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Volume 15 Issue 9 - June 2010

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Winona ZelenkaColin

Winona ZelenkaColin EatockTo some people, Winona Zelenka is the cellist who sits atthe head of her section in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.Perhaps to others, she’s the cellist whose performances ofBach’s cello suites have become annual events at Toronto’sMusic Garden. These activities are all part of a delicate balancingact, combining her orchestral playing with her loveof chamber and solo repertoire. And as far as she’s concerned, that’sas it should be.“I think it’s essential for an orchestral string player to do otherthings: solo or chamber music,” observes the 43-year-old musicianover lunch. “In an orchestra you don’t always hear yourself wellenough, and things get out of place. Iforchestral playing was all that I did,I don’t think my playing would be ingreat shape.” She pauses, and thenadds, “It’s different for the winds andbrass – maybe they’re just louder!”Yet like all balancing acts, Zelenka’smusical life is never quite in perfectequilibrium: due to a mix of externalforces and her own shifting interests,she’ll lean a little bit, sometimesin one direction, sometimes in another.Currently, she’s realigning her musicalbalance once again, thanks to somesignificant developments in her career.The development that she’s most excitedabout is her first recording: a twodiscset of the six Bach Cello Suites, releasedby Marquis Classics. (She’ll beperforming a CD launch at the GlennGould Studio on June 6.) As she explainsit, the recordings – three yearsin the making – are the product of herdeep love of the music, and a fortunatealignment of favourable circumstances.“I started playing them,” she recalls,“when I was a student at IndianaUniversity. I’d do one on almostevery recital I played. And I’vedone almost all of them at the Music Garden – all but No. 5.”As well, she points out that she currently has the use of a topnotchinstrument – a 1707 Joseph Guarnerius, which used to belongto her former teacher, Janos Starker – currently on loan to her fromthe TSO. (The TSO was in turn lent the instrument by its owner, aToronto-based ophthalmologist.) Add to that, her husband, RonSearles, an audio engineer at the CBC, was only too happy to painstakinglyrecord the suites.That all adds up to “motive and opportunity,” (as a police detectivemight put it) to record the suites. But didn’t she feel uneasyabout recording repertoire that had been so often – and often so verywell – recorded before?“I don’t tend to compare myself to other people,” she replies.“Not every cellist gets into the suites, but when you do, it’s all ornothing. They’re the Mount Everest of the cello – and there are asmany ways to play them as there are players.”Zelenka goes on to explain her own approach to the suites as acombination of baroque and romantic sensibilities.“I would say, in terms of phrasing and dynamics, it’s a romanticapproach. I try to incorporate a declamatory approach, and I doA Delicate Balancesome ornamentation that a ‘regular’ cellist wouldn’t do. I’ve listenedto a lot of baroque playing. I’m trying to incorporate some of thatinto my playing, but I think my general feel is quite romantic. I tendto get quite emotional – but without the vibrato.”Zelenka’s assault on Everest can be traced all the way back toEspanola, Ontario, where she was born. Soon, her family moved tonearby Sudbury, and when she was nine the Zelenkas decamped forToronto, where the musically promising Winona studied at the RoyalConservatory. And at the tender age of 17 she went off to Bloomingtonfor a master’s degree at Indiana University.Further studies took her to England, where she also gained herfirst professional experience. Forseveral years she seemed to live onboth sides of the Atlantic – playingin the Royal Liverpool Philharmonicand Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra,while frequently returning to Canada.“There were visa issues in Britain,”she explains. If not for some inflexibleimmigration officials in the UK, thiscountry might have lost her for good.In 1997 she returned permanently toToronto, where she played in the NationalBallet Orchestra, and joined theTSO four years later.“I’ve been in the TSO since 2001,”says Zelenka, “and I’ve been actingprincipal since 2004. I’ve never beenin any other orchestra for that long.”She adds that one of the things shelikes about belonging to the TSO isthe orchestra’s schedule, which leavesher summers open to play with theSanta Fe Opera, in New Mexico.However, this fall Zelenka will vacatethe first chair of the cello sectionfor a new member of the TSO, cellistJoseph Johnson, who comes to the orchestrafrom Milwaukee. Zelenka willmove back a couple of desks, and herrole in the orchestra will change significantly.Her six years in the principal’s chair have given her many fondmemories. “It’s been a really great experience,” she says, “and everyyear, there are some concerts that stand out. One highlight for mewas playing Don Quixote in 2006, under Thomas Dausgaard. I preparedthe cello solos for a year. It’s an amazing piece – every singlebar illustrates something in the story. It was very scary, but also verywonderful.”The upside of Zelenka’s new position in the TSO is that she’llhave more time to pursue her other musical interests. “I have lotsof ideas,” she exclaims, “I just need funding!” Among her plans aremore recordings – she’s particularly keen to do a disc for cello andpercussion – and getting more involved in chamber music.“I’m in a string trio, the Trio Arkel, with violinist Marie Bérardand violist Teng Li. We’ve already played at the Richard BradshawAmphitheatre , and in a few other places, but we haven’t really promotedourselves much yet. We’ll be on Jan Narveson’s chamber seriesin Kitchener next season.”But before next season rolls around, she has plenty of playing todo this summer. Stratford Summer Music has engaged her to play allCellist Winona Zelenka in Stratford, Ontario.PhotoS Irene Miller8 thewholenote.comJune 1 - July 7, 2010

