Renowned cellist inspires through storytelling

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Claudio Bohórquez performed with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra this month, responding to a special invite from Andreas Delfs, RPO music director (right).
(Photos:Tyler Cervini)

Two weeks ago, well-known cellist Claudio Bohórquez sat thoughtfully in the lobby at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Rochester, as he pondered music. He was in town to perform with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

For Bohórquez, this opportunity came after a long wait—three years—to perform again in the United States. The visit marked his first time in Rochester. This special trip was in response to an invitation from Andreas Delfs, music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Bohórquez met Delfs two decades ago at a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert in the Hollywood Bowl. 

The RPO concerts, which took place Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, consisted of Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 “Romantic” and Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, Op. 35. The second piece showcased Bohórquez.

A German-born cellist of Peruvian-Uruguayan descent, Bohórquez studied with Boris Pergamenschikow, a Russian cellist and a beloved figure on the European chamber music scene. A critic noted that Pergamenschikow was “a world-class cellist by any reckoning” whose “performances were on a technical, tonal, musical and interpretative level that only a small handful of cellists could match.”

Bohórquez achieved success at an early age at international competitions. He has been a guest professor at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin since 2003 and succeeded Jean-Guihen Queyras as professor at the Stuttgart Music Academy. 

Bohórquez speaks passionately about his understanding of Don Quixote. 

“It demands a huge orchestra and it’s very difficult for the orchestra, so you can’t play anywhere,” he says. “It’s very special for me to be able to do that.” 

The original text, “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,” often described as the first modern novel, inspired many writers and artists, including Strauss. As a leading composer of the late romantic and early modern eras, Strauss created tone poems and explored an innovative narrative way of playing music. His 1897 tone poem calls for the use of varied orchestra instruments to represent a mix of characters. The narrative element allows the audience to interact with the music piece through effects like the wind machine or animal sounds. 

At the performance in Rochester, Bohórquez depicted Don Quixote with his cello, while RPO Principal Viola Aaron Mossburg, the William L. Gamble Chair, played the part of his squire, Sancho Panza.

Bohórquez flawlessly blends the idea of “storytelling” into his performances. In Kodak Hall, his investment in the story filled each note as it reached the audience through the interaction of string and bow. He sat firmly on a black leather bench next to the conductor’s stand with his facial expression exposed, his muscle and the cello merged into one. 

“I would always, and that’s how I learned it from very early age, play every piece with absolute concentration, every note with a 100 percent energy, as it would be the last time playing, to have this creation energy of the moment,” Bohórquez says. “That’s what makes our art so beautiful because we created in the moment then it’s over, it’s gone, it’s nothing in the air. And then we do it again and  (that)  creates a lot of emotions.”

Bohórquez describes the freedom that comes after learning.

“Be free and try to get the moment of inspiration. I remember my teacher telling me, you got to learn and analyze everything,” Bohórquez says. “(But) once you get on the stage, forget about it, and just play. (It is) easier to say than to do. But, of course, something sticks in your system, it then gives you the freedom of creation.”

Ariel Wang is a sophomore at the University of Rochester. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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