by Aaron Minsky
(with input from Oxford University Press)
On 30th April, 2023, the London Cello Society hosted a group performance of Ten International Cello Encores by Aaron Minsky. Various cellists performed the first five encores. Aaron Minsky played the final five. In this article, we will take a closer look at the suite and why it was picked to be the centerpiece of “Global Cello Day”.
First we have an interview with Selma Gokcen, President, London Cello Society, by Oxford University Press.
OUP: Would you give a short overview of Global Cello day 2023?
SG: Global Cello Day is in the context of our annual Cello Day which has become the most popular event presented by the London Cello Society’s Cello Club. We chose to focus on music from different parts of the world, because young people these days are globally oriented. The whole world is open to them at the touch of a key on the internet, but participating in music-making of different cultures is immediate and inspiring, no screen or keyboard required!
OUP: How does Aaron Minsky’s International Cello Encores fit in with the themes and values of Global Cello Day?
SG: The Ten International Cello Encores were actually the inspiration for this event, as they present music based on themes and styles from different countries. I’ve taught several of them to my young Juniors class and note how their eyes light up when they experience the rhythms of The New Yorker and Ritmo Caribeño. Of course, they have to be shown what it is to swing and to groove a rhythm, but they enjoy being given the freedom to explore and they love the sense of adventure that is required.
OUP: What styles/techniques used by Aaron featured in International Cello Encores drew you to use this as a focal point of the workshops and performances at Global Cello Day?
SG: Lots of pizzicato is reminiscent of the guitar, of course, and rhythmic percussion using different parts of the cello, as well as percussive techniques on the strings. There isn’t much that Aaron has left out! He hears the cello as a guitar, electric and acoustic. His latter encores are so challenging that we asked him to perform them on the day to inspire the students.
OUP: What performances/masterclasses are you particularly looking forward to as part of the event and what do you hope students coming to Aaron's style of writing for the first time will gain by performing his works?
SG: The noontime concert is the feature, the jewel in the crown, so to speak. Five of the students are performing the first five encores and then Aaron completes the set of ten for the entire group of participants and parents. He is also giving classes in the morning on various techniques he has invented and then in the afternoon, performance classes for any of his works, the most popular being the Ten American Cello Etudes.
Lets' continue with Aaron Minsky discussing his inspiration for composing, Ten International Cello Encores, and anything else he would like to share about the music.
Impressed with the popularity of Ten American Cello Etudes, I was inspired to compose another suite, but this time I wanted to incorporate styles from around the world. In the quest for authenticity I took a series of trips to different countries and composed a piece in each reflecting its musical culture, while incorporating interesting and useful techniques. After composing several pieces, I was struck by the beauty of bringing together all of these styles of music, and I realized the suite had a higher purpose: that of bringing the world together.
Composing the first 5 encores...
Even in Ten American Cello Etudes I had inspiration from travels, as in “An American in France”. A few years later on a trip to Mexico I got the idea to start the International Cello Encores with “Mexican Nights”. It begins with a declarative statement and then falls into a romantic section of thumb-strummed chords and melody. The finale was inspired by an outdoor Mariachi performance. Yet it is also a study of 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, and 6ths, and rhythms all but unknown in the cello repertoire.
Ritmo Caribeño was influenced by my season with the Caracas Philharmonic. When I wasn’t playing classical music I was listening to Venezuelan music. I incorporated South American rhythms with Latin strumming and percussive techniques, turning the cellist into a one man band. (This idea was expanded with a Brazilian twist, in “Concert Etude #3”, from Three Concert Etudes.)
Having composed two Latin American pieces I felt it was fitting to include North American pieces. “New Orleans Jazzman” was influenced by my studies with legendary jazz pianist, Barry Harris. His style of jazz had its roots in New Orleans, hence the title. The piece is a cornucopia of traditional jazz riffs.