six of the Bach suites at Rundle’s Restauranton Saturday mornings, fromJuly 24 to August 21, with an additionalperformance on Sunday, August 22.“I’m doing one suite per weekend,”Zelenka explains, “at 11 o’clock in themorning. People listen and have brunch,and then go off to the theatre. It’s areally great idea.”As well, she’ll be appearing withthe Art of Time Ensemble, playing in Korngold’s Suite for Piano,Two Violins and Cello. The programme will be presented by TorontoSummer Music on July 28, and repeated the following day at the OttawaInternational Chamber Music Festival. And at the close of thesummer, on September 2, she’ll return to Toronto’s Music Gardento play Bach’s Suite No. 5 – the only one of the six she hasn’t performedthere yet. “In five years I haven’t been rained out yet,” shepoints out, optimistically taking this as a good omen.Tamara Bernstein, artistic director of Summer Music in the Garden,describes Zelenka as a “perfect choice” for the garden’s Bach atDusk concerts. “Winona’s gorgeous performances of the Bach suiteshave been a magical part of the past five seasons,” says Bernstein.“Her performances have become part of the collective memory ofMusic Garden ‘regulars.’”As Zelenka’s career takes new directions, she is re-examining herpriorities, trying to get the balance right. For someone whose musicalinterests are so varied, it’s a tricky business.“If I won the lottery, I’d buy a great cello, and do as many recordingsas I wanted. I probably wouldn’t have a job, and just dosolo and chamber music. But I love orchestra concerts, and I loveplaying in opera too – and I’d like to do concertos. Basically, I loveeverything.”Colin Eatock is a composer, writer and the managing editor ofThe WholeNote.Eurhythmics, Solfège &Improvisation: A 5-day immersion inthe practice & pedagogy of EmileJaques-Dalcroze’s revolutionaryapproach to music education.Traditional teaching methods try totranslate notes into sound before theactivities they represent have been fullyexperienced, but music’s essential “feel”cannot be captured from the page.Instead, Dalcroze returns you to music’sreal sources: movement, the imagination& emotion. Experiencing allaspects of music physically is thefoundation for learning that is revelatory,profound & lasting.The Dalcroze approach is also essentialfor anyone teaching young childrenwhose discovery of the world –including music – is primarily movementoriented.Taught by Donald Himes &Cheng-Feng Lin Limited to 12 participants5 (Full time student: 0)Monday July 5 - Friday July 910 AM - 4 PM1971 Queen Street East, Suite 202Information: 416-979-2392 ordh88@rogers.comThe CanadianDalcroze SocietyOntario 8 June 1 - July 7, 2010 thewholenote.com 9

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