Sound of Charlotte Blog
Alan Black on Stepping Back with GraceMarch 16, 2022
A fixture of the Charlotte Symphony since 1986, Principal Cellist Alan Black is stepping back from his role of leading the cellists to continue playing in the section. Black will be ending his tenure on a high note at the end of our 2021-22 season, having played the solo in John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 and capping off with his feature in the Music & Healing concert at Queens University on April 3. We talked with Alan about his decision to step back now, his favorite memory with the CSO, and his hopes for the section as he ends his tenure as Principal Cellist and begins the 2022-23 season as Principal Cello Emeritis.
Why have you decided to step back into the section at this time?
Well you know, I've been thinking about this for a couple years. I'm going to be 65 in a month and I'm thinking to myself, well, what else do I need to accomplish as a principal player? I've done all the solos....my colleagues are great cellists and I feel the talent level has risen. They're great players and so it's time for somebody else to do it. And the stress of sitting principal is actually fairly strong.... I want to enjoy playing without the stress of the job. And since I've done basically everything I've wanted to do and checked off all those boxes, I feel like it's kind of time for me to let somebody else take over the mantle; let somebody younger come on in and provide a fresh vision.
How have the other players reacted to your decision?
I think a lot of them were surprised, which makes me feel good because they were like, "Wait a minute, what? Why are you doing that?" A lot of them didn't realize I was going to be 65 and that makes me feel good....I think my cello colleagues were surprised and they've been very gracious about it.
After so many years as Principal, you must have some great memories.
Oh, yes! The highlight of my career was in 2000 when Yo-Yo Ma was in town performing with us and I got to play the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Cellos with him. Aside from being the most visible and famous musician on the planet, he is also an amazing human being -- warm, engaging, and filled with humility. We had a great time together and hung out at the after-party on the 60th floor of the Bank of America center. I had a great time and will never forget this moment. Ultimately, it was because of this concert that five years later I was able to purchase the cello I bought from him. In many ways, he has been the most influential person in my musical life, and I am filled with gratitude for this.
Do you have any words of wisdom for your successor?
I felt like as a principal the most important thing I could do is manage the section in a way that creates a great working atmosphere; a collegiality within the section. That's been my most important goal for the last twenty years, that I want us to all get along and be happy together....To me, the most important thing is that you've got to treat your colleagues with respect and you've got to treat them right.
What are your hopes for the cello section, and the CSO as a whole, for the coming years?
I hope we can continue to have great dialogue with our management and the board; that we continue to work as a team the way we did during COVID. These have been the best two years of my entire career in terms of our working relationship....it's been great and that's what we should have. We should have a great working relationship: between the players, the management, and the board. We need to do that....and I'm really hopeful for that going forward.
What can you tell us about your part in Music and Healing?
Two years ago I commissioned Leonard Mark Lewis to write [I Will Wade Out] for cello and piano, and we played it at Davidson [College] when I was on faculty there. And I really loved that piece. So I was thinking about what I wanted to do -- because I want to go out strong, like "Yeah, I'm making this decision. I don't have to, but I am because I just want to go out on a high note." And I thought, "You know, the perfect thing to do was play Mark's piece," because Mark and I are very close friends. I really like it, and it will give him a chance as a local composer to be showcased and to have another orchestral piece out there. So I'm really excited about us being able to do that. We've done a lot of tinkering with it since we played it two years ago. So it's been really neat to sort of reconnect with it and find more things that are amazing about it. So yeah, it's going to be fun. I'm really excited about it and it's a new venue that we've never played in, so I think it will be a really nice addition to the program.
Is there anything you'd like to say to the audiences who have been with you for so many years?
I want to say thank you to everyone, it's been such an honor to be Principal Cellist of the Charlotte Symphony. It's been an absolute joy!
Join us at Queens University for Alan's final solo performance as Principal Cellist of the Charlotte Symphony.
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