Amanda Forsyth returns to the NAC to premiere a new cello concerto

Amanda Forsyth. Photo: Cheryl Mazak

Amanda Forsyth has been travelling the world since she left the principal cello chair with the National Arts Centre Orchestra some three years ago.

From Seoul to Sydney; St. Petersburg to Sao Paolo, she’s lugged her cello Carlo to concert halls across the globe as a soloist or as a member of the Zukerman Trio with her partner Pinchas Zukerman and pianist Angela Cheng.

Now she’s about to step back on the Southam Hall stage as a soloist for the first time since she left to pursue a career in the wider world.

She will perform a concerto written for her by the Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich, who has more than 70 works to his credit and has won several major awards including the 2010 JUNO for Best Classical Composition of the Year.

The concert and the composition have actually been in the works for some time, she said, but because of conflicting schedules it is happening this week.

She drew up a list of composers she’d like to work with, when the project was green-lighted, Mozetich ended up with the assignment.

When this interview was conducted the final finishing touches were being put on the piece.

“I know him a bit. I have heard his music and we know each other as colleagues but I have never worked with him before.”

She’s liking what she hears.

“It might surprise you but I have a completely different musical taste than Pinchas has. I am more of a romantic. That’s the kind of music that gets to me. I love the Romantics’ tonality. I don’t like plink plonk music, skritch scratch music and I don’t like gobbledegook music.

“His music is very tonal. It’s little bit like a film score, a little Hollywood shall we say. I like that. I am finding all these things I could list off… There are hints of Danny Elfman and Beetlejuice in it.

“There is a hint of Ravel. He has been inspired by Daphnis and Chloe.  And there is an echo of a Chinese violin concerto called The Butterfly Lovers. I haven’t told him these things.”

She also says the beginning of the concerto reminds her of the cello concerto written for her by her father Malcolm.

“The beginning is the same as my dad’s concerto.” Is it in imitation or tribute? She says she doesn’t know but, “whatever it is I’m going to tease him about it later. It’s very sweet. The chords are different but it is a descending line.”

She believes Mozetich’s music is very accessible, feel good music. “It is music to which an audience will respond well.

“My dad said many times, and I would hear him say in interviews: ‘If I can change the way an audience is feeling then my job is done.’ Music is supposed to take people somewhere on a journey. It should trek the emotions and pull on the heartstrings.”

The concert in Ottawa on Wednesday and Thursday nights is a chance for Forsyth to test out the new acoustic shell in Southam Hall.

She is interested to hear the new sound.

“It is great that they finally did it because Pinchas was working on that for many years. He leaves and then it happens. He did a lot of the ground work for that.”

She’s also glad to reconnect with old friends and colleagues.

She doesn’t miss the snow, but she does miss her former home in Ottawa and the adventures she had with NACO.

“We played a lot of new stuff and toured everywhere.” It was a big adventure from a young cellist.

She also likes reconnecting with a larger ensemble. In Ottawa she was the leader of a small group of cellists. As a soloist and as a member of a piano trio that feeling of belonging to a group is missing.

She reconnected with that feeling recently in Lisbon, Portugal where she played The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns for an encore sitting among the cello section.

“It was sort of special for me. I never play with other cellists, I am by myself. There is a family of cellists. Cellists have nice personalities for the most part and collegial with each other. It was a nice feeling. That part I miss.”

But the road always seems to beckon for Forsyth. The Zukerman Trio partnered with the Jerusalem Strong Quartet to tour the major U.S. cities, for example, And now she’s heading to Ottawa. Zukerman himself will be in Ottawa later this month.

When they are flying around the globe the two of them get to indulge their very different tastes in movies.

Zukerman tends to gravitate to romantic comedies; “I’m always watching horror movies. He leaves the room when I’m watching American Horror Story. He doesn’t even like the music.”

It was a thrill for her recently to meet Jessica Lange who has returned to the long-running TV show.

Living in Manhattan a few block from the Lincoln Centre and her old music school Juilliard, you do tend to bump into famous people.

One person she would not want to meet though is the current president, whose name is on a couple of buildings on her street.

“When his name comes up in conversation, I still put my hand up and say ‘Canadian’ and everyone goes ‘I wish.’ On the day the election happened I was in Sydney, Australia practicing and my mother facetimed me. She had this look of terror. She said ‘I think (Hillary Clinton) is going to lose. I went ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Call you later’ and Oh my God it did happen.”

When Forsyth takes the stage on Wednesday night, her trademark long blonde hair has been shortened.

“I was in Korea playing in an outdoor concert in a big stadium. My hair had gotten really long and these Korean girls were screaming and fainting and shouting Elsa (after the character in the movie Frozen).

“At my age, I’m not Elsa. So I just came back to the States, got off the plane and went straight to a new hairdresser and said ‘Cut it off’.

“I was asked if I was having a mid-life crisis I went, ‘No, I’ve had seven of those already.’

She’s kept the short hair which has a Sharon Stone kind of look. “I get Pink too a lot now. Even Charlize Theron has cut her hair.”

Along with the new haircut, expect a dress that fits the occasion.

“I’ve just started thinking about what I will wear. I’m not getting anything new but it will be new to Ottawa.

“I used to pair whatever piece I was playing wth a dress. When I played Don Quixote, I wore grey because that reminded me of armour. It was my fighting outfit. Certain colours seem to fit certain composers. When I first started playing my dad’s concerto, I wore orange because that was his favourite colour. It was atrocious.

“I am trying to put a colour to the Mozetich but it’s unfinished so I can’t make the call yet. So I guess I’m just going to be Amanda.”

Amanda Forsyth in concert
Where: Southam Hall
When: Nov. 14 and 15 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.