Wendy Warner is one of the best-known cellists in the world not named Yo Yo Ma. Which means (as Warner herself has said) that she’s not very well known to the general public.
Music fans here will have a chance to hear or get reacquainted with Warner next weekend when she returns for the first time in 13 years as featured performer for two concerts with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. Warner will perform two pieces by Tchaikovsky, “Rococo Variations” and “Pezzo Capriccioso,” in a concert that also features Mozart’s “Symphony No. 35” and Hanson’s “Symphony No. 2.”
A Chicago native and child of two professional musicians, Warner started piano lessons at 4 and cello classes two years later. In her youth, she was considered a protege of famed Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, winning his namesake international competition in Paris in 1990. She has performed around the world in big and small groups since that time and currently teaches at Columbus (Ga.) State University.
When we caught up with her by telephone, she had just finished a long day of teaching and was attempting to feed her son Jeremy, 3, while answering questions about herself, her career and upcoming concert.
Q: What can concertgoers expect from your featured pieces?
A: The “Rococo Variations,” it’s maybe the closest thing we have to playing something like Mozart with the elegance, purity and lightness of feeling, but it has the drama of Tchaikosvky. It’s also very operatic.
The second is just a fun piece. It’s like a little encore.
Q: Did you ever consider another career besides music?
A: I’m not sure I could do anything else. I don’t know if I’m gifted at anything else. I never had time to really develop anything else because I was practicing all the time. At one point, my cello teacher asked me, “What would you do?” (besides playing music). I know I like psychology. Something totally different.
Q: Do you remember anything about your previous performance here?
A: Yeah, actually I think this is my third time coming. The first time I came I was really young. I also played two pieces. Wichita likes to program two pieces (for featured performers). It’s really rare.
The second time I came, I made a lot of friends in the orchestra. I still keep in touch with people. I’m going to see old friends. I feel very comfortable coming to Wichita.
Q: What was your relationship with Rostropovich like?
A: In high school I played for him and studied with him for a couple of years. In 1990, he wanted me to enter his competition in Paris. His last words to me were “If you do well, I will promote your career.” That was a lot of pressure. After that, he just helped me a lot. He took me on several tours and pushed me a lot.
Q: Is it true that one of your first cello teachers did not spend time teaching you scales?
A: It’s kind of funny. My teacher didn’t really teach me technique. I just learned it. That’s not at all the way I teach. I’m completely opposite. I think certain things might have been easier for me had I had that foundation. But I think I turned out OK.
Q: Do you still practice “visualization” before performances, similar to what athletes do before games”
A: It’s not visualized so much now as just having a concept in your mind what you want to communicate. So much of it is left to spontaneity on the stage.
Q: How do you balance teaching, performing and other aspects of your life?
A: I’m a mother now. I have a 3-year-old son, so I’m trying to balance that as well. Before Jeremy, it was really crazy. I was performing nonstop and also teaching in Chicago. Once I had Jeremy, I kind of decided I wanted to be home more. I didn’t really want to be that kind of mom who was on the road all the time.
Q: Do you ever think classical musicians are overlooked by the general public?
A: I actually like a lot of other kinds of music, too. But that’s just me. When I was in Japan, I was really amazed. There were five concerts going on in the same building at the same time, in Osaka, and all were sold out. It’s a cultural thing, it’s true. Classical music isn’t really valued as much as it should be.
Wichita Symphony Orchestra
What: The American Romantic featuring cellist Wendy Warner and guest conductor Thomas Wilkins
Where: Century II, 225 W. Douglas
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $19, $35 and $57, wichitasymphony.org