Local music lovers may best know Maksim Velichkin as a cellist. His performances – broadly expressive and always gauzed in a rich, oaken tone – are known well. He can be seen at the front desk of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra’s cello section one afternoon. Next thing, he is at a solo cello recital in Atwater Village. And if you blink your eyes too soon, you might miss the stopover for a recording gig he made in between.
So it may come as a surprise to some that Velichkin’s musical talents extend beyond the cello – and that his mastery of that instrument follows suit elsewhere.
A sampling of the breadth of his skills will be coming up Tuesday, June 24, then continuing into June 27 and June 28, not only as a consummate cellist, but also as pianist, improviser and even concert organizer.
The ever-busy Velichkin spoke at length this week about his life and work.
“The piano was my first love,” he confided as he recalled his childhood in Tashkent, then part of the Soviet Union, but now the capital of independent Uzbekistan. “I had access to it at my grandmother’s house. But the cello was a choice that was made for me as I was entering music school. I didn’t mind it.”
Among the classical music luminaries that Velichkin has performed with are Martha Argerich, James Levine, Yuri Temirkanov, Masaaki Suzuki, Mischa Maisky and Renaud Capuçon. But he also boasts an equally impressive list of collaborations from the pop and jazz world that are a testament to his love of breaking musical boundaries: Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach, Chick Corea and jazz keyboardist Bob James.
From that same vein stems his love of musical improvisation, a talent not generally associated with classical musicians. He listed Billy Childs, Bill Evans and Brad Mehldau as influences and inspirations in that field.
And his work as an improviser is earning wider attention. His latest solo album of improvisations was recently featured on KPFK’s “Global Village” program.
Though his performances as a cellist are often carried along by an improvisatory air, the inspiration he finds as an improviser doesn’t necessarily inform him there.
“I am not completely sure why that is,” he thought over. “Creating material versus interpreting it: They’re two different processes with two different emphases.”
The spotlight turns onto his skills as a recreative performer in a pair of concerts on June 27 and 28 at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and Edendale Library in Silverlake respectively. Forming the nucleus of those programs will be music by local composer George N. Gianopoulos and the late Hans Werner Henze.
Gianopoulos has been a close friend of Velichkin’s for over five years and has premiered a number of his works. Their latest collaboration will be the premiere of Gianopoulos’ “Variations on B-A-C-H for Solo Cello, Op. 31” at the Norton Simon Museum, which will be followed the next day with a performance at the Edendale Library.
The duality of being both a creative and recreative musician might be a difficult prospect for some. But Velichkin said he relishes the challenges each discipline poses.
“The very nature of it: extemporaneous composition and performance,” he reminisced. “Improvising came to me when I was little. I remember picking tunes and then making up my own. It was like a game.”
Maksim Velichkin’s concert of piano improvisations will take place Tuesday, June 24 at the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo (123 Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka St., Suite 301, Los Angeles). Concert begins at 9 p.m. and there is a $10 cover charge. For more information, visit www.bluewhalemusic.com, or call (213) 538-8038.
His recitals of music from the 20th and 21st centuries will take place Friday, June 27 and Saturday, June 28 at the Norton Simon Museum and Edendale Library respectively. Admission is free for both events. For more information, visit www.nortonsimon.org, or http://www.edendaleupclose.blogspot.com/.