Joshua Roman: Backstage with the Artist Series

Weighing 18 pounds and having its own plane ticket under the name “Cello Roman,” Joshua Roman’s cello never leaves his side.

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Whether accompanying cellist Joshua Roman to an interview, being played in a cello master class, or waiting in line at the dining hall, the 1899 instrument became a well-known fixture on Wheaton’s campus during Joshua Roman’s residency with the Artist Series in October. 

Joshua was accompanied by pianist Zsolt Bognár for the residency, where the two virtuosos spent five days immersed in Wheaton life: they taught master classes with cello and piano students, held an open rehearsal with music majors, and had meals at the dining hall.  They also simply engaged in conversations with students, talking about the life of a musician, the amount of practice time they put in, and what it takes to start a career in classical music.

“A career is a very slow thing,” said Joshua, soberly—which is ironic coming from a 27-year-old who has performed in locations around the world, from internal displacement camps in Uganda to Carnegie Hall.  It was Joshua’s humility that continually surprised students and faculty.

Whether accompanying cellist Joshua Roman to an interview, being played in a cello master class, or waiting in line at the dining hall, the 1899 instrument became a well-known fixture on Wheaton’s campus during Joshua Roman’s residency with the Artist Series in October. 

Joshua was accompanied by pianist Zsolt Bognár for the residency, where the two virtuosos spent five days immersed in Wheaton life: they taught master classes with cello and piano students, held an open rehearsal with music majors, and had meals at the dining hall.  They also simply engaged in conversations with students, talking about the life of a musician, the amount of practice time they put in, and what it takes to start a career in classical music.

“A career is a very slow thing,” said Joshua, soberly—which is ironic coming from a 27-year-old who has performed in locations around the world, from internal displacement camps in Uganda to Carnegie Hall.  It was Joshua’s humility that continually surprised students and faculty.

Joshua first picked up a cello at age three, and by the age of six, he knew he would spend his life playing professionally. Growing up in a suburb of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where cello teachers were few, Joshua spent the first ten years taking cello lessons from a violin teacher and listening to the greats like Yo-Yo Ma and Mstislav Rostropovich. 

He credits his current success as an artist to the hours he spent listening to his heroes. “Rather than learning about my own limitations, I admired possibilities,” he says, often using the word “exploration” when discussing life as a musician.

Joshua attended the Cleveland Institute of Music at 16, which is where he met and became friends with Zsolt. At the age of 22, Joshua became the world’s youngest lead principle cellist at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

It was in Seattle that Joshua was dubbed a “Classical Rock Star,” among the many accolades he has been given by the press. Even Yo-Yo Ma refers to Joshua as " an extraordinary young musician…. deeply grounded in a classical tradition, and a fearless explorer of our world." Joshua recently performed with Yo-Yo Ma at a State Department event held in honor of the President of China, hosted by Hilary Clinton and Vice President Biden.

Yet with all of his fame at such a young age, Joshua is the most affable “rock star” one could imagine. During his five days at Wheaton he took time to invest in students despite his busy schedule, which sometimes included seven-hour practice sessions.

“Tell me three things you liked about what you just played,” Joshua often asked of the students in the master class.  He urged them to use their imagination to get to the heart of the music—and to have fun.  In Joshua and Zsolt’s interactions it was clear that for them, music is not only a career, but a way of life, and something that can be enjoyed in even the most serious of moments.

Joshua and Zsolt’s residency culminated in an Artist Series performance, where they debuted an updated piece titled, Americana, written by another Cleveland Institute of Music classmate, composer Dan Visconti. The concert also included pieces by Brahms, Schumann, and Foss, and commenced in a double encore of fan favorites, Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan” and Bach’s “Prelude from the First Suite.”