Even when one stops to consider the vastness of the concerto repertoire, it's surprising to learn that one of the best known staples for cello and orchestra has never been heard on an Oklahoma City Philharmonic classics concert.
Franz Joseph Haydn's “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in C Major” will also mark the Philharmonic debut of Zuill Bailey, a cellist who holds degrees from the Peabody Conservatory and the Juilliard School. Bailey is a professor of cello at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Composed in the early 1760s for Haydn's friend Joseph Franz Weigl, the C Major Concerto disappeared some time after its premiere and was presumed lost. Two centuries would pass before it resurfaced.
In the 1960s, musicologist Oldrich Pulkert discovered a copy of Haydn's score at the Prague National Museum. Cellist Milos Sadlo gave the 20th-century premiere of the newly found work with Charles Mackerras and the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra on May 19, 1962.
“The Haydn C Major lights the building on fire with virtuosity and excitement,” Bailey said recently by phone from El Paso. “This concerto is a dash, an incredibly fun dash. It really feels like water that's about to boil the whole time. The last movement is when the bubbles come and the water finally boils. The excitement is self-generating.”
Like much music written during the classical period (the last half of the 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th), the Haydn C Major has a transparency that exposes both the solo line and the orchestral accompaniment.
“It's like champagne or crystal — beautiful and simple,” Bailey said. “The ear accepts it immediately. Whether you're a listener or a performer, it just feels right. I think of it as a festive celebration piece.”
Concert artists often speak of the time commitment required to prepare a piece for performance. Even a work such as the Haydn C Major, which has been a part of Bailey's repertoire for more than two decades, will need to be practiced and re-examined. Musical masterworks can reveal some previously undetected or overlooked mystery even after years of familiarity and performing.
“There's a story about how Pablo Picasso painted a bowl in a minute and a half,” Bailey recalled. “When someone questioned him about it, he replied, ‘This, my dear, took me 80 years to do.' I'm 40 years old and I've been preparing for this concert for 36 years. That's what I take out on stage with me whenever I play. Every concert is a lifetime experience for me.”
Bailey performs on a 1693 Matteo Gofriller cello, a Venetian instrument owned for 30 years by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet. It's slightly larger than a conventional cello, a design that gives its sound added warmth and depth.
“It's unique among cellos I've heard or performed on,” Bailey said. “Its proportions give it a special voice. I refer to it as the James Earl Jones of cellos. I'd always heard this voice, this color, this character in my head, so when I first heard this cello, I couldn't believe the voice in my head actually existed in reality.
“Every day I'm perplexed and amazed by this cello. When I first got it in the 1990s, I kept trying to change it, but I had to simply let the cello do what it could do. It's a partnership. You can't force your opinion on something that doesn't share that same opinion.
“I've had my own adventure with this cello for 16 years and it still feels like the first day I got it. I can't believe I get to play this cello. When artists feel they have no limits, they can then fly. You're only limited by your own imagination. Playing this cello allows me to dream without boundaries.”
In addition to Haydn's “Cello Concerto in C Major,” Oklahoma City Philharmonic music director Joel Levine has programmed Verdi's 1862 overture to “La Forza del Destino” and Brahms' “Symphony No. 1 in C Minor” of 1876.