Cellist Anne Richardson is a senior at Juilliard now, but way back — all of nine years ago — when she was growing up in Louisville, she won a Louisville Orchestra Young Artists Competition. She got the award, but not the special reward of a chance to perform with the Louisville Orchestra.
Just a month after the youth competition, the orchestra went dark for a year — shut down by money problems and a dispute between the orchestra board at that time and the symphony’s players.
But this week, Richardson gets the opportunity to play with her rejuvenated hometown symphony. She’s one of three soloists featured by the orchestra in its Music Without Borders Series, which kicks off this weekend with three concerts at three area locations on three nights — Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 11-13.
Richardson will be joined by violinists Rob Simonds and Tessa Lark in headlining a program called “Kentucky Strings” under the baton of Louisville Orchestra music director Teddy Abrams.
“It’s just such a special honor for me, the way the orchestra is thriving now, coming back to life the way it has with Teddy Abrams,” Richardson tells Insider.
For her, it’s more than years from 2009 to now.
“I was just this little kid playing on a half-sized cello, playing the Apassionato Serenade,” says Richardson. “I remember it was the day after (renowned cellist Mstislav) Rostropovich died. I was very affected by it, because I thought he was the greatest living cellist, and he had passed away. So the LO, they were so nice, and let me play an encore for him — a Sarabande from the second Bach Suite.”
This isn’t fall break time at Juilliard. Richardson is simply talking a week off from classes at the famous performing arts college in New York City. Her mother drove to New York to pick her up and will be driving her back after the weekend.
Richardson could have traveled by plane, but it’s doubly expensive. Airlines require cellists to buy two tickets, with one seat saved for the cello.
“But I do like to fly,” Richardson says with a laugh. “If you fly Southwest (Airlines), they let the cello and me pre-board, and we get the first choice of seats.”
So the fabulous first-class fights enjoyed by international stars haven’t quite reached Richardson — but may one day. At 20, she’s performed with the Juilliard Symphony and captured a number of competitions and accolades on her way to winding up college for the first steps of a promising professional career.
But, she says, “It’s so great to be back in Louisville for a week in the fall, to see family and friends.” Richardson is the daughter of Mark and Gail Richardson, with three sisters and a brother. She’ll probably also get a moment to visit with mentor and early teacher Louise Harris, the former Louisville Orchestra cellist.
But it’s not just a pleasure trip. There’s the real work ahead in three nights of performing the demanding “Cello Concerto No. 1” by Dmitri Shostakovich. The piece is no picnic.
But the challenge may just be why Richardson says she loves it.
“It’s very intense, very physically intense,” says Richardson. “Of all the concertos I’ve played, I think this is the one that makes me the most tired, physically. It’s very athletic. There’s no moment it’s not intense and … full of character. No moment to rest.”
The Shostakovich is sharp-edged hard. Very … Soviet. Shostakovich was a Communist, a card-carrying one who became known as Joe Stalin’s composer — with all the praise and the constant fear that came with that notoriety.
He got in trouble a couple of times for writing music that was considered to too sentimental. Had to withdraw and disown his Fourth Symphony.
Nikita Khrushchev purged Shostakovich once, but another time allowed the composer to visit the United States in the dark days of the Cold War. Shostakovich included an appearance in Louisville in which he conducted the Louisville Orchestra in a work the symphony had commissioned and recorded on its First Edition label.
So there’s a history. Long ago with the composer and the Louisville Orchestra.
And with young prospects the symphony has nurtured.
Here’s a video clip of Richardson playing a work by Robert Schumann:
Simonds and Lark
Rob Simonds, the principal second violin of the Louisville Orchestra, leads off the concerts with two pieces by contemporary composers: Neil Rao’s “ … where unsolvable problems go” and “Rhapsody” by Jeremy Beck. Simonds is a nationally known champion and performer of new music.
Below is a video of Simonds rehearsing Beck’s “Rhapsody.”
Tessa Lark, a native of Richmond, Ky., is the 2016 winner of the Avery Fisher Achievement Grant from Lincoln Center. It’s a lifetime grant that has helped launch the careers of such stars as Yuja Wang and Hillary Hahn.
In this video, she performs skittering high-wire selections from the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.
Lark concludes the concerts with a work by composer Michael Thurber, called “Love Letter.” The four movements have interesting titles: I. Weirdo; II. Bimbleboo; III. Forever You; IV. Whiskey Woman.
Lark, a genuine bluegrass state product, also is known as a pretty slick “Old Time” fiddler. That could pop up anytime. Take a look:
Here’s the lineup of concerts and stages:
- Thursday, Oct. 11 — Congregation Adath Jeshurun, 2401 Woodbourne Ave.
- Friday, Oct. 12 — Kentucky Country Day School, 4100 Springdale Road
- Saturday, Oct. 13 — Ogle Center, Indiana University Southeast, 4201 Grant Line Road, New Albany (sold out)
All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at door. The Music Without Borders series concerts are also scheduled in January, February and April.