Getting to Know Utah Symphony Cellist Kevin Shumway
Describe your education: I went to Olympus High School here in Holladay, Utah while studying cello with Stephen Emerson, former assistant principal cello here. Then I attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance and a Master of Music Performance. After that, for one year I went to the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Professional Studies Program.
At what age did you begin musical training? I had some piano at the age of 7, and for a while at age 12. At age 9, I was introduced to the cello in the school orchestra program. But it wasn’t until age 11 that I started private lessons on the cello.
What instrument(s) do you play / have you played? Only those two, in this life…
What originally interested you in your instrument? I remember quitting piano at age 9, and my mother telling me that I should try another instrument. So when the orchestra instructor at my elementary school introduced the string instruments, I looked them over and decided that the cello looked like a good “boy’s” instrument. That must have mattered a lot to me then; I see my two sons making similar decisions now.
How old is your personal instrument and who was its maker?
I own two cellos. Until about nine years ago, I had only owned one instrument, all the way back to my 12th birthday. That first cello is a Mittenwald, Germany shop instrument, made in 1968, that Peter Prier imported to his shop here in Salt Lake City. My family calls it the “yellow cello,” because it has a honey gold varnish. David Freed, a former principal cellist in the Utah Symphony, supposedly liked its sound and chose it for a student of his who was to become my second cello teacher. She sold it to my parents when she was teaching me and looking for a new cello for herself. It has a rather small, but pleasant sound, and I managed to play it well enough at my audition here to get the edge over other candidates with arguably much better instruments. As it turns out, I later discovered that because of all of the recent traveling to auditions, the neck of that cello had come loose in its connection with the main body. Not only was I auditioning on a student instrument, but it may not have been in good repair! I guess I was on a roll that day!
My other cello has a story as well. About eleven years ago, my wife and I were expecting our first son and bought a duplex. We were becoming new parents, single income earners, mortgagers, and landlords all at once! As if that wasn’t enough, I also needed a second cello. It was a hassle for me to haul one in its case to work and back several times a week. And the smallish sound of the “yellow cello” was so easily covered in louder orchestra passages. At the time, it felt like buying a cello would be like taking away my son’s college education! But I knew that enough was enough; I deserved a professional-level instrument. My mother-in-law Jane Day, a cellist in the Portland, Oregon area, referred me to a friend of hers who was selling a cello. I liked it and bought it. It was made in 1988 by Christopher Dungey. By rather amazing coincidence, it has another connection to Jane. Chris Dungey learned to select trees for tone wood in the Medford, Oregon area from a local legend Victor Giardineri, who was a dear friend of Jane’s mother. My cello is the first one Chris made with wood from a maple that he selected and cut with Victor’s help! As if to signify his first use of his own wood, Chris gave the back of the cello an interesting, touchable “ripple” effect to the grain, which is done by dampening the wood at one point. He says that it’s the only one of his cellos he has ever done that way.
How many years have you performed with the Utah Symphony? 15
With what other orchestras have you performed or do perform? Students at the Cleveland Institute of Music would make some money playing in the orchestras of Akron and Canton, Ohio. I was in both. I played in numerous student and festival orchestras over the years. And I was hired as a substitute for the Colorado Symphony when I lived in Denver for a while.
What has been the highlight of your career to date? I have little sublime moments here and there during the season, when I know my part well enough to open my attention to a beautiful musical passage. At the moment, I’m remembering two events. One is the Shostakovich Violin Concerto with Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg playing wildly and Roberto Minczuk conducting so well with her. The other is when we finished a well played concert in Cologne, and were greeted by women with trays holding glasses of Kolsch, the local beer!
What has been your most embarrassing moment as a performer? The cellos and basses begin the second movement of Shostakovich’s famous Fifth Symphony with a forceful note followed by a short rest. I played good and loud, but it was an e flat instead of an e natural; totally, totally off! I almost dropped my instrument as if it had turned into a poisonous snake!
Where would you like to see the Utah Symphony in ten years? Times are getting tougher. Money is uncertain. But I think about all of the fine orchestras in Europe, especially eastern Europe, that made it through wars and revolutions, communism and economic depression. The people wanted to continue having their stories and lives expressed through this amazing sound of a full symphony orchestra, no matter the circumstances. This kind of music is transfiguring and healing for me, and I believe it has the potential to be so for most of the Utah community. I would love to see this orchestra on a stable financial footing, with enthusiastic leadership, attracting the best possible artistic talent and lifting the people’s spirits.
Where do you see yourself in ten years? Because I have roots in Utah, I believe that I will still be here at that time, making music and teaching it to others.
Do you perform regularly in any other local musical projects? For several summers now I have been honored to play in the Intermezzo Chamber Music series led by fellow musicians David Porter and his wife Vedrana Subotic. My wife is often able to join me. A couple of years ago we played the original sextet version of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nachte, which was a tremendous highlight for me.
Are you involved in any community groups, hobbies or activities? I try to grow a garden. I’m rather proud of my potato patch between the sidewalk and street where all of those grass and weeds used to be. I’ve commuted to work by bicycle from the beginning, and now I have a little cargo trailer so I can take care of other errands without a car. I had a car converted to all electric power a couple of years ago, and I’m active in an electric vehicle group here.