On Monday, Jan. 13, acclaimed guest cellist Matthew Zalkind brought three works first collected in his debut solo recording to Lawrence University’s Harper Hall, including pieces from composers Bach, Michael Brown and Zoltán Kodály. He explained that he feels that these works have a strong sense of “kinship,” which allows him to fully explore the versatile expressive and technical possibilities of the cello. Each work is a uniquely important homage to solo cello: Johann Sebastian Bach’s cello suites are widely acknowledged to represent a prestigious level of technical achievement, and until Kodály composed his “Sonata” nearly 200 years later, very few other significant works were written for solo cello. The second suite on the program was written in 2012 by Michael Brown, a close friend and colleague of Zalkind’s, and was intended to function as a bridge between the previously written Bach and Kodály pieces.
From the opening mellow, meandering notes of Bach’s “Prelude” to the upbeat, forward-moving “Courante,” culminating in the full, swelling drama of the dancing “Gigue,” Suite No. 6 smoothly transitioned to the dark and suspenseful prelude of Brown’s bridge. The haunting, inquisitive notes spanning the 200-year chasm between Bach and Kodály escalated to another urgent gigue and synthesized a coherent body of work that transverses centuries. “The Washington Post” exalted “the sharply etched passagework in the Bach” as “startling, surpassing that of many world-class cellists,” signifying a great payoff to Zalkind’s ambitious choice to debut such difficult pieces.
Following his concerto debut at New York City’s Avery Fisher Hall, Zalkind was further praised by “The New York Times” for his “impressive refinement, eloquent phrasing, and singing tone” and has subsequently performed at many prestigious venues throughout the United States and abroad as a recitalist, soloist and chamber musician. He has performed in Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, D.C. and the Beijing Concert Hall in China with several renowned orchestras and conductors around the world, including the Julliard Symphony Orchestra and the Musica Viva Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Zalkind’s long list of accomplishments include membership in the acclaimed Harlem String Quartet as well as winning numerous awards at prestigious international cello competitions.
Zalkind is an assistant professor of cello at the University of Denver’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Lamont School of Music, where he is, of course, passionate about teaching, but is also incredibly devoted to community outreach efforts. While at The Juilliard School for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he was awarded a Gluck Community Service Fellowship for four years after performing concerts at treatment facilities throughout New York City. Zalkind also later went on to earn a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan.
Zalkind and his partner Alice Yoo are now Co-Artistic Directors of the Denver Chamber Music Festival, whose season announcement will be made on Jan. 30, at denverchambermusicfestival.org. More information can be found on the website or the festival’s Facebook page. For those who missed the live selection performed on Monday, Zalkind’s premier album “JS Bach; Kodály; Michael Brown: Music for Solo Cello” is available for steaming on Spotify.