And so the final curtain:
Forsyth takes a bow as a soloist with NACO
PETER ROBB / OTTAWA CITIZEN
February 7, 2015
In the crowded dressing room that she and Pinchas Zukerman share backstage, Amanda Forsyth was tidying up the pieces of her last solo concert as a member of the National Arts Centre Orchestra.
It was a night of significance for the institution and for the principal cellist of NACO, who will leave the ensemble at the end of this season.
Forsyth has been a “presence” with NACO for 17 years. Call it star power or charisma, when she is on stage people watch her.
Thursday night she gave them something more to look at and, in an interview later, to think about.
First she and Zukerman played the piece that is really their signature — the Brahms Double Concerto for violin and cello. Forsyth and Zukerman have played The Double together dozens of times. She calls it “our theme song, our love duet.”
She recalled that in the late 1990s, when their relationship was just budding, the two would communicate by phone and by fax, when they were apart — no Facebook then. “I had sent a fax to Pinchas and I had written out the first two bars of the Brahms Double slow movement. That was when he was courting me.”
Zukerman remembers that “one day a fax came through with a nice note and the smiley face that she does and a couple of bars of the Brahms Double and I went ‘that’s the one.’ She thought it was one of those pieces we might one day play. For me it signalled a real depth of character,” he said.
But it signalled much more than that really — their relationship blossomed because of the music of the great romantic composer Brahms.
Every time they play the piece together, it also deepens their musical connection.
Forsyth, beyond the glamour, is a fierce and knowledgeable musician and she has studied this piece intently.
“As a cellist, it is our Brahms concerto because we don’t have a cello concerto by him. I think Brahms felt guilty about that and made the cellist quite prominent with the opening cadenza in the first movement and the opening of the third movement and the complete unison second movement.”
But playing it so often requires a certain discipline, she says.
“You have to keep looking back at the music. Particularly this week, because we were recording it, I started looking at the music again and realized that, for example, I was not holding a note long enough. I have to tell myself ‘You’ve started to shape (the piece) as Amanda the soloist’.” And that is wrong.
It is important to honour the notes on the page, she says. “I have been trained as an orchestral musician and I know I have to be extremely exact because I have eight cellos behind me.”
If you do that, something magical can happen. “It feels new every single time.”
The maestro says “we’ve played this piece and worked intently on it.
“The listening process is extremely acute when you play something so much together.”
At a certain point in the interview with Forsyth, her iPhone rang.
Her mother Lesley was reaching out from Adelaide, Australia, at about 10:30 in the morning there for a FaceTime chat.
“Hello Mommy,” Forsyth answered and then she put me on the line. What does Mom think of her daughter stepping onto the world stage as a full-time soloist?
“I think it’s a very exciting occasion and I don’t think it’s the last time she’ll perform with the orchestra as a soloist. Probably many people are going to miss her.”
Many people certainly will, none more than the management of NACO, who will now have to begin what will likely be a year-long search for a new principal cellist.
They may get a player, but will they find such a glamorous star who has dresses made for her by designers such as Oscar de la Renta? She wore that famous yellow gown she debuted at Carnegie Hall last year Thursday night even though “that’s a lot of dress for Ottawa.”
After the performance, in a post-concert chat with interested audience members, people were wishing Forsyth well and one person even asked if her house would be put up for sale.
“I haven’t decided yet,” she said. “Listen, I have a lot of shoes to store.”
Shoes like the Manolo Blahnik stilettos she was sporting during our interview. That’s a pair of big shoes to fill.
Many people expected Forsyth would be leaving when Zukerman announced this would be his last season.
But, she says, “I had considered staying; signing a smaller contract and continuing to do what I have been doing. But I didn’t think it was fair, and I had to make the jump at one point in my life.”
She used to fly to solo performances and fly back to Ottawa for NACO shows, back and forth dozens of times a year.
“Everything is planned. I am booked three years in advance and I am playing concertos all over the world. It is difficult to come back here and sit in an orchestra, but I liked that feeling so I tried to keep both going, but the solo career just started taking over.
“Now I can go from place to place to place.” Her dog died accidentally last year and so there was no obligation left keeping her in Ottawa.
“The two things that held me are no longer. I’ve been wanting to do this for many years. When the industry finds out that you are available, things started pouring in.”
Many things have happened to Forsyth while she was with the NACO.
She married her maestro, had her cello stolen, worked with her beloved late father here and even had some emotional and disturbing private fallings out with people. When your Julliard nickname was Demanda, controversy is not far behind.
Still, she says, “being the principal cellist of an orchestra is wonderful; it is very fulfilling and very satisfying. It goes with lots of rules and regulations, which is actually good for overall development.” Even for an individual who is talked about, she says, as “irreverent and badly behaved.” Speaking of irreverence, she is proud of at least one thing that she accomplished: “Thank God that I got rid of the nylons rule in the orchestra.” It took her a few years, but female members have been liberated from that confining garb.
“I love the family of the orchestra and will miss it a lot. I have always loved coming back from a solo show knowing I’m coming back to the people I know and feel comfortable with. Being a soloist is very lonely, it’s peripatetic. You do pick up friends along the way, which I’m very good at” but it takes some time.
“Pinchas has been doing it since he was 18 and he’s been lonely most of his life, so he’s very happy that I am with him.”
Her time with NACO will end in June in the embrace of the orchestra playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, a concert that will also feature Arianna Zukerman, the maestro’s daughter, who will sing the soprano solo. There is concern though because Arianna is battling breast cancer but Forsyth has her fingers crossed all will be well. In between, there are trips to Vienna, Moscow and California.
After her departure, home will now be even more concentrated on New York.
“It’s the greatest city in the world. Living there now as an adult and a successful person is great.”
Forsyth assumes a certain demeanour on stage — imperious and intense are words that might describe it. But inside, the emotions are churning.
“I am emotional and I have to really keep control of that as a person and as a musician. There are places in performances where I get goosebumps every time. There are certain singers who have sung as soloists here and they cry every time. I think it’s wonderful, but Pinchas says you have to keep control because you have to do your thing.”
Still, as she left the stage for the last time Thursday night, that control broke just a bit as she wiped a tear from her cheek and headed backstage.