Shreveport Symphony Orchestra concert with cellist John-Henry Crawford
The Shreveport Symphony Orchestra’s “Coming Home” season will open with native son and award-winning cellist John-Henry Crawford.
Crawford, 26, will take a break from his music studies in New York City to return to his hometown and take part in two of SSO’s concerts this weekend.
The SSO’s Willis-Knighton Masterworks 2019-2020 series kicks off with the Opening Night Orchestra Spectacular — Tchaikovsky’s 5th at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 21 at First Baptist Shreveport. Michael Butterman will lead.
Tickets cost between $ 15- $ 63 with season pass packages available at shreveportsymphony.com.
“Postcards from Italy”, the first concert in the SSO Christmas Foundation’s chamber music series, will take place on Sunday, September 22 at 3 pm in the Anderson Auditorium of Centenary College.
Related:John-Henry Crawford, native of Shreveport, wins international cello competition
Related:Shreveport Symphony Orchestra 2019-2020 Season Celebrates ‘Home’
The chamber music concert is free. The musicians to be performed are John-Henry Crawford and Ruth Drummond (cello), Kirsten Yon, Jennifer Carsillo and Juan Flores (violin), as well as Borys Smolaga and Michele Gunn-Soliman (viola). The program includes selections by Puccini, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.
Opening the season on Saturday, the SSO will begin the concert with Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise by Eugene Onegin and end with Symphony No.5. Crawford will join the orchestra for his second selection, Variations on a Rococo Theme — one piece which Crawford credits as the launching pad for his cello career.
John-Henry Crawford spoke to The Times about the importance of playing Rococo-themed Variations with the SSO, his latest musical achievements, and the story of his 200-year-old cello.
The Times: You’ll be heading back to Shreveport this week to perform with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, but what are you doing in New York right now?
John-Henry Crawford: I graduated from Julliard in May for the Masters program. I just started another program — an artist degree — at the Manhattan School of Music. It’s been about a year. It is an intensive program where you focus on private lessons and career development.
TT: What schools did you attend when you lived in Shreveport?
JHC: I grew up in Southfield Kindergarten to Grade 8 and then went to (Caddo) Magnet High School. I went there for two years and then when I was 16 I moved to Philadelphia to study at the Curtis Institute (of Music).
TT: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a cellist?
JHC: It’s a perfect transition to this concert because the piece I’m going to play, the Rococo Variations, is the same one I heard when I was about 12 years old. The (Shreveport) Symphony was playing Rococo Variations for a Home for the Holidays concert and there was a cellist named Jonathan Lewis who comes from Shreveport and started in my mother’s (centenary) Suzuki program. I was amazed at what he was doing on the cello and the sounds that came out.
This is probably the spark that really got me excited about cello and music. That’s when I think things started to change for me. I was so inspired by this gig and looked for chamber music festivals and then summer festivals for private study and really took it seriously. I started practicing several hours a day and it became my passion.
TT: You’ve accomplished so much in your music studies and career already. Tell me about your last achievement in competition.
JHC: Most recently, I was fortunate to have won first prize at the 9th Carlos Prieto International Cello Competition in Morelia, Mexico. 25 cellists from all over the world came to compete.
It was a fantastic experience and every ride was so much fun. What’s inspiring about the competition is that there are so many other cellists taking part and it’s more of a festival than a competitive event. Everyone learns from each other and is inspired by other players, so you come away with a lot of inspiration and ideas for the future.
TT: The music of Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky aroused your passion for the cello. In 2015, you participated in the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. This weekend you’ll be playing Rococo-themed Variations with SSO. It seems that the composer played an important role in your life.
JHC: Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations is a piece I’ve been playing for over a decade now … Every time I come back to it it’s like an old friend, especially with the orchestra I heard it with for the first time. It’s really exciting for me.
Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite Russian composers and he has some of the most remarkable melodies. The music itself is so vocal. Sometimes when you play this music it feels like you are this Russian singer singing along to these beautiful rising tunes. It’s a really exciting piece and I can’t wait to play it with the Symphony.
TT: You have performed with so many symphonies around the world. What is it like to come home and play with SSO?
JHC: It really is special. It’s unlike any of the other orchestras because I have such a deep connection to Shreveport and I know so many players from the symphony. It’s really special to be surrounded by friends and family and to have an audience that has known and supported you and supported you for years. I love it.
TT: The cello you play has an interesting past. How did you acquire it?
JHC: This cello I play belonged to my grandfather. His name was Dr Robert Popper. He was an amateur cellist. He smuggled this cello out of Austria seven weeks before Kristallnacht. He saw the writing on the wall of what was going on in Europe and he decided he had to get out while there was still time.
He brought the cello to Switzerland along with several other instruments because … after paying a high starting price, the emigrants were only allowed to bring their most essential goods and had to leave everything else behind. He later recovered it with the other instruments. The cello has been in our family for over 100 years. It’s been in our family for longer than anywhere else. It was made probably in 1827 and my grandfather bought it in 1918. We have had the cello for most of his life, which is interesting to consider considering his age, around 200 years old.
TT: When you’re not listening to classical music, who and what do you play?
JHC: I like all kinds of music. No matter the genre, classical or pop or jazz or rock or electronic, there are all kinds of fantastic artists. The people I love to listen to when I’m just trying to relax: Ólafur Arnalds, who is this Icelandic songwriter who does beautiful things, Radiohead, Aphex Twin and Elliot Smith.
TT: Do any of these artists or genres influence the way you play classical music?
JHC: Absoutely. There are particular harmonies and colors that I hear in other genres that are not necessarily as common in classical music. If you play contemporary music, you need to explore these non-traditional colors that occur outside of classical music and a little more experimental sounds.
Even in rich vocal harmonies, whenever there is a singer that I particularly like, whether in the classical, pop or jazz world, I think of his inflections and the way he colors different notes. . It’s inspiring and I can take inspiration from their tendencies as a singer and apply them to my own voice as a cellist.
TT: Besides music, what do you like to do?
JHC: I like to go out. I like running. I am really into photography and videography. One project I’ve been working on for several years is on Instagram, called #AThousandDayJourney, on my page @CelloCrawford. Each day I upload a short clip of what I’m working on that day or maybe a concert or rehearsal to give a glimpse into the life of a practicing cellist and musician.
I also love to read, from non-fiction to fiction, and learn how the world works.
Reading, running and photography. Every now and then, go to the movies with friends and have a coffee.
For more information, visit shreveportsymphony.com and johnhenrycrawford.com.