Cellist Sarah Cleveland
Who's your hero?
Some kids want to grow up to be president. Not Sarah Cleveland.
"I always knew I wanted to be an orchestral player," says the principal cellist of the Ann Arbor Symphony. Cleveland grew up in Livonia in the 1960s. "It was a really good place to grow up," she says. "They had a really good music education system." She came to Ann Arbor to attend the U-M School of Music in 1973 and started her professional career the same year by joining the cello section of the Toledo Symphony.
Cleveland stayed with the Toledo for twenty years, thirteen of them as its principal cellist. At the same time, she also served as the Flint Symphony's principal as well and performed with the Detroit Symphony and the Michigan Opera Theater. I saw her many, many times back in the 1990s - one week in Ann Arbor, the next week in Flint, the week after that in Detroit. And Cleveland was always alert, always on, always leading her section with strength, sensitivity, and consummate musicality.
These days, though, Cleveland's cut back on her steady orchestral gigs. Aside from her post in Ann Arbor, she's been mostly freelancing and playing chamber music. "I've always put my family ahead of my career," explains
Cleveland. "There was really good music making up in Flint, but those all-day Saturday rehearsals were hurting my family, so I gave it up."
A cello player in an orchestra doesn't get many solos - a phrase in Mahler here, a line in Stravinsky there. But at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, December 8, Cleveland will get her chance to shine in the biggest, longest cello solo in the standard repertoire: Don Quixote, Richard Strauss's musical translation of Cervantes's masterpiece, with
the principal cello taking the leading role as the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.
"I've never played Don Quixote before," says Cleveland. "I had to learn parts of it for auditions, but I never had to
learn this whole thing before. I've been working on it since May. I spent quite a while learning the notes and deciding how it should be played. Then I listened to recordings to see how I matched up. Thankfully, I was right in there."
So she's Don Quixote? "Yes, that's me," says Cleveland, "or, anyway, that's the plan. I'll be sitting up there front and center. The way I see it, the whole thing's really a giant orchestral solo with a huge range of emotion from the sublime to the sentimental to the dramatic.
"It's technically difficult, but difficult in a way that appeals to me - not so many double and triple stops but more all over the instrument, using the whole range of the instrument. It can get dicey, all that diving back and forth, but that's what makes it exciting, too."
Exciting? One might even say heroic.
[Review published December 2007]