Grammy Award winner brings the classics to Bermuda Festival
At four, Kate Kayaian decided to start cello lessons.
She got the idea from “an older boy” who played, a family friend that she had a crush on.
Although the relationship went nowhere, the music stuck. Today, Kate has students around the world and, with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, a Grammy Award under her belt.
Apart from that she has performed with some of the “world’s most esteemed conductors and proponents of contemporary music”.
On Thursday and Saturday she will take to the stage for Baroque to Tango, two distinct concerts created for the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts with her Bermuda School of Music colleagues Breanna Fajardo Thornton and Oliver Grant.
“The idea of both shows is Baroque to Tango and it's kind of a musical journey from the Baroque era – the 1700s up to Buenos Aires in the 1960s,” Ms Kayaian said. “We chose all of our favourite pieces to play – the pieces that are just so magical to us; pieces that we think people would love to hear, whether they are classical music fans or if they’ve never heard classical music.
“If they have never heard classical music, these pieces are probably the very best introduction – whether it's solo Bach or Piazzolla Le Grand Tango, which closes both programmes and is just so much fun. It's such a crowd pleaser.”
The idea for Baroque to Tango came from a concert at Christ Church, Warwick, in March 2020, shortly before Bermuda closed its borders because of the pandemic. Ms Kayaian and Mr Grant, a pianist, expected a small turnout – the seats were filled.
For the 2022 Festival they decided to expand the show to include Ms Thornton, a violinist who joined the Bermuda School of Music this year.
“We love collaborating, we love playing together and we thought it would be fun to bring in another instrument,” Ms Kayaian said. “There's some solo violin, solo piano. There's a violin and cello piece happening and then of course, cello and piano and violin and piano and then a couple of long chords that the three of us will be playing and surprises at the end as well.”
The musician grew up in Chicago where she did “a traditional Suzuki pedagogy” before joining the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
“We had some family friends and their daughter played the violin. Her older brother played the cello. And my mom took me there and they each played their instrument for me so I could choose. And I had a crush on the brother. So I am a professional cellist because I had a crush on a boy when I was four-and-a-half.
“My mom played the piano just for her own enjoyment and my dad sang in a choir through high school. So they were musically inclined and it worked for them that their kids study an instrument growing up.
“I was told I could not quit until I was 18. It was not even up for discussion. But I grew up being part of a music centre, communities etc. I just had such strong friendships and great teachers and I loved it.”
At 15, when she declared that she was going to be a professional cellist, her parents were shocked, but “very supportive”.
Ms Kayaian has performed around the world and “premiered more than 100 works by some of today’s most innovative composers”.
She has also worked with Oliver Knussen and Pierre Buolez, “icons of contemporary music”.
Her Grammy in 2020 for the Best Opera Recording of Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr Fox, came through her work with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, “one of the top new music ensembles in the world dedicated to performing and recording the works of contemporary classical composers”.
Ms Kayaian, who has performed with the group for 20 years, didn’t get to attend the star-studded gala.
“Only the conductor, the composer and the recording engineer receive invitations to the event and get to bring home the actual Grammy statues.
“We musicians are offered the chance to purchase a beautiful gold embossed certificate. But, it was a very exciting time, and it was thrilling to win all the same.”
She moved here with her husband, Paul Wright, a physics teacher at Saltus Grammar School.
“We met 12 years ago in the States and he dragged me here. I’d left a teaching post that I had and was performing all over the place, and you know I just needed to be in a place where I could sit and have time to practice.
“I was here and I talked to students online back in Boston, where I was living at the time and eventually sort of made my way to be here full-time and started teaching a little bit at the School of Music and the rest is history.”
A few years ago she played with Heather Nova in a Bermuda Festival performance and in 2020 took the stage in an ensemble accompanying Alda Dizdari.
“I obviously haven’t performed much in the last years few years because there haven't been a lot of performances, but before Covid I was performing, I was teaching students online around the world and, actually during Covid I started the very first online virtual summer festival. I was very proud of that. Now there are lots of them, but it was called the Virtual Summer Cello Festival.”
Despite all that is on offer for the two shows this week, her fear is that the period where “everybody felt comfortable with classical music has come to an end”.
“I think that people feel like they shouldn't go to a classical music concert if they don't know a lot about it. It's not even that they don't like it, they just sort of feel like they wouldn't be welcome or that they won't understand it.
“And you know what I hope, and why we put these programmes together the way we did, was that this could be a great introduction for those people. Just come out and see what you like, see what you don't like. Hopefully you like everything.”
Baroque to Tango’s An Evening at the Cafe takes place on Thursday; An Evening with the Romantics is on Saturday. Both shows are at 8pm. For tickets and more information: bermudafestival.org. Also visit katekayaian.com; www.musicschool.bm; talesfromthelane.com; www.bmop.org; virtualsummercellofestival.wordpress.com