Cellostatus (2019)

Ljova: Cellostatus — concerto for cello, string orchestra and percussion (2019)

Watch an excerpt from the first movement:

Commissioned by Nicholas Finch and the NouLou chamber players. Special thanks to Jim and Marianne Welch, and the generous support of the Gheens Foundation.

“Cellostatus” began as a reflection on our generation’s usage of of social media. I’d get in the New York subway and see people glued to their phones, gently flicking their finger upwards on the screen, scrolling through their friends’ lives, reacting, sharing — what could be the soundtrack to this act? I wanted to find out. The opening measures of “Cellostatus” feature the soloist playing a bluesy plucked groove which, to me, could depict someone scrolling through life. As the piece develops, the soloist is captivated — or distracted — by conflicting ideas of danger and romance, before retreating fully into the background.

My own usage of social media is reluctant, but one of the brighter and more mercurial cameos on my feed come from the occasional posts by Nicholas Finch, the commissioner of this concerto. Nick’s posts run the gamut, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from musical memes to deeply personal reflections. All of them try to shake the viewer somewhat, either to laugh, reel in horror, or empathize in common cause. My own experience with this served as a perfect starting point for this concerto.

Cast in several short movements performed without pause, the concerto begins with our soloist merrily plucking away. After a short cadenza, this groove is picked up by the orchestra, and a theme full of little twists and turns begins to reveal itself for a brief dance. In the second movement we enter a kind of “underworld”, with the soloist playing a relentless and ever-changing pattern of busy notes while the violins intone a lonely melody. The unsettled calm of the second movement gives way to a bracing tarantella in the third movement, which alternates fully notated passages with improvised interjections. After the tarantella dies down, the violins cue up a sweeping romantic melody which begins a dialogue between the soloist and orchestra, leading to a reflective cadenza for the soloist.

The final movement of the concerto is perhaps a little peculiar because – spoiler alert? – in it the soloist plays only one note. The reasons behind this fact are mysterious to me, but of the options I had considered (writing a finale based on the opening figure, writing a wild new theme, some sort of love theme apotheosis), this idea seemed the most exciting and dangerous. I had an image in my head of an opera singer holding a gaze and single note — forever. Perhaps another explanation is that one of the greatest gifts of true leaders is to listen to those around you, to be curious, to cede the floor and give others an opportunity to speak. You could also see this ending in the social media context — that our soloist had said all they wanted and now wanted to listen, and to let the new wisdom gained in taking in this reflection help them move forward. Despite holding a single note, I feel that the soloist remains vital to the ending, the glue that holds it together and drives it forward.

I’d like to dedicate this piece to fatherhood –– to my dad, composer Alexander Zhurbin, who began his musical life as a cellist, and to the memory of Nicholas Finch’s dad, David Finch, longtime cellist of the Boston Pops and Boston Ballet orchestras. We would be nowhere without their love.


March 2019

CATEGORY orchestra & soloists
INSTRUMENTATION percussion (triangle, flexatone, suspended cymbal, ride cymbal, glockenspiel, bongos, wood blocks, sandpaper, antique cymbals and timpani), string orchestra (3-3-3-2-1) and cello soloist.
DURATION approximately 18 minutes
WORLD PREMIERE April 18 2019 at Ogle Center, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany IN
WORLD PREMIERE PERFORMERS Nicholas Finch, cellist; Nou Lou Chamber Players, conducted by Jason Seber
SCORE AVAILABILITY A Perusal PDF score is available on request (contact Ljova). Parts and arrangements are available for sale via PDF or mail delivery; arrangements for combinations not listed above may be commissioned on request. [contact for more info]