Bradshaw, Vivaldi And A Cello: Fort Smith Symphony showcases principal cellist

Fort Smith Symphony showcases principal cellist

Rob Bradshaw thought he wanted to play the viola when he started studying music in the Norman, Okla., public schools. He was convinced to try the cello instead and says he has never looked back.

(Courtesy Photo/Rob Bradshaw)
Rob Bradshaw thought he wanted to play the viola when he started studying music in the Norman, Okla., public schools. He was convinced to try the cello instead and says he has never looked back. (Courtesy Photo/Rob Bradshaw)

If classical music needed a pitch man, Rob Bradshaw ought to be the first choice. His enthusiasm is genuine and infectious as he talks about being principal cellist for the Fort Smith Symphony and featured artist at the next concert, performing Vivaldi's G minor Concerto RV 416. It's one of his favorites, he says, "because it showcases the cello's virtuosic capabilities."

"Vivaldi is one of the most celebrated of the Baroque composers. He has a prolific catalog, including 28 cello concertos, more than any other composer," Bradshaw begins. "What's fascinating is that while his violin concertos, especially 'The Four Seasons,' are frequently performed, the cello concertos are rarely played. In fact, they were left unpublished until after his death.

"During Vivaldi's time, the cello was largely used to accompany other instruments and singers and not thought of as a solo instrument," he goes on. "This work shows off the range of the cello, both in its fast, intricate passages requiring great dexterity from the player, and in its beautiful, songful melodies. This concerto is also one of Vivaldi's more emotionally charged pieces. To me, at times it sounds more like a concerto we would expect from the Romantic era rather than the Baroque. It has serious, even sorrowful moments, but at other times it shows Vivaldi's humorous tone and playful character.

"I think Vivaldi's music is fun for musicians to play as well as fun to listen to for the audience."

Surprisingly, cello was not Bradshaw's first love. He wanted to play the viola when he started studying music in the Norman, Okla., public schools.

"One of my future teachers, Jean Statham, helped me try out the different instruments. She herself is a cellist. She convinced me that I would really enjoy playing the cello instead. She told me I could switch to viola after a year if I wanted to, but I never looked back.

"I remember loving the sound of the cello immediately -- its warmth, its depth, and all the possible colors and sounds it can make," he enthuses. "I love the fact that the cello shares the same register as the human voice, and can sound like a person speaking or singing when played. The cello and playing music have been central to my being ever since.

"It has not always been easy being a professional musician," he adds. "Jobs are few and far between, and even accomplished players sometimes struggle to make ends meet. But I cannot imagine doing anything else. Making music and performing it -- as well as inviting students both young and old to be a part of music -- is extremely meaningful and powerful for me."

That was also the life lesson Bradshaw learned during the covid-19 shutdown.

"I've played professionally for many years, and until the pandemic started, I largely took performing in concerts for granted; it's a part of what I do many weeks of the year," says Bradshaw, who also plays with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and teaches music in the Norman Public Schools where he was educated. "After many months with no concerts, I have realized that performing is more than that; it is a part of who I am.

"Whenever I get to come to rehearsal and work with my amazing colleagues in the symphony, it feels very special now," he says. "The energy that is present in live performance, and especially among talented colleagues and friends, is something that cannot be matched. I look forward to the day when this period we are experiencing is a distant memory, and that performing live concerts is again normal, but I know now that I will never underestimate the value I find in experiencing, sharing, and communicating through live music."

The April 24 Fort Smith Symphony performance also includes Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture and Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 104.

Rob Bradshaw thought he wanted to play the viola when he started studying music in the Norman, Okla., public schools. He was convinced to try the cello instead and says he has never looked back.

(Courtesy Photo/Rob Bradshaw)
Rob Bradshaw thought he wanted to play the viola when he started studying music in the Norman, Okla., public schools. He was convinced to try the cello instead and says he has never looked back. (Courtesy Photo/Rob Bradshaw)

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Fort Smith Symphony:

‘Classic Hits’

WHEN — 5 & 7:30 p.m. April 24

WHERE — ArcBest Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith

COST — $20-$50; limited tickets available

INFO — 452-7575