Zuill Bailey lends international talent to Fairbanks Symphony

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During Tuesday night's rehearsalon Oct. 25, cello professor, Ryan Fitzpatrick stands in for Zuill Bailey as the guest soloist in Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. Bailey will arrive a few days before the symphony's upcoming concert on Nov. 6. Max Erickson/The Sun Star

The distinguished Zuill Bailey will be coming to Fairbanks, Alaska to perform with the Fairbanks symphony orchestra for the third time on Nov. 3 and Nov. 6. Bailey will perform solely with Eduard Zilberkant, the esteemed pianist and conductor and music director of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra, on Nov. 3 and together they will perform sonatas by Brahms and Rachmaninoff and variations on a Paganini theme by Piatagorsky. Bailey and Zilberkant will then play with the entire symphony Nov. 6 and will perform the celebrated Dvorak’s Cello Concerto and Brahms Symphony No. 3, both of which have not been played in years.

“It’s a dream to work with someone you admire and that you’re close to as a friend because you can trust in camaraderie and so we get to walk in and play possibly the greatest piece for cello and orchestra,” Bailey said. “It’s wonderful to return and showcase again how the cello can fit into the fabric of a great symphony and tell a wonderful story.”

Antonín Dvorak and Johannes Brahms had a unique relationship as Dvorak impressed Brahms with his work early on and became a sort of protégé to Brahms. In 1875 Dvorak was unknown outside the Prague area but Brahms was on the jury that award Dvorak the Vienna state prize. Brahms helped build Dvorak’s reputation as a musician. This relationship is why Zilberkant found it apt to pair Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with Brahms’s Symphony No. 3.

“It’s been a while since we’ve played these pieces simply because of the performance programming, there’s no shortage of music in the repertoire,” Zilberkant said. “I try to program pieces that have not been done here for a while and that will be challenging for the Orchestra.”

Bailey is currently the artistic director of the prestigious Sitka summer music festival and series, an organization that brings classical music to the entire state. Next year will be his tenth consecutive year of being involved with the festival and will be the “fifth or sixth” year as the artistic director. Bailey looks forward to playing with maestro Zilberkant who he describes as a great friend as well as performing with the symphony.

Bailey was born in northern Virginia to two professional musicians, his father possessing a doctorate in music education, his mother with performance degrees from major music schools and an older sister who is now a professional violinist and violin teacher. Bailey discovered his own instrument of choice, the cello, at age four.

Bailey has attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and the Juilliard school of music in New York, and began traveling and playing cello right out of school. He has spent 25 years as a traveling performing cellist, and has performed worldwide. This will be Bailey’s third time playing with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra.

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Eduard Zilbercant conducts Brahms' Symphony No. 3 in rehearsal, Oct. 25. Zilberkant defines conducting as getting musicians to cohesively combine their sounds into his realization of the music. Max Erickson/The Sun Star

Dvorak is a huge concerto wherein the symphony and the soloist play carefully together. The soloist comes out and then sits for five minutes because the orchestra plays a long introduction for them so the piece is unique in how symphonically the soloist compliments the orchestra and the orchestra compliments the soloists.

The Brahms piece is difficult because Brahms rhythmical tensions where the meter you feel (1,2,3,4) are shifted so everything is not where a musician would think they should be. As the conductor, Zilberkant’s challenge is to keep the orchestra with the rhythm as well to bring his interpretation of the music out.

“In conducting, I have to teach them my concept of the music,” Zilberkant said.“ Conducting is perhaps the only kind of art form where you can say there may be some telepathy between the conductor who doesn’t say anything and the orchestra who responds to how my face looks and what I’m asking of them. The music changes from the beginning of practice to the end, things change, it’s a growing process of what the Orchestra does.”

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Eduard Zilberkant pauses while conducting and halts the symphony during rehearsal Oct. 25 to do some fine tuning in Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. The Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra's upcoming concert Nov. 6 features Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 and Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. Max Erickson/The Sun Star

Bailey’s cello is one of two on earth by the maker because it has a rosette carved under the fingerboard. It was made in 1693 in Venice, Italy and due to its age, it is larger than other cellos as they were gradually cut down in size as time progressed. The instrument thus makes a unique sound that was made famous by Bailey’s predecessor, Mischa Schneider who played in the Budapest string quartet before Bailey put his own spin to it.

“It’s very much like the human voice so you can emulate singing on it, it is right in the middle registrar and that is why Dvorak and Elgar used it as their storyteller in their great concertos, because it has that wide range of emotions,” Bailey said, “I’ve always felt it was fate, to be honest I’ve never remembered not playing it, I’ve been playing for 40 years.”

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