News Column

Cellist Arron: chamber music champion, Seattle chamber-fest fan

June 23, 2013

YellowBrix

June 23--It may be hokey, but a good title for cellist Edward Arron would be "Mr. Chamber Music."

In addition to being a regular at the Seattle Chamber Music Society's summer and winter festivals since 2009, Arron himself runs four chamber-music series in New York, Connecticut and South Carolina, including "Artists in Concert" at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

That sets the 36-year-old cellist apart from many of his fellow SCMS performers who are primarily orchestral musicians, some of them principal players with symphonies around the country.

Arron, who'll play works by Saint-Sa ns, Smetana, Beethoven and Dvorak at SCMS's Summer Festival, got the chamber-music bug early. His mother, Seattle-born Judith Arron, was executive director of Carnegie Hall from 1986 until her death in 1998. His father, Ronald Arron, was a violist with the Metropolitan Opera until his retirement in 2004.

"As I was growing up, there was a lot of chamber music being played in my house," he recalls, "and I was being taken to a lot of concerts at Carnegie Hall."

From the start, he was drawn to the cello. And it wasn't just the cello's sound that grabbed him.

"I wanted to be that guy in the corner of the group," he says, "anchoring the ensemble."

His passion for chamber music was so strong that he wore it almost like a chip on his shoulder when applying to colleges and conservatories at age 18. One of those schools was Cleveland Institute, where he auditioned with Stephen Geber, then principal cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Geber asked him afterward what he wanted to do musically.

Arron's grudging response: "Well, I guess I should probably start practicing my orchestra excerpts, so I can get a job."

Geber, taken aback, asked Arron what he really wanted to do.

Arron's answer: "Chamber music ... but I don't have a string quartet or a trio right now, and those seem to be the only marketable vehicles for a cellist to make a living playing chamber music."

Geber said if that was his passion, then he should create a path for himself and figure out how to make a life in the chamber-music world.

Arron took the message to heart. He wound up at Juilliard, where James Ehnes, now director of SCMS, was one of his dorm mates. There, Arron began to act on his chamber-music convictions.

"I realized that all it takes, actually, is a few good players, a program and a few people to listen to you -- and you've got a concert. You can build from there."

To watch Arron in concert is to understand viscerally why chamber music appeals so much to him. He often rises in his seat as he performs, casting glances at his fellow players as if to encourage them or to ask, at particular musical moments, "Hey, did you hear that?"

"It's a dialogue, rather than a recitation," Arron says. "That's a really interesting thing to watch, and I don't think that will ever become uninteresting. ... It's a magical art form."

Seattle, he adds, is one of the prime spots for making that magic happen: "This is a festival that has perhaps the most dedicated die-hard audience I've ever encountered."

He credits the festival's success to founding director Toby Saks' gimmick-free approach to staging the music. Ehnes, who succeeded Saks last year, has kept the festival on the same path, Arron says.

Seattle also offers Arron a chance to take off his administrator's cap.

"I love being an organizer of festivals," he says, "but all of the organization that I do is really a means to being able to play chamber music as a cellist. ... It's equally wonderful to be invited to be a part of somebody else's vision. I get to relax from the duties of having to worry about every other detail. Just being able to show up and play is very pleasurable."

It's an added plus when he's able to perform with his wife, South Korean pianist Jeewon Park: "We met playing music together. We fell in love playing music together. So that's always been a very natural thing for us." For SCMS's summer festival, they'll appear together on a Saint-Sa ns Piano Quartet and Smetana's Piano Trio.

While Arron's yearly schedule includes a handful of outings as a symphony soloist, more than 90 percent of it is "wonderfully full" with chamber activity.

"I feel very fortunate," he says. "You know, a lot of people are talking about: Is classical music dying? And I actually think the art form has more fine practitioners than ever before in the history of the world ... Certain business models related to the art form are flawed or antiquated," he admits, "but the art form itself is in wonderful hands."

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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