After the horrific events of “9/11” i felt drawn to compose a piece dedicated to my own hometown. “The New Yorker” is filled with the sophisticated jazz stylings that permeated the clubs, ballrooms, and Broadway shows of the mid 20th century. While incorporating many additional jazz techniques not covered in ”Jazzman”, it reflects the swagger and humor of the vibrant city of my youth.
Feeling it was time to expand horizons, I turned to the Far East. “Laughing Raindrops” focusses on the pentatonic scale but also includes a section in which the cello imitates the Chinese erhu. This piece contains a compelling timing that makes it a quintessential encore piece, guaranteed to raise a smile.
Composing the final 5 encores...
The first five came relatively easily. The next five required more thought so as not to repeat the techniques already covered. “In the Jingle Jangle Morning” is influenced by Indian classical music and other styles from around the subcontinent. It became a vehicle for new techniques such as a two handed pizzicato and a combination of left hand pizz. with bowing that I developed during improvisations.
I was searching for new techniques when it dawned on me that I hadn’t ever composed a formal piece for “celtar”. I had become quite adept at playing the cello with a pick since I created the style in high school. I thought it was time to put this technique into print. I tried the style on all kinds of music but when I hit upon a celtic style it was magic: and thus was born the “Cell-tic”, as opposed to Celtic, “Jig” (cell as in cello). For the traditionalists, it can be played arco.
My parents were supporters of an international dance competition. One year they sponsored a young Mongolian dancer. A lifelong relationship developed leading to a trip to Mongolia. Filled with images of Mongolia in my head, I composed, “Ride of the Mongolian Horsemen” (and later “The Conqueror” cello concerto). At this time I was also developing my “metal cello” style. Heavily bowed low-string double stops, in triplet rhythm with modal harmony, give the impression of wild horses dashing through the plains.
Having written eight pieces full of notes, I decided to go the other way for the ninth. I noticed when holding out double stops on the lower strings they produced intense vibrations as the notes collided. This technique became the expression for a world out of balance. I contrasted this with a traditional Jewish high-holiday melody that I used to depict the peaceful heavens. “Hu Ya'aseh Shalom” (He Who Brings Peace) expresses this contrast until the final section where the two styles merge to express a vision of peace.
The Grand Finale...
What could possibly come next, I wondered. And much time passed until I came up with the idea of creating a movement that would bring together all the others. I called it, “Ode to the World”, a combination of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and Handel’s “Joy to the World”
After the initial statement of “Ode to Joy”, and a Tschaikovsky-esque introduction, we hear strains of “Laughing Raindrops” with expanded arpeggios and dynamics. After the next statement of “Ode” we are in India with that unique pizz/bow technique, and then suddenly on horseback in Mongolia. This leads us up to a powerful statement of “Hu Ya’aseh Shalom”, which seems to be the end of the piece... when suddenly we are dancing the “Cel-tic Jig”, but this time arco. This morphs into a jig reminiscent of Beethoven’s jig from the 9th symphony and again we seem to have our ending ... but in the distance we hear the African drums (rhythm) which build into a virtuosic flourish leading to a full-toned D power chord providing the final affirmation for this universal suite!
In the preface to the OUP published edition, I wrote the following, “When listening to this suite one cannot help but be impressed by the wonderful musical harmony that exists on our planet. It is with the hope that we may soon create an equally wonderful social harmony that I offer these Ten International Cello Encores to the world.“ This expressed my intent that this work be viewed as a vehicle, albeit humble, to help bring the world together in harmony. For this reason I was thrilled when Selma Gokcen, president of the London Cello Society, contacted me about having this work become the centerpiece of “Global Cello Day”. What other piece do we have in the repertoire that brings together so many international styles? These days, more than ever, we need solidarity around the globe. Cellists can play their part. Thank you Selma Gokcen for recognizing the importance of this suite, and thank you Oxford University Press for bringing to life my vision ... a vision that continues to inspire cellists and others around the world.
To see a playlist of all the encores, played by Aaron Minsky and others, go here:
For more information on Aaron Minsky, check out the Von Cello website: