — what do you think has made it work so well? And second, how does it make you feel, knowing that you first worked with him as a collaborative coach, to have a student who has gone on to do such great things.
ED: To answer the second part first, it just thrills me beyond belief. There simply are not words to say how deeply happy it makes me, that I can be part of a person’s journey to a really good professional life, then to keep the connection as a professional. One of the many fun things about David is that he has kept in touch with me all this time, and as he has matured, it has grown into something very special.
To answer the first part of the question, David has always been a rock solid musician in every way, technically, musically, and intellectually. So even as a freshman, he was already at a very high level. His playing was always something special. But, he never let up when it came to improving himself. He inspires me because he is so focused. He is able to think about musical issues on so many levels, and he figures out strategies to approach a piece that I would have never though of. I gain so much from just listening to him. Another thing that occurs to me is that much of the time when I hear him, we are playing at the same time, but when we did the recording, during some of the sessions when we took it into the studio with really good speakers, I was able to just sit back and listen to him. That was such a treat. When I am playing with him, I can’t just sit there and say oh wow this is great, I need to focus on what I am doing. So it was a real treat to just be able to listen. He really is something special.
MT: Speaking of recordings, I understand that you are in the process of recording the complete works of Beethoven for piano and cello?
ED: I like how you say it putting the piano first. We have more notes. But, yes we have two sessions scheduled, late night on Monday and Tuesday following the recital. Apparently we have everything completed except for the A major sonata. David also wanted another go at the E-flat variations. We also have a wonderful engineer, Nathaniel Yaffe. He is very talented and did a great job with our first CD. It’s the kind of recording that you want to listen to it on good speakers so that you can hear all the depth of what Nathaniel is able to do. It’s still fun to listen to in your car, as I do a lot of listening in the car, (Laughing)
MT: I understand, sometimes you just have to.
ED: Exactly, and besides what else are you going to do while you are stuck in traffic? But part of what he is able to do as a recording engineer, is that he is a great musical advisor during the sessions. You have done that so you know what I mean. When you do little parts over and over, your brain gets a little fried and you can’t hear as well as you could if you were at a regular rehearsal. Nathaniel has wonderful ears and a wonderful mind and he is able to help us to figure out what it is that we need to fix on the spot. He is very efficient and brilliant at what he does.
MT: On a personal note, when I have been involved in recording sessions acting in the capacity of musical advisor, it has always made me very nervous, because you are right on the edge of telling somebody how to play.
ED: Exactly. It is a very delicate thing, and it can really affect everything. Everything matters, the tone of voice, choice of words, and he is very good at that. He makes us both feel very comfortable and yet we know that he is telling us the truth. We know that he’s hearing everything and noticing details. It really is a mutual trust. He’s just great.
MT: One last question: while you certainly collaborate with musicians who play a variety of instruments, I know that one of your favorite instruments to work with is the cello. What is it about the cello that you find attractive?
ED: I like the range. I like the tone. I love the repertoire. The instrument has such a vast repertoire that is really great. It is not as big as the violin repertoire, but you would be surprised what is out there. There are so many treasures that people tend not to pay attention to. Many times people get stuck in the great standard works, which is fine, but there is a lot that can be discovered. It’s pretty much endless. I also think the combination of cello and piano is to me, the epitome of the musical combination. I think the two instruments really complement one another. The classic thing is for the cello to get a little bit overwhelmed by the piano, but I think if you have a cellist with a monster sound like David, and a pianist, that I hope I am, who can be sensitive enough that I don’t overdo it, I think the combination just works great.
MT: Well David did tell me that you are that pianist.
ED: That is so sweet, my gosh. So I will gush a little bit about him, there are so many great qualities in his playing. Everything is there. Even in rehearsal he is always solid, but when you get him in front of an audience, he just lights up. It is as if there is a light shining through him, and he pulls the audience in with that light. It is a unique talent that I don’t think can be taught.