In the Club with: Alexa Ciciretti
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
For our third episode, we are happy to welcome cellist Alexa Ciciretti and conductor-composer-pianist Edo Frenkel. You can find our interview with Edo here. Welcome, Alexa!
Tell us about a recent concert you performed in or attended that you particularly enjoyed.
A few months ago, I performed Kaija Saariaho’s Sept Papillons in a solo recital. It was my first time playing one of her solo pieces and I had the great fortune to work on it with my teacher, Anssi Kartunnen, for whom the piece was written. It really opened up my eyes to the beautiful sound world she creates with her music, and working on it with Anssi was incredibly inspiring. I can’t wait to play more of her music.
Is there a moment or experience that got you hooked on contemporary music?
Oh boy, this is a tough one! I feel like I’ve always been pretty “into” contemporary music - I even played a bunch of contemporary chamber music back in high school when I was in NEC Pre-College. And I can definitely think of several experiences in recent years that solidified my love for it, but I would say that one of the most intense/rewarding experiences during my school years was playing a Musica Nova concert at Eastman where we performed Boulez Derive I, Paredes Senales with Irvine Arditti, and Carter’s Triple Duo. The sheer intensity of the music, the rehearsal process, and performance; the open-mindedness and focus I was required to have; and the feeling that I was part of something larger than myself, something important, were all things I’ll never forget. That concert definitely helped lead me down the path I’m on today.
Who are some composers or ensembles you’ve been enjoying listening to lately?
A few pieces on my Spotify recently played list: Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi’s Chiacona, performed by Anssi Karttunen (I highly recommend checking it out! It’s a fascinating set of pieces by 30 contemporary composers); Bach Cello Suites performed by Anner Bylsma, and Brahms Violin Sonata in G Major performed by Isabelle Faust. Also, Stravinsky conducting his Pulcinella Suite - amazing and incredibly enlightening. And a confession - I usually end up listening by proxy to whatever Edo is playing in our apartment at the time….Schoenberg, Ligeti, Carter, Berio, you name it! Our apartment usually has music playing at any given time.
What role would you like to see contemporary music play in our music community - or in the community at large?
I would love to see all musicians and people regard contemporary music as just “music.” At any point in history, the music we consider “classical” or “mainstream” was contemporary. If everyone were able to internalize that, we could turn something that’s considered niche into just part of the continuum of classical music. (That’s why I love what you have created with the New Music Listening Club - you’re encouraging people to listen to and enjoy contemporary music, the way people normally do with older classical music! Thanks, Alexa!)
As a cellist who specializes in both contemporary music and historical performance practice, how do you balance these interests? Do you separate these areas of your artistic practice, or do you find continuities between them?
I definitely see similarities between the two. With contemporary music, I strive to interpret the score so as to accurately convey the composers’ wishes given the tools I have at my disposal. The luck there is that I often have access to people who have first-hand knowledge of that particular composer’s style, habits, and mannerisms (or I might even have access to the composers themselves). And if I don’t have direct access, I can always listen to source recordings, interviews, etc. online. With historical performance practice, I have the same exact goals. Since I can’t talk to people who know Bach or Brahms themselves, though, I have to rely on the score even more than ever (and treatises, and books, and articles by musicologists, etc.). So for both genres, the score is the key to opening the composer’s world. That’s why I never get tired of Bach - Anna Magdelena’s manuscript provides a whole universe of possibilities. Just like the universe of possibilities presented by the score for Berio’s Cello Sequenza!
Outside of music, what are some other types of art and media that you particularly enjoy?
I really enjoy reading and have for as long as I can remember. Usually I enjoy novels most, and am always eager to find the next book that will make me sit in complete silence and tears by the end of the last page (Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany are two examples).
Thank you for joining us, Alexa!
Cellist Alexa Ciciretti is quickly establishing herself as a performer who is equally at home playing baroque viola da gamba, cutting-edge contemporary music, and everything in between.
Most recently, Ms. Ciciretti was a guest artist at the 2019 Ojai Festival, where she performed John Zorn’s Ouroboros with Jay Campbell of the JACK Quartet, which was hailed as an “impressive tour de force” (sequenza21.com). She also appeared alongside members of LUDWIG and Barbara Hannigan’s Equilibrium Young Artists.
A member of the Spoleto Festival USA for several seasons, Ms. Ciciretti served as continuo cellist on the U.S. premiere of Vivaldi’s Farnace and section cellist on the U.S. premiere of Helmut Lachenmann’s Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern. Additionally, she was the principal cellist in Zemlinsky’s Lyrische Symphonie, a theatrical performance where she also played movements of Berg’s Lyrische Suite for string quartet.
As an invited member of the Lucerne Festival Academy, she participated in several European tours, both with the Alumni Orchestra under the direction of Riccardo Chailly and the Academy Orchestra under the direction of Matthias Pintscher. Additionally, she was the solo cellist in Wolfgang Rihm’s Jagden und Formen under George Benjamin, and was one of six orchestral cello soloists in the world premiere of Luca Francesconi’s Das Ding singt.
Ms. Ciciretti was a cello fellow at the New World Symphony for four years, serving as principal cellist in their 2019 tour to Carnegie Hall. A frequent principal cellist under Michael Tilson Thomas, she additionally performed as principal under conductors such as Osmo Vänskä, Matthias Pintscher, John Adams, Brad Lubman, and Mark Wigglesworth. She curated several recitals at New World Symphony, including two duo recitals with pianist John Wilson and a lecture-recital entitled “Pathologically Modern: New Paths to New Sound Worlds.” Ms. Ciciretti also performed contemporary chamber music extensively during her time at New World Symphony, including Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King with baritone Kelvin Thomas and George Crumb’s Black Angels.
Ms. Ciciretti collaborated with the Miami-based group Flamenco Sephardit in both the United States and Europe, and recently starred in the short film, “A Waning Heart,” which was screened at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
Ms. Ciciretti received her master’s degree and orchestral studies diploma from Eastman School of Music and her bachelor’s degree with a minor in historical performance from Oberlin Conservatory. Principal teachers include Steven Doane, Amir Eldan and Ronald Lowry.
Currently based in Paris, she works as a freelance musician while pursuing post-graduate studies with Anssi Karttunen.
Headshot by Nadine Sherman