· By Nicholas Stevens

Scaling the Heights of the Cello Repertoire: Carmine Miranda

Classical musicians often begin their recording careers with samplings from standard or new repertoire, showcasing versatility and promise. To scale the Everest of an instrument's literature is for mid- or late-career projects—or so goes conventional wisdom. Carmine Miranda launched his career on disc with Bach's Six Suites. He was just getting started.

Rachmaninoff's dazzling Sonata represents a lofty peak in both the cello and piano literatures; Shostakovich's entry in the genre, while less known as a rite of passage, also poses daunting challenges. We asked Carmine, whose latest album includes both, how he makes it all sound so deceptively effortless and so beautifully nuanced.


ArkivMusic: This is your fifth album on Navona, and your eighth overall – in just ten years! Congratulations on this release. How did you encounter the label, and how did this collaboration between pianist Robert Marler, you, and them arise?

Carmine Miranda: My relationship with Navona and its parent organization, Parma Recordings, goes way back when they were just starting out in 2012. Luckily, we have built a great collaborative relationship through the years. In 2019 I joined the faculty at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, as the professor of cello and director of chamber music for strings. At Belmont, I met Robert Marler, who is the piano professor and was one of my teaching studio neighbors; they now keep us in separate buildings since we are both big troublemakers. (Just kidding!) We immediately clicked since we both have a similar sense of humor, as well as a similar outlook in music and life.

I always loved that Robert was just as passionate about music as I was, which in many ways comes as a result of our humble beginnings. We never take our musical profession for granted, since it has provided both of us with a wonderful life.

AM: Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff each have a distinct sound world, yet the young Shostakovich who wrote the first movement of the D minor sonata was clearly capable of sounding Romantic! Aside from common ground between the composers in terms of era and nationality, what aspects of the pieces led you to pair them on this project?

CM: Both composers have several similarities since they both take compositional inspiration from Russian folklore. At the same time, the life of both composers was directly impacted by the Soviet regime at different times, forcing Rachmaninoff to leave his Russian homeland, and forcing Shostakovich to become paranoid in his own country. Both sonatas are also known to be well established “heavy lifter” Russian works of the piano and cello repertoire.

AM: The sound on this record is incredible, and Navona has touted the production and engineering work that went into it. Can you tell us a bit more about the recording process, and the team behind the album?

CM: The performances were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, in the well-known “music row” district. We recorded these works at Masterfonics Studios as well as Ocean Way Studios with a team of celebrated engineers. Alan Shacklock is a legendary British producer and rock guitarist, who has produced recordings for Meat Loaf, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Roger Daltrey of The Who, and many more. Alan is also a professor of sound engineering at Belmont, a classically trained guitarist and lutenist who performed with the baroque consort “The Cradle of Conceits.” The mastering engineer for the album is Tommy Dorsey, a Belmont University alumnus and former student of Robert's. Kyle Ginther, the recording engineer, has also collaborated with prominent stars such as Taylor Swift, but also a variety of country and classical musicians.

AM: Virtuosity will always be mentioned when we talk about Rachmaninoff, but even in the Shostakovich piece, you tear through difficult material – I’m thinking of the harmonics glissandi in movement II., but there are similar challenges throughout both pieces. You’ve spoken about how much work it takes to make transcendent playing sound effortless; how much prep went into this record, counting practice?

CM: We have both performed these works many times before, however for this recording, it took us countless hours of rehearsals which by now I’ve lost count, as well as many hours of mixing and mastering for this album (almost an entire year). It was always helpful that Robert and I have a lot of similarities when it comes to interpretative viewpoints, and this helped to make the overall process incredibly fun for both of us.

AM: It famously takes a top-flight pianist to make the Rachmaninoff sonata work, given the equal status the composer gave to both instrumentalists. Please tell us a bit about your working relationship with Robert!

CM: One of the important factors in our working relationship, is the fact that we both have mutual respect. We are friends outside of work, but we remain friends when we rehearse and work together. We both take a lot of time to discuss many different artistic viewpoints and when possible, always find a middle ground. At the same time, we both help each other rather than compete, which in my opinion makes the perfect environment for great collaborations.

AM: Listening to the album, I was struck by the level of attention you had clearly dedicated to every moment in terms of timbre and articulation; even notes that fly by have a tone and a shape. What’s your advice to instrumentalists-in-training out there who have a hard time reconciling the technical and expressive demands of advanced rep? (This could be actual advice you give your own students, or hypothetical.)

CM: I am a firm believer in two principles. The first being that technique comes as a result of truly understanding the music that has been written. By understanding the historical and musical context of written music, we can then make technical decisions to enhance those musical choices. This grants the performer with the possibility to customize technique according to very specific needs, as well as tailoring it towards the individual’s anatomical proportions.

The second principle is to give equal life and love to every single note in the score.

AM: March feels like the perfect time of year to enjoy music like the Andante of the Rachmaninoff sonata in Nashville, the city you and ArkivMusic share – one can almost picture a cool breeze passing over spring flowers, or the sun coming out after a gray morning. Do you enjoy living in Music City, as a classical player with open horizons?

CM: I couldn’t see myself living anywhere else other than Music City. I love Nashville, the people, and the culture. Nashville has some of the most welcoming people in the United States, as well as a wide array of musical diversity. We have a fantastic symphony orchestra, great musicians in every corner of this town, great food, and a community who helps each other in times of adversity. I feel very blessed every day that I wake up to be part of this community and sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure that I am not just dreaming. I don’t like the occasional tornadoes though; they scare me to death!

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