Lansing Symphony brings Okemos-native cellist home

Jan 6, 2017

Jamie Paisley talks with Okemos native and current Cleveland Orchestra cellist Tanya Ell about her return to Michigan to play with the Lansing Symphony


There is going to be a homecoming of sorts Saturday night at the Wharton Center with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra: cellist Tanya Ell.

“I grew up in Okemos, Michigan, and I’m the child of two musician parents. My dad taught clarinet at Michigan State University, and my mother is a cellist and they met playing the Rotterdam Philharmonic and then moved here. I went through the Okemos public school system, studied with Louis Potter Jr."

Tanya Ell, cellist who left Michigan to study her instrument at the Juilliard School, got her masters at the Cleveland Institute of Music and then after a stint with the Milwaukee Symphony, she joined the Cleveland Orchestra nearly 10 years ago. But long before that storied path came to fruition, Tanya was a member of the Suzuki program based out of Okemos…

"I was just so lucky that Marilyn Kesler happens to live in town here. She started me, and those group classes was so helpful. Getting to play with peers, I think that’s one of the main attributes of being a musician is playing chamber music. Also, learning everything by memory when you start out. Just internalizing all the music, is one of the wonderful attributes of the Suzuki program."

Often you will come away with thinking about something in a different way yourself, and learning some things - cellist, Tanya Ell on teaching

During her return to Michigan, Tanya Ell took the opportunity to provide guidance to some young string students from her Okemos alma mater, by way of teacher Joel Schut. As far as Tanya Ell's approach to teaching students, she defers to the philosophy of another: "I’m going to have to quote one of my colleagues (of the Cleveland Orchestra), Martha Baldwin. 'It’s basically two people in a room trying to figure it out.' And I think it’s a really healthy attitude. You just try to figure out what will work for whatever individual is sitting with you and often you will come away with thinking about something in a different way yourself, and learning some things."

However, the main reason for Tanya Ell's return to mid-Michigan is a performance with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Timothy Muffitt. While they teamed up a few years ago for a performance of the Beethoven Triple Concerto, this time, Tanya has a piece all to her own, the Dvorak Cello Concerto.

"The Dvorak Cello Concerto is remarkable for the fact that it’s great symphonic writing." says Ell. "People will call is a symphonic concerto. And then when the cello is playing, not during the orchestral tuttis, Dvorak was very careful to balance it beautifully and turn it into chamber music. And the writing is so interesting because he gives all the wind players these gorgeous, gorgeous solos and often theres an incredible interplay between the soloists and the solo instruments of the orchestra. So that is definitely something unique about the Dvorak.

"The heart of it for me comes in the cadenza of the third movement. At the very end where Dvorak takes a theme from the second movement and he intertwines with the theme from the first movement, in a sort of ‘goodbye’ section. That would be the heart of it for me."

Tanya Ell certainly understand why it remains popular nearly 125 years later. "Many people think of it as the pinnacle, some would even say of any concerto, or any string concerto. And a lot of people would say, in terms of cello concerto repertoire, that it's the pinnacle of the repertoire and it really does have it all."

The Lansing Symphony will also play Stravinsky's 'Symphony in C,' before being joined by Okemos native and Cleveland Orchestra cellist Tanya Ell to perform the Dvorak Cello Concerto. The concert is Saturday evening at 8pm in the Wharton Center in East Lansing. Tickets and more information are available at LansingSymphony.org