Artist Interview: Colin Carr, cello

By Erik Petersons on October 8, 2012

PCMS Education Director Erik Petersons spoke with cellist Colin Carr about his collaboration with pianist Thomas Sauer (a longtime friend and colleague), his early musical influences, and his approach to master classes.

Erik Petersons:  You have worked with pianist Thomas Sauer for quite a while now. What is your history with Thomas, and what artistic advantages does a long collaboration with a pianist afford?

Colin Carr:  Tom and I have been playing together for many years. I taught his brother Greg at the New England Conservatory about 25 years ago and when they began the Quad Cities Chamber Music Festival together they invited me to play each year. Tom and I began to accumulate quite a large repertoire of sonatas and decided to play some recitals. It has been a wonderful collaboration, playing and recording, but also personally. We have enjoyed seeing each other's families grow. The comfort and freedom that such a longtime duo affords us is more valuable to me than the possible excitement of playing these pieces with new people. Each time we return to Beethoven, for instance, we take our understanding of this music (and each other) to a new level. Recording complete Beethoven last year with Tom was one of the musical highlights of my entire life!

EP:  Before your recital, you will be conducting a master class with cello students at the Curtis Institute. Describe the master class experience and the value of interacting with young musicians. What do you hope they take away from the experience?

CC:  The master class is a superb tool. Firstly, it is a performance opportunity for the student. My job as an audience member is to find something to appreciate and begin with that (there is always something!). It is useful to find one or two things that can be fixed or improved instantly–that creates energy in the room at that moment. I also try to plant seeds that may take longer to bear fruit. And I like to joke a little; it lightens the atmosphere and takes some pressure off a nervous student. The other thing about a master class is that it may be the one and only time this teacher and student ever meet. That creates a necessity to give and take to the maximum because there will be no tomorrow!

EP:  Can you talk a little about the beginning of your days as a cellist? Who or what were some of your earliest inspirations?

CC:  I began playing the cello when I was five years old, but it was another seven or eight years before knowing it would be my lifelong companion. It's hard to pinpoint early inspirations. There were certainly great and pivotal moments. I was at the Yehudi Menuhin School for eight years, and many extraordinary people came to visit. Nadia Boulanger's fierce demands and total devotion left no doubt as to the necessity of music. Alberto Lysy played chamber music with us and taught me a great deal. I was lucky enough to play trios with Menuhin himself, sometimes with his sister Hephzibah and sometimes with his son Jeremy. Stephane Grapelli brought lightness and joy, introducing us to jazz violin. We would go into London and listen to recitals of Rubinstein and Perlmuter. I also managed to attend a recital by Horowitz. Later, my time at Marlboro and the opportunity to play with Serkin, Firkusny, Galimir and others was life changing. I know that cellists are conspicuously absent from this list, but I always felt I had more to learn from violinists, pianists and singers.