Cellist Misha Maisky might first impress you as a kind of wild man of the concert stage: the shaggy long hair, raw intensity, ferocious virtuosity. His unfiltered emotion and absolute commitment carry the command of a warrior. He is a romantic and earthy musician; he bulks Bach’s heavenly cadences with muscle and passion. Maisky’s mere stage presence elicits awe. More so when you weigh a discography of some 50 recordings, beginning with the baton of Leonard Bernstein, and including long collaborations with exceptional artists like pianist Martha Argerich and violinist Gidon Kremer, not to mention the world’s finest orchestras. Add to this the gnarly historical thread that is Maisky’s life. He is just old enough to have played for Casals two months before the Spanish cellist’s death. He is the only cellist to have studied with both Mstislav Rostropovich and Gregor Piatigorsky — representative 20th century headmasters of contrasting schools of cello. So mindful was Maisky of the privilege of studying with Rostropovich at Moscow Conservatory that he sought to audio tape the lessons, and turning to the black market to obtain a recorder (where else in the late-1960s USSR?) — was arrested. His year-and-a-half detention compelled long days of shoveling cement and no access to cello. There are roots and guts to this man.
CAMA caps its 2015-16 Masterseries with a rare U.S. recital by Maisky, who resides in Belgium and performs extensively in Europe and Asia. In fact, the cellist has never before performed in Santa Barbara, which makes this intimate affair at the Lobero all the more precious. Maisky will be joined by his daughter, accomplished pianist Lily Maisky. The two have collaborated professionally since the latter’s teen years. “It’s been about 11 years since we started performing concerts,” the cellist told me by phone last week, during a day’s pause between performances in Siberia and Istanbul, “and it’s going very strong since we’re doing regular tours all over the place.” Maisky’s son, violinist Sascha Maisky, sometimes joins in to form a family trio. “For me, it was always a dream of my life to make music with my children,” Maisky warmly recalled. “So now it’s like a dream come true.”
“I find it really such a gift and a pleasure to be able to play with your family or close friends,” said Lily in a separate call to Belgium, seconding her father’s sentiments, “and to be able to travel together and to live that lifestyle together. It’s not always easy — it can be a bit chaotic — but I feel really very lucky.”
The recital will feature music recently recorded for the duo’s upcoming release of twentieth century works, including Benjamin Britten’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.65. “I learned it very soon after I started studying with Rostropovich at the conservatory, and ever since it is one of my favorite pieces,” the cellist said. “It’s wonderful — Britten was a fantastic composer. I love it, and the public usually has an incredibly enthusiastic reaction for it.” Lily Maisky shared the glowing assessment. “It was quite a discovery for me, as I think it is for a lot of people because it’s not played that often” she said. “Every time we perform it, actually, even if it’s the lesser known work on the program, everyone comes back talking about the Britten.”
The short North American tour will include stops in Toronto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where the two will participate in the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival at USC. An all-Beethoven finale will feature the Maisky duo’s playing of Cello Sonata No.2 in G minor, Op.5, the same work which opens their Santa Barbara performance.
While Lily has spent years catching-up with her father’s repertoire, Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango put the two on an even playing field. “We just learned it actually a few months ago, and it was probably the first time we both learned a major work together,” she said. “I love Piazzolla. It’s one of my big pleasures in life. I’m surprised that it’s taken so long to finally play some. It’s my first Piazzolla experience.” Maisky’s prowess and passion guarantee it will not be her last.