Cellist David Requiro: Home Boy Makes Good in the Big Apple

Lisa Houston on March 23, 2010
David Requiro

Cellist David Requiro lives in New York City, where he plays with the critically acclaimed Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players. The Oakland native has performed with numerous local orchestras, as well as the Tokyo Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, and Symphony Pro Musica in Boston. He has debuted at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. This week, he joins his long-time collaborator, pianist Miles Graber, for a concert as part of the Noe Valley Chamber Music Series.

Do you have a preference among the different types of jobs that you do, or does it require a different sort of concentration to play chamber music versus playing with a large orchestra?

I do not have a preference. In general, I do try to approach everything like chamber music. For example, I just played Shostakovich in Stockton and I tried my very hardest for everybody to interact with one another. The focus is always the same but the performance experience is always different. With Jupiter, for instance, or with Miles, there’s a much more intimate feeding off of each other musically. With an orchestra I try to imitate that but, depending on the piece, it can be difficult. It’s a struggle to turn a concerto into chamber music.

How long have you worked with Miles Graber?

Miles has been my pianist for as long as I can remember. We’ve played all sorts of recitals together, including the Klein competition in San Francisco. He’s always been my “go to” guy and I love playing with him.

How did you choose the cello?

I come from a musical family. My mother is a pianist and a piano teacher. I have an older brother who is a violinist, and I think I had shown an interest in cello and my mom was very happy to point me in the direction of cello, partially out of competition with my brother. I’ve always enjoyed it and became more and more serious as time went on.

Watch David Requiro in Action

Can you remember a moment when you fell in love with the cello, or when you knew “this really is my instrument”?

The memory I have most clearly in my head is my very first rehearsal with the San Francisco Youth Orchestra with Alasdair Neale. I’d never played in such a high-quality and serious orchestra before. We were playing Sibelius (I think Sibelius V). I’d never felt so connected to the music and the power of an orchestra. To this day, although I don’t get to play much orchestra, I think that’s stuck with me since that first rehearsal. I played with the Youth Orchestra for three years and went on tour with them and had a great time. A lot has to do with Alasdair. He had such an amazing connection with the kids in that orchestra, and the way he got us to work together and the product that came out was always pretty impressive.

Where did you study after the Crowden School?

I went to Cleveland Institute for my undergrad and went to University of Michigan for my master’s.

What does it feel like when you win a competition?

I’ve had lots of different experiences. I usually am quite surprised. I’ve had very positive energy after finals performances but also very negative. At one competition I thought I wasn’t expressing myself clearly and it turned out that the judges disagreed. I’ve had mixed feelings about my playing at final rounds. I think it’s tough to be consistent in every round, but that’s something to strive for. At the Naumburg competition, all of the finalists went outside of the building to get some fresh air and just to get away from the competition for five minutes. It turned out that the people running the competition didn’t even know we were out of the building and just went ahead with the ceremony, so somebody came running after us and asked us to run inside. Lucy Mann, the director of the competition, had already announced what prize was being awarded. All we knew was that my name (and the name of the other first-prize winner) had been read and everyone was applauding, but we didn’t know what we’d won.

I had one competition that I won and I was so surprised it took me a few moments to set in. Another competition, I really felt I had done my best and all I could do was hope. It’s always completely out of my control.

Do you continue to study, and who is your current teacher?

Technically, I’m not studying with anybody. I consider Richard Aaron, whom I studied with at Cleveland and Michigan, to be my most important mentor, and certainly I’m still very close with him and occasionally play for him. But at this moment, I would describe myself as being on my own. That’s another reason that being involved in chamber music and a musical community, whether it’s in New York or otherwise, is important. It’s important to play for colleagues and for musicians who can really give me their advice. In general, right now that’s how I see myself growing. Even my girlfriend is a cellist, so that’s very helpful.

How do you like living in New York?

It’s great. Coming from the Midwest, it’s a nice change of pace. Sometimes it feels like it’s a little too small of a world. I’m on the Upper West Side in Washington Heights, and I’m running into musicians all the time. Nevertheless, it’s a lot of fun to be there. Ann Arbor was a great town, but foodwise and socially, it’s great to be in New York after the Midwest.

Do you hear any difference in musicians’ playing, based on location? Is there such a thing as a California player or a New York player or a European player?

I don’t think I’ve noticed anything that I could stereotype. I have noticed differences, but I wouldn’t say by location but by institution. I’m quite sure that a lot of us string players in the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have a slightly different approach to performing than maybe some musicians at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I think a lot has to do with chamber experiences and the kinds of audiences you perform for and what kind of music you’re programming and the purpose behind it. But I don’t think I can say, and I think I could get in a lot of trouble if I generalize that way. Of course, I notice differences coming to a new city, but actually, I’ve played with a very small percentage of the musicians here, so I think it’s a very individual thing.

Can you tell me a little bit about the program at Noe Valley on Sunday?

I believe we’re starting with Schumann’s fantasy pieces, which were originally written for clarinet. Then a much more recent work by the Korean composer Isan Yun. In terms of the texture and clarity, it coaxes the audience a bit. It’s a very meandering piece, a very provocative piece, and I think it’s a nice balance to the rest of the program. Following that is Saint-Saëns’ first Cello Sonata, which is a real tour de force. The piano part is like a concerto, absolutely killer. And it’s a beautifully written cello part, which is not as difficult but twice as fun to play, so I always love to play this piece. I just have to remember to be sympathetic to the pianist! Then the second half is Janáček’s Pohadka, which means A Fairy Tale; it’s a short little work that’s almost programmatic. And then finishing with the Shostakovich Cello Sonata.

What’s your favorite thing to do and eat when you’re home?

Especially since I’m from Rockridge, my favorite places are Zachary’s Pizza and Gordo’s Taqueria. It seems like I’ve been very lucky so when I come home everything is gorgeous. It’s nice to play tennis and see friends. A lot of my old friends have moved to San Francisco, so I’m very fortunate; now I get to explore new areas of San Francisco. When I come home, I try to prolong the stay as much as I can.