5 Qs for Scott Kluksdahl

I first met Scott Kluksdahl on the Brown Farm at Music from Salem about three years back. I was in the midst of my first Queering the Pitch concert tour, unsure of my future paths, and was lucky enough to talk with Scott about so many musical topics. His is a brilliant mind, so incredibly insightful. A few months later, I visited University of South Florida, where Scott is Professor of Music in Cello and Chamber Music, to perform my QtP concert, teach, and give a brief lecture for School of Music students. My time there - like all experiences I've had with Scott - was thought provoking and incredibly educational. (more for me than the USF students, I'm sure!) 

While I was learning Elliott Carter's Cello Sonata, Scott's was a valuable recording that I'm glad I had at my disposal. I encourage you, dear readers, to seek out all of Scott's recordings, both solo and with the Lions Gate Trio; his adventurous programming and world-class interpretations will make you very happy that you did.

A few weeks back, I asked Scott if he would answer a few questions about music and cello playing. After reading his responses, I'm so happy that he was able to take some time to add his immense knowledge to my blog. His brilliantly thoughtful answers are below. Enjoy!

JD: Many of your recordings include masterworks from the twentieth century and commissions from your contemporaries. What turned you on to new and newish music? Has it always been a passion? How would you describe your preparation, whether playing Beethoven or Boulez? (different, same, how/why?)

SK: I grew up in Hugo Rinaldi's Marin Youth Orchestra in California.  He taught me that contemporary music was very important, indeed that it was our birthright  - this was in the '70's, and Shostakovich, Copland, Diamond, Hanson were still quite 'new' - and appropriate vehicles for kids in their wonder years to be expressive.  My first encounter with 'new' music was a performance at the Boston Conservatory, while I was a student at Harvard, of Laura Elise Schwendinger's Sonata for cello and piano - with the pianist Therese Aubuchon.  We were all freshmen, and they were students at BoCo.  I remember thinking that 'these notes belong to me' and that I was free to be expressive and to make my most ardent 'case' for her lovely sonata.  This was my first collaboration with a composer.  Wow, look where Laura is now - her creativity is soaring!

I became fire-cured as a performer of new music, through my studies with Joel Krosnick - the most eloquent living, performing explicator of musical syntax, in my opinion - and through my experience with the violinist Paul Zukovsky (a living genius), and interaction with the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center of the late 80's.  Two composers took me under their wings;  first, Richard Brodhead (hugely under-regarded) - and second, Richard Wernick.  Both Philadelphians, they 'picked up the phone' when I called them out of the blue, with my request to come down from Juilliard to play their solo works for them;  since then we've collaborated many times to create new works.  Other relationships that fuel me for a lifetime are those with the late Robert Helps, and with Augusta Read Thomas.  My most recent encounter with genius has been with Gunther Schuller;  every performer should have at least one composer as teacher/mentor - much as the singer has with her trusted coach - and I wish it were possible to have this with Gunther. 

As for preparation of Boulez versus preparation of Beethoven - for me there's simply no difference.  If anything, it is my preparations for newly-created scores that have informed my preparation for all music.  One MUST choose fingerings and bowings with complete, utter clarity and scrupulousness- because they are the tools to be expressive of the music.  There is no goofing around here, and it is possible to get a good idea of how to do this right at the get-go.  It's important not to squander that brief time-window at the beginning of the learning process, where everything is new, and the imagination is particularly fresh, and the spirit is on warp-drive.

It goes without saying that one needs to find the large structure of the piece, and one needs to find its voice - what it expresses - and what one loves about the work.

JD: With such a laser-focused tone, sound is obviously important to you. How do you teach students to think about tone color and sound productions? 

SK: My approach to sound comes from two cellists - the kinesthetic principals of Margaret Rowell, and the simplicity of the 'bow-trinity' taught by Leonard Rose.  Both cellists stressed Quality of Sound - and each cellist required endless variety of tonal color.  Rowell could inspire it, and Rose could demonstrate it like none other; each could teach it as only a master can.

The bow is the performer's paint brush.  The power must flow unhindered from the solar plexus through the hinges - out the spine of the player, through the arms, through the fingers, through the bow, and out through the spine of the cello.  'Negative pull' is the goal, a sort of pull back into the body, using fingers like suction cups, supple at all times.  Unreleased muscle has no place in bow technique - indeed all cello playing - whatsoever.  One must have complete and absolute control of bow angle on every string (oblique bow paths clog the sound, that's obvious), and there can be no unintentional straying of bow path at any time.  Otherwise the sound is haphazard, unconsidered, and necessarily faulty.  Of course, this is nothing new - but if we spend endless hours with intonation of the left hand, why don't enough of us really deal with the principal Intoning, which happens only through the bow?

JD: How does your practicing differ (if at all) as a professional performer/educator from your days as a student?

SK: It's quite a bit more focused on the Basics.

I use the metronome now.  It's 'instant technique.'   When one slows down, in an orderly manner, all problems reveal their solution.  It's calming, meditative, focused, and efficient.  It teaches one to be expressive.

I practice etudes and scales now in a far more useful and devout (?) way.

I pay far more attention to the body, my physical plant.  Not because it's now a middle-age body, but because I am happily finding that there are easier and easier ways of handling the cello.  I find this brings very great pleasure.

JD: What piece of non-standard repertory should EVERY cellist (amateur, students, and professionals) know?

SK: Here are a few, for sure -

Gabrielli - The 7 Ricercari
Faure -  Romance, Op. 69.  It is perfect.
Sessions - 6 pieces for solo cello.  They are perfect.
Dutilleux - the first Sacher Strophe - again, a perfect structure.
Britten - Suite III.  Perfect - unspeakable beauty.

JD: What advice do you have for students that you wish someone had given you when you were in school?

SK: Compete when you must, if it's expedient to something that matters to you.  But don't be competitive!  It distracts everyone and everything.

Treat every colleague you encounter with compassion and respect, with the knowledge that each person has mastery in some area that you cannot ever have.  Respect yourself and your gift, independently from others and never in comparison to others.

Put yourself first in the necessary spiritual and holistic ways, and put others first at every other time.

Attend the concerts and witness the work/progress of others, and keep in touch with them.  Always point out what is good and true.

Contemplate the nature of the teacher-student relationship, and be respectful of the necessary boundaries therein.