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Wichita Symphony features Grammy-winning piece, soloist in Hemingway tribute

Zuill Bailey was featured as the soloist on “Tales from Hemingway” when it debuted with the Nashville Symphony in 2015, and the recording won three Grammys.  Bailey will perform the work next weekend with the Wichita Symphony.
Zuill Bailey was featured as the soloist on “Tales from Hemingway” when it debuted with the Nashville Symphony in 2015, and the recording won three Grammys. Bailey will perform the work next weekend with the Wichita Symphony. Courtesy photo

A triple-Grammy Award winning work, a skyrocketing cellist, and a salute to one of America’s greatest authors.

Those all combine for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s concerts next weekend.

The centerpiece is composer Michael Daughtery’s “Tales of Hemingway,” a four movement piece that provides somewhat of a soundtrack to the author’s works, including “Big Two-Hearted River,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Sun Also Rises.”

“There are all styles of music in this, from very ruminative or pastoral to very aggressive, bullfight-type of music, mariachi trumpets and extreme virtuosity from the soloist,” said Daniel Hege, Wichita Symphony conductor and music director.

That soloist is Zuill Bailey, a cellist whose talent and success may be second only to Yo-Yo Ma.

“He embraces new music, and he’s also, not unlike Yo-Yo Ma, really able to reach a large audience,” Hege said of Bailey, 47, director of the Center for Arts Entrepreneurship at University of Texas-El Paso, as well as artistic director of El Paso Pro Musica, the Sitka Summer Music Festival in Alaska, the Northwest Bach Festival in Washington state and the Mesa Arts Center Series in Arizona.

“He’s just so good as expressing himself as a cellist and verbally, as well as a nice guy — a big, warm heart,” Hege said of Bailey.

Bailey was featured as the soloist on “Tales from Hemingway” when it debuted with the Nashville Symphony in 2015, and the recording won Grammys in 2017 for best classical compendium, best classical instrumental solo and best contemporary classical composition.

“It’s a notable work and has been recognized as such,” Hege said. “It shows off the full range of the cello pitch-wise as well as color-wise. It’s really a tour de force that encompasses a wide range of emotions.

“It’s a roller-coaster ride, really,” he added.

Daugherty, a friend of Hege, is known for his pop culture-based compositions, Hege said, with subjects including Elvis, Route 66, Rosa Parks and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

In an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette in his Iowa hometown, Daugherty said he was keen on using the author as inspiration.

“I’ve wanted to translate the life and literature of Ernest Hemingway into a work of music,” he told the Gazette. “There is a site connection. I live in Michigan and Hemingway spent much of his youth in northern Michigan during the summers, and that’s where he wrote his first major works. ... Hemingway also played the cello as a youth, so I thought that was an interesting connection.

“Also, his life was bigger than life — almost like an opera — and was pleading for some kind of musical depiction,” he added.

The variety of moods in the approximately 30-minute piece reflects Hemingway’s work, Daugherty said.

“One of the things that was innovative in (Hemingway’s) writing was his use of a writing style which is at times very direct and simple and then suddenly changes into very complex and descriptive. In much of his books, there’s a simple dialogue and then it will go into a paragraph that’s very descriptive and virtuosic,” he said.

“That’s what I do in this piece. It moves between having melodies which are memorable to incredibly virtuosic displays of energy.”

Since its debut, Daugherty told the newspaper, Bailey has performed “Hemingway” more than 50 times.

According to articles, Bailey fell in love with the cello after literally bumping into one backstage after a concert at age 4. By 12, he decided he wanted to become a professional musician. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute and the Juilliard School, respectively.

For more than 22 years, Bailey has performed on a cello made in 1693 by Venetian cello maker Matteo Goffriller. It was played for 30 years by a cellist in the Budapest String Quartet.

“In a way, this is my voice,” he told the News & Advance in Lynchburg, Virginia. “When I play, I can’t believe (that) what that cello produces is actually what I hear in my head, of what a cello should sound like.”

“Hemingway” is the centerpiece of the concerts that also feature Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (“very picturesque,” Hege said of the work featuring concertmaster Holly Mulcahy) and opens with “Masquerade,” a five-minute work from modern composer Anna Clyne.

Asked if he and Bailey had worked together before, Hege chuckled and replied, “Almost.”

In a 2003 guest conductorship that also served as an audition for music director of Maryland’s Annapolis Symphony, Hege was at the podium and Bailey, then billed as a “young prodigy” was soloist.

But a hurricane hit Maryland after the rehearsal and before the performance.

“There were enough storms that it made a bunch of power outages,” Hege recalled. “The hall where we were to perform went dark. But we had already done the rehearsals.”

The concert, which was to include Brahms “Double Concerto,” never happened.

“I think that’s the only time in my life where that’s happened,” Hege said of the canceled performance.

Symphonic Tales

When: 7:30 p.m. Sat. Oct. 26 and 3 p.m. Sun. Oct. 27.

Where: Century II, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $25-$70, available at wichitasymphony.org, the Wichita Symphony Box Office and 316-267-7658.

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