Cellist's dream culminates in world famous composer touring New Zealand

Margaret van Altena  of New Plymouth and American composer and performer Aaron Minsky, aka Von Cello, have been touring  ...
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Margaret van Altena of New Plymouth and American composer and performer Aaron Minsky, aka Von Cello, have been touring around the North Island.

The internet and a newspaper article helped a Taranaki musician bring a composer she has long admired to New Zealand.

Cellist Margaret van Altena of New Plymouth was asked in 2016 who she would most like to collaborate with from history.

She answered: Aaron Minsky, a Jewish American musician and composer known in musical circles for his merging of rock guitar and classical cello techniques.

American composer and performer Aaron Minsky, aka Von Cello,   is to perform with the Taranaki Youth Orchestra the world ...
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American composer and performer Aaron Minsky, aka Von Cello, is to perform with the Taranaki Youth Orchestra the world premiere of his cello concerto, Summer Haze, dedicated to all young musicians.

"I love his style and humour. He is so interested in the day-to-day aspects of life and living, capturing them musically. Then, he does touch on the philosophical too, which is essential, as there are many facets to life," she said. 

Her comments were then published in a story on Stuff and then found by Minsky when he undertook an online search to see where his music was being played.

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"Somehow or other he stumbled across the write-up. He contacted me and said he wanted to come to New Zealand and would, if I could, I organise a tour for him," van Altena said

"I was a bit gobsmacked and awe-struck, but I got some sage advice from other musicians, who said 'go for it'. So I did."

She pulled together a three-week tour of teaching and performing at schools and with string groups around the North Island, and is his tour manager.

Minsky, also known as Von Cello, began music as a rock guitarist, but then at 15 took up cello seriously.

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He has performed with a wide range of artists from David Bowie to Russian composer Mstislav Rostropovich, who was considered to be one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century.

Minsky's music has appeared in the curricula of many music schools, and he has given master classes, workshops and performances around the world.

He was one of the original musicians working with El Sistema, a music and social development programme pioneered in Venezuela that provides free music lessons to children who otherwise would have no chance of learning to play.

Some of his workshops in New Zealand were with Sistema groups.

"We're working with quite a number of these groups and it's been fantastic," van Altena said.

Minsky said he liked to make cello and classical music relevant and interesting to contemporary students.

His pieces combined elements of classical technique with popular music of many styles.

"A lot of people don't realise the composers, Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, were using the popular music of their day. People were dancing to Strauss waltzes,"  he said.

"At some point classical music has removed itself from popular culture, it's lost a lot of audiences. One of the things I am trying to do is to bring the audience back, make classical music that's intelligent, highly evolved but still has the audience appeal."

Minsky will be in Taranaki next week working with students, and his Jewish heritage is being honoured on Friday with a Shabbat meal on  August 18 at Brooklands Church in New Plymouth.

This will be followed by a public recital titled, From Rock to Bach and Back!  Both the meal and recital are open to the public, with tickets at the church office.

The finale of the trip will be a world premiere performance with the Taranaki Youth Orchestra of Minsky's cello concerto Summer Haze, on August 19.

He would also be playing with two young rock bands, Suburban Goons and Group W, both from New Plymouth Boys' High School.

 - Stuff

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