Cellist/composer Joshua Roman puts romance at center of ambitious concerto

Joshua Roman
The Columbus Dispatch

Cellist Joshua Roman might be called a multitasking musician.

The Oklahoma City native has received plaudits for his performing career — as a member of the Seattle Symphony from 2006 to 2008 and, subsequently, as a soloist.

In 2012, Roman, 31, added composer to his job description. He has since written several small-scale compositions.

This weekend, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra will perform Roman’s latest — and most ambitious — work, a cello concerto entitled Awakening; Roman will perform the solo. The concerts will take place at Pontifical College Josephinum, the Southern Theatre and at Ohio University in Athens.

The program will also include Francesco Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor (“La Folia”) and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, neither of which will feature Roman.

For Roman, playing an instrument and composing music are harmonious endeavors.

“It just doesn’t make any sense, to me anymore, for someone who interprets music every day to not know how to write music,” Roman said recently from Fort Worth, Texas, where he was preparing for an appearance with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. He lives in New York.

The son of musicians, Roman had the impulse to compose from an early age.

“When I was a kid, I wrote out, like, a 10-bar melody or something and had the idea that sometime I would make it into a symphony,” he said. “But I never did more than those 10 bars.”

Divided into five movements, Awakening aims to conjure the volatility of a romance, with the cello and the orchestra reimagined as participants in a relationship.

“I wrote about sort of a compilation of feelings that I’d had from various relationships over the years and created a basic narrative, which I mostly followed musically,” Roman said.

Referring to concertos in general, Danzmayr added: “Every composer kind of deals with that idea that you have an interaction between soloist and the orchestra. But I think, in Josh’s case, it’s much more tied to the story of different parts of relationships. ... Sometimes it goes better, sometimes not so good.”

The second movement, for example, is called Possibility.

“That’s where the sort of love story enters the picture ... at this point when the cello realizes he can’t really just do everything by himself, and so this beauty enters the picture,” Roman said.

A fight ensues in the third movement, It’s You, Not Me.

“I flipped the traditional break-up line around and just had a lot of fun with setting different groups of the orchestra against each other,” Roman said, pointing to one passage during which the concertmaster and the cellist duel. Two percussionists function as “referees.” 

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