“Music is ultimately about sharing what you love with your audience.”
On Friday, May 15, Brinton Averil Smith, principal cello invites online viewers into his home for a livestream performance with his wife, pianist Evelyn Chen, and their daughter, Calista Smith, a vocalist who is also trained as a violinist.
Before their Living Room Concert, the family shares what it’s like to perform together.
How long have all three of you been performing music together as a family?
Brinton Averil Smith: Evelyn and I have been performing together since we first met at Juilliard. Performing together opens up an entire new level of understanding in a relationship—but also new possibilities for intense disagreements and negotiations! The first time the three of us all performed together was at a Symphony even last summer in Aspen. Though Calista had played violin for years, she hadn’t sung much in public yet, and it was very special for us to get to know her not only as our daughter, but also as a young musician.
What has the process been like to prepare for this concert?
Brinton: It was such an incredibly depressing time right when everything shut down. I’ve always thought I was lucky to be able to play music, but when you are separated from the audience you realize that without the chance to share it, it loses so much of its meaning—like a chef preparing meals that no one will ever eat. In addition, I had a serious accident with my cello days before the shutdown, forcing me to leave it in New York for many months of repairs. Unable to share music while watching the pain and suffering in the outside world, I felt empty and lost. It was hard to practice without a goal. Agreeing to do this concert gave me a sense of life again: suddenly, I have something to practice for. The chance to play live made me feel like a musician again. Even if we lose the element of immediate feedback in this forum, knowing someone is there with us in that moment—that we do it for someone—makes all the difference. As my teacher told me years ago, music is ultimately about sharing what you love with your audience.
Is there anything on the program that is a family favorite?
Brinton: We’ve actually designed a program full of little gems that we love. I don’t think there’s a piece on the program longer than 4 minutes, but each contains its own world of sounds, color, and characters. It’s actually much harder on us than playing a program of long works, but I think these are great for the audience—classical concerts used to be full of these little gems—and honestly, they are just as fun for us to play! I also love that we’re able to provide some variety, with pieces for cello, for solo piano, and for voice. Many of the pieces we play will be familiar to the audience, but I think you might love the ones you don’t know even more!
Evelyn and Brinton, you released an album, Exiles in Paradise, earlier this year. What’s your recording process like?
Evelyn Chen: This is our second recording together, though we each have our own solo albums. Both recordings took place in Stude Hall at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. I was fortunate and elated to use Horowitz’s beautiful piano at Stude; it had a life of its own–having a fast and light execution with a variety of nuances and colors. We recorded in two straight evenings with Houston Symphony Audio Engineer Brad Sayles, who was so helpful and accommodating. We also had a few friends, such as Chris French, to give us helpful feedback during the sessions. A month later, we started listening and editing our takes with Brad at his house. We made numerous trips that his house almost seemed like a second home to us! We would stay there until wee hours of the night munching on snacks. It was like camping at his house! We’re so thankful to Brad and his family for putting up with us day in and day out, but all our hard work finally paid off.
Brinton: We became so fascinated with the incredible wealth of talent that fled Europe in the 1930s and 1940s and brought their musical traditions to Hollywood that we designed a recital program exploring an amazing and beautiful repertoire. We had such a good time making our first CD with Brad that it seemed natural to all work together again on another project.
Calista, how long have you been performing? Do you have a favorite song you’ll be singing for the concert?
Calista Smith: I have been performing vocally for a few years. I have played violin since I was about four years old and gave many violin performances when I was younger. I began singing musical theater pieces when I was about eight years old and was in a number of musicals, but I only began singing classically a few years ago. My first solo classical vocal performance was two summers ago. In addition to Houston Young Artists’ concerts during the year, I’ve had the chance to perform at music festivals at Tanglewood and Curtis, and i even got to sing in a chorus for John Williams and the Boston Pops. I am headed to Northwestern University soon where I will study opera at the Bienen School of Music as a dual degree student. I couldn’t say I have a favorite song, but I really love Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, which I will perform on Friday.