Chamber music: A mother-and-son musical reunion
The Zalkind family is living proof of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement that men are what their mothers made them.
Matthew Zalkind, an up-and-coming, internationally acclaimed cellist born and raised in Salt Lake City, was raised by Roberta and Larry Zalkind — the Utah Symphony’s associate principal violist and principal trombonist, respectively.
Mother and son will have their first professional collaboration in Utah on Monday, joining other chamber musicians in Franz Schubert’s sublime Cello Quintet as part of the Westminster Concert Series.
Of course, the Zalkinds have long played informal jam sessions at home. But audiences will be in for a treat when Matthew will sit between two of the most formative musicians in his life: his mother and Utah Symphony cellist Pegsoon Whang, who was his instructor as he grew up.
“This will be special on many levels,” Matthew, 25, said from the University of Michigan, where he is studying for his doctorate in cello performance. “I’m fairly certain I’ll be sitting in between Pegsoon and my mom.”
“It will be a reunion of sorts,” said Karlyn Bond, chairwoman of the music program at Westminster College, who will play piano in Dvorák’s crowd-pleasing Piano Quintet on the program’s second half.
Tsk tsk. Nepotism should be the furthest thing from your mind. Matthew Zalkind has earned international acclaim, including top prizes in the Beijing International Cello Competition. He won the 2009 Juilliard School Competition and consequently performed Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations” with the Juilliard Symphony Orchestra in Avery Fisher Hall, earning this praise from The New York Times: “Matthew Zalkind gave an elegant rendition of the work, playing with impressive refinement and eloquent phrasing. He illuminated the variations on the gracious melody with a singing tone and fine technique, and savored the good-natured dialogue with the orchestra.”
Zalkind was the top-ranked American cellist in 2011’s Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, a quadrennial event that is one of the oldest and most prestigious of music competitions.
He has performed with his mother and father at the Grand Teton Music Festival, the family band playing American composer Vincent Persichetti’s strangest of strange birds — a trio for trombone, viola, and cello. But circumstances have prevented the mother and son from performing together professionally more often. Roberta said Matthew left for the Juilliard School (where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in cello performance) before his 18th birthday, and since then their schedules have never coincided.
This opportunity came about only when the scheduled cellist for the concert was injured, and in a moment of inspiration Matthew Zalkind was invited.
Schubert’s Cello Quintet is another strange bird. Written by the Austrian composer two months before his death, it includes two cellos — rather than the standard ensemble of two violins, two violas and one cello.
“I love this piece because of the unique richness of the two cellos,” Roberta Zalkind said.
Matthew Zalkind said he loves playing the Cello Quintet because “all five instruments have equal importance.” It’s a perfect example of a band of equals, rather than one instrument (or family member) shining above the others.
To Bond, the Cello Quintet is capital-R Romantic. “The music is challenging for a musician, with a big payoff,” she said. “It becomes especially magical when it comes together.” Especially in this rare mother-and-son pairing.