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With his unconventional collaborations, classically trained cellist Seth Parker Woods draws new audiences to the arts.

I’m always interested in people who see the world in unconventional ways and take their talents down unconventional byways.

The July issue of Strings Magazine provides an example of one such path-breaker, cellist Seth Parker Woods.

Thomas May writes, “For Texas-born cellist Seth Parker Woods, pushing boundaries and definitions comes naturally — both for his own creative development and for his overall sense of mission.

“ ‘I’m trying to change the face and the landscape in which music can be experienced, regardless of class or ethnicity or background,’ Parker Woods says. …

“Parker Woods refuses to let his identity as a cellist be restricted by conventional perceptions of what a classical string player does. Which is why, even at this still-early stage of his career, he’s already been leaving his imprint on a fascinating variety of collaborations across disciplines.

“An increasingly frequent and welcome presence among new-music circles, Parker Woods also draws audiences from the spheres of dance and innovative visual arts. And while the cello is at the center of his creative work, it shares space with his ongoing explorations of kinesthetics and the body, choreography, electronic music, visual art, and theatrical performance. …

“ICED BODIES is Parker Woods’ contemporary reframing of a legendary avant-garde collaboration from 1972 between the maverick designer Jim McWilliams and the late cellist and performance artist Charlotte Moorman. The original version was a durational ‘happening’ … that involved Moorman using a saw and other tools to play a cello sculpted from ice as it melted. …

“Parker Woods [headed] to London’s Royal Albert Hall to perform with the Chineke! Orchestra for its debut at the BBC Proms on August 30. He’s one of the founding cellists of this ensemble, which was created to address the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities among Europe’s professional orchestras. …

“ ‘My upbringing is in classical, and that’s still a major part of my career. But I feel that we as performers have to usher in the music of now and be advocates for it,’ Parker Woods says. …

“As a boy in his native Houston, where he was born in 1984, Parker Woods recalls falling in love with the sound of the cello when he saw the film The Witches of Eastwick. In one over-the-top scene of this comedy-fantasy, based on a John Updike story, Susan Sarandon plays the instrument with Jack Nicholson at the piano until her cello bursts into flames.

“Parker Woods started lessons at age five or six. ‘My father was a gospel and jazz singer, and had a band that would rehearse in our basement studio. My earliest musical experiences came from listening to them rehearse when I was a toddler.’ …

“A connection to opera, ballet, and film composer Patrick Soluri opened the door to Europe, which has remained a major focus of Parker Woods’ career as a performer and scholar. Through Soluri, he was engaged to perform in the Berlin Staatsballett orchestra. He later worked with the contemporary choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and P.A.R.T.S., the dance academy of her company Rosas. A residency at the Centre Intermondes in La Rochelle, France, led to several more collaborations.”

“ ‘I just kept breaking all the rules,’ says Parker Woods.”

Read more here.

Hat Tip: ArtsJournal.

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The Facebook page of my friend Alden, the oboist, linked to an article on Benoit Rolland, winner of a 2012 MacArthur Award.  Alden said Roland reminded him of the sushi genius in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,”  a film about a very intense and innovative perfectionist.

The story that Kathleen Burge wrote for the Boston Globe suggests just how inventive Rolland is. “For his entire professional life, Benoît Rolland has been making bows for stringed instruments with one goal: making music easier to play.

“ ‘If a musician is not comfortable with the bow, the bow becomes an obstacle, and he or she cannot be free to play,’ Rolland said. …

“This fall, Rolland, who lives in Watertown with his wife, was rewarded for his innovations and artistry over a career that has included making about 1,800 bows. He was named one of 23 MacArthur Foundation fellows, and given an unrestricted grant of $500,000. …

“Over the years Rolland has made bows for some of the world’s most famous musicians, including violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Anne-Sophie Mutter.

“Kim Kashkashian, a violist who teaches at New England Conservatory, has asked Rolland to make two bows for her.

“ ‘He actually will listen to you play and watch you play and instinctively understand the style of your playing, the particular sensuality of your bow and string relationship,’ said Kashkashian, also a leader with the local Music for Food program.

“Each of the bows Holland made for her has distinctive qualities. One works especially well if she is playing chamber music with a piano, Kashkashian said. ‘The second bow he made for me, which has a really deep chocolatey sound, I would tend to use if I were playing completely alone.’ ”

Read the Globe article here.

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First Parish does not have a typical service on New Year’s Day. For one thing, attendance is sparse.

Sunday’s “Taizé” service put me in mind of something my mother used to say about Unitarians to tease my father, who was one. (The denomination was not yet Unitarian-Universalist.) She liked to say that her impression of Unitarians had always been “seven people in an attic with a violin.”

Parishioner Joan Esch and her cello provided the opening music yesterday. Instead of going into the main sanctuary, we gathered in the parish hall, sitting on folding chairs around a small table with candles and flowers. At most there were 40 people, including toddlers running and climbing.

Mark Richards led the Taizé service, explaining that the concept started in France. The First Parish version is short and consists of one-verse songs sung over and over in unison without accompaniment and interspersed with readings, cello interludes, meditation, and candle lighting — for remembrance (such as an illness or death) and hope (such as a new beginning or a birth).

I enjoyed being there. It was different. And I liked a line that was quoted from a long-ago minister — something about the mystery within reaching for the mystery without.

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