Poster Cellist Sophie Shao
Cellist Sophie Shao presents her second solo album including music by Debussy and Garfein.
courtesy the artist
New Classical Tracks®

Cellist Sophie Shao celebrates the joy of life through music inspired by France

New Classical Tracks (Extended Interview) - Sophie Shao
New Classical Tracks - Sophie Shao
New Classical Tracks - April 24, 2024

Sophie Shao, cello – CanCan Macabre (Centaur)

Cellist Sophie Shao is a Curtis Institute and Yale graduate who now teaches at the University of Connecticut. A recipient of an Avery Fisher Career grant, she also plays a cello once owned by Pablo Casals. You can hear that instrument in her second solo recording, CanCan Macabre, an album that celebrates the joy of life through music inspired by France.

“The recording was conceived to showcase a piece that I commissioned from Herschel Garfein,” Shao says. “I commissioned it with the intention of pairing it with the Debussy Cello Sonata, which is a perfect piece of music in its length and story.

“The ‘CanCan Macabre’ is actually the name of the last movement of Thomas Adès’ Rediscovered Places (Lieux Retrouvés), and one of the lines that connects all the pieces is a connection to Paris.”

Why is the Debussy Cello Sonata important to you?

“The piece is different from his other works in that it actually has a character in it: Pierrot Lunaire. And you can totally hear Debussy’s sound world in the middle of it, such as cathedral-like chords and bells ringing.

“The second movement is so much fun. It's got jazz in it and it's titled ‘Serenade.’ And it's the story of Lunaire serenading the moon, which, when you're out at night, it does look like the moon is following you along.”

The Layers is Herschel Garfein’s piece that you commissioned. How does it compare to the Debussy sonata?

“The piece itself is much more philosophical and it's based on a poem by Stanley Kunitz. The protagonist of the poem is a poet is looking back on his life. So this is an older person with a heavy heart.

“However, the second movement actually does connect to the Debussy. Its title is ‘When the Moon Was Covered’ and, in the movement, the poet is walking through a nimbus cloud. The last movement is called ‘Every Stone on the Road’ — it's kind of a celebration since it uses a klezmer tune, which is something that is played during life's happiest occasions, but the tonality itself has kind of a sad twinge to it.”


Sophie Shao, cello – CanCan Macabre (Centaur)

Sophie Shao, cello – CanCan Macabre (Amazon)

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