Colored flags dotted the page edges of Alice Bacon's solo cello part for the Dvořák concerto when we met to discuss the piece at her Brooklyn brownstone apartment. "Red means practice these twenty times a day, orange means look at these at least once a day, and yellow means these are probably okay."
You won't see any colored flags at Alice's performance - though this is arguably her first solo with full orchestra (and arguably not as she played Elgar with her high school orchestra, no small feat on many levels), her cool grace both on stage and off belies the lush richness and fervent passion of her playing.
Alice's musical life began as a member of the celebrated Piedmont Children's Choir in the Bay Area. She came to the cello as part of her school program and began studies in earnest in high school, all while continuing to sing and compete with the choir. After a dual Bachelor's at NYU in cello and Romance Languages, she continued on to complete a Master's in cello with Marion Feldman.
It's not Alice's education that makes her shine, or her style, though both she has in spades. What makes her music and designs stand out is her way of working, largely of her own accord and of her own mind.
As a self-taught graphic designer, Alice is in her second year as The Chelsea Symphony's chief branding, aesthetics, and visual guru. Everything you see - from the logo to the website to all print materials - was created or approved by Alice. If that weren't enough, she is also a regular member of the orchestra.
The Dvořák Cello Concerto was completed in 1895 for the composer's friend Hanuš Wihan. Although it is known the world over, some may be surprised to learn of the hidden Easter egg in the third movement, the slow theme that quotes one of his own songs, Kez duch muj sam, inserted upon learning of his sister-in-law's illness as he was writing the piece. The whole movement is a tribute to her, with whom he was purportedly in love, but the quotation is especially telling as one of her favorite of his compositions.
This piece is one of the stalwarts of cello solo repertoire. Certain passages have plagued cellists since its inception and to perform it is to join a club of knowing. The audience will no doubt hear the romantic lines and the horn solo in the first movement (one of Alice's favorite passages) but cellists will appreciate the attention that went into the technical passages that require so much care.
In preparation for this piece, Alice did what Alice does - she taught herself. Listening to a piece for fifteen years will give you an idea of how you want it to go but some things can only be pulled off by the benefit of practice.
"I spent months practicing chromatic scales in octaves until one day I just shook my hand up the string and it came out exactly as I wanted," Alice said. Upon texting this realization with a friend and former NYU studio mate (and TCS member), this is apparently the proven method which just goes to show that it may take longer, but tenacity and time will get you there.
TCS is delighted to present Alice Bacon performing the Cello Concerto in B minor, op. 104, by Antoníin Dvořák on Saturday, March 12, at 7:30pm at St. Paul's Church, 315 W. 22nd Street. We look forward to seeing you there